“True Heart Susie” – Wid’s Daily – Thursday, June 5, 1919

Wid’s Daily – Thursday, June 5, 1919

Story is Slight But Characterization Is True in Griffith Picture

  • D. W. Griffith Presents “True Heart Susie” – Artcraft
  • DIRECTOR D. W. Griffith
  • AUTHOR Marion Fremont
  • CAMERAMAN G. W. Bitzer
  • AS A WHOLE Very slight plot forces the picture to depend almost entirely on characterization for interest and appeal.
  • STORY True in its treatment of the marriage theme; the climax bringing the death of the pleasure-loving wife seems forced.
  • DIRECTION Marked by the finely sympathetic touches to be expected in a Griffith production.
  • PHOTOGRAPHY Excellent; some of the pastoral scenes are works of art.
  • LIGHTINGS Soft and natural
  • CAMERA WORK Up to Bitzer’s standard which is high, but once in a while there is a tendency to overdo the “soft focus” effect.
  • PLAYERS Lillian Gish gives touchingly expressive portrayal of the simple hearted country girl; Robert Harron scores as the minister; others are of secondary importance.
  • EXTERIORS Country locations that could not well be excelled.
  • INTERIORS In keeping with the story
  • DETAIL Always accurate in the costuming of village characters and in giving the situations the appearance of lifelikeness.
  • CHARACTER OF STORY Heart interest drama dealing with rural types; occasional interludes of natural comedy.
  • LENGTH OF PRODUCTION 6,213 feet
True Heart Susie

FUNDAMENTALLY, Marion Fremont’s story of “True Heart Susie” is excellent, because it is true and sincere and pertinent to modern life and character. That a small Indiana town happens to have been chosen as the locale and that the people portrayed are products of their environment does not necessarily localize the theme. In the city or the country the same thing is constantly happening—a man marries the wrong girl, while the right girl waits patiently with tears in her eyes and a breaking heart. The trouble here is that there is not enough plot substance to balance properly a production of this length. At times the picture drags, not through any deficiencies on the part of the players, or any shortcomings in the direction, rather owing to a lack of variety in the action. The thinness of the plot makes necessary the too frequent repetition of scenes that in their meaning and expression of emotion are virtually the same. In more abbreviated form, “True Heart Susie” might easily have become a masterpiece of screen character action. At present it suggests an ideal short story expanded to novel length. it is doubtful if there has been any photoplay giving a deeper and kindlier insight into the heart of a simple country girl, and most assuredly Lillian Gish presents the character of Susie with great appeal. Her philosophy of life is so simple and beautiful. She loves, and to her love means sacrifice and an abiding faith in the ultimate goodness of things.

True Heart Susie

Any of you who have seen Miss Gish in a role of this sort know how perfectly she imparts life and feeling to a screen figure, and then there is Bobby Harron, who with manlike egotism and self centered obtuseness accepts the devotion of the little girl who loves him. Also, with manlike folly, he is fascinated by the first silk-stockinged flirt that rolls her eyes at him. He actually fancies that she will make a satisfactory wife.

Even in their schooldays, when Bobby and Lillian were sweethearts, the girl was ready to help. At the outset there is a delightfully acted scene when the girl passes her classmate in a spelling match and then tries to make amends because Bobby’s pride is hurt. And how happy she is when they carve their initials side by side in the bark of a tree.

True Heart Susie

The boy’s ambition is to go to college, but his father is unable to send him. Keeping the sacrifice a secret and making it appear that the money has come from another source, Lillian accumulates the tuition fee, even at the sacrifice of the family cow. Bobby returns with a cute little mustache and an education. He becomes pastor of the village church and Lillian writes in her diary about their approaching marriage.

Clarine Seymour is the flashily dressed, painted and powdered young milliner who spoils her dream, although Bobby has assured her that men marry the simple kind. As a wife, Clarine is “just a trifle unfaithful” and anything but domestic. After a period of unhappiness, the flighty little fun-loving creature dies from a cold caught on one of her surreptitious escapades and the way is cleared for the union of the childhood sweethearts.

