Genius Shown in “White Sister” (San Bernardino Sun, 1924)

  • San Bernardino Sun, Volume 54, Number 102, 10 June 1924
  • Genius Shown in “White Sister” – Now Playing To Large Crowds Here


Those who know motion pictures, have termed “The White Sister” a perfect photoplay. This may be why it has been secured as a feature attraction at the Opera House with two showings daily this week.

The White Sister

Lillian Gish Hailed by Critics as Supreme Interpreter of Character

A motion picture reviewer regrets having wasted adjectives on other film features when he is confronted with such a picture as the Henry King production of “The White Sister,” in which Lillian Gish is now appearing at the Opera House. Here is a motion picture achievement that deserves and demands the use of all the praise it is possible to bestow, for nothing finer has ever reached the screen. It is perhaps the finest dramatic offering ever turned out as a motion picture, and everyone concerned In its making, distribution and presentation is to be complimented most highly. Miss Gish is magnificent. No actress of this generation on stage or screen has carried the flame of sheer genius into her acting as does the frail little star of “The White Sister.” One has to hark back to the thrilling intensity of a Duse and the passionate emotionalism of a Bernhardt for comparison. Nowhere in the long list of screen plays has there ever been so convincing and thrilling a love epic as this romance of a girl and her young soldier lover.

The White Sister

Ronald Colman, who plays opposite Miss Gish, is the “find” of the screen year – a handsome, dashing hero. In filming F. Marion Crawford’s story, Director King took a company to Italy. Studios and laboratories were established, and then began the making of what should prove one of the truly great productions in cinema history. Mr. King has brought to life the characters of Mr. Crawford’s novel and filmed his story in the exact locale in which It was set. Most persons are familiar with the story and many have undoubtedly longed for its presentation on the screen. These and countless others will be deeply grateful for Mr. King’s production. He has held closely to the story, offering many thrills in the way of the actual eruption of Vesuvius, and a flood that sweeps away an Italian town and makes one almost feel that he is to be taken with it, so realistically has it been done.

The White Sister

The settings are exquisite; the photography of the highest quality, and Miss Gish’s supporting cast shows it was chosen with care, for the members all contribute to the general effectiveness of the film. As a matter of fact, “The White Sister” comes near to being “the perfect picture.” To those who are regular movie fans we say “Don’t miss it.” To those who are not regulars, we hold this picture up as a shining example of the accomplishments of the screen, and unhesitatingly recommend that they see it. “The White Sister” is a Henry King production for Inspiration Pictures, Charles H. Duell, Jr., president, and is released through Metro. “The White Sister” will be the attraction at the Opera House twice daily, matinee at 2:30 and one evening show at 8 o’clock until Friday night, inclusive.

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Splendid Excess – by Daniel Mangin (Bay Area Reporter, 1992)

  • Bay Area Reporter, Volume 22, Number 38, 17 September 1992
  • Splendid Excess
  • by Daniel Mangin

We’re in for a weekend of splendid excess with two widely divergent retrospective programs centering on virtue under assault. The Pacific Film Archive presents the restored, tinted print of D.W. Griffith’s Way Down East at the Castro Sept. 18. The master’s plot is as overblown as cinema gets: an upper-class lout tricks damsel in distress Lillian Gish out of her innocence by faking marriage; gets her pregnant; and then abandons her. Next, the baby dies. (And that’s just the first part of this 21/2-hour opus.) Griffith’s fame derives from his creation of a coherent language out of the cinema’s basic elements, but his sense of what the medium could accomplish went beyond aesthetics. He saw film as a vehicle to elevate the morals of the masses, which to him meant the restoration of Victorian values (even if he wasn’t always able to live by them himself). The overriding moral of Way Down East, stated in the prologue and reiterated throughout, is that men should be more respectful — and less diabolical — toward women. The tone leans toward the patronizing: although Gish is a pillar of strength, surviving poverty, shame and a blizzard, she is rescued by the “love of a good man.” Griffith’s morality play was out of date the day he acquired the rights (“We all thought privately that Mr. Griffith had lost his mind,” wrote Gish in her autobiography). Even aesthetically Way Down East represents more of a consolidation of everything the director had learned about the cinema than a breakthrough. It nevertheless remains a spellbinding work.

