30 October 2003 | paulwl
campy but watchable
This family weepie takes full advantage of the static, austere feel of genre filmmaking in the early sound years. In no way exceptional, even for 1930, "Mother's Cry" and its actors nonetheless do the job, despite some talky speechifying and a particularly tacked-on ending. Edward Woods (not the 50s schlock director, although they share a fondness for heavy eyeliner) plays eldest brother Danny Williams, gangster in the making and prime mover of the plot. With his insane mugging, canned "I'll-say-she-isms" and tight-vested jazzbo suit, he's a regulation foot soldier in the Vitaphone crim army. Woods is better, and better remembered, as sidekick to Jimmy Cagney in "The Public Enemy," made the following year. The family home, where the camera stands as still as the 1900 furniture, offers a bit of subtext for dedicated pre-Coders. Silver-haired Ma Williams clucks and gushes in expected manner over budding architect Artie (beta-male lead David Manners) and baby sister Beattie (the exquisitely fragile Helen Chandler). These two cuddle, kiss and coo in a way not at all appropriate for siblings. Meanwhile, older sister Jennie marries much older Karl, whose only role is to add German (Yiddish?) comedy relief and father cuddly twin babies. Danny's crimes eventually strike closer to home than we expect, as he falls victim to an appalling failure of judgment. Here, near the end, occurs some real heart-tugging drama. The ultimate happy ending isn't worthy of that pre-climax (to give you an idea, it implies Artie has designed the Chrysler Building, which changes appearance three times in one short sequence).