An orphan boy is saved from a criminal gang and reformed by a private charity. [ Lord Jeff credits: Dir: Sam Wood/ Freddie Bartholomew, Mickey Rooney, Charles Coburn/ 85 min/ Family, Drama/ Voluntarism/ 1938] No trailer available.
Lord Jeff is a delightful, uplifting classic film that also highlights one of the greatest private charities of all time: the “National Incorporated Association for the Reclamation of Destitute Waif Children,” referred to commonly, after its founder, as simply “Dr. Barnardo’s Homes.”
The central character of this film, “Lord Jeff,” is an orphan boy of the 1800s, corrupted by his adult criminal companions and trained to appear as the heir apparent to royalty and fortune, all for the purpose of getting access to wealthy connections and upscale shops that their little gang can rob. One of their criminal capers goes awry, however, and the boy is caught. A sympathetic court decides that rather than send him to prison, society would be better served if he were reformed, so instead he is sent to Dr. Barnardo’s Homes.
In this unique orphanage focused on skills training, the boy is placed under the care and supervision of strict Navy veterans who prepare him for naval service, but much more importantly steer him from his criminal ways and transform him into a person of self-consciously good character. Unfortunately, the criminal gang to which he was earlier attached attempt to return into his life; all seems lost…unless, just maybe, the loyal kids of the orphanage can somehow protect him.
Dr. Barnardo’s Homes saved roughly 100,000 children between 1870 and 1905 – one in every 400 Britons of the time. Abandoned children dying of starvation or exposure were offered food, shelter, and job training. Money was raised through the ingenious method of taking before and after pictures of the children — ragged and desperate before, fit and smartly dressed for work after — and printing them up on cards, which donors were given so they could see the results of their contribution, and which publicized the charity’s activities.
This classic film stars some of the top child talent of its time, including Freddie Bartholomew and Mickey Rooney, and would make a great pick for younger children. More than that, it’s also a wonderful and touching tribute to one of the greatest children’s charities ever created, and a fine example of how people help each other in a voluntary society.