Selected Film Criticism
HOME, SWEET HOME (Reliance-Majestic/Mutual, 1914)
Reeves Harrison in The Moving Picture World, Vol. 20, No. 9 (May 30, 1914), pages 1234-1235
A photodrama of beautiful motive, of exquisite treatment, and of exposition imbued with the personality of brilliant Griffith, Home, Sweet Home, ranks among the highest screen productions’’ masterpiece” has been so indiscriminately used that it has lost all dignity, if not significance. One does not have to state that there is a ”beautiful motive” and leave it to the imagination. The immortal works of man make him akin to God, partaking of and participating in the divine purpose so far as the world is concerned. The splendid motive is sounded in the biographical sketch of Payne, as idealized by Griffith, and leading up to the composition of the imperishable song:
”It is something too strange to understand,
How all the chords on the instrument,
Whether sorrowful, blithe, or grand,
Under the touch of your master hand
Were into one melody blent. “
“And now, though I live for a thousand years,
On no new chord can a new hand fall.
The chords of sorrow, of pain, of tears,
The chords of raptures and hopes and fears,
I say you have struck them all;
And all the meaning put into each strain
By the Great Composer, you have made plain. “
The poem of Miss Wilcox seems so appropriate that it might have been written of Payne and his imperishable song, and it is, like the photoplay, an appreciation of genius by genius, though offered in general rather than individual tribute. Mr. Griffith portrays Payne in the natural and sympathetic character of man, as we know him, mortal in his weaknesses, divine only in an occasional expression of all that is fine in his personality. The composer’s story is that of a man who wandered away from his home and from the sweet-true-hearted girl to whom he was engaged, to end his days in foreign lands, after yielding quite as much to vagrant impulses as to noble inspirations.
He broke his mother’s heart–she deemed him an unworthy son–and the girl who waited for him on earth died, constant in her love to the erring man of her choice. He was only a man, and the nearer our hearts for all that. In extenuation, he created what has come down to us through uncounted sources, that will go on in the countless centuries to come, softening other hearts as it has sweetened ours.
From the moment that the biography starts with the raising of a window upon the domestic life of Payne and his mother, to the pathetic end of this part of the play, the vast audience at “The Strand” sat spellbound. The dramaturgic skill of the director, enabling him to utilize the histrionic skill of the actors, brought out an enthralling performance, the honors going to Harry Walthall as Payne, and Lillian Gish as his sweetheart, with some dainty touches by Dorothy Gish.
The first episode offered a delightful comedy relief and gave opportunity to one of the best comediennes ever seen in photodrama, Mae Marsh as “Apple Pie Mary.” She fascinated the audience as completely as if she had been before them in person, the thousands present laughing at her delicately-conveyed mental processes. She has the art of picturing thought to a degree that argues her own intensity and intelligent grasp of all she is required to convey, going even beyond that into spontaneous delineations of her own.
The story of “Apple Pie Mary” is in illustration of the power exerted by the song, Home, Sweet Home. So also is the episode in which James Kirkwood and Donald Crisp do some forceful acting, as two brothers of lifetime hatred, driving their mother insane by a double tragedy, from which condition she is restored to the remaining child by the song. So also is the third episode, in which three stars of the first magnitude, Blanche Sweet, Owen Moore and Courtney Foote, present a version of the indispensable triangle, one with a happy termination through the all-pervading influence of one man’s contribution to human enlightenment.
The allegory is a spiritual phrase of great beauty, and a fitting termination to what will undoubtedly be an enduring work. The spirit of the whole play, as well as its theme and treatment, is so imaginative and artistic, while appealing to the purest sensibilities, that “poetic drama” seems to designate the production. This is meant in high praise. Drama of noble purpose that is poetic in spirit and artistic in presentation, tends to make life lovely and wonderful, to give it that stimulus which leads to progress. Home, Sweet Home is an enchantment of the screen.
“And nothing that ever was born or evolved,
Nothing created by light or force,
But deep in its system there lies dissolved
A shining drop from the Great Love Source;
A shining drop that shall live for aye–
Though kingdoms may perish and stars decay. “
–Louis Reeves Harrison in The Moving Picture World, Vol. 20, No. 9 (May 30, 1914), pages 1234-1235.