Psychotronic Ketchup: Tomorrow's Children (1934)

Tomorrow's Children
Director: Crane Wilbur // 1934 [DVD]
Cinema 4 Rating: 4

Eugenics is such an ugly philosophy, even for a person like me who is constantly exasperated with much of the human race. I don't have a problem with most people until I start to survey the idiotic choices they have made, but because I believe freedom of choice is an inherent right of all men and women, I am basically forced to swallow this feeling as I watch the world insert ever more feet into an already swirling toilet of stupidity. However, whenever I
do start physically retching over the ploddings of mankind, I step back and examine my own choices -- some that have done me much harm, some that turned out fortunate by some degree, most of little serious impact -- and know that while I might get riled up over the nascent idiocy surrounding me, I really do not have a lot of room to speak. We all have choices to make, and not all of them work out, and some of them are not even choices at all.

Meet Mr. Mason. Mr. Mason chooses to drink himself into unconsciousness, and will even go so far as to steal from his own daughter to support this habit. Or has he chosen this lifestyle? In Tomorrow's Children, a low-budget roadshow potboiler from 1934, it is mentioned that Mr. Mason comes from several generations of idiots, drunkards and thiefs. And in keeping with this long-standing tradition, his middle-aged wife (who is also a drunkard) is pregnant and about to drop another baby on the floor, where it will take up residence with the rest of their brood, including one son who is already well on his way to being a reprobate, and another son who believes that the empty whiskey bottles strewn about their hovel are his only friends, and just drools away as he plays with them night and day. The only bright spot for this family is their daughter Alice, who is smart and hard-working, keeping the family afloat as much as she can with what little pay she receives, and who is looking forward to marrying her longtime beau in just a short while.

That is, until the baby dies coming out of the womb. Well-meaning Doctor Brooks sees the squalor in which the family lives, and tries to get them help from the state. Unfortunately, the state is one of the 27 that practiced forced sterilization through a large portion of the twentieth century, and once the social workers examine the case, they will only offer to help the family out of their situation if every single member goes under the knife. The way I see it, it's not castration, so in Mr. Mason's case, that could mean more action without the distraction. But for Alice, it means a fate worse than death, because she has dreams of her own in which she and her boyfriend have their own children. Even worse, while the state is strapping her down to the table, we find out Alice is adopted, and not even legally...

It's astonishing to learn that our country practiced such methods to a major degree, forcing sterilization upon many thousands of citizens -- deformed, crippled, "feeble-minded," criminal -- all in the name of a "science" which at that point had any real science behind it. Much of it was about allowing the "right kind" of people to produce large families, and for those deemed as "outcasts" to no longer be allowed to spread their genes throughout our society. If it sounds remarkably similar to some of the Nazi practices, you are right. It is close, and even Nazis on trial at Nuremberg pointed to the U.S. as the very model for these programs in Germany. Whether they were just trying to save their necks by shifting blame, I will leave it to others to debate. The question is whether the state has a right to interfere in our personal lives to such a degree, whether conditions of hereditary degeneration are on display or not.

The filmmakers of Tomorrow's Children, including writer-director Crane Wilbur (who would direct a couple of films in the '50s starring Vincent Price, such as The Bat, and cameos as a priest here), are clearly against the state with this one, and paint all of the state's actions as severely "feeble-minded" in their own right, tied to an inconsiderate bureaucracy, or downright criminal, such as when one judge takes a bribe from one potential sterilization victim, letting him off simply because he is a rich senator's son. That the guy is a raving lunatic (complete with what appears to be Conrad Veidt's black-eyed makeup job from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), who is barely held in check by his handlers, becomes apparent when he takes his first spare moment to attack and rip the top off a nearby nurse. The scene itself though is a pleasant reminder of just what one could get away with when one's film was released as an "educational" film in the 1930s, and there is much talk of "seminal" this and "fallopian" that, and medical charts of reproductive regions. It is also no surprise that it was banned in much of the country for numerous years because of this portrayal.

Thanks to the opening scene of the destitute family of louts, this one has a little Freaks-residue at hand (even featuring one of that film's "pinhead" stars, Schlitze -- the inspiration for Zippy -- in a short scene), and becomes instantly fascinating from the start. It doesn't quite work overall, but, unlike the anti-drug films of its era like Reefer Madness, which are mainly enjoyable as ironic and quite silly relics, this one actually builds up a little suspense as Alice inches ever nearer to getting her tubes tied. Will her boyfriend get to the priest who will get to the judge who will make the phone call in time to save tomorrow's children? Will Sterling Holloway survive the film's inept comic relief scenes in time to become the future Winnie-the-Pooh? Will irresponsible nitwits stop having broods of kids when they have no possible way of supporting them, even with the most lax welfare laws at hand?

Maybe, yes and no, but I learned long ago that the only way to balance this out in society is to not have any of my own, and I do it through my own self-imposed eugenics program. No knives, no fuss... so far, I figure there are trillions of babies I haven't had, so society is safe for the moment. (You do the math...)

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