True Heart Susie

The conclusion is permissible from an audience viewpoint, granting the desirability of a happy ending, but artistically it does not ring quite true. The cast includes Loyola O’Connor, Walter Higby, Kate Bruce and Raymond Cannon.

Name of Producer Is Enough to Assure Patronage

Box Office Analysis for the Exhibitor

As already mentioned, “True Heart Susie” is prolonged beyond the needs of the story material and may be criticised on that score, but that does not mean that the picture is seriously jeopardized as a box office success. Its commendable features, in the human treatment of an interesting theme and in the really fine characterization, are compensation enough. Nobody is going to leave your theater without feeling that the time has been well spent. Effective exploitation in a case of this kind is comparatively simple. In many neighborhoods it is not necessary to do much more than announce a new production by D. W. Griffith to assure patronage. This never was truer than at the present time when the fame of the director’s recent masterpiece, “Broken Blossoms” is being heralded throughout the country. Use the name of Griffith in front of your theater and give it big type in all of your printed publicity. Then make as much as you can of the fact that both Lillian Gish and Robert Harron are in the cast. In this instance they are not billed as stars, but each has come to mean more to the public than many players who are boosted as a picture’s chief asset. If you played “A Romance of Happy Valley” you may judge pretty accurately the tone of this production and the style of characterization offered by the leading players.

Catchlines: “Does it pay for a girl to be simple and true? The little country maid in ‘True Heart Susie’ thought so—but—see D. W. Griffith’s appealing story of a plain girl.” Another one: “What wins a husband and what holds him? See how these questions are answered in D. W. Griffith’s ‘True Heart Susie’.”

Paramount and Artcraft Press Books (May 1919) True Heart Susie 2

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Great War Films (Hearts of the World 1918) – Lawrence J. Quirk 1994

  • The great war films
  • Lawrence J. Quirk 1994
  • A Citadel Press Book Published by Carol Publishing Group
Hearts of the World (Paramount, 1918) – Herald

Hearts of the World 1918

PARAMOUNT / ARTCRAFT 1918

CAST: Lillian Gish, Robert Harron, Dorothy Gish, Josephine Crowell, Jack Cosgrove, Adolphe Lestina, Kate Bruce, Ben Alexander, George Fawcett, George Siegmann.

CREDITS: D. W. Griffith, director; D. W. Griffith (under an assumed name), screenplay; Billy Bitzer, photographer; James and Rose Smith, editors. Running time: 122 minutes.

Hearts Of The World Press Book – The Bride Gish

Established as master of war movies, D. W. Griffith took on World War I in Hearts of the World. It was made at the request of the British government in 1917-18, and is as much a propaganda film as a drama, with much newsreel footage thrown in for good measure. But its leads (Robert Harron, Lillian Gish, and Dorothy Gish), its villain (George Siegmann), and an adorable child actor, Ben Alexander (who was to become a poignant, vulnerable soldier in All Quiet on the Western Front twelve years later), help greatly to put it over. And it also offers a glimpse of Noel Coward, age eighteen, pushing a wheelbarrow through a French village street.

Lillian Gish – Hearts of the World

As always in Griffith works, the battle and skirmish scenes are handled with consummate depth and force, and Bitzer’s photography and James and Rose Smith’s editing point up the locations—many of them authentic—shot in England and France, with later photography in Hollywood. Griffith’s aptitudes with actors are also on impressive display, as he coaxes a winsome vulnerability from Lillian Gish; a manly, sensitive, but bewildered persona from Robert Harron; and a hoydenish esprit from Dorothy Gish, who plays a minxy type pursuing Harron, and whose title in the film (The “Little Disturber”) was to be her trademark henceforth and largely shape her screen characterizations through the 1920s.

Dorothy Gish in The Hearts of The World

Siegmann delivers in grand style as the “Bad German”; he is up to no good here—and in spades. Siegmann was to give Erich Von Stroheim a run for his money in “Bad German” parts. Even his name, “Von Strohm,” was a takeoff on Von Stroheim’s.

