Wid’s Daily – Sunday, May 18, 1919
“Broken Blossoms” is Poignant Tragedy Given a Masterly Production
D. W. Griffith Presents “Broken Blossoms”
- DIRECTOR D. W. Griffith
- AUTHOR Thomas Burke
- SCENARIO BY D. W. Griffith
- CAMERAMAN G. W. Bitzer
- AS A WHOLE Wonderfully poetic expression of heart-gripping tragedy; production has the tone quality of a beautiful painting and the emotional force of a dramatic masterpiece.
- STORY The spiritual romance of an idealistic Chinaman and a brutally abused white girl, ending in death.
- DIRECTION Superb
- PHOTOGRAPHY Many glorious effects marking a distinct advance in the impressionistic method of motion picture photography.
- LIGHTINGS Every scene is given a tone in keeping with the mood of the action.
- CAMERA WORK The soft focus introduced in some of Griffith’s recent productions is frequently used here; many of the close-ups are works of art.
- PLAYERS Lillian Gish supplies a marvelously appealing portrayal of the pitiable little girl; Donald Crisp is tremendously forceful as the father and Richard Barthelmess gives a finely conceived impersonation of the Chinaman.
- EXTERIORS Admirably devised to lend atmosphere to the story.
- INTERIORS Appear correct even to the smallest item in the furnishings.
- DETAIL The entire production is a composition of significant details perfectly blended; subtitles are beautifully worded in poetic passages; elaborately decorated borders and backgrounds are dispensed with and the dignity of the picture is increased as a result.
- CHARACTER OF STORY Poetic tragedy
- LENGTH OF PRODUCTION 6,000 feet
“BROKEN BLOSSOMS” is a rare accomplishment even for D. W. Griffith. There has been nothing like it in all the annals of the screen—nothing, perhaps, that in the delicate shades of spiritual expression attains such subtle effects; nothing so tremendously, uncompromisingly tragic ; nothing so permeated with poetry and feeling; nothing so frightfully brutal and wonder by turns, as this story of a pure love that is pushed to death—the love of a Chinaman who lives a world of opium tinted dreams and a poor little white girl who never learned to smile.
Griffith has made bigger pictures, certainly he has made many more in accord with the popular taste; but ”Broken Blossoms” is as sadly beautiful as the suggestion of its title. And how much finer it is to give a picture a soul than to dress it up in costly settings.
Behind the story one detects a serious theme—a touch of satire that is well directed at the smug complacency of western civilization, steeped in materialism, yet officiously ready to convert unregenerate Orientals to the gentle practices of Christian nations. In its fundamentals the drama presents a conflict between spirit in its most refined form and matter in its dominant arrogance. The sweet natured, self-effacing Chinaman and the poor little shrinking flower of a girl represent spirit; the prize fighter typifies matter, physically virile, spiritually sterile.
Richard Barthelmess is met as a young Chinaman who is shocked by the combative spirit of American sailors on leave in a Chinese port. Fired with an ambition to spread the doctrine of kindness and charity among western peoples, he sets forth as a missionary of peace.
Years later, in the slums of London, he is an ineffectual shopkeeper, dreaming his dreams in hopeless resignation. Like ships that meet in the dark of a spiritual night, Lillian Gish, half starved, and clothed in rags, passes before his window and the Chinaman sees beauty in her sad face and appealing eyes.
Donald Crisp is Lillian’s father, a prize fighter who drinks, then vents his ugliness with unspeakable fury upon his wan little daughter. One night, after she has been beaten almost into insensibility, Lillian staggers out to the alleyway and finally falls exhausted in the Chinaman’s shop.
He cares for her, he gives her gorgeous garments and a doll that she holds fondly to her breast. His dreary world is transformed into a dream paradise if only he may kneel beside his princess and hold her hand.
Donald wins the fight for which he has been training. Told of his daughter’s presence in the Chinaman’s home, he leaves the ringside to avenge his honor. For sheer tragic power and heart rending poignancy nothing could well exceed ensuing scenes that show the father dragging Lillian to their house and eventually killing her. The Chinaman follows, shoots the prize fighter and carries the body of the lifeless girl back to his rooms.
With infinite tenderness he places silk coverings over his princess and having performed the last rites for the dead, plunges a dagger into his heart.
Miss Gish has given many excellent portrayals, but it is doubtful if she has done anything so superlatively artistic as this interpretation of the abused child. Her expressions are irresistibly touching at all times and there are moments when she reaches emotional heights seldom attained by any actress. Also, it would be difficult to overestimate the contribution of Mr. Crisp and Mr. Barthelmess to the production.
Offers a Chance to See If the Public Will Accept a Tragic Ending
Box Office Analysis for the Exhibitor
In a brief curtain speech after the first public showing of “Broken Blossoms” at the Cohan Theater, Mr. Griffith spoke modestly of the picture and referred to vital necessity of a producer pleasing the public, His tone might be taken to indicate that he questions a wide appeal of an uncompromising tragedy, however it may be handled, a conclusion pretty much in acord with prevalent opinion. At all events, the producer had the courage of his convictions in carrying the story to its logical conclusion without resorting to the customary happy ending, the taste of the public will be put to the test, if is not accepted there is little chance for genuine tragedies, because “Broken Blossoms” is a masterpiece of its kind.
As shown under the director’s supervision, it opens with what is termed thematic overture, a sort of symbolical prologue set to music. This, of course, will be beyond the scope of smaller theaters, as will be a complete rendition of the elaborate music score; but even without such helpful auxiliaries there is no reason why the picture cannot be presented with appropriate dignity.
Passing by the more unusual and significant elements of the production and looking for something likely to appeal to a fan crowd that prefers physical to spiritual combats, you may count on the effectiveness of some cleverly handled prize fight scenes. Really, however, the picture should be accepted as a work of art without resorting to the conventional advertising appeals.
“Broken Blossoms” – Wid’s Daily – 1919