Broken Blossoms Wins Praise of Chicago Critic

Chico Record, Number 247, 31 October 1919

Broken Blossoms Wins Praise of Chicago Critic

D.W. Griffith’s super-picture “Broken Blossoms” which comes to the Majestic Friday and Saturday aroused much comment in eastern newspapers, including the following by Virginia Dale in the Chicago Journal: “Broken Blossoms” in the most tragic, the most beautiful thing that has ever reached the screen. It is a drama of wistfulness, of ungracious satire, of love and of furious reality.

Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess in “Broken Blossoms” (Lucy Burrows and Cheng Huan “Chinky”)

It is reversing the old order which showed the yellow man in a heathen state of revulsion and the white man filled in contrast with brotherly love. “Broken Blossoms” is tremendous in its cruelty – yet through it all runs a thread of beauty that binds the yellow man into the fabric of the plot. He comes from a land filled with a mystic race who worship their gods in a mystic way. But whatever the fruits of their religion its principle is goodness. And the yellow man comes to the home of his white brother with youth’s enthusiasm to spread that goodness.

The author selected the Limehouse Lights district of London in which to have him lose his illusions. There cruelty stalked rampant and was epitomized in the person of Battling Burrows, a prize fighter. Wistfulness, pity, horror and agony is woven into a marvelous pattern by Lillian Gish as a waif child, daughter of Battling Burrows. The thing which could have been so malodorous, less delicately handled, forms the crux of the story – the love of the yellow man for the sad eyed, bruised little girl, the Broken Blossom of the tale.

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

It is after she faints on his doorstep, hurt and broken, that he shows her the first kindness she has known. And it is that tenderness that causes the blood red tragedy of the picture in the end. No other producer has dared to pound the emotions as Griffith does, here and leave without the sedative of a happy finale. Nothing has been sacrificed for realism, and the result is tremendous. Those who have accused Griffith of relying for his greatest climaxes on crowds and mob excitement have their arguments flung in their teeth here.

There are but three characters of importance in “Broken Blossoms.” and the scant others seen are nothing less than background. It is hard to remember that Richard Barthlemess is that gay young comedian in “I’ll Get You Yet” and other recent comedies. He is an oriental of stolid impassivity and frantic violence here. Lillian Gish establishes herself with the greatest emotional actresses of all times. Her art is so complete it ceases to be art and is reality. Donald Crisp, so lately a director of the lighter pictures, presents himself as the crudest, hardest character the screen has seen.

Virginia Dale – The Chicago Journal (1919)

Chico Record, Number 247, 31 October 1919
Chico Record, Number 247, 31 October 1919

      As a child, I was fascinated by the movies. Maybe I was ten years old when I saw Lillian Gish in D. W. Griffith’s “Broken Blossoms” and I thought she was wonderful. Coming back home from the movie, I remember getting up on a chair looking at myself in the mirror above the fireplace trying with my fingers to make my mouth smile as she did when she was very sad. So moving the faith I had, I thought I would like to do the same thing and be an actress like she was. I didn’t go a lot to movies since we were living in the country. . . .But the one who had made the big impression on me was Lillian Gish in “Broken Blossoms.” Some years ago, I saw her when she made a grand appearance in North Hampton, New Hampshire where my daughter has a house. She was very pleasant, very intelligent and I think she was a wonderful person.

  • From the interview with Annabella in “At the Center of the Frame: Leading Ladies of the Twenties and Thirties” by William M. Drew, Vestal Press, 1999 (Page 108)
Annabella as Violine in Abel Gance's 'Napoleon' (1927)
Annabella as Violine in Abel Gance’s ‘Napoleon’ (1927)

       Another said that this film ought to be the Bible in the hand of every director making films in the future. The New York Call wrote: “He has far exceeded the power of the written word. It would be impossible for the greatest master of language to picture the emotions as Griffith has perpetuated them”. No picture up to that time had received such world wide critical praise. Edward Wagenknecht, Professor of English at Boston University, wrote: “But so far as the players are concerned, Broken Blossoms is Lillian’s first film of all, and the deep sincerity of her terror and passion seem all the more moving and remarkable for always being conceived and projected as the terror and passion of a child.”” (Lillian Gish – The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me)

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