Broken Blossoms was an ugly story, demanding as much sensitivity and understanding as its audiences could give it. More than that, it needed the very special visual treatment that Griffith gave it.
Photographically it was superb, with its striking sets beautifully lit. Moreover, its tinting and toning were an integral part of the whole; gentle rose hues, savage reds, rich blues for the night scenes, and other tones matching every mood and nuance. Audiences that see this film in its rare public viewing today almost invariably see a black-and-white print, which is tantamount to seeing but a pale shadow of what the film originally was. In black and white the tenderness and beauty fade, the ugliness and sheer melodrama are strengthened. The film’s whole balance is thus shifted. But in its original form the film still weaves that same magic spell that Griffith—and Lillian Gish—gave it in 1919.