Sparrows, Mary Pickford's 1926 release, superbly combines the two elements--sentiment and adventure--that characterized Pickford's best work.
At first glance, the film seems to be a horror picture, as satanic potato farmer Grimes (Gustav Von Seyfertitz) crushes a child's doll with his thumb and forefinger and tosses the plaything into the dismal swamps surrounding his lands. We learn that Grimes has been exploiting the children from a local orphanage, forcing them to work his farm day and night.
Though collecting a hefty maintenance pay for the orphans, Grimes dresses them in rags and feeds them a starvation diet. Happily, Mary Pickford, the oldest of the orphans, has enough gumption to stand up to Grimes and prohibit him from inflicting any further atrocities.
The plot thickens when a kidnaped child is left in Grimes' care in exchange for a generous portion of the ransom money. Mary rescues the abducted child, as well as all the other orphans, by leading them through the alligator-infested and quicksand-festooned swamp--a truly frightening sequence, made even more so by the use of real gators.
Sparrows falters only in those scenes where Pickford, with genuine but somewhat misguided piety, converses with the Almighty, and in the final motorboat-chase sequence, which seems prolonged (and unnecessary!) after that heart-pounding swamp escape.