Griffith never made any bones of the fact the picture was designed to effect America’s entry into the war: The project was conceived early in 1917, before the United States’ engagement in the European fracas, and released in 1918, at the height of the war. The story deals with Harron, the son of an expatriate family living in France, just before the outbreak of war, next to another American family whose daughter is Lillian Gish.

Hearts of The World

A romance develops between these two young people, but Dorothy Gish’s high-spirited singer seeks to win Harron for herself, even though his heart is permanently Lillian’s. (The romantic leads (Lillian Gish and Harron), are known throughout as “the Boy” and “the Girl.”) Just as they are to marry, the war breaks out. Though he is an American, Harron feels he should enlist on principle, and joins the French army. While Harron is off fighting, his family’s village is attacked and devastated by the Germans, and members of both expatriate families are killed. In a famous scene, Lillian, clutching her bridal gown, and deranged by her experiences, comes upon Harron—who lies seriously wounded. She sits beside him, and they spend in silence and terror (on her part) and oblivion (on his) what should have been their wedding night. When in the morning she looks for help, the Red Cross takes the wounded Harron away. She thinks him dead. Back in the village, the Little Disturber (Dorothy) now redeemed, nurses Lillian back to health.

Lillian Gish in Hearts of The World

Later, the Germans take over the village and make slave laborers of the inhabitants, including the Girl, while the Boy, who has recovered in a military hospital, becomes a spy behind German lines. He eventually makes his way back to the village in time to rescue the Lillian Gish character from a “fate worse than death” at the hands of a lustful German officer.

Such are the bones of the plot—but all is redeemed by Griffith’s authoritative handling of the suspense and terror and unpredictability of war. Masterfully he guides Gish and Harron into sharp portrayals that, despite their conventional outlines, take on a poignant individuality. And the attack on the village, and other action scenes, are riveting.

Robert Harron, an actor close to Griffith during his early career, was a sensitive, handsome performer who died in 1920 in a mysterious shooting accident. He was only twenty-six. His work in Hearts of the World, and his other fine performances, keep him alive for audiences and commentators alike.

Dorothy & Lillian Gish, D.W. Griffith (President Harding )

*** Admin note: Griffith, Lillian and Dorothy Gish were invited as guests by President Harding – April 22, 1922 Exhibitors Herald. – in Mr. Quirk’s book this photograph is captioned wrong as “Griffith (right) with Dorothy and Lillian Gish, abroad to make the film.”

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Great War Films – Lawrence J. Quirk 1994 (The Birth of a Nation 1915)

  • Great War Films
  • Lawrence J. Quirk 1994
  • A Citadel Press Book Published by Carol Publishing Group

The Birth of a Nation 1915

D. W. GRIFFITH / HARRY E. AITKEN / EPOCH PRODUCING CORP. (distributor)  1915

CAST: Lillian Gish, Henry B. Walthall, Robert Harron, Mae Marsh, Wallace Reid, Miriam Cooper, Donald Crisp, Joseph Henabery, Raoul Walsh, Walter Long, Eugene Pallette.

CREDITS: D. W. Griffith, director; D. W. Griffith and Frank E. Woods, screenplay; based on the novel The Clansman, by Thomas Dixon; G. W. Bitzer, photographer. Running time: 185 minutes.

D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation remains one of the most famous and influential motion pictures of all time. It was the first great epic, and the film that introduced many of the cinematic conventions we take for granted today. And it is one that has been steeped in controversy from its initial release right up to the present day.

Birth of a Nation details the events before, during. and after the Civil War of 1861-65 and focuses on two families—one Northern (the Stonemans) and one Southern (the Camerons)—whose sons are friends. Ben Cameron (Henry B. Walthall), known as “The Little Colonel,” falls for Elsie Stoneman (Lillian Gish) just by looking at her picture; one of the Stoneman boys, Phil (Robert Harron), also falls for one of Ben’s sisters, Margaret (Miriam Cooper).

Movies in America – Birth of a Nation

But the love stories are secondary to the Civil War action; Birth of a Nation features panoramic battle scenes employing thousands of extras who engage in fighting in such a realistic manner that it creates a near-documentary effect. Stoneman and Cameron eventually meet as enemies on the battlefield, where the latter is badly wounded but succored by his new found friend, who writes to sister Elsie, asking her to take special care of his pal in the hospital where she is a nurse.

