D.W. Griffith Hits Rare Theme in “Broken Blossoms” (Los Angeles Herald, 1919)

Los Angeles Herald, Volume XLIV, Number 274, 17 September 1919


GRIFFITH again shows his master hand in “Broken Blossoms,” the mighty cinema spectacle that was last night given its Los Angeles premiere at Clune’s Auditorium before an audience that packed the theater to capacity. In this film the great director, like in previous pictures, demonstrates his superlative powers—only this time he takes another step and gives the photoplay world something rare and entirely new. Such a production is “Broken Blossoms” that those who are fortunate to see it will never forget its theme. “Broken Blossoms” is a tear photodrama. It is a sad—very sad—story, a tragedy, and it will cause weeping; but there is joy to be found. Joy in sorrow, as it is. The play is an adaptation by Griffith of Thomas Burke’s famous Limehouse Nights story, “The Chink and the Child.”

The cinema creation does follow the original narrative, but even the less observing could not help but see that numerous ideas of the master director are woven into the story. First in China and then to the London river slums the plot takes you and there unwinds the rarest film story of the age. The orient and the Occident clash. Brutes of the slums, women of the underworld and dreamy Chinese all figure in the plot. A touch of romance is there —or better. Idolization —between a worthy Chinese and a maid of the slums—but it comes to naught and brings the most dramatic ending ever given a picture story.

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

Honors among the players must be divided evenly. Lillian Gish’s Lucy is given the greatest role of her career. Her emotions, her poise and her actions fit every move. She is superb in the part. It is hardly possible that Miss Gish could ever do more wonderful work. Tributes—many of them are due her for her portrayal of the wretched little slum girl who, after given a glimpse of life, is beaten to death by the brutal prize fighter.

The prize fighter is Donald Crisp. Crisp, the big and powerful man that he is, fits well into the part. His role is a masterful one and calls for brutal work. Too much honor cannot be given him for his exceedingly clever interpretation. But the character of them all is the Chinaman, Richard Barthelmess. To Barthelmess goes the credit for giving the silver sheet a most unique characterization. And three others in the cast loom large. They are Edward Pell as Evil Eye, Norman Selby as a prize fighter, and George Beranger, as the spying one. Returning to Griffith, more promise must be given for the way in which he handles the prologue. The two scenes preceding the play are mammoth, gorgeous and beautiful. It is the master director’s scheme to lift the minds of the audience into showland—and he does. By a series of dances he prepares the viewers for the oncoming tragedy—-the photodrama of tears.

Broken Blossoms - Lillian Gish
Broken Blossoms – Lillian Gish

Then there is something else that is different —the photographic effects. With the old of G. W. Bitzer, camera-man, (Griffith has blended colors into the film. And beautiful tints are tifey. This novel coloring scheme is itself worth seeing. The music to fit the occasion is the work of Louis Gottshalk. the local composer. The composer himself wielded the baton last night as he did at the New York opening. The same sextet of Russians with their peculiar but harmonious instruments that helped to put the play over in the metropolis were there to lend aid to the production. Last night a great audience assembled to attend the premiere. So great was the applause and shouting that Griffith was forced to make a short talk, like seemed so happy with the way his play was greeted that he found it almost impossible to speak. He thanked those present for the kindness shown him and said he would do his best to do better next time. Speaking of the play as a whole it must be said that it is great, beautiful, and a step ahead of present day cinema attractions. And while it was made for entertainment, those who are fortunate enough to see it will depart with a much happier feeling.


A Griffith premiere has become to appreciative – Angelinos no longer a coincidence but a habit. And habits, they say, are very difficult things to break. And we are hoping, that though the great producer may move his Lares and Penates to the eastern coast, he’ll continue to spoil us with these annual “premieres.”

Clunes Auditorium L.A.
Clune’s Auditorium L.A.

Clune’s Auditorium last night equaled if not surpassed the opening of grand opera. And the occasion was “Broken Blossoms,” which was offered last night to an audience that packed the great building to overflowing. “Broken Blossoms,” taken from one of those rare Limehouse Nights stories, as only the great director could have taken it. Mr. Griffith never forgets anything. His trappings are perfect as to detail and the unique and daring music, the light wail of the east mingling subtly with crisper, fresher breezes of the Occident, intertwine caressingly about a story that combines the two. Mr. Griffith likes his audiences to fit the occasion—and, as usual, they did, many prominent folk entertaining with logo parties for the gala event.

Broken Blossoms - Swedish Magazine promo - Lucy Burrows on the pier - Limehouse

Among those noted were: Lou Tellegen, Geraldine Farrar, Mr. and Mrs. Percy Hilburn, Fred Niblo, Enid Bennett, Charles Chaplin, Mildred Harris, Miss Jean Darnell, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Ray, and C. H. Christie, Fay Tincher, Mr. and Mrs. Earl Rodney, Bobby Vernon, Dorothy Devore, Helen Darling and Colleen Moore, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Brunton. Mme. Nazimova, Viola Dana, May Allison, Charles Bryant, Bert Lytell, Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell Karger, Clarine Seymour. Pauline Frederick, Tom Melghan and Jack Pickford, Frances Nelson, Robert Warwick, Mack Sennett, Seena Owen, Monroe Salisbury, Jeanie MacPherson, Cecil B. de Mille, Col. Seelig, Reginald Barker, Mabel Normand, Sam Goldwyn. Ralph Graves. Mayor and Mrs. Snyder, Mrs. Michael J. Connell, Mrs. Leona Montgomery. The Morris Albees, Mr. and Mrs. John Mott, Mr. and Mrs. Leo Chandler, Mr. and Mrs. Howard Huntington, Mr. and Mrs. E. Avery McCarthy, Miss Natalie Campbell, and Mrs. McCarthy’s brother, Herbert Howard; Mr. and Mrs. Harry D. Lombard, Mr. and Mrs. Russell McD. Taylor, Mr. and Mrs. William May Garland, Mrs. Hugh Livingstone MacNeil, Mrs. LeGrande Dayly, Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Wachtel, Dr. and Mrs. Shelly Tolhurst, Mr. and Mrs. Williah Lacy, Mr. and Mrs. Will C. Bishop and Mr. and Mrs. Leopold Godowsky.

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

The two shining lights of D. W. Griffith’s cinema creation, “Broken Blossoms,” Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess

Los Angeles Herald 17 September 1919 (Broken Blossoms)
Los Angeles Herald 17 September 1919 (Broken Blossoms)


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