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Children in the House

A review by Greta de Groat

Children in the House is part fairy story, part women's melodrama, and part crime thriller-all in less than 50 minutes! This is Norma Talmadge's earliest surviving feature, made by Triangle in early 1916. By year's end she had married Joseph Schenck and formed an independent production company. Their first film, the lost Panthea, would move her into the rank of major stars.

In this film Norma Talmadge is one of a large ensemble cast, all of whom have significant roles. She is married to Eugene Pallette and they have children. But we never see them together, as he is spending all of his time with dancer Jewel Carmen, a skinny, fresh faced girl, with an amusing wardrobe. Norma, for her part, is in love with her old boyfriend, William Hinckley, a handsome but somewhat depressed young man who works at her father-in-law's bank. They spend most of their time at the home of his brother, a police sergeant, who is married to Norma's sister and who have children of their own.

To further complicate the story, Hinckley tells the children a fairy tale version of his relationship with Norma, in which he is named Poor and she is named Sweetheart. She runs about the woods clad in a bolt of chiffon and even flies through the air. Cupid causes her to fall in love with Poor but she is drawn away by Lies and Jealousy, instigated by Pallette in a Robin Hood outfit. This unintentionally amusing sequence having taken up considerable screen time, we now rush back to the plot, where Jewel Carmen presents Pallette with a bill for her very expensive vamping costumes. He tries to get money from his father at the bank, who's refusal makes him easy prey for Walter Long, the vamp's criminal cohort, and they induce him to help them rob the bank. After thoughtfully calling Norma to tell her that he's not coming home that night, she calls Hinckley to tell him she's had enough of her husband. He comes to the house and tries to talk her into running away with him, but the appearance of the children puts a stop to that. The next morning at the bank, he is arrested when he refuses to tell his brother what he was up to the night before. In the meantime, the robbers have hidden themselves in an abandoned shack, which turns out to be a favorite play area of the children. It all winds up in an exciting chase with three lines of action interwoven leading to a breathless finale.

Chester and Sidney Franklin provide the efficient, if mostly uninspired direction. The rapid pace doesn't give the actors much time to develop any depth to their characters, so one has to rely on quick impressions. Norma Talmadge is pretty and likable but a bit glum, which is perfectly in character but not terribly interesting in comparison to her later roles. The children, some of whom also appeared in Talmadge's Going Straight, do not have very large parts despite the title. The vivid impression awards go instead to Eugene Pallette's bumbling, clueless husband who is putty in the hands of the endearingly awkward Jewel Carmen.

The print is unfortunately very dark and low in contrast. The musical score is appropriate.

Children in the House (Triangle, 1916). Starring: Norma Talmadge, Alice Rae, Jewel Carmen, William Hinckley, W.E. Lawrence. George Pearce, Eugene Pallette, Walter Long, Alva D. Blake, George Stone, Violet Radcliffe, Carmen de Rue, Francis Carpenter, Ninon Fovieri. Directed by Chester and Sidney Franklin. Scenario by Roy Somerville. Camera by F.B. Good. B & W. The tape runs approximately 47 minutes and has an appropriate musical score. Children in the House is available on DVD from Grapevine Video.

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Last revised, November 28, 2008