Cameron’s reunion with his mother is touching, as is an affecting scene when he finally comes back home and greets his older sister on the doorstep; the two feign a happy air at first, but eventually both succumb to grateful tears. The assassination of Lincoln at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, is meticulously detailed. For many of the war scenes, Griffith worked from photographs by Matthew Brady and others to help recreate the settings and action as authentically as possible. The picture is initially choppy and episodic, but eventually the audience comes to know the characters and gets caught up in their stories.

The main problem with Birth of a Nation is that it has absolutely no perspective (thus giving it an almost comically dated quality), as it is told by Griffith—a native of the South—strictly from the Confederacy’s point of view. Thus the scene that follows the title card “The master in chains before his former slaves” is not depicted as poetic justice but as the tragic downfall of a noble character (Ben Cameron, who later forms the Ku Klux Klan in response to Northern and carpetbagger-inspired Negro outrages).

The depiction of blacks in Birth ofa Nation has always engendered much comment. On the one hand, the scenes of blacks rioting, breaking into houses, and disporting themselves in a disgraceful manner often seem disquietingly and shamefully contemporary. On the other hand, Birth of a Nation unmistakably suggests that the only “good blacks” are those who toe the line and remain loyal to their former masters. Virtually all of the black characters (most of whom are played by white actors in black-face) are negatively portrayed, and their Northern supporters are the worst kind of “guilty white liberals.” Phil Stoneman’s father is pleased to hear that his protege, mulatto Silas Lynch, is going to marry a white woman. That is, until Stoneman learns that Lynch has designs on his own daughter—after which he is repulsed and furious. The final scenes show the “heroes” in their white hoods and raiment rushing to the rescue of the Camerons who are trapped in a cabin by crazed Negroes and Northerners. Birth ofa Nation may be historically accurate in some respects, but it lacks balance.

The NAACP protested strongly against the film upon its release, and many in this era of political correctness would like to see it consigned to oblivion. Others, such as black filmmaker John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood), feel that Birth of a Nation’s artistic achievements override its political content. “It’s like the Holocaust,” Singleton has said. “We should never forget.”—W. S.

The great war films – Birth of a Nation

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The First Film Makers – by Richard Dyer MacCann (1989)

  • Richard Dyer MacCann
  • American Movies: The First Thirty Years
  • ® Copyright 1989 by Richard Dyer MacCann.
  • Printed in the United States of America.

D.W. Griffith’s American Dream

Did D. W. Griffith go into a decline after Intolerance? This is the view of Lewis Jacobs in The Rise of the American Film, but it is a view bound to the aesthetic notion that montage is the highest form of cinematic art. His later films are simply different in purpose and therefore in style, and Blake Lucas has eloquently argued that “his more intimate and subtle works are often superior” because he sought to describe “the infinite shadings of human emotion and interaction.”

DW Griffith shooting a scene from The Great Love 1918

It could also be proposed that Griffith simply closed the door for a while on his obsessive epic impulse — and on social controversy. He did make a grandiose film supporting the British cause in World War I, and he was exhilarated by the praise and honors heaped on him while he was in England and France. Then for quite a while he moved with confidence in a more comfortable range of subjects. His style tended to be more congruent with the simpler subjects he chose, more self-effacing, less flashy in terms of editing, with more long takes and continuity editing — more realistic, in fact, or at least ranging in the area between realism and romanticism where he was most at home.

Lillian Gish in True Heart Susie

In True Heart Susie, for example, Lillian Gish plays one of her most subtle roles, a farm girl who sells a cow so she can secretly support her childhood sweetheart through college. It takes her gawky neighbor (played by Robert Harron) a very long while to appreciate her, but there is finally a subdued and happy ending in this most rural of all possible worlds.

