HEARTS OF THE WORLD (Griffith/Paramount-Artcraft, 1918) – Selected Film Criticism

Selected Film Criticism

HEARTS OF THE WORLD (Griffith/Paramount-Artcraft, 1918)

  • Frederick James Smith in Motion Picture Classic, Vol. 6, No. 5 (July 1918), pages 18-19
  • “Metcalfe” in Life, Vol. 71, No. 1851 (April 18, 1918), page 642
  • Julian Johnson in Photoplay, Vol. 14, No. 1 (June 1918), pages 48 and 111
Hearts of The World Program
Hearts of The World Program

At last we have something mightily worth while to record, for David Wark Griffith has revealed his third big screen drama, Hearts of the World. Hearts of the World deals with the world war, and yet it isn’t a spectacle. Griffith calls it ’’the story of a village. ” The vigor of Hearts of the World lies in its simplicity. Someone has said that the big screen plays will come when producers discover the value of the simple. Griffith realized that truth in this romance of the world’s tragedy. Thru the maelstrom of battle smoke he never loses sight of his principal characters. Personifying any man and any woman, they bring the war home with crashing directness.

Hearts of The World
Hearts of The World

Hearts of the World gives a new realization of modern war. Griffith has centered his story in a little village of northern France. Here the Boy, son of an American painter, and the Girl, daughter of a French artist, meet, love and plight their troth. Then comes 1914. The village throbs with the coming of war. The gray German hordes descend upon France. The battle-line skirts the little village and finally engulfs it. The Boy is now a soldier of France and the Girl a prisoner within the Teuton lines. The Boy casts his life into the balance as a spy and finds his sweetheart just as he is discovered. The two seek refuge in an old inn tower. German soldiers surround the place and are battering the doors down when the French recapture the village and save them.

Dorothy Gish as The Little Disturber in The Hearts of The World
Dorothy Gish as The Little Disturber in The Hearts of The World

Subordinate to the romance of the Boy and the Girl is the story of a little street singer, the debonair and piquantly brazen Little Disturber, who looks upon the Boy with longing eyes and, realizing that “if you can’t get what you want, then want what you can get, ” takes a boisterous French peasant lad to her heart.

Lillian Gish in Hearts of The World
Lillian Gish in Hearts of The World

This is the simple theme. Back of it sweep fleet aircraft, lumbering tanks, thousands upon thousands of soldiers, masses of artillery, fleeing throngs of terrified refugees, all the triumphs and tragedies of modern war. Barrage fire, curtain fire, poison gas, shrapnel, huge shells, all play their grim parts. Griffith, by permission of the Allied governments, obtained many scenes on the actual battlefields of Europe. Others he created in the peaceful fields of California. But we defy you to tell where the real mo¬ ments end and the make-believe ones start.

Hearts of The World
Hearts of The World

It is the very simplicity of Hearts of the World that drives the grimness of war home. Griffith shows war’s reaction upon the life of a small community much as Wells did in Mr. Britling Sees It Thru. We do not say that Hearts of the World has a story which deserves recognition as dramatic literature. It is frequently trite, as the scene in which the Huns hammer upon the inn doors and the Boy stands within with his revolver, holding just two cartridges, pressed against his sweetheart’s breast.

Lillian Gish and Riobert Harron - Hearts of the World
Lillian Gish and Riobert Harron – Hearts of the World

You and I, seeing life as something more than the moonlight- tinted study of an ingenue listening to a serenade in a garden, will feel that the screen drama of the future is to be something more vital and searching than this. But Griffith has taken the familiar film ingredients and vivified them with hundreds of human touches.

Dorothy Gish in The Hearts of The World
Dorothy Gish in The Hearts of The World

We were disappointed in Hearts of the World in the sense that Griffith revealed nothing technically new. He uses all the old screen resources–and uses them better than they have ever been utilized before–but he fails to open up a new avenue of advance. Intolerance, which failed because of its half-baked philosophy and lack of the simple human note, at least presented Griffith as a man experimenting with his materials. Intolerance was an effort to utilize the cut-back to present a story much as the human mind thinks.

Lillian Gish and Robert Harron - Hearts of the World
Lillian Gish and Robert Harron – Hearts of the World

Hearts of the World is developed in the same way that Griffith did his one-reelers in the old Biograph days six years ago. The alternating flashes of the prisoners within the inn tower, of the pursuers battering the doors outside and the French soldiers coming to the rescue are examples of the old Griffith method of attaining cumulative suspense. Here, too, the climax is delayed too long.

Lillian Gish and Robert Harron - The Hearts of The World
Lillian Gish and Robert Harron – The Hearts of The World

The tension is over-strained and the punch is deadened. Not that we do not look upon Griffith as the one leader of the photodrama. No one else can humanize a story in the way Griffith does it. There are many moments to go to the spectator’s heart, as, for instance, the hero-worship and jealousy of the Boy’s youngest brother.

