Savage Haiti of ‘Papa Doc’ Upstages Characterization in ‘Comedians’ – By Clifford Terry (Chicago Tribune 1967)

Chicago Tribune – Tuesday November 14, 1967 – Page 37

  • Savage Haiti of ‘Papa Doc’ Upstages Characterization in ‘Comedians’
  • By Clifford Terry
The Comedians 1967 lobby card

The savage stage upon which “The Comedians” strut and fret their pathetic parts is the island of Haiti, that harbor of hate stuck in the middle of Tourist Land and dominated by the sound and fury of “Papa Doc” Duvalier.

Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Ustinov in The Comedians 1967

Onto this set have been built the props, cemented in power and poverty: political purges, dungeons, blackouts, firing-squad reprisals, intimidation and murder, and 5,000 sunglass-concealed, strong-arm sadists known as the Tonton, the Carribean counterpart of the Gestapo. From offstage obscurity, enter the personae, fitted with the simplest of names, unknowingly cast as charade cogs absurdly and pitifully floundering in the midst of games tyrant play: Brown [Richard Burton], the wry, witty owner of a hand-me-down hotel in Port-au-Prince and an outspoken Duvalier detractor; Martha [Elizabeth Taylor], Brown’s lover and wife of a weak-willed diplomat [Peter Ustinov]; Jones [Alec Guiness], a shifty –British munitions profiteer who thrives on nostalgic war stories about how he won the Burma campaign; and Smith [Paul Ford], a candidate in the 1948 American Presidential election [on the Vegetarian ticket], and his surprisingly spunky wife [Lillian Gish].

Paul Ford and Lillian Gish – Still frame from ‘The Comedians’ 1967

As the film progresses, it becomes evident that circumstance has upstaged characterization [in spite of some rather tidily-packaged soul-searching], as Novelist-Script-Writer Graham Greene calls upon blood and brutality, violence and voodoo, to powerfully portray what’s up with Papa Doc.

Peter Glenville – The Comedians 1967

Altho dragging a bit in its last laps, the two-and-one-half-hour “Comedians” nonetheless is a good, solid film, showing the best side of Director Peter Glenville [“Becket”], who has erased the bad taste of his last attempt “Hotel Paradiso.” While the entire cast give fine performances, honors belong to Burton, who keeps on top of the most important role – the apparently strong, unbending Englishman who really is as insecure as his fellow fumblers, whose words about “no faith in faith” give way to reluctant action as he leads a quixotic coup against the despots.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on set – The Comedians 1967

Looking remarkably lovely and svelte [especially after her broad-beamed shots in “Virginia Woolf” and “Reflections in a Golden Eye”], and speaking with some kind of an accent which turns out to be German, Miss Taylor does quite well in spite of a part that is closer in challenge to “The V.I.P.’s” than her latest roles.

The Comedians 1967 poster MGM one sheet

As the Babbitty business man, Guiness is an excellent, transcending one of those illusion-into-reality character changes that has become extremely overworked. And in a bit of offbeat casting, Ustinov is remarkably weak and sensitive in portraying the cuckold’s laissez-faire lethargy.

Lillian Gish in “The Comedians” – Photo Gallery

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Baby Camille of Lillian Gish Arouses Critic – By Burns Mantle (Chicago Tribune – 1932)

  • Chicago Tribune – Sunday November 13, 1932 – Page 51
  • Baby Camille of Lillian Gish Arouses Critic

Too Ethereal for New York

By Burns Mantle

New York – Special – The Lillian Gish “Camille” which has been brought down from the Colorado mountains by the Delos Chappels to show these dull easterners what Dumas really had in mind when, eighty years ago, he wrote the story of Marguerite Gautier and titled it “The Lady of the Camellias” – the Lillian Gish “Camille” is at least 99 per cent pure and floats more successfully than any of them. Of course, if Lillian is right and Robert Edmond Jones is right in his direction of her, then it must follow that fifty million Frenchmen have been wrong for eighty years at least. For nothing so etherealized in the way of Camilles has ever been exhibited on any stage in any country since the play became an emotional actress favorite bronchial and abdominal exercise.

