James Stewart stars as a railroad man hired to secretly carry a payroll despite his suspected connections to outlaws
Ground-breaking drama that put deaf actress Marlee Martin on an equal footing with co-star William Hurt
In some ways, Children Of The Lesser God is rather like one of those British supertrains from the 1970s: it heralded a future that never came. Here was an Oscar-friendly Hollywood movie built around a disability that for once had the decency to cast actors who happened to have that disability, rather than reward an able-bodied star for their heart-tugging, mugging-heavy turn.
Since the release of the film, there have been more stars than ever having a go at acting from wheelchairs or playing at mental illness. And Marlee Martin, an Oscar-winner at 21, is - apart from a good stint on 'The West Wing' - destined to be half-remembered as that "beautiful deaf girl".
The film itself treads a line between radical campaigning and mainstream movie making. The political point is that Sarah (Martin) refuses to learn talking and lip-reading, because with signing she already has a language that serves her well. Hurt, then having his moment as a big star, is the hippy teacher who falls in love with her while trying to convince her to compromise with the hearing world.
They are both superb, which compensates for occasional missteps in the filmmaking. Having Hurt say out loud everything that Martin signs, for instance, is an inelegant way out of the problem of her dialogue. But this is also a film with a manifest desire to do the right thing that should not be mocked. It's worth remembering that sincere films like this were every bit as representative of what Hollywood was doing in the mid-1980s as Top Gun.
A sappy but often genuinely moving and angry film about love, life and deafness.
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