Hearts of the World has many remarkable instances of direction and photography. There are the scenes in the trenches during a driving rainstorm. There is a before-the-war long-shot of singular beauty, depicting the lovers strolling thru the gardens of the Girl’s home at night. Flashes of Grey and Viviani addressing their respective parliaments in the memorable days of August, 1914, are superbly handled.

Hearts of The World
Hearts of The World

The acting–which, of course, reflects Griffith in every minute phase–is wholly excellent. Lillian Gish lends a note of wistful poetry to the role of the Girl. Dorothy Gish portrays the Little Disturber, gamin of circumstances and something of a philosopher, with insouciance and piquant humor. Robert Harron gives human directness to the Boy. And Robert Anderson, as the boisterous Monsieur Cuckoo, George Fawcett as the good-hearted village carpenter, and little Ben Alexander as the littlest brother stand out as presenting splendid characterizations.

Hearts of the World has temporary emotional appeal of a high order–it sways and carries your interest. On the whole, we congratulate Mr. Griffith.

  • Frederick James Smith in Motion Picture Classic, Vol. 6, No. 5 (July 1918), pages 18-19.

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Hearts of The World
Hearts of The World

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Here the camera drama demonstrates possibilities at its command that are impossibilities to the theatrical stage. The latter can only present imitations of the great things which the photographic lens reproduces literally. Many of the war pictures shown in Hearts of the World were taken at the actual front and under fire of the enemy’s guns. With remarkable skill they have been woven into the warp of the play, so that it is difficult to distinguish real scenes from the manufactured ones. Mr. Griffith’s big undertaking uses the moving-picture in its most splendid capacities, but it also demonstrates all the old defects. It gives us the mugging “close-ups” in all their absurdity, it is full of exasperating “cut-backs” or “cut-in, ” or whatever they are called in the jargon of the movie trade, and sickly sentimentality receives the usual emphasis. Mr. Griffith is doubtless not to blame for these things so much as are the demands of the public to which he has to cater. He evidently has full appreciation of the value of what is best in his picture, and gives full scope to its patriotic inspiration of hatred for the Hun and Prussian methods of waging war. Everyone should see Hearts of the World. It is the moving- picture play with many of its defects and also with its greatest possibilities. It is the war brought to our very doors.

  • “Metcalfe” in Life, Vol. 71, No. 1851 (April 18, 1918), page 642.

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No motion-picture production under any auspices, with any star, would prove a superior first-night attraction to a premier by the celebrated gentleman whom Potash and Perlmutter refer to as “Mr. Grifficks.” Notwithstanding few recent appearances in the squared circle of the silver-sheet, David Wark Griffith is still heavy weight champ of the movies, and Spring’s largest single interest is undoubtedly his new war play, Hearts of the World, first publicly presented at the Auditorium, Los Angeles, in March and viewed by many Allied notables.

DW Griffith in France 1917 D. W. Griffith, American film master
DW Griffith in France 1917

Hearts of the World is, as the programme states, the story of a village. I suspect that there is considerable camouflage in the accredited authorship. Screen and programme allege that the scenario was written by one Gaston de Tolignac, and translated by Captain Victor Marier. Why give Mr. Griffith two extra names?

The camera provides a full evening’s occupation, first unrolling the intimacies of a French village in time of peace, and then displaying the lurid scroll of its destruction, occupation by and final recovery from its rabid northern neighbors, the Huns. As an apotheosis, the triumphant Frenchmen, holding a festival of reunion with their wives, sweethearts and children, behold the first of Pershing’s columns swinging into the end of the long street. You may imagine that this epilogue of Americana, and what follows, causes the audience to resemble nothing but an old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration before we became safe and sane.

Dorothy Gish, Lillian Gish and Riobert Harron - Hearts of the World
Dorothy Gish, Lillian Gish and Riobert Harron – Hearts of the World

There is no name, real or imaginary, to suggest any particular sector along the warfront. While large masses of troops and famous leaders are introduced from time to time, the story concerns no part of the great conflict but those phases which have to do with the little town. This is characteristic Griffith simplicity, in fine contradistinction to the screeching ambitions and booming platitudes of those ruthless kings and people’s leaders chucked lavishly about in the average war film. As a drop of water epitomizes the ocean, so one of her little towns epitomizes France, and the happiness or sorrow of a single family, the joy or tragedy of one pair of sweethearts, sums up the tranquilities of peace or the terrors of tyranny.

Hearts of the World
Hearts of the World

While Hearts of the World covers great areas and contains large scenes and many people it is not, primarily, a spectacle, as was Intolerance. It is not even as much of a spectacle as The Birth of a Nation. It has not the irresistible dramatic unity and power of The Birth of a Nation — that perfect picture! — nor the splendor of imagination and bewildering variety introduced in that noble mystery, Intolerance. But it has warm humanities, great sincerity and sweetness, those delectable touches of intermingled laughter and tears which are the hallmark of genuine art, and–as we have indicated– subject-matter which comes rousingly home to every man on earth who has not been mechanically deprived of his virility or born with his foot under the neck of an infallible monarch.

