American Silent Film – European Influences (by William K. Everson – 1978)

American Silent Film – European Influences

by William K. Everson

1978 by Oxford University Press, Inc.

Victor Seastrom’s eight American films are a remarkable showcase of Swedish temperament and extroverted puritanism. The best of them are so stark and austere that, if it weren’t for the presence of Lillian Gish, Garbo, and other Hollywood names, they could pass as Swedish imports. Many of them seem interrelated, particularly Name the Man (based on a Hall Caine novel of sin and perhaps excessive redemption) and the beautifully photographed and acted The Scarlet Letter (based on the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel, which could be described in identical terms). Lars Hanson’s impressive but far too stylized acting (in The Scarlet Letter in particular, though also in The Wind, in both of which “grand manner” acting is in marked contrast to the subtle and graceful underplaying of Lillian Gish), further stresses the “non-American” quality of these films.

Nevertheless, on the whole, Seastrom’s American career can be considered a success. The Scarlet Letter ( 1926 ) was undoubtedly his masterpiece, an adaptation of the Hawthorne novel, in which the stark, puritanical fervor of the original novel was matched by the austere echoes of Scandinavian cinema. Even though the scenario somewhat muted and romanticized Hawthorne’s original, Lars Hanson’s extremely stylized playing and Hendrik Sartov’s superb camerawork, full of delicate pictorial symbolism, restored the balance. Lillian Gish’s mature and sensitive performance, in a role that was a far cry from the Victorian innocents that she had played for Griffith, was superb.

Gish, Hanson, and Seastrom were reunited by MGM for The Wind, a strange amalgamation of themes and elements from Greed, White Gold, and traditional westerns. A bizarre, shapeless affair, devoid of any real sense of period ( even Lillian Gish’s costuming seemed to exist in a vacuum ) , it was a monumental example of talent triumphing over scenario. Even changing the original tragic ending (in which the Gish character goes insane and wanders off into the desert) to a happy one (she kills the villain who has earlier raped her, buries his body in the desert, and is reunited with her previously estranged husband ) seemed not to affect the film, except perhaps for its commercial betterment. The plot, though based on a 1925 story, seemed too old-fashioned and erratic to be taken seriously, and the switch from tragedy to happiness hardly represented a box-office sellout. The atmospheric photography (John Arnold),

Seastrom’s beautifully underplayed direction (the killing scene was a brilliant essay in suggestion, the whole act of the body falling to the floor being conveyed by a shot of a dust-laden plate jarring, and resettling), and the superb control exercised by Lillian Gish over potentially flamboyant theatrics, all represented the silk purse of silent screen art at its peak, despite the sow’s ear on which it was squandered. Commercially, he was able to fall back on Hollywood stars (Gish, Chaney, Shearer, Gilbert, Garbo) to counteract his somewhat austere style. And in any case, while Swedish directorial styles (many of which derived from the German cinema) were not exactly emulated by other Hollywood directors, lesser imported directors like Sven Gade, and the use of Scandinavian-oriented material as vehicles for Swedish stars (Clarence Brown’s Flesh and the Devil, from a Suderman story, starring Garbo, Gilbert, and Hanson, is a case in point), did tend to make the Swedish point of view, if not commonplace, then at least visible. Seastrom’s Hollywood career was certainly more successful than Stiller’s.

Lillian Gish, Victor Sjostrom and Lars Hanson (front row) – Behind the scenes ‘The Scarlet Letter’
Scarlet Letter Ad – Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1926-Feb 1927)
The Wind – Poster

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Recalling the early shots with Lillian Gish (Chicago Tribune 1979)

Chicago Tribune – Thursday March 29, 1979 – Page 22

Recalling the early shots with Lillian Gish

Tempo

Her own first stage appearance came in a little theater in Rising Sun, Ohio, in a melodrama called “In Convict’s Stripes,” with Walter Huston as its star.

“There was an explosion in a stone quarry as part of the play, and when I heard the noise, I ran down to the basement to hide. They came and got me, and I took my first big curtain call perched on Mr. Huston’s shoulder.”

The Gishes at that time were friends with Gladys Smith, another child actress who had appeared in “the flickers.” When they went to visit her at the Biograph studio in New York, nobody knew her, and when they said they were sure they had seen her in the Griffith film “Lena and the Geese,” they were told, “Oh, you must mean our Mary.” Gladys Smith had become Mary Pickford of the movies, and it was she who introduced them to Griffith.

