Cry of the Weak (1919)

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This picture posed what in 1919 was something of a novel idea -- that a criminal can be reformed and become a productive member of society. Fannie Ward is Mary Dexter, wife of a harsh District Attorney (Frank Elliott). Dexter often plays chess with Judge Creighton (Walt Whitman), and they have a running debate -- Dexter believes all criminals should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, while the judge believes that redemption is possible. Mary, for reasons not immediately disclosed, agrees with the judge. One night, the judge is murdered by burglars, one of whom is Budd (Paul Willis), Mary's brother. Mary desperately tries to hide Budd from her husband, but he is finally caught. While Budd is being grilled by the police, Mary makes a confession to her husband -- she and Budd were raised by a thief, and the young man is a victim of circumstances. She argues so eloquently that Dexter softens his stand, and Budd is given a light sentence, considering the nature of his crime. When he is released, he goes on to lead an honest life, proving the judge's theory. The dramatics of this film were a bit on the heavy side, but its psychological and philosophical angles (uncommon in its day) make it interesting nevertheless.