Laura Gilpin (1891-1979); Camille–Gish, Lillian, [And] Raymond Hackett [Made at Chappell Home, Denver]; 1932; Platinum print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Ft Worth, Texas, Bequest of the Artist; P1979.140.193

It is Mr. Jones’ contention that Dumas, in fact has literally been this wrong. His heroine, says Robert, though “one of the most famous of all Parisian courtesans, who died and was deeply mourned at the age of 24, was no middle-aged sophisticate, taking quick profit of her life. Instead, she was a young girl who, governed solely by her great heart, rose at last to spiritual heights which have immortalized her.”

Well, there is agreement on a few points. Marguerite was a courtesan, and she was 24. She had had numerous lovers. She had lived hectically. Her pleasant dissipations had undermined her health and she was, it is fair to assume, at least a 24 year old sophisticate.

Camille Cast with R.E. Jones and Lillian Gish in Chappel Garden by Laura Gilpin Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas 1932

A Book and a Play are keeping Lillian Gish for the Public Eye – By Karen Hollis (Picture Play 1933)

“It isn’t the Paris courtesan that she is playing. What she really is playing is Marguerite’s pathos itself, the sadness of the irrevocable of all those memories evoked by the yellowed lace of old hall dresses, by pressed roses found in a book, by the tinkle of dance music played on a harpsichord; the tragedy of fleeting beauty, of love lost, of fragile youth so soon to yield to death.” (Arthur Ruhl)

Laura Gilpin (1891-1979); Lillian Gish as Camille. Central City, Colorado; 1932; Gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Ft Worth, Texas; Bequest of the Artist; P1979.140.309

BROADWAYITES have finally had an opportunity to see Lillian Gish as Camille, and she is assured a place in arguments about illusion in the theater for years to come. Not every one approved her delineation of the role, but every one found some evanescent magic in it. There were harsh words said about her playing the fabulous courtesan as a chaste spinster. There was some confusion over the play being presented in the manner of fifty years ago with quaint lighting, soliloquies, and exrated posturings.

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Lillian Gish, 99, enduring star spanning the history of movies (Chicago Tribune – March 01, 1993)

Chicago Tribune – Monday, March 01, 1993 – Page 55

Lillian Gish, 99, enduring star spanning the history of movies

From Chicago Tribune wires

NEW YORK – Lillian Gish, the last of the great silent film stars who went on to perform for more than 85 years in movies, theater and television, has died at age 99. Her personal manager, James E. Frasher, said she died in her sleep Saturday evening of heart failure.

“She was the same age as film,” Frasher said. “They both cam into the world in 1893.”

Miss Gish still was performing as recently as the late 1980s. In 1986, she appeared as Alan Alda’s hilariously addled mother in “Sweet Liberty” and in 1987 she was praised for her sensitive portrayal of an indomitable old woman in “The Whales of August,” which co-starred another movie legend, Bette Davis.

Mike Kaplan and Lillian Gish during filming for ‘The Whales of August’

“To become an actress, one cannot begin too soon,” said Miss Gish, who made her acting debut at age 5. Under the guidance of director D.W. Griffith, Miss Gish was to become the pre-eminent actress in such classics as “The Birth of a Nation,” “Intolerance,” “Broken Blossoms,” and “Way Down East.”

Lillian Gish as Anna Moore – wearing her Wedding Dress – Way Down East

After performing in dozens of one and two-reel silent movies – with running times of 10 or 20 minutes – and then in the longer Griffith epics, Miss Gish made a successful transition into the “talkies” and later into television.

Between film and television roles, she also worked on the stage. In 1930, she starred as Helena in Jed Harris’ Broadway production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” and in 1973 she appeared as the nurse in Mike Nichols’ revival of the play. She made her last Broadway appearance in 1975, in “A Musical Jubilee.”