“Mother and Dorothy and I each got $5 for taking of our hats, putting on a little makeup, and sitting in the audience as extras,” Miss Gish recalls. “That was $15 a day, a lot of money in that time, even if it was in the movies, and not in the legitimate theater.”

‘My pride is constantly hurt when I see some screen acting today. I watched a bit of a new version of “The Scarlet Letter” on television and I swear every one of those people could just as well have been walking down 5th Avenue today.’

By 1912, the Gish girls had been featured in Griffith’s early social melodrama, “The Musketeers of Pig Alley,” and in 1914, while still a teen-ager, Lillian was a leading lady in the epoch-making “The Birth of a Nation.”

“We had to be young then,” she says, “because the photography was so bad. Old hags of 18 were playing character parts because camera made everyone look so old. When I saw the film, I told Mr. Griffith, ‘Oh look, I have a mole on my face.’ Mr. Bitzer (Griffith’s cameraman) gave me a mole.’”

She learned everything about the movies from her beloved Mr. Griffith. Of her, “he always said, ‘Well, she’s a woman, and she has no brains, but 85 per cent of my audience is women, so I want to have her reactions.’ He made me look at all the rushes and pick the shots I liked best. I helped write the subtitles. I watched him rehearse the actors, shoot the scene, develop the film.”

In 1920, while Griffith was away filming, he entrusted her with the direction of a romantic comedy she and Dorothy had written, “Remodeling a Husband.”

“I always felt that Dorothy had such a wit and a great gift for comedy. She used to say such clever things,” Miss Gish recalls, “and it was this quality I wanted to capture, so I found a little magazine story I thought was right for her. It was about a girl who tells her husband that men really admired her looks, and to prove this, she walks down the street and sticks out her tongue at every man she meets to make sure they’ll look at her. Years later, they used the same device in that movie with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, ‘Easter Parade.’ So that’s where that came from. That movie was actually a success. We made it for $58,000 and it grossed $700,000.

“But I was too frightened to do it again. I was so young to be directing all those experienced actors, and in those days, you had to know everything about the movies, including the carpentry, to direct a film. Well, I didn’t even know what feet or inches were, so, I was always getting the dimensions for the scenery wrong.”

She made many films for Griffith – “Broken Blossoms,” “Way Down East,” “Intolerance,” and “Orphans of the Storm,” among others – but after “Orphans” was completed, Griffith gently told her it was time to leave the nest and earn the salary she could then demand.

Lillian Gish and Dorothy Gish – Orphans – Vanity Fair November 1921

“Mother thought Dorothy should be the one to leave,” Miss Gish remembers, “because I got along with him better, ‘Don’t tell me; show me,’ he always used to say; but Dorothy wanted to talk about it first, and he was too much in a hurry for that. When Dorothy did talk to Mr. Adolph Zukor, the producer, about making pictures for him, she came home and told us she had refused his offer of $1 million for a series of comedies. We wanted to know why on Earth she had turned him down, and she said, ‘All that money! It might ruin my character!’ I felt like telling her, ‘Give the money to Mother. I won’t ruin her character!”

Typically however, when Miss Gish did go off on her own, she made sure that she struck a deal in which, besides making money, she had approval of the pictures she was to make and the people with whom she was to make them.

Lillian Gish, Cheryl Callaway, Bill Chapin, Mary Ellen Clemons, Sally Jane Bruce, 1955 The Night of The Hunter

“We always liked to work with the best people,” she says. “That’s something I learned from Mr. Griffith and I tell it to young people today: ‘Go with the people, not with the money, and you’ll be happy in your work.

Actresses had to be young then, because the photography was so bad. ‘Old hags of 18 were playing character parts because the camera made everyone look so old.’

When she went to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, making a salary of $1,000 a week, “I couldn’t sleep at night because I was making all that money and not working regularly, so I went to Irving Thalberg, who ran the studio – oh, I adored him – and told him I had a couple of stories in my trunk that I wanted to make. These included “The Scarlet Letter.” But they told me I couldn’t do it because the women’s clubs and churches would object. I said, ‘Why should they object? It’s an American classic; they teach it in schools.’ So I wrote to women’s clubs and churches all over the country and said I wanted to make the movie, and I got enough good response to convince the MGM people that we could make the movie.

