Child Bride (1938)

  • Year: 1938
  • Released: 02 Mar 1938
  • Country: United States
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  • Available in: 720p,
  • Language: English
  • MPA Rating: N/A
  • Genre: Drama
  • Runtime: 62 min
  • Writer: Harry Revier
  • Director: Harry Revier
  • Cast: Shirley Mills, Bob Bollinger, Warner Richmond
  • Keywords: marriage, exploitation, underage, child marriage, flogging,

Child Bride Storyline

12-year-old Jennie lives with her parents in extremely rural mountain country. Her schoolteacher Miss Carol, a mountain girl herself, went off to get educated and has returned hoping to stop the tradition of child marriage which permeates the culture. Jennie’s father Ira is a good man who tries to protect Miss Carol from the men who warn her to call off her crusade. One of those threatening men, Jake Bolby, has his eye on young Jennie and plots to make her his bride.—Jim Beaver

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Child Bride Movie Reviews

Child Bride

Director: Harry J. Revier, Cast: Shirley Mills, Bob Bollinger, Warner Richmond, Angelo Rossitto.

1930’s “exploitation” film about the backwoods/backward people of the Ozarks where it is considered acceptable for much older men to marry young adolescent girls. The local school teacher,with the help of her assistant D.A. boyfriend, are trying to have this practice stopped. Anyhow, young Jenny(played by Shirley Mills) is forced to marry much older Jake(played by Warner Richmond). Without giving away the story, Jake blackmails Jenny’s mom into letting him wed her daughter.

The way the hillbillies are portrayed in this film is amusing. I got a kick out of the dilapidated old schoolhouse with pigeons on the rafters! Other reviewers have made comments about the nudie skinny dipping scene. There is nothing about it that should trouble anyone. There is a huge difference between pornography and nudity. Yes Shirley Mills was just twelve years old in this movie but there absolutely nothing pornographic in this film. She is simply skinny dipping. It does show her nude going into the water but it is brief and in no way distasteful. The swimming scene alone would not have made this an exploitation film. It is the overall content that makes it so. The idea of old men trying to marry little girls.

The is actually a rather interesting film and the acting although not “Gone With the Wind” material is actually alright. It certainly has a uniqueness about it that keeps the viewer interested in spite of its low budget. This is the only film for most of the actors. Warner Richmond has been in numerous films and Shirley Mills did about a handful of other films including The Grapes of Wrath. I might also add that Angelo Rossitto(the midget) has had a very long career in Hollywood. He has been in movies into the 1980’s including Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. He was in Tod Browining’s classic Freaks from 1932.

Child Bride (1938) Was Based On A 1937 News Story About A 9 Year Old Bride In Tennessee

Child Bride (1937) Was Based On A 1937 News Story About A 9 Year Old Bride In Tennessee.

The movie is wrongly identified as a 1938 movie in movie guides and on this database, but the copyright year given in the main title states (in Roman Letters) 1937.

It is a “post-code” movie and might have been done differently in the freedom of the “pre-code” movie days of the 1930’s. Food for thought.

Child Bride (1937) starring Shirley Mills was shot in Columbia, California as an independent movie 78 years ago (this is written in 2015) and is still alive and well, is currently sold in DVD video form and available for screening on home computers for free since the movie is now in the public domain.

It is a famous movie made during the Golden Age Of Big Studio Hollywood made outside the big studio system which lasted and lasted and lasted. It is a classic in its way.

Filmmakers created a story and a movie script, recruited a cast and technical crew, and shot the entire movie in two weeks in 1938.

The production values of the movie are very high and amazing considering the obviously low budget and lack of “big studio” resources the movie had.

We see torrential downpour rain scenes, snow scenes, fights/ wrestling boxing matches between men done skillfully.

The movie even includes a nighttime “torchlight” parade done “Ku Klux Klan” style when the bad guys abduct the noble (pretty, young adult crusading against child marriage) school teacher to a ceremonial outdoor place where she is to be “sacrificed” (the sacrifice is interrupted, but the whole scene is a cliffhanger well done in film noir style).

The movie has many night scenes where the weather and the bad weather skies in the mountains are shown complete with lightning flashes, wind….just like (well…similar too) “The Wizard Of Oz” (1939) bad weather/ cyclone scenes in Kansas.

But without big MGM money, sound stages, or expensive production talent.

The acting and casting are all very good and believable, including small parts.

The movie even includes a highly trained, charming dog which climbs and descends steep cliffs, and swims at length with lead actress Shirley Mills at a large mountain stream style “old swimming hole.” The dog is charming, little “mermaid” Shirley Mills is charming, and the onlooking supporting actors include an old lady, a young 12 year old boy, and the adult villain male of the movie…all good actors, all quite compelling in minor roles.

Movies are hard to make, hard to get to come out well, and it is obvious that one of the reasons this great movie has lasted for almost 80 years (copyright in the title is given as 1937) is that it is well crafted and very watchable.