Lillian Gish and Mike NicholsUncle Vanya – 1973

Especially in her youth, Miss Gish evoked an aura of fragility, and hers was a vulnerable, waiflike beauty. The renowned theatrical impresario David Belasco pronounced her “the most beautiful blonde I have ever seen.”

Miss Gish, though not always in excellent health, was accustomed to hard work and took a no-nonsense view of her physical attributes.

“I didn’t care about being a beauty,” she said in an interview in 1975. “I wanted to be an actress. When I was in the movies, I didn’t care what I looked like, except for that image up there on the screen. I wanted to create beauty when it was necessary; that’s an inner thing. But if all you have is a façade, it isn’t interesting.”

Throughout her life, Miss Gish remained singularly devoted to her mother and her sister, Dorothy, who was younger, but became an actress about the same time Lillian did. Mrs. Gish died in 1948, after years as an invalid, and Dorothy Gish died in 1968.

Miss Gish never married and leaves no survivors. “I loved a lot of dear men, but luckily I never ruined their lives by marrying them,” she said. “What kind of a marriage would it have been to a wife who worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week?”

FILE – This 1915 file photo shows actress Lillian Gish as she appeared in D.W. Griffith’s movie, “Birth of a Nation.” The film’s cast also included some of the greatest directors of the talking era, among them Raoul Walsh (who played John Wilkes Booth) and John Ford (who played a Klansman). (AP Photo)

The artistic collaboration between Miss Gish and Griffith lasted more than a decade. During that time, she appeared in dozens of Griffith’s short films and starred in most of his critically and economically successful longer ones.

Lillian Gish (Henriette Girard) “Orphans of the Storm”

In some films, she played bit parts; in others, she played several roles; in some, she was the star. All of Griffith’s actors did the same, and it was not until after the success of “The Birth of a Nation” that any received on-screen credit.

Hendrick Sartow, a still photographer who eventually became a cinematographer for Griffith, invented for Miss Gish the “Lillian Gish lens,” *** now called a soft-focus lens, which gives its photographed subject a warmly blurred appearance.

In the mid-1920’s, Miss Gish became embroiled in a long legal battle with Charles Duell, a socialite who had been her financial adviser (and, as she said in 1975, “sort of my Svengali”), over sums she allegedly owed him.

Lillian Gish and The Carrot syndrome 1925

During the trial, Miss Gish munched carrots, and newspaper photographs of her stirred a carrot-chomping fad across the country. Americans had become enchanted with the new artistic aristocracy – the movie stars like Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino and Miss Gish.

Lucy’s smile … (Broken Blossoms)

Earlier, after Miss Gish pushed up the sides of her mouth with her fingers to demonstrate feigned happiness in a movie, the gesture became a much-copied fad.

One Romantic Night – The Swan

Miss Gish made the transition from silents to talkies in 1930 in “One Romantic Night,” with Rod LaRocque and Conrad Nagel. By that time, she had signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. “My contract called for six pictures in two years, for which I was paid, I believe, a million dollars,” she wrote.

Lillian Gish as Ophelia and John Gielgud in Hamlet 1936

Miss Gish made a triumphant return to the stage in 1930 in “Uncle Vanya” on Broadway. In 1936, she played Ophelia to John Gielgud’s Hamlet and Judith Anderson’s Queen Gertrude, and, in 1941, she began a record-breaking 66-week run in “Life With Father” in Chicago. In 1960, she starred in “All the Way Home” on Broadway.

Life With Father – Lillian Gish and Percy Waram

When not before the cameras or an audience, Miss Gish toured the world, lecturing and showing Griffith’s classics.

Lillian Gish holding her Honorary Oscar at the 43rd Academy Awards, April 15th 1971. (Photo by Pictorial Parade Archive Photos)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized her work in 1970, *** presenting her an honorary Oscar, and the American Film Institute presented her its lifetime achievement award for 1984. In 1982, she received the Kennedy Center Honor.

1982 DC Ronald Reagan – Lillian Gish (Kennedy Center)

She said current movie-making methods had ruined the quality of acting.

“No one rehearses anymore, so how do you know what to do? They just do takes 100 times over. Now, distributors make more money on popcorn than on the film, and deservedly so.”