“It was my film from the beginning to the end. Lars Hanson was the leading man; Victor Seastrom was the director. I’m still very proud of it.”

Miss Gish made one other memorable film with Seastrom, “The Wind,” before she left MGM in the early 1930s and returned to work on the stage. She returned to films in 1940s, when she laughingly told friends that now she was playing “old ladies.” In 1955, she made an unforgettably gallant, indomitable “old lady” in “The Night of the Hunter,” the only film Charles Laughton directed. She has remained active on stage and screen ever since, completing her 100th film here in 1977 with director Robert Altman’s “The Wedding.”

A Wedding

“When I first started making movies, we would shoot them in one or two days, and that was that. But we always rehearsed them carefully first. That’s why Mr. Griffith took only people who were experienced in theater or ballet or music. He wanted them to have the discipline of that training. Today, it takes months and millions of dollars to make a film, and they rarely rehearse anything. We never rehearsed with Altman; he doesn’t work that way.”

I asked her, finally, if she could tell, from her long experience, how and why some actresses endured as movie stars. Was it, after all, because they played well to the camera?

“It’s got to be more than that,” she said. “There’s something more basic. It’s research and study and rehearsal and preparation. Why, my pride is constantly hurt when I see some screen acting today. I watched a bit of a new version of ‘The Scarlet Letter’ they’re showing on television, and I swear that everyone of those people could just as well have been walking down 5th Avenue today. When we made movies, Mr. Griffith would say, ‘Don’t just study your character. Study the whole world around you.’ That’s the thing they don’t remember to do today.”

It was time then for her to get ready for the picture taking and for her appearance onstage at the Opera House, an appearance that was to be greeted with a standing ovation.

First, however, she wanted to fuss with her makeup a bit. She stood at the mirror in the little dressing room and took out a few pins so that her hair fell down. She turned to ask a question, and in that moment, with her braids now flowing down to her waist, she looked exactly as if she was ready to go before the cameras again, the lovely heroine of the silent screen who had somehow defied the years and survived with all her innocence and strength intact. It was another moment that will not be forgotten.

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Salute to Lillian Gish rates salute, too – By Jon Anderson (TV writer) 1984

Chicago Tribune – Tuesday, April 17, 1984 – Page 37

Tempo

Salute to Lillian Gish rates salute, too

By Jon Anderson (TV writer)

Compared with the awkward, boring, tedious spectacle of the Academy Awards, last month’s American Film Institute salute to actress Lillian Gish was graceful, warm and human. In Hollywood, those qualities are so rare that John Houston, stunned, later rang up George Stevens Jr., producer of the show, and told him: “George, I’ve been around this town for 40 years and I saw something the other night I’ve never seen before in this community. Affection!”

In this tribute, to air at 8 p.m. Tuesday on CBS – Ch. 2, the stars [and there are lots of them] don’t seem stiff, stilted or ill-at-ease. When cameras catch their faces, they look like they’re having a good time. When they talk, they seem to mean what they say. There isn’t a wooden scripted, flat joke in the whole 90 minutes.

AFI Life Achievement Award A Tribute to Lillian Gish (1984) with AFI founder George Stevens Jr – Photo – Globe

This didn’t just happen. “We really tried to make people comfortable and secure,” producer Stevens said in an interview. He barred Teleprompters, those cue-card projectors that make show-folk squint or, as in the case of Frank Sinatra at the Academy Awards, look over-served. Before the show, writers worked with the stars “to bring out their feelings,” go over what they wanted to say and suggest phrasings. Then stars did their bits the old-fashioned way; they memorized their speeches and, strange for TV, spoke them naturally.

The producers also sensibly avoided spinning graphics and other electronic nonsense. Instead, they hired a 37-piece orchestra, struck new prints of notable early Gish scenes and ran them at proper speeds, with musical accompaniment. [Silent cameras, cranked by hand, exposed anywhere from 16 to 22 frames a second compared with today’s standard of 24 frames a second. ***(1) That’s why silent movies, shown on modern equipment, speed up.]

Hambone and Hillie – Photo Gallery

Gish’s screen career began in 1913 ***(2) bloomed under director D.W. Griffith [“Birth of a Nation”], for whom she made 40 movies, and continues today. [She’ll star in the forthcoming film “Hambone and Hillie.”]