Lucy Burrows on the Wharf (Broken Blossoms)

Broken Blossoms (1919) is another world altogether – the depressing atmosphere of the Limehouse district in London. A Chinese youth (played by Richard Barthelmess) comes to the violent Western world on an errand of mercy: to teach the peaceful ways of Buddha. He meets and loves a pitiful girl (Lillian Gish) who is in constant dread of being beaten to death by her father. He finally kills the father for doing exactly that, then kills himself — an ironic end to his mission.

A short, powerful film. Broken Blossoms stunned the critics. Photoplay called it “the first genuine tragedy of the movies.” The public, too, surprised theater owners by supporting at the box- office the integrity of this film and its consistent mood, so perfectly achieved by the dim backgrounds and the tense, controlled performances of the two young actors.

Broken Blossoms is certainly the film which most clearly extends the Griffith range and persuades us of two things: He was an artist of the screen, and he was truly versatile. He was not merely an inventive pioneer to be studied for historical reasons. He was a creator of works of permanent value.

“Way Down East” – Richard Barthelmess, Lillian Gish and Lowell Sherman

Another film also invalidates the theory of “decline’after Intolerance. Way Down East (1920) was enormously popular and profitable. It was a melodrama, one which had been touring the states since the turn of the century. A story of an innocent woman tricked into a fake marriage, pregnant, abandoned, mourning her dead child, wandering into the country — it is climaxed by a denunciation of her seducer, an expulsion from the household, and a rescue by the young son who loves her. The rescue takes place in a blizzard, and required Lillian Gish to ride a block of ice down the river.

It sounds both bizarre and banal, and critics then and since have often discounted the story as unworthy of a serious director’s attention. But Griffith knew there were basic human values in it and he trusted his actress to bring them out. All the emotional high points are presented with intense conviction, and the love story, so long delayed, is heightened instead of overwhelmed by the hazardous chase on the ice.

Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess (Way Down East)

The fascinating thing about this old-fashioned story is how modern its moral is. Of course Griffith takes the opportunity to put down the supercilious rich city people in the early scenes, but he also turns us against the farm folk, so ignorant and sanctimonious. We yearn to help this frail outcast woman, and when she is rescued, we realize it is not accomplished by her return to rural life, but by the younger generation.

Here is an early version of many similar situations in later Hollywood films (made by John Ford and others) in which our sympathy is with the sinner and not with the Pharisees of society. The melodrama of Way Down East not only looks back. It also looks forward and prepares the way for a time when women will be able to tell their own story and claim some kind of independence in a more sympathetic world. This is the secret of the film’s appeal to audiences in the 1920s and the 1980s: we always know we are for Lillian and against the cruel condemnation of an unfeeling, outmoded moral code.

Lillian Gish (film director) 2 – Remodeling Her Husband

It is a curious and noteworthy fact that Griffith had already encouraged Lillian Gish in real life to direct one of the Dorothy Gish comedies he was responsible for as executive producer. Such a decision reflected good judgment as to his star’s gifts and strengths. But it also was some kind of sign of an awkward move toward more liberal positions, socially if not politically. Griffith had tried in a small way to make up for the racism in The Birth of a Nation when he had a white Southern soldier kiss a dying black soldier in a film now lost, The Greatest Thing in Life. He had earlier shown rather consistent respect for native Americans in several early one-reelers that presented them as not only noble but exploited by the white man. He had made further points about prejudice, of course, with Broken Blossoms.

As usual, he didn’t quite know what he was doing: he was not a literary man, an intellectual, or a trained historian. He was a dealer in myths and emotions, not theories and logic. But can we propose that Griffith was subconsciously trying in Way Down East to catch up with the world? It was a world which was barely beginning, long after reconstruction days, to value equality of rights almost as much as freedom for the strong to get ahead.

***

Rising from obscurity and poverty, Griffith drove toward fame and power as an individual. Yet in his films, he struggled with issues of class relations, economic hardship, unchecked personal domination, nationalism, and war. Even his gentlest romances often posed the question of a woman’s role in family or in society. Like King Vidor in later years, he responded with earnest, untutored warmth to the currents of thought around him.

The First Film Makers 1989 Richard Dyer MacCann American Movies: The First Thirty Years

Note: Illustrations are not part of Mr. MacCann’s book.

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