Admin note:

*** Billy Bitzer invented the “Lillian Gish” lens not Sartov

*** The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized Lillian Gish’s work in 1971, not 1970.

Chicago Tribune – Monday, March 01, 1993 – Page 55 Lillian Gish, 99, enduring star spanning the history of movies From Chicago Tribune wires

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Hedda Hopper’s Memories of Early Movies and D.W. Griffith (Chicago Tribune, 1952)

Chicago – Tribune Wednesday September 03, 1952 – Page 23

From Under My Hat

Hedda Hopper’s Memories of Early Movies and D.W. Griffith

Instalment IX

By Hedda Hopper

Hollywood, the pioneers – Griffith and Bitzer 1912

When D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” hit the screen it gained many converts and fans for the movies from the legitimate theatre stars, who, up till then, had looked upon motion pictures as a not quite bright member of the entertainment family who should be kept out of sight when the aristocracy of the stage came to call.

So when Douglas Fairbanks was approached by D.W. Griffith to come to Hollywood and star in “The Lamb,” he quickly said yes. Wolfie, like the others, had an offer for a year in Hollywood with options. The offer came over the telephone, but he insisted that the man bring the contract to Siasconset for his signature. He and the fellow players who signed along with him entered on a period of having their eyes opened. Wolfie’s chief asset was his voice, but unfortunately the pictures were silent.

Doug Fairbanks’ first wife, Beth, found a home for us in Hollywood and engaged a Japanese couple to run it. The Fairbankses also had a Japanese couple, so when either of us entertained we pooled servants. And such a service! Doug, dispensing with a chauffeur, drove his own car. It was several years before he started to make real money.

The Studio on Fourteenth Street (Billy Bitzer Story)

There were three major studios then: D.W. Griffith’s, Thomas Ince’s and Mack Sennett’s, but few independents. The Christie boys were still making two reelers. There were rivalries but no rapier jealousies like those of today. Feuds weren’t as much fun then. You were in the same business, the studios were close together, and sometimes you were in the same pictures. You kept running into your rival each day. If you went to a party, there he was, and you couldn’t avoid speaking. I’ve remedied that situation today. I can look right thru ‘em and not see ‘em. But in the early days no false fin lines were drawn; no social hoop-de-do, and no better than Wrestler Bull Montana.

DW Griffith and Lillian Gish

D.W. Griffith was the father of our industry. Many men have tried to claim that title since, but it was due to Griffith that Hollywood grew great. He was one of the great pioneers of the business in developing screen technique, but his cameraman, Billy Bitzer, and not Griffith, as is so widely supposed, invented the close-up.

After giving us “Birth of a Nation,” “Intolerance,” “Way Down East,” “Orphans of the Storm,” and “Broken Blossoms,” Griffith started to grow old, and upstart producers said his usefulness was at the end. In his latter years he lived at the Knickerbocker hotel. Griffith didn’t need money; he needed a job to uphold his pride. There was nothing left for him to do in the art form he had largely perfected. He wandered around Beverly Hills and Hollywood, drinking in one tavern, then going on to the next bar.

circa 1925: David Wark Griffith (1875 – 1948), American film director. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

I went to several bigwigs in the business. “You must find something for that man to do; give him back his faith in life.” “What could we do?” they asked me. They had the face to ask that question! “The industry has passed him by!” Passed by the man who made it possible for every one of them to be where they were! In Hollywood gratitude is Public Enemy No.1.

I also talked to the executives of the Motion Picture Relief Fund Country home. “Give him a job,” I begged. “Let him go over the lists of applicants – he will give understanding to people who, like himself, have grown old in this business and are now on the shelf. Make the money nominal – $50 a week – D.W. doesn’t want or need charity; but give him back his sense of belonging.” Well, they didn’t quite see how it could be done.

Death Takes DW Griffith

Finally, on June 23, 1948, Griffith died. Could it be because he no longer had the will to live, and just loosed his grasp, opened his hand and let life fall away from him?