The clip that got the biggest hand [from “Way Down East”] showed her limp body on a slab of ice, headed towards the falls, with an anguished man in a fur coat leaping from berg to berg trying to rescue her. It was Gish’s idea to trail her hair and one hand in the icy waters, a stunt so chilling that, even today, Gish’s right hand aches when she is out in winter cold.

A fundraiser for the American Film Institute, best known for its work in preserving old movies, the gala black-tie dinner for 1,100 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in March was enlivened by speeches, waves and smiles from Sally Field, John Houseman, Robert Mitchum, Jeanne Moreau, Mary Steenburgen, Jennifer Jones, Mary Martin, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Eva Marie Saint, Richard Thomas, Lily Tomlin, Richard WIdmark and Chicago’s own tie to the glorious motion picture past, Colleen Moore Hargrave. She got a hug from the guest of honor.

Life Achievement Award, Lillian Gish. 1984

Also remarkable was that so many veterans of a perilous craft, that of being a movie star, still looked so sparkling.

“Lillian Gish was there at the birth of an art form,” said the evening’s host, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., 75. “I am kind of an emissary, a link, if you like, from those pioneers who were with her at the beginning, my father, my stepmother, Mary Pickford; Charlie Chaplin; and all the others whom Lillian refers to as those charming ghosts.”

Through it all, Gish was very much the center of what seemed, at times, like a family get-together, her face radiating what critic Alexander Woolcott once called “a strange mystic light not made by any electrician.”

Some praised her acting. [John Houseman described her Ophelia as “convincingly lunatic.”] Some, her canniness. [As Mary Steenburgen put it: “I figure an actress who’s been a star for 72 years must have a pretty good head for business.”]

By general agreement, at 87, Lillian Gish is also still a going concern – with a strong sense of camera angles.

Last December, she appeared in the CBS made-for-TV movie “Hobson’s Choice,” one friend recalled, and chewed out a cameraman for placing the camera too low. “Young man,” she said snappishly, “If God had meant you to see me that way, he would have put your eyes in your belly button.”*** (3)

***(1) Mr. Jon Anderson is referring probably to an older filming system, [and 24 fps theatre film projectors] pre-NTSC (29.95 fps) known being the fact that PAL (Phase Alternate by Line) used in Europe has a 25 fps standard using fields to compensate the difference from 30 fps of US-NTSC. Indeed in the 70’s there were still in use film cameras, not digital or streaming over network via satellite like today. So, in order to have news broadcast, every decent TV station had a huge laboratory for processing the film, cutting it old school style and converting it for TV broadcast in a post process.

Starting before CBS color even got on the air, the U.S. television industry, represented by the National Television System Committee, worked in 1950–1953 to develop a color system that was compatible with existing black-and-white sets and would pass FCC quality standards, with RCA developing the hardware elements. The first publicly announced network demonstration of a program using the NTSC “compatible color” system was an episode of NBC’s Kukla, Fran and Ollie on August 30, 1953, although it was viewable in color only at the network’s headquarters. The first network broadcast to go out over the air in NTSC color was a performance of the opera Carmen on October 31, 1953.

***(2) Actually Lillian Gish’s career began in 1912 with “The Unseen Enemy”.

***(3) The famous “eyes in the belly button” remark was made by Lillian Gish while celebrating her 100th movie [A Wedding] during the party organized by director Robert Altman. And it was a photographer, not a cameraman. The incident was documented by Kevin Brownlow.

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Lillian Gish endorses Disney for Nobel Prize (Chicago Tribune 1963)

Chicago Tribune – Wednesday, June 26, 1963 – Page 26

Lillian Gish endorses Disney for Nobel Prize

Before Lillian Gish returned to New York, she visited the Disney studio, met Walt, and was guided thru his dream studio. She neglected to tell him that when she visited Stockholm lat year, where the Nobel prizes are given out, she was invited to speak in the city. Among other things, she put in a pitch for Disney to receive a Nobel Prize. We should get back to the idea. I don’t think anybody’s done more than he has [and is] in the field of entertainment to promote decency, morality, and just plain goodness.

Disney’s Follow Me Boys – Photo Gallery

During the Oslo press conference, Lillian made a comment that got considerable reaction.

