The advent of sound sent Hollywood producers running to Broadway to find some actors who could actually speak coherently enough for film audiences. During this raid on the stage, MGM found Louis Mann and created a vehicle to movie stardom for him through Sins of the Children, at the time marketed as The Richest Man in the World. Mann, however, would die the next year and never make another film. The project was not without its discoveries, however, as it was among the first pictures in which fellow stage actor Robert Montgomery would appear.
Mann plays the ultimate father as Adolph, a barber who opens the picture preparing to invest in a start up building and loan operation. Just before heading out the door, however, he learns one of his sons is ill and in need of rest in a dry and high altitude climate. The man thus re-appropriates his investment. His friend Joseph Higgenson (Robert McWade) follows through with the business venture, however, and becomes a powerful man.
Jump ahead at least a decade and Adolph is still muddling through at his barbershop. The one son died at war, another, Ludwig (Francis X. Bushman Jr.), has just graduated from medical school and would rather spend time with his girlfriend and Americanize his name. Son Johnnie (Elliott Nugent) has a job as a debt collector but is persuaded by Higgenson’s son Nick (Montgomery) to gamble with it. Adolph must then make up the $200 missing dollars to prevent his son from going to jail. Nick is dating daughter Alma (Leila Hyams) even though his his father does not approve of the girl beneath his social rank.
Next the father mortgages his barbershop to donate $2,000 toward setting up a medical office for Ludwig only to find he has just eloped with that unpleasant girlfriend. He cannot make the payments on the loan, however, and his shop is foreclosed despite the hiring of a manicurist –with whom Johnnie falls in love – to attract customers.
Despite the disappointments his children have wrought and the loss of his livelihood, the story offers us a happy ending. Johnnie, who had skipped town, returns home with a patent for an automatic shaving cream dispenser that has been put partially in Adolph’s name. Johnnie and the manicurist opt to marry, Nick –after hearing Adolf declare he is a richer man because of his family’s love than the wealthy Joseph Higgenson– marries Alma, and all members of the family celebrate the holidays together.
Sins of the Children was nothing if not finely acted. One can see why Mann was considered a hot property for Hollywood, and Montgomery shows himself as a seasoned actor in only his second year in California. Mann plays his character as a father teetering between ignorance and over-generosity. The story goes to extremes to prove the value of familial love but does so in a logical manner. All children, despite their flaws, remain as endearing to the audience as they do to the father who continues to care for them.