It was a fine funeral. The flowers were abundant. Why not, when the studio controllers could O.K. the bills as necessary business expense! I made it my business to arrive early for the services, and took a front seat where I could see everyone and they could all see me. All the big brass was there. I had a little list and checked them off as they walked past. Then I stared at them until they were forced to look me in the eye. A more sheepish looking crowd I never expect to see in Hollywood.

David Griffith Dies

Charles Brackett, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who never knew Griffith personally, read the eulogy. Among other things, he said: “There was no solution for Griffith but a kind of frenzied beating on the barred doors of one day after another. Fortunately, such miseries do not endure indefinitely. When all the honors a man can have are past honors, past honors take on their just proportion. The laurels are fresh again and the applause loud. He lies here, the embittered years forgotten, David Wark Griffith, the Great.”

A few months after Griffith’s death I had occasion to lunch with Eric Johnston, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, who was very pleased with himself.

“Hedda,” he said, “You’ll be happy to know that the producers are going to build a great monument to D.W. Griffith over his grave in Kentucky.”

I looked at him. “Are they out of their minds? The men who would do nothing for him while he lived are now to show their generosity by buying a shaft of granite to mark his resting place?”

Richard Barthelmess, Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish at Griffith’s Memorial Lagrange Kentucky May 14, 1950

In May 1950 three famous stars of the silent screen – Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess – went to La Grange, Ky., and dedicated a dignified and honest memorial to the man they loved. It’s a simply inscribed seven foot Georgia marble memorial. Near the cemetery is the white frame church where Griffith attended Sunday school.

(Copyright 1952: Hedda Hopper)

Richard Barthelmess, Mary Pickford, Evelyn Baldwin Griffith and Lillian Gish at Griffith’s Memorial Lagrange Kentucky May 14, 1950

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Famous Friends (1977)

Actresses Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes have tea in the Gish home in New York before an outing 1977

Famous Friends (1977)

1977 New York:

Actresses Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes have tea in the Gish home in New York before an outing. Asked about their long careers, they agreed that one should always have curiosity and vitality to carry it out. The two have appeared together only once – in a 1956 CBS-TV special, “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Miss Gish is godmother to Miss Hayes’ son, actor James MacArthur, and to her grandson, Charles Macarthur. (August 19, 1977 UPI)

Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes in Central Park NY 1977 – cab horse

Still Just Horsing Around

Actresses Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes team up to share a horse laugh with another veteran entertainer – one of the few remaining cab horses in New York. The women, friends for 56 years, still continue acting.

Actresses Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes — and one of the few remaining cab horses in New York 1977
Actresses Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes with one of the few remaining cab horses in New York 1977
UPI – Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes have tea in the Gish home in New York before an outing 1977

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“One Romantic Night” (The Swan) Entire Film

The story is an adaptation of Ferenc Molnar’s play “The Swan,” seen on the stage in London. Lillian Gish has a freshness that is not common among the goddesses of Hollywood. Conrad Nagel and Rod la Rocque look and play their parts excellently well. O. P. Heggie makes a splendid and knowing “Father Benedict” and Marie Dressler again gives of her genius.

“One Romantic Night” was a photographically beautiful picture, with a distinguished cast. Lillian, as Princess Alexandra; Rod La Roque, as the Prince (sent, against his will, to woo her); Marie Dressler, as her designing mother; Conrad Nagel, as a tutor, in love with Alexandra; O. P. Heggie—altogether a fine company. Yet it has been called a poor picture, and Lillian today is not proud of her part in it. It was by no means a failure. Never had she looked more lovely. No longer a victim of tyranny, brutality and betrayal, but a Princess, as rare as any out of a fairy tale, with a palace and a rose garden and suitors, with a lilting, perfectly-timed voice, Lillian appeared to have come into her own.