“I remembered seeing the word Nobel everywhere, and was impudent enough to suggest Disney be given a Nobel prize. The next day it was headlined in the papers. The committee was working on it when he died. Regretfully, the awards are never given posthumously.

“He deserved it for the beauty he’s given us, and for what he’s done for children, for animals, for all of us.”

“Griffith did everything first,” she says, explaining why he stands today as a film giant. “Frank Capra once said nothing new had been added since Griffith, but that’s not true. Walt Disney, for example, added a dimension no one else has.”

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Chekov’s “Uncle Vanya” Revived (Chicago Tribune 1930)

Chicago Tribune – Sunday, April 27, 1930 – Page 105

Chekov’s “Uncle Vanya” Revived

Jed Harris, the still youthful producer who grew disgusted with the theater that made him upwards of a million dollars with such productions as “Broadway,” “Coquette,” “The Front Page,” and “The Royal Family,” came back to Broadway last week to revive Chekov’s “Uncle Vanya,” and later to inject himself into a fight against the managers who are seeking a solution of the ticket speculator business.

Theater producer Jed Harris

So far as the Chekov revival is concerned, it has two definite features of interest: First, it is one of the few professionally competent performances American actors have given of a Russian drama, and second, it brings the beautiful and wraith – like Lillian Gish back to the living theater after nearly twenty years absence in the movies.

The play is another of those placid, leisurely studies of character and life’s frustrations in which the older Russians specialized. Uncle Vanya of the title, is a gentle soul who has given up his life to the management of his family estate that Alexandria, a pompous mollusk who has married his sister and hypnotized the family by an assumption of learning and importance, may take his lazy ease.

Injury is added to imposition when, being set free by the death of his wife, Alexandria marries the woman Vanya loves. Goaded beyond his strength, Vanya finally turns on his windy tormentor and seeks to kill him. Even in this laudable endeavor he is thwarted, missing the target twice. Then, with the departure of the hated one and his young wife, life resumes its normal way on the estate and Vanya goes back to the unhappy grind.

Miss Lillian Gish as Helena in Jed Harris’ “Uncle Vanya”

Miss Gish is a rarely fascinating personality in the theater, moving consciously about; falling into unconsciously graceful poses; speaking in a gentle voice with modest expression; suggesting a little girl playing most intelligently at acting, but still a little girl.

As to the managers and speculators, Mr. Harris insists a little violently that the managers, who have organized a theater league to curb speculators, are all wrong, even a little imbecilic. They can never hope to control speculators, he says, even with former Gov. Al Smith as their Will Hays. He threatens to do something about it.

Uncle Vanya – Photo Gallery

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Lillian Gish Ready to start on a Talkie – By Rosalind Shaffer (Chicago Tribune Press Service) 1929

Conrad Nagel, Lillian Gish, Rod La Rocque, Direktor Paul L. Stein ermahnt, The Swan
Conrad Nagel, Lillian Gish, Rod La Rocque, Direktor Paul L. Stein ermahnt, The Swan

Chicago Tribune – October, Sunday 13, 1929 – Part 7, Page 58

Lillian Gish Ready to start on a Talkie

Chooses “The Swan” as Her First Venture

By Rosalind Shaffer (Chicago Tribune Press Service)

Hollywood Cal. – [Special Correspondence] – Lillian Gish is about to begin rehearsals on her first talking picture “The Swan,” from the play by Ferenc Molnar. Looking extremely well after her prolonged vacation occasioned by the giving up plans to make “The Miracle Woman,” by Reinhardt, some months ago, Miss Gish is most interested with the idea of doing a talkie.

“I really have done about everything I could for silent pictures,” she said. “I have made all the faces I know; I even went to insane asylums to try to get a few new ones. It’s rather nice to be going to make a new sort of thing.”

VICTOR MAUREL as Don Giovanni in 'Don Giovanni' by Mozart
VICTOR MAUREL as Don Giovanni in ‘Don Giovanni’ by Mozart

Voice Work Under Maurel

A couple of years ago, Lillian Gish had been thinking of doing stage work and had had some excellent voice training under the tutelage of Victor Maurel, now dead, who lived in New York at the time Miss Gish knew him.

Maurel was an opera singer, so important in his day that the prologue for “Pagliacci,” by Leoncavallo, was written especially for him to sing to induce him to play the role in its original presentation. He had argued that the part was too light in tone and suggested the prologue to give it weight.