Lillian Gish and Riobert Harron - Hearts of the World
Lillian Gish and Riobert Harron – Hearts of the World

I think the main secret of Griffith’s clutch at people’s hearts is his patient preliminary exposition of every detail of his characters’ lives. It doesn’t jar you to read that private ’arry ’opkins, of the New Zealand Fusileers, has been gassed to a horrible death in Flanders. You don’t know ’arry and you recognize only that he died for the sake of liberty and to uphold the government which sent him there. But Charlie Smith, the enthusiastic college boy who lived next door, and sat on your front porch to read the Sunday paper, and whittled your kiddie a wooden dog, and brought his girl around so your wife could pass on her–Charlie loses a couple of fingers in a little skirmish on the Chemin des Dames, and, somehow, it breaks you all up and you hope they’ll invalid him home right away.

Lillian Gish - Hearts of the World
Lillian Gish – Hearts of the World

So in our little French village we see Douglas Hamilton, an artist who has adopted France as his home, in the varied channels of his life and occupation; we see also Marie Stephenson, chasing her stray gosling into Hamilton’s backyard–and in that funny meeting altering the lives of both of them; Hamilton’s father and mother, comfortable folk accepted in the village as though they had always lived there; the girl’s mother and her placid old grandfather, unswerving in his childlike faith that nothing can harm France; the gay- ferocious M’sieur Cuckoo, village clown, yet something finer than that; the Little Disturber, demoiselle whose practical philosophy is that if she can’t get what she wants to want what she can get; the village-carpenter, a lovable Gallic rube; the idolizing wee brother of Douglas.

When the horde of the Potsdam Attila strikes, it is with throat a bit tightened that we see Marie put away the wedding clothes she had “sewed with white thread and whiter thoughts”; observe the grotesque ends of the girl’s mother and grandfather, and Hamilton’s father; witness the enslaving of Marie; the decline and pitiful death of Douglas’ mother; the destruction of the village we have learned to love, and the all-but-death of Douglas Hamilton himself. When the French retake these stone-heaps–once homes in which we saw love and laughter–it is as personal as if someone had saved the relics of our own home town after a German uprising.

Lillian Gish and The Little Disturber (Dorothy) - Hearts of The World
Lillian Gish and The Little Disturber (Dorothy) – Hearts of The World

The two most significant portrayals are Robert Harron’s, as Douglas Hamilton; and Dorothy Gish’s, as “The Little Disturber. ” Young Mr. Harron has come to mature stature in acting without losing a whit of his lovable, boyish personality. He makes Hamil¬ ton the prototype of the liberty-loving young man of the world today –gentle, tender, yet an implacable and ferocious soldier when his loved ones are menaced. Dorothy Gish, as a little twelve-o’clock girl in a nine-o’clock town, jumps clear out of all Gish tradition. Saucy and startling, bewitching inspite of her pertness, she and her swing-walk (descendant of the Mountain Girl’s stride?) are to be seen rather than described. Lillian Gish, as Marie, is called upon for possibly the hardest and most continuous work of the piece, and, for the first time in her career, is drafted for the most extreme emotions. The intelligence and sincerity she manifests throughout remark her misfortune in not having the magnetic personality of her younger sister–who gets much bigger effects with a minimum of endeavor. Robert Andersen seems to be the Griffith find of the year, playing that glorious fool, M’sieur Cuckoo, the town boob of comic love and grand heroism. Smaller parts fall to that jewel among actors, George Fawcett, playing the carpenter; to George Siegmann, as Von Strohm; to Ben Alexander, playing a most lovable little boy.

Hearts of The World
Hearts of The World

The portentous moment of the picture (to me, at least) was that episode in which Hamilton’s mother, a delicate woman forced into the hardest sort of service by the German occupation, fails and finally dies in the cellar she and her three little boys inhabit. Whereupon the little fellows, sprung from babyhood to manhood in a day by the fearful elixir of war, resolutely dig her grave in the floor of their one-room habitation and lay her where they can be sure no Saxon ghoul will disturb her rest. This scene, simply written, realistically acted and directed by the hand of genius, is Tolstoy literature.

Hearts of the World is the most timely photoplay that could possibly be devised. It should be a tremendous box-office attraction in every country in the world–save one.

  • Julian Johnson in Photoplay, Vol. 14, No. 1 (June 1918), pages 48 and 111.
Hearts of The World
Hearts of The World

Selected Film Criticism

  • Frederick James Smith in Motion Picture Classic, Vol. 6, No. 5 (July 1918), pages 18-19
  • “Metcalfe” in Life, Vol. 71, No. 1851 (April 18, 1918), page 642
  • Julian Johnson in Photoplay, Vol. 14, No. 1 (June 1918), pages 48 and 111

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