Scene from D.W. Griffith’s Way Down East, 1920, with Kate Bruce, Lowell Sherman, Lillian Gish, Mary Hay, Creighton Hale and Richard Barthelmess.

Renowned Rescue

The film’s renowned ice floe rescue scene is a master piece of crosscutting to create tension, but the sequence preceding it deserves mention as well. For 20-plus minutes Griffith builds suspense — through shot selection, editing and varying compositions—as town gossip Martha Perkins spreads the news that Gish’s character, Anna, has had a child out of wedlock. Pure melodrama, but the visual rhythm leading up to Anna’s climactic exposure of her baby’s father and her banishment from her home is beyond compare. The original score, adapted for the Castro’s Wurlitzer, is as florid as the film’s plot. The tireless Dennis James performs it with appropriate gusto.

Way Down East Castro Theatre, Sept. 18. 8 p.m. 621-6120

Ice Floe Scene – photo gallery

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Altman’s ‘A Wedding’ inspired lunacy – By BERNARD DREW (San Bernardino Sun, 1978)

  • San Bernardino Sun, 22 October 1978
  • Altman’s ‘A Wedding’ inspired lunacy

Movie Review

“A Wedding,” rated PG, is currently playing at the Central City Four Theater.

By BERNARD DREW – Gannett News Service

Robert Altman’s “A Wedding” is the frantically enjoyable account of a marriage between a young scion of high (with perhaps a soupcon of low) society and the daughter of a vulgar, redneck nouveau riche and the mayhem which ensues.

A Wedding

As in Altman’s master piece “Nashville,” the panorama covers an inordinately large cast of characters, perhaps a bit too large for us to encompass who and what every person on that screen is or does. There are moments when one might wish to know a little less (or nothing at all) about a character flitting by, and a bit more about some of the major people involved. Right up until the end, there is some fuzziness about a couple of the main characters.

Robert Altman – Lillian Gish (A Wedding)

But this is compensated for by the often hilarious vaudeville Altman and his three co-writers John Considine, Patricia Resnick, and Allan Nicholla have concocted for their huge, heterogeneous cast. At times some of the cast seem to be doing a solo turn or scene rather than being part of an integral whole, but I am not going to complain during the current dearth of film comedy, warts and all, “A Wedding” contains moments of inspired lunacy. Altman’s talent is matched by his courage. He has made bad movies but never dull ones.

Dina Merrill, Lillian Gish and Mia Farrow – A Wedding

In “A Wedding,” he maintains the Greek unities of time, place and action. Everything ensues within a 24our period as the wedding commences in church in the morning, while preparations for the reception go on at the groom’s grandmother’s mansion. Then comes the reception itself with all the pandemonium which attends it, lasting through the afternoon, evening and night.

Lillian Gish and Geraldine Chaplin – A Wedding

At the outset, grandmother Lillian Gish lies in her bed too ill to attend the wedding but giving last minute instructions to wedding reception coordinator Geraldine Chaplin. Then we see a bit of the wedding ceremony. Half-senile John Cromwell, who has been coaxed out of retirement by friend Gish, is stumbling through the service as the groom, Desi Arnaz, Jr., is becoming one with bride Amy Stryker, who still wears her retainers.

The groom’s mother, Nina Van Pallandt, Gish’s daughter, is a glamorous woman who is married to an Italian of mysterious origin which will be revealed later on. He is portrayed by the superlative Vittorio Gassman. Her sisters are the very regal Dina Merrill, strangely paired with Pat McCormick, who plays an art collector; and Virginia Vestoff, who is conducting an affair with Miss Gish’s black butler, Cedric Scott.

