Child Bride (1938)

 “I’d put her in boiling oil and watch her fry.”

It’s amazing what you can get away with even when you have censors breathing down your neck. With the Hays Code of film censorship enforced in 1934, a number of films were made which appeared to be moral crusades. In reality, these films gave an excuse for a titillating glimpse at some lurid element. It was also important, in these ‘moral crusade’ films to include moral statements–usually at the beginning of the film–making it clear that the film is some sort of attempt to expose a wicked social ill, and educate the public about it at the same time. These moral crusade films include such titles as Cocaine Fiends and the well-known Reefer Madness. Child Bride (alternate title: Child Bride of the Ozarks)–made in 1938 falls into the same category. In this case, however, the social ill is supposed to be limited geographically to those regions in America that allowed early marriage.

child-bride1Child Bride is set in the Ozarks, and some seriously bad acting plagues the film. Jennie Colton (Shirley Mills) lives with her parents in a squalid shack and attends school with the other ragamuffins. Freddie (Bob Bolinger) is her innocent sweetheart, and the two children spend a great deal of time together. There are several extremely cheesy scenes of Jennie in the pigpen, Jennie at school etc., but the real action begins when the schoolteacher begins campaigning to raise the legal marrying age in the area. Seems the men wear their women out, and when one dies off after bearing a number of children, the widower just selects another pre-pubescent girl for his next victim.

The film includes two scenes that amazingly sneaked by the censors. One scene involves the schoolteacher whose ripped nightgown gets more tattered with every step and is practically falling off by the time the action reaches a crescendo. The other scene was quite startling and involves Jennie swimming nude in a river. Jennie’s nudity is observed by the film’s wicked villain and salivating Peeping Tom, Jake Bolby (Warner P. Richmond). The film emphasizes the notion of pedophilia when Jake courts little Jennie by giving her a doll. Jennie is a plump cheeked, angelic, sunny little girl, and the idea of her being married has some really sick implications, but this film, amazingly, slid by the censors. With bad acting, and a sappy plot, the film’s main value is as an artifact. Collectors and film history aficionados will be interested in the film, but that’s about its limit. The picture is a bit grainy, and the action includes a few minor skips, but it’s certainly watchable quality.

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