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HISTORY

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle was one of two 1917 films dealing with birth control, the other being birth control advocate Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control (see entry). The title was inspired by Lillian Gish’s character in D. W. Griffith’s popular 1916 epic, Intolerance (see entry), an allegorical figure called “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.” The term was taken from William Ross Wallace’s 1865 poem in which he declared: “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”
       The 3 Mar 1917 Motion Picture News reported that producer-director-writer-actress Lois Weber had “been busy for the past week writing a story and scenario” for a production “temporarily titled Is a Woman a Person?” She and Phillips Smalley, her husband and co-creator, assigned themselves the leads and hired Priscilla Dean and Harry De More as costars. By early Mar 1917, according to the 10 Mar 1917 issue of Motography, the film was underway at Universal City, CA; and the 14 Apr 1917 Motography announced that Is a Woman a Person? was nearly finished.
       Despite an attempt to stop it by New York’s Commissioner of Licenses George H. Bell, which was overruled by the New York Supreme Court after an injunction was filed, the film, now titled The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, opened for a limited engagement at Manhattan’s Broadway Theatre on 13 May 1917, according to the 26 May 1917 Motion Picture News. Reviews were mixed. The Motion Picture News praised the way the film dealt “with the questions of motherhood in a tensely dramatic, yet ...

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The Hand That Rocks the Cradle was one of two 1917 films dealing with birth control, the other being birth control advocate Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control (see entry). The title was inspired by Lillian Gish’s character in D. W. Griffith’s popular 1916 epic, Intolerance (see entry), an allegorical figure called “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.” The term was taken from William Ross Wallace’s 1865 poem in which he declared: “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”
       The 3 Mar 1917 Motion Picture News reported that producer-director-writer-actress Lois Weber had “been busy for the past week writing a story and scenario” for a production “temporarily titled Is a Woman a Person?” She and Phillips Smalley, her husband and co-creator, assigned themselves the leads and hired Priscilla Dean and Harry De More as costars. By early Mar 1917, according to the 10 Mar 1917 issue of Motography, the film was underway at Universal City, CA; and the 14 Apr 1917 Motography announced that Is a Woman a Person? was nearly finished.
       Despite an attempt to stop it by New York’s Commissioner of Licenses George H. Bell, which was overruled by the New York Supreme Court after an injunction was filed, the film, now titled The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, opened for a limited engagement at Manhattan’s Broadway Theatre on 13 May 1917, according to the 26 May 1917 Motion Picture News. Reviews were mixed. The Motion Picture News praised the way the film dealt “with the questions of motherhood in a tensely dramatic, yet dignified way, suggestive of neither preachment nor propaganda.” The 2 Jun 1917 Moving Picture World disagreed, called the film “a preachment, not a play,” and accused Weber of basing her story on “the experiences of a famous woman advocate [Margaret Sanger] of this revolutionary doctrine who has recently been released from jail” after her arrest for preaching birth control. The reviewer had no criticism of the film’s artistic value, but felt the subject was unsuitable in a “family photoplay theater.” The Aug 1917 Photoplay called the film “pure propaganda” and “a waste of time,” and disapproved of a major Hollywood director trying “to capitalize the Margaret Sanger notoriety, for I think Lois Weber is a bit bigger than that.”
       As described in the 2 Jun 1917 Motion Picture News, Lois Weber’s use of fade-outs and visualized scenes to accentuate many of her spoken points resulted in “something of an undue expansion of footage.” The film’s big applause line was “Mrs. Broome” declaring: “If the lawmakers had to bear children they would change the laws.” Women in the United States were not allowed to vote in 1917.
       Margaret Sanger’s film, Birth Control (see entry), had opened in New York in early 1917 and was similarly banned after several months by the Commissioner of Licenses. Unlike Weber’s “states' rights” film, which Universal Film Manufacturing sold to regional distributors, Sanger’s movie was mostly screened as an adjunct to her speaking tours.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Exhibitors Trade Review
26 May 1917
p. 1748
Motion Picture News
3 Mar 1917
p. 1384
Motion Picture News
26 May 1917
p. 3281
Motion Picture News
2 Jun 1917
p. 3462-63
Motography
10 Mar 1917
p. 524
Motography
14 Apr 1917
p. 794
Moving Picture World
19 May 1917
p. 1146
Moving Picture World
2 Jun 1917
p. 1458, 1501
NYDM
25 Aug 1917
p. 1320
Photoplay
Aug 1917
p. 90-91
Variety
18 May 1917
p. 26
Wid's
31 May 1917
pp. 349-50
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANIES
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
PRODUCERS
Prod
WRITERS
Scen
PHOTOGRAPHY
Allan Siegler
Cam
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Is a Woman a Person?
Release Date:
13 May 1917
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 13 May 1917
Production Date:
Mar--Apr 1917
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Universal Film Mfg. Co., Inc.
10 May 1917
LP10746
Physical Properties:
Silent
Black and White
Length(in reels):
6
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

Although she has been warned by the police chief to stop handing out literature on birth control, Mrs. Broome remains committed to the cause of helping poor women. She is arrested and jailed, but her husband, Dr. Broome, bails her out. Later, while speaking with a young couple named Mr. and Mrs. Graham, Mrs. Broome explains how her former nursemaid, Sarah, married and began having children despite her husband’s limited income. The spectacle of this consumptive woman suffering under the burden of too many pregnancies, Mrs. Broome says, is what compelled her to be a birth control advocate. Police later raid another meeting and arrest Mrs. Broome for spreading propaganda in violation of state laws. She refuses to eat, and after serving a short sentence, she is pardoned by the governor. Reunited with her husband, Mrs. Broome awaits the enactment of new state legislation permitting the dissemination of birth control ...

More Less

Although she has been warned by the police chief to stop handing out literature on birth control, Mrs. Broome remains committed to the cause of helping poor women. She is arrested and jailed, but her husband, Dr. Broome, bails her out. Later, while speaking with a young couple named Mr. and Mrs. Graham, Mrs. Broome explains how her former nursemaid, Sarah, married and began having children despite her husband’s limited income. The spectacle of this consumptive woman suffering under the burden of too many pregnancies, Mrs. Broome says, is what compelled her to be a birth control advocate. Police later raid another meeting and arrest Mrs. Broome for spreading propaganda in violation of state laws. She refuses to eat, and after serving a short sentence, she is pardoned by the governor. Reunited with her husband, Mrs. Broome awaits the enactment of new state legislation permitting the dissemination of birth control information.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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