Maurel was a well known artist in his later years and it was as such that Miss Gish went to him to get lessons in his hobby. He only asked as pay that she pose for him. Then he became interested in her dramatic work and daily he took scenes from the then current “Way Down East” of Miss Gish and tried to gain the same emotional effect in an empty room with her voice that she had gotten on the screen with her acting.

Thus, while Miss Gish has never had a voice test, she feels not unprepared for her talking work  in “The Swan.” The role is a radical departure from the fluttery parts that first brought her to popularity with D.W. Griffith as her director.

While Miss Gish keeps her long hair, she has been as radical as Mary Pickford in changing her parts for films, for in “The Swan” she plays a modern lightly sophisticated role. In the cast will be Conrad Nagel, Rod LaRocque and Marie Dressler.

The Swan aka “One Romantic Night” – Photo Gallery

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“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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Daphne And The Pirate (Triangle Opens at the Colonial) By Kitty Kelly (Chicago Tribune – 1916)

Daphne and the Pirate
Daphne and the Pirate

Chicago Tribune – Monday, February 28, 1916 – Page 14

Triangle Opens at the Colonial

Daphne And The Pirate

Fine Arts – Triangle

Directed by W.C. Cabanne

Presented at the Colonial

The Cast:

  • Daphne La Tour ……………………. Lillian Gish
  • Philip de Mornay ……………….. Elliott Dexter
  • Jamie D’Arcy ………………………. Walter Long
  • Prince Henri ………………..……. Howard Gaye
  • Franchette ………………….…….. Lucille Young
  • Francois La Tour ….…… Richard Cummings
  • Duc de Mornay ………….…..…. Jack Cosgrave

By Kitty Kelly

Triangle tried it again, on an invitation houseful on Saturday night and the regular public yesterday. In spite of Mr. S. L. Rothapfel, it is not yet a perfect accomplishment, though it is much better. We have heard much of “how different this is going to be,” but it appears as if somebody has underestimated the sophistication of us inhabitants of these far frontiers, for truth to tell, there was no such startle as, for instance, when first we saw that charming Italian garden stage setting with which E. Q. Cordner introduced us to distinctive photoplay presentation during the Strand’s tenure of Orchestra hall – a setting which to our mind has not yet been surpassed in this town.

Daphne and the Pirate
Daphne and the Pirate

At the Colonial the curtain rises on a lovely vista of blueish green land and water glimpsed through a flower entwined trellis, but there is a festive light machine somewhere which takes away the fairy feeling, for, like the barking dog, the stage setting is more effective in the dark. The light reveals it as an ordinary landscape backdrop, pasteboard shrubbery set about, artificial balusters and trellis twined over with vivid artificial flowers, and the interminable marble pillars wherein the imitativeness of the marble is matter beyond dispute, all of it enshrining the orchestra. The setting receives attention because it we have with us always, with the prospects of forever – limited by contract machinations – gazing at the cloying Cupids fluttering about the frame. The program comes and goes. At present it is over long, with so much of scenic, topic, and educational dispensation, plus several musical numbers that it approximates in length the old double header bill at the Studebaker that used to make our heads swim.

Daphne and the Pirate
Daphne and the Pirate

This week’s feature, “Daphne and the Pirate,” in which Lillian Gish succeeds herself, as the Colonial’s heroine, remembering back to “The Birth of a Nation,” is a charming thing. It is not Fine Arts’ best, by a good deal, but it is so much better than many other producers’ “bests” that it pleases and invites on back to see more under its trade mark.

***

Miss Gish, a delightful person and player, is no comedian. But as Daphne she is nearly enough such to be enjoyable. The spitfire nature emanating from her cameo demureness, by its uniqueness, conquers.

Daphne and the Pirate
Daphne and the Pirate

Costume plays have hard work to reach the public heart but this one laid in the colonial days of bride buying, and having to do with pirates, an undesired suitor, and a bold lover, has a way with it that wins.

Elliot Dexter, the hero, is a player of sterling worth. Technically, the story is very successful. It is exceedingly well made in its introduction and linking up of situations. Even in spite of its too, too hurried projection on Saturday night, which made little Miss Gish, who inclines to angularity of movement anyhow, hop about like a jumping Joan, its good points shone out.

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