True Heart Susie (1919)

Director: D.W. Griffith

Writer: Marian Fremont (story)

Released under Paramount Pictures’ prestigious Artcraft label.

In 1919 Adolph Zukor devised a three-tiered brand system – the Artcraft division for its high-end, A-list product (ones that could command higher roadshow admissions in major cities) and Realart on the opposite end. The middle tier, which comprised the bulk of the studio’s mainstream releases, was the Paramount banner. This quality classification existed for five years.

d-w-griffith

D.W. Griffith became cinema’s first Modernist by trying to continue the traditions of Victorian theater and literature; in attempting to perpetuate the 19th century, he invented the 20th. Nowhere is this paradoxical effect more evident than in TRUE HEART SUSIE, one of his greatest films. “Do men look for the true heart in women? Or are most of them caught by the net of paint, powder, and suggestive clothes?” Among the many Peary-listed films Lillian Gish made with D.W. Griffith — including The Birth of a Nation (1915), Hearts of the World (1916), Broken Blossoms (1919), Way Down East (1920), and Orphans of the Storm (1921) — True Heart Susie is the sweetest and least complicated. It tells the touching tale of a naive country girl (Gish) who genuinely believes that her ambitious yet sincere young neighbor (Harron) is meant to be her future husband, and gives up her beloved cow towards this good cause; Harron’s continued oblivion of Gish’s feelings — and Gish’s shifting reactions (from blind optimism to heartbroken acceptance) — form the emotional backbone of the film, which is ultimately little more than a love triangle involving a deceptive vamp. It’s Gish’s performance which really elevates the movie above its somewhat predictable material: watching her face as she learns about Harron’s engagement, one is reminded once again about her status as silent cinema’s most accomplished actress.

Photo: Griffith and Harron on set for “Birth of A Nation”

d.w. griffith and robert harron taking a lunch break during the filming of the birth of a nation

Note: The life-story of handsome Harron — who had earlier co-starred in the modern episode of Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) — is quite tragic and mysterious; he died from a gunshot wound the year after this film was released, under shadowy circumstances.

  • Lillian Gish … True Heart Susie
  • Robert Harron … William Jenkins
  • Wilbur Higby … William’s father
  • Loyola O’Connor … Susie’s aunt
  • George Fawcett … The Stranger
  • Clarine Seymour … Bettina Hopkins
  • Kate Bruce … Bettina’s aunt
  • Carol Dempster … Bettina’s friend
  • Raymond Cannon … Sporty Malone

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