Director: Paul L. Stein

Writers: Maxwell Anderson (adaptation) Melville Baker (adaptation) 3 May 1930 (USA)

  • Lillian Gish … Princess Alexandra
  • Rod La Rocque … Prince Albert
  • Conrad Nagel … Dr. Nicholas Haller
  • Marie Dressler … Princess Beatrice
  • O.P. Heggie … Father Benedict
  • Albert Conti … Count Lutzen
  • Edgar Norton … Colonel Wunderlich
  • Billie Bennett … Princess Symphorosa
  • Philippe De Lacy … Prince George
  • Byron Sage … Prince Arsene
  • Barbara Leonard … Mitzi
One Romantic Night – adaptation from Molnar’s play The Swan

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“The Enemy” — Entire Film — 1927 MGM

Produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Directed by Fred Niblo
The Cast:

  • Pauli Arndt …………..………… Lillian Gish
  • Carl Behrend ………………. Ralph Forbes
  • Bruce Gordon ………….. Ralph Emerson
  • Professor Arndt ……….…. Frank Currier
  • August Behrend ….….. George Fawcett
  • Mitzi Winkelmann …… Fritzi Ridgeway
  • Fritz Winkelmann ……… John S. Peters
  • Jan …………………….…………….. Karl Dane
  • Baruska …………….…………. Polly Moran
  • Kurt …………….………. Billy Kent Shaefer

“Although Miss Gish’s acting is on her own familiar lines, she has, as always, that valuable asset of restraint. Fred Niblo, who was responsible for the film version of “Ben Hur,” does not display in his direction any great imagination in the handling of the players nor in the continuity of action.” (Mordaunt Hall – NY Times)

“Lillian Gish ceases to be the ethereal goddess. She is an every-day woman who sacrifices her man, her child and finally her honor, for the necessity rather than glory of battle. As the Austrian bride of an Austrian soldier she proves that she is a really great actress. Her love scenes with Ralph Forbes are superb with genuine emotion; her sufferings as realistically tragic as though she had lived behind the German trenches.” (Photoplay – The Shadow Stage)
“Beneath her frail exterior, Lillian Gish conceals an indomitable spirit and unshakable courage and willpower. Long ago, when she left D. W. Griffith’s direction, disaster was predicted. Few believed that she could stand alone, away from the man under whose guiding genius she had risen to the first rank of screen stars. But Lillian was no Trilby, to collapse when Svengali’s spell was removed. She determined to show a critical world that she had brains of her own and could use them. She made her first independent film, and to-day Lillian still ranks amongst the first-class stars.” (Picture Show Annual – 1929)

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The Wind (1928) – USA – Entire Film

Desert Wind Blows Drama Into This Movie
Gives Lillian Gish New Laurels, Too.

Director: Victor Sjöström

Writers: Frances Marion (scenario) Dorothy Scarborough (from the novel by)

It was one of the last silent films released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and is considered one of the greatest silent films. Lillian Gish came up with the idea of making a film adaption of the novel of the same name. Irving Thalberg immediately gave her permission to do so. Gish recalled wanting Lars Hanson as her leading man, she also assigned Victor Sjöström as the director herself. Sjöström directed Gish before in the 1926 movie The Scarlet Letter. The Wind is considered to be a classic, and one of Gish’s most brilliant performances. It is the last silent film starring Gish, the last directed by Sjostrom, and the last major silent released by MGM.

“The Wind”
Produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Directed by Victor Seastrom
Presented at the Rialto theater

  • The Cast:
  • Letty ……………..…………… Lillian Gish
  • Lige ………………….……… Lars Hanson
  • Roddy ………………… Montague Love
  • Cora ……………… Dorothy Cummings
  • Beverly …………….…….. Edward Earle
  • Sourdough .….… William Orlamond

The story is a strange and thrilling one of the southwest of the early days. It is grim and full of incident, mostly gray and gritty as the blinding, blowing sands. It is one of those pictures that would be just too much to bear unless it had a happy ending.

Well – It has.

Miss Gish is supported by an able cast doing magnificent work. The direction is masterly. Photography – immense. The wind is so real it tears into your nerves.

The Wind – MGM 1928 – Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson, Montagu Love, William Orlamond, Edward Earle, Dorothy Cummings

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