Lillian Gish and Mia Farrow – A Wedding

The bride has a younger brother who is an epileptic and an older sister, Mia Farrow, who adds to the confusion of the reception when she announces she is pregnant by the bridegroom, Arnaz.

The most memorable performances are those of Dina Merrill, (in the best thing she has ever done on film), Lillian Gish, John Cromwell, Ruth Nelson as her left wing but still very rich and social sister, Mia Farrow, Geraldlne Chaplin, and Howard Duff. Viveca Lindfors is amusing as a caterer who becomes stoned. You must say this for Robert Altman. He never copies anyone else and he never repeats himself. He’s an original.

Robert Altman celebrating Lillian Gish’s 100th film – A Wedding

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Lillian Gish Is Back Before Cameras in ‘Night of Hunter’ – By Bob Thomas (San Bernardino Sun, 1954)

San Bernardino Sun, Volume 61, Number 40, 16 October 1954


  • Lillian Gish Is Back Before Cameras in ‘Night of Hunter’
  • By Bob Thomas
Lillian Gish and Charles Laughton (The Night of The Hunter)

AGAINST TALKIES – Actress Lillian Gish, shown talking to Charles Laughton, confesses she’s never approved of talking movies. She’s in “Night of the Hunter.” (AP Wire photo)

HOLLYWOOD – I’m always critical of my family. Whatever they do, I want them to be only the best.” That was Lillian Gish’s explanation of why she is sometimes considered a critic of the film industry, She considers it a part of her family, and that isn’t too far fetched. She certainly grew up with it, and it with her.

The Night of The Hunter

Miss Gish, whose tender, innocent face is remembered by any one who lived through the silent film era, is back in Hollywood after a considerable absence. She is playing with Shelley Winters and Robert Mitchum in “Night of the Hunter,” which is being directed by Charles Laughton. She, has passed her 55th birthday, but her skin is smooth and she still has the loveliness that mature film fans recall.

She began on the stage at 5 and played in her first movie at 12. She became a star with “Birth of a Nation” and was associated with many of the great D. W. Griffith films that raised movies from infancy to adulthood.

The Night of The Hunter

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Silent Star Says Movies ‘Still in Their Babyhood’ – By Ed Blanche (Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1981)

  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, Volume 125, Number 39, 17 February 1981
  • Silent Star Says Movies ‘Still in Their Babyhood’
  • By Ed Blanche

London (AP) – Lillian Gish, one of the original silent Hollywood stars and still working at 84. says movies “are still in their babyhood. We’re still crawling on our hands and knees.” Movies these days, she said in an interview in her suite at London’s Ritz Hotel, are all about ear-chases and “girls who look like they’ve failed an audition for Charlie’s Angels.’ “They’ve lost the concept of beauty that D.W. Griffith handed them on a plate. He gave them form and grammar.” Miss Gish, grabbed at age 12 by the legendary Griffith and later made star of his classic “Birth of a Nation,” said the only people who make good movies anymore are the Russians, because they understand the power of film. “They’re the only ones who take film seriously,” she explained. “Although we don’t always like their politics, they do understand the power of film.” Hollywood these days churns out movies that “technically have gone forward, but intellectually and spiritually have gone backwards.” she said. Miss Gish said she has little time for the realism of the 70s, the explicit sex, the dalliance with drugs and promiscuity, the exploitation and the morose downer concepts of the nuclear age. She said she craves innocence and beauty and a return to the pristine eloquence pioneered by Griffith in the early years of the century.

