“Broken Blossoms” – By Mae Tinee (Chicago Tribune – 1919)

Chicago Tribune – Saturday, May 31, 1919 – Page 14

Again Mr. Griffith Shows ‘Em How It Should Be Done

“Broken Blossoms”

Produced and directed by D.W. Griffith

 

Presented at the Illinois

 

The Cast:

  • The Girl …………………….…..…. Lillian Gish
  • “Battling” Burrows ………….. Donald Crisp
  • The Chinaman …….. Richard Barthelmess
  • Evil Eye …………………….…….. Edward Peil
  • A prize fighter ……….…….. Norman Selby
  • The Spying One …..……. George Beranger

By Mae Tinee

Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) 31 May 1919, Sat Page 14 - N

The D.W. Griffith repertory season started auspiciously  last night at the Illinois with “Broken Blossoms,” adapted from the story by Thomas Burke.

At the risk of repeating one’s self, it is still necessary to say that Mr. Griffith is in a class all by himself. He has a number of worthy followers in the directorial line who put out excellent pictures – so good you wonder if, perhaps the master has not rivals. The answer comes when with a production like “Broken Blossoms” the wizard turns himself loose and shows what he really can do.

Realizing the psychological effect of surroundings on the plastic mind, the Illinois theater has been touched by a discerning wand and transformed into a bower of flowers and rosy lights. Beautiful houris in the shimmering raiment of the orient precede you to your seat and hand you your quaint program. Incense and music combine to lure you into harmony with the picture. Of which, somebody remarked upon hearing the presentation:

 

“I wonder if that story can be put upon the screen? It’s a dangerous theme – the love of a yellow man for a white girl – and would have to be treated with the same exquisite delicacy and sureness of touch the author used in order to make the picture in any way possible.”

Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess - Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess – Broken Blossoms

Well, it could not have been more beautifully handled. Richard Barthelmess as the lonely Chinese lad who comes to London to convert the Anglo-Saxons to the theories of the gentle Buddha, and there meets disillusionment, love and death, gives a marvelous presentation.

Broken Blossoms

Surely this stolid, intense, sensitive, passionate, disappointed, sad-eyed watchful oriental could never have played in the comedies! Yet it was only last week you saw him lending merriment to a Dorothy Gish picture. He gave me the surprise of my young life, I’ll admit. I didn’t think he had it in him.

Lucy Burrows on the Wharf (Broken Blossoms)
Lucy Burrows on the Wharf (Broken Blossoms)

And Lillian Gish. It has been that now you like her and now you don’t. This time, however, there can be no question about her. She is a poor little cockney, the ward of a prize fighter whom she calls “Daddy.” It is upon this helpless waif that daddy vents the rage of his black moments – using the rawhide with skill born of long practice. One of these beatings brings her to the Chinaman’s door step, where she falls, spent with pain.

Lillian Gish dragged back home (Broken Blossoms)
Lillian Gish dragged back home (Broken Blossoms)

Hunger, agony, terror, helplessness, timid gratitude to the first person who has ever been kind to her – the Chinese boy – are all portrayed by Miss Gish with startling realism. You are sick with pity for her. You admit it – and that shows how wonderful she is.

Lillian Gish and Donald Crisp in Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish and Donald Crisp in Broken Blossoms

As to Donald Crisp as the prize fighter, you must hand him a medal for work well done. And then you’d like to forget him. The minor parts are all excellently played.

The picture has a rather novel color scheme – Chinese blue. Awfully effective. It is characterized by the artistic settings, splendid photography and keen attention to detail that always mark a Griffith production.

My one and only criticism would be that at the start the action is too slow. It takes you a long while to get into the story.

“Broken Blossoms” is a credit to its maker.

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