The script includes humor, suspense, and well crafted characters ranging from moonshiners in the boondocks to the Governor of the (unnamed) state listening carefully to the pleas of a young lawyer for changes in the state law regarding (still legal in 1937) child marriage.

The actor playing the Governor just listening carefully is very good, and he doesn’t have as single line to speak in the movie! The movie is still alive and well. But truly a one of a kind movie and curious in many ways.

In some ways, Child Bride (1938) was a preview of radical feminism and the puritanical parts of it proclaimed indignantly in the 1970’s, 40 years later.

The movie was about a crusading young female schoolteacher whose work results in laws outlawing marriage to very young girls.

The star of the movie, Shirley Mills (1926 – 2010), lived into her 80’s and died in 2010.

She was a celebrity at “Nostalgia Conventions” which featured old movies and memorabilia and old stars from long ago like her.

She appeared at booths at “Nostalgia Conventions” which sold DVD copies of Child Bride (1938), movie posters for it, and other collector memorabilia.

In her later life, Shirley Mills claimed that the nude scene had been done by another actress slightly older than Shirley Mills in 1938 (she was 12 that year).

That may or may not have been true, but the movie (in the public domain, anyone can see it free on a home computer using Google.Com to find it and gain access to it) shows close up shots of topless then 12 year old Shirley frolicking and splashing water on her dog. The same highly talented, well trained dog appears in other scenes and is one of important stars of the movie! The movie was about distant, unpoliced places in the USA, about mountain people not constrained by the big government, big city puritanism which took over America after the World War I years, assisted by mass communications and high speed motorized transportation, which communicated and transported propaganda and government policing, and the righteous indignation and moralizing of an increasingly puritanical America.

A movie nostalgia magazine called FilmFax (Summer 2010, No. 124 issue) described the history of the making of Child Bride (1938) in a history article written by Paul Holbrook, a movie historian who did extensive research about Child Bride.

Child Bride (1938) starring Shirley Mills was thus an example of a movie created as a result of journalistic reporting.

The Life Magazine couple shown in the Feb. 15, 1037 issue (Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Johns….she was 9, he was 22) went on to have a long life together.

The groom died in his 80’s and the bride died in her late 70’s, cared for at the end of her life by a daughter who was born as a result of the 1937 marriage.

Ozarks Exploitation

This is one of the strangest classic exploitation movies ever made, ranking with Chained For Life and The Terror of Tiny Town for sheer weirdness. The cast — largely comprised of unknowns and non-actors, but also including popular Angelo Rossitto (aka Don Barrett) the dwarf — portray a community of lascivious, drunken, lawless, moonshine-making Ozark hillbillies (in California, with Eucalyptus trees much in evidence) who want to marry little girls. Meanwhile, a schoolmarm, who has returned to her native hills to teach her fellow “mountain people” how to read, struggles against the evil custom of child marriage in a state that has, as yet, not enacted a minimum-age marriage law.

Most of the actors are not trained, but the central family of mother (Dorothy Carrol), father (George Humphreys), and daughter (Shirley Mills) are riveting in their realistic depiction of dirt-poor farm life. Mills’ diction and gestures in this film were obviously influenced by the acting style of her famous contemporary, Shirley Temple, a fact that helped her project sincere distress during the more violent and emotionally wrenching scenes. Given her role here, and the naturalness with which she plays it, it is no wonder that Mills was later tapped to play Ruthie Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath.” Angelo Rossitto, as a moonshine stiller, is at his athletic best here, clambering up and down the “Republic rocks” and engaging in an intense fight scene with a full-sized heavy, thus bringing his usual liveliness to an unusual role.

There is quite a bit of animal acting in this film, as it is set on a farm. The early morning scene in which Mills goes out to feed the pigs and gets into the pen to “rescue” a piglet, is very true to life, as is her family’s stern response to what might seem to modern eyes as a cute child-in-the-mud scene: Pigs, especially sows with piglets, can be dangerous if angered, and the film-makers knew that well enough that they did not actually place Mills in confrontation with the sow; a couple of jump-cuts show us what happened. I also enjoyed the uncredited Alsatian Police Dog who played Ritz, a well-trained canine actor with dark fur and long ears who, unless my eyes deceive me, was a Rin-Tin-Tin relative or understudy. There are also a couple of very much UNtrained milk goats in this film — a white Saanen and a black Alpine — who stand nicely to be milked (obviously the role for which they were cast), but provide some over-the-top emoting during a funeral march, as they react with panic and a determination to buck, butt, or escape whenever the dog Ritz (who is very docile) gets near them.

“Child Bride” carries an explicit moral message — “These child-marriages must be stopped!” — but, like most exploitation films, it quickly subverts its own message, in this case with extended scenes of child nudity, as barely pubescent Shirley Mills frolics in a clear mountain pool with her German Shepherd dog. Despite the child nudity, which i frankly found disturbing as it went on so long and showed so many prurient repeat shots of Mills’ backside underwater, there is some charm to this story, and enough plot twists to make it interesting. I think this is a movie that every fan of the obscure and off-beat, every fan of B-movies, and certainly every exploitation fan, will want to see.