“There have been only two great geniuses in movies – Mr. Griffith and Walt Disney. Mr. Griffith dealt with the human equation, with people. It’s time we got back to putting beauty on film. The Russians are the only ones doing it now they even transform Siberia into a poem in white.” Modern directors are making a “great mistake they’re playing down to audiences. Mr. Griffith once said that to do that was the end. Movies should uplift and inspire,” Miss Gish continued. “We’re in the first century to bequeath a living, moving history behind us. Just think of actors 100 years from now they won’t have to go back to books. They’ll have it all on film, how we lived, what we did, what we thought. Film is far more important than the invention of the printing press.” Miss Gish, looking petite and fragile in a plain pink, floor-length gown, belies her age. It seems astounding that she has made more than 100 movies, spanning in her lifetime the history of the movies from Griffith’s two-reel silent masterpieces to Robert Altman’s caustic social commentaries. She flew to London on Concorde for the opening of a new musical. “The Biograph Girl,” a triple-history of Griffith, herself and Mary Pickford in the early pioneering years when Hollywood was still a ramshackle adjunct of Los Angeles. “It’s a beautiful show,” she gushed.

with Kate Revill, who plays her in a new musical, The Biograph Girl, at the Phoenix Theatre in London, 19th November 1980

“But I thought you had to be dead before they did this sort of thing. I’m sure it will go to Broadway and become a movie and be a big success.” Miss Gish, whose wrinkles cannot mask the sweetness of the face that glowed and shone under Griffith’s direction, is a living history of Hollywood. When she went into movies she was already a showbiz veteran with five years’ stage experience playing in Victorian melodramas, and even appeared with the legendary Sarah Bernhardt on Broadway. She was billed as “Baby Lillian.” But Mary Pickford introduced her to Griffith who promptly added the original “Mizz Lillian” and her sister Dorothy to his cast of Biograph players.

Altogether, she made 43 movies between 1912 and 1922, including Griffith’s “Way Down East” in which she clung to an ice floe for a week waiting to be rescued by heart-throb Richard Barthlemess. Four actors died in the ice on that movie. She was one of the few stars to make the transition to talkies, but eventually got the push from Louis B. Mayer in the 1930s because “I’d been on the great silent pedestal for too long.” But she continued to work, mainly in New York where she still lives. The work was mainly stage plays, but she continued to make movies, including “Duel In The Sun” in 1947 and “The Unforgiven” in 1960. Her 100th movie was Altman’s “The Wedding” two years ago.

Lillian Gish in Unforgiven – Promotional Photo

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Lillian Gish is Gripping … Drama of War Hatreds (Blade Tribune, 1928)

  • The Oceanside Blade – California
  • Blade Tribune, 6 April 1928

War and its horrors have been translated to the screen in many forms, the surge and thunder of battle has been depicted in great spectacles; the side of the soldier told in “The Big Parade” but to Lillian Gish has fallen the task of telling the side of those who, perhaps, suffer most but whose side has never before been presented—the side of the women who face starvation, grief and moral disintegration as a side issue in the struggles of nations. Such is her message in ‘“The Enemy,” Metro – Goldwyn – Mayer’s graphic depiction of Channing Pollock’s famous stage drama —a story of war away from the battlefield; a story of the hatreds, hysteria and breaking down of human relationships that follow like a pestilence in the wake of war propaganda.

On the stage the story was held the drama’s greatest gift to the cause of peace. As a vehicle for Miss Gish the new picture, will play at the Carlsbad Theatre Sunday and Monday, is one of the most gripping plays the famous star has ever appeared in. It presents a new Lillian Gish—a Lillian Gish in a modern role in a modern garb, in an intensely modern story. It tells of the after-war effects of international hatreds in a powerful dramatic theme. At times the star rises to almost sublime heights in the graphic portrayal of the tragic Pauli. Fred Niblo directed the picture, with a notable cast. Ralph Forbes plays Carl, the husband, and Ralph Emerson the English lover.

Frank Currier and George Fawcett have two splendidly-handled character roles as the old fathers of the couple, and Karl Dane and Polly Moran supply relief generously and well. Fritzi Ridgway in the role of Mitzi and John S. Peters as Fritz enact an interesting counterplot in the story, and little Billy Kent Schaeffer plays the child. Willis Goldbeck, noted for his work on “The Garden of Allah,” adapted the story from the original Channing Pollock stage play, And Agnes Christine Johnston wrote the scenario.

Lillian Gish and Ralph Forbes in “The Enemy” (MGM, 1927)

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Ugliness in films disturbs Lillian Gish, 77 – By Bob Thomas (San Bernardino Sun, 1973)

  • San Bernardino Sun, 30 October 1973
  • Ugliness in films disturbs Lillian Gish, 77
  • By Bob Thomas

Actress Lillian Gish … wants a return to good taste

1973 Press Photo Lillian Gish promoting book 1973

BOB THOMAS BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) “As an American, I am against censorship of any kind,” remarked Lillian Gish, one of the treat stars of the silent screen. She added wistfully, “But I do wish we could do something about taste.” Miss Gish, the fragile beauty of “Birth of a Nation,” “Broken Blossoms” and a host of other silent classics, was paying a return visit to the Hollywood she first saw exactly 60 years ago. She reminisced about the past, particularly her prideful association with D. W. Griffith, but she also talked about present day films. “Ugliness disturbs me,” she commented, “and much of what is shown on the screen is ugly. Not only in exposure of the human body. I also mean the ugliness of violence. To me, violence is just as offensive as nudity. “Although I do not approve of censorship, I wish there were some way to impose taste on the people who make films. It’s not that I mind the portrayal of sex in movies, but sex should be beautiful, an expression of human love. But too often it is made to seem ugly.” A youthful 77, Miss Gish is in the middle of a tour of 30 cities in seven weeks to call attention to her new book, “Dorothy and Lillian Gish,” a S20 family album of the rich careers of the two sisters. She added a historical perspective on the film world’s flirtation with obscenity: “You know, I helped the Italian film industry get started. I went to Rome after the first World War and made the first American film there, ‘The White Sister.’ There was only one broken-down studio in Rome, and we rebuilt it. Then I went to Florence and made another movie, Romola.

Lillian Gish and director Henry King – Romola candid on set

“I spent two years in Italy, and I had time to learn all about their art. The Italians in the Renaissance went through what our film makers seem to be going through today. Nudity had not been seen before, and at first they exploited it. But then they learned to portray the human body with beauty. “I say to today’s movie makers: Do what you will but do it beautifully.” Lillian Gish conveyed an air of fragility on the screen, but she is in reality the most resilient of ladies. She has proved that by crossing the country 11′ times in the last four years, lecturing to colleges and other audiences on “The Art of the Film.” “I’ve lectured in 41 states only nine to go,” she announced proudly. The barnstorming is a throwback to her childhood, when she and Dorothy toured the country in melodramas. The Gishes made their movie debuts in 1912 in “An Unseen Enemy,” starring a stage chum they had known as Gladys Smith now she calls herself Mary Pickford. The director was D. W. Griffith. It was the start of Lillian’s long, distinguished association with the greatest of the silent film makers. She recalled her arrival in California in 1913: “There was nothing but citrus groves, all the way from San Bernardino. I remember passing a little Santa Fe station named Gish; I never saw it again or learned why it was so named. Our first studio was in a car barn on Pico Boulevard, and they put rugs over the tracks when we were filming. We worked only in the daytime, of course, because we couldn’t shoot when the light failed.” She recalled Hollywood as “a village full of churches and a white hotel with a verandah where old ladies in California for the winter sat in rocking chairs.” Throughout her career, Miss Gish only lived here when she was working. Her home was, and still is, New York “an awful, dirty, noisy, filthy city, but still the most exciting place in the world.” She recently ended a run in a play there, “Uncle Vanya,” directed by Mike Nichols and starring George C. Scott and Julie Christie. After touring the United States and England for her book, she may do the film version. After that? “I don’t know. Things just happen to me. I never plan.”

Uncle Vanya – 1973 (slideshow)

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