It was Gish’s penultimate film role; her first appearance on screen came in 1912 (An Unseen Enemy).
ALAN ALDA’S ‘SWEET LIBERTY’ (The NY Times) By VINCENT CANBY MAY 14, 1986
ALAN ALDA’S talent as a writer-director-star is also his Achilles heel: he’s nice. He seems to be a genuinely reflective man in a business made up mostly of people who shoot first and ask questions later, who never underestimate the possibilities of con-artistry and who have only the foggiest notions of right and wrong. As he demonstrated with ”The Seduction of Joe Tynan” (1979), the political comedy he wrote and starred in (but which Jerry Schatzberg directed), Mr. Alda sees the world not through the Hollywood movie-maker’s periscope. He sees it in the round, more or less like the rest of us who ride subways and who read newspapers and books without hoping to find a hot property. In ”The Four Seasons” (1981), Mr. Alda’s first film as a triple-threat man, his decency and generosity, as well as his gentle sense of humor, served the needs of a totally uncritical comedy about the enduring friendship of three middle-class couples. In the context of television’s brainless sitcoms, Mr. Alda’s compassionate, eye-level approach to the habits of the bourgeoisie appeared to be almost rigorously honest. That honesty and niceness, however, are the undoing of his new film, ”Sweet Liberty,” which he wrote and directed and stars in as Michael Burgess, a college professor who’s written a best-selling, meticulously researched historical novel set during the American Revolution. ”Sweet Liberty,” opening today at the Tower East and other theaters, means to be a send-up of Hollywood manners and methods when a movie company invades Michael’s small college town to shoot the screen version of the book, which, to his horror, has suddenly become a Revolutionary War comedy.
Writers: Hugo Butler (screenplay) Anne Froelich (adaptation)
Based on the reminiscent novel which Augusta Tucker wrote—a humored and wistful reflection of life in a boarding house for medical students in Baltimore—it follows the episodic pattern of Miss Tucker’s flavorsome book, with a couple of romantic by-plots worked in by the Hollywood scribes.
Lillian Gish is decidedly limited by the script as the boarding-house marm but she manages to give an impression of respectability and pride personified. And Ray Collins, Morris Carnovsky and J. Lewis Johnson are picturesque in other roles. One would refrain from recommending “Miss Susie Slagle’s” as a fine drama of medical school. But it is a cheerful, nostalgic and personally engaging little picture of fabricated life.
Renny McEvoy, Lloyd Bridges, Bill Edwards and Billy De Wolfe are amusing, too—the latter dominating deliberately with fancy, theatrical airs. Joan Caulfield is winsome but sturdy as the little lady who encumbers Mr. Tufts, while a respectably modest performance as a student nurse is given by Veronica Lake.
Victor Seastrom’s direction is that of a master, and the Scandinavian’s sympathy with the traditions of our rock-bound New England is strongly manifested in every scene. Seastrom’s talent for creating an environmental mise en scene that underscored character emotion and psychology was evident in his pastoral rendering of a 17th-century New England landscape. Together Gish and Seastrom turned The Scarlet Letter into a critical and popular triumph for MGM. Lillian Gish’s performance in “The Scarlet Letter” recaptures all the praise ever bestowed on her, and by the same token should erase all memory of the shortcomings charged against her. For her Hester Prynne is shimmering perfection, and is completely her own. The scenario of “The Scarlet Letter” is not wholly, however, the story of Hawthorne’s novel, though the liberties taken with it could scarcely offend the most captious. As you see this beautiful picture on the screen it occurs to you that there was no need to have followed the letter of the book at all. What has come from it is fine and true. Henry B. Walthall as Roger Prynne, Hester’s sinister husband, plays with repressed power, and Karl Dane and William H. Tooker offer lifelike characterizations.
Lillian Gish learned that her mother had had a stroke in London and her sister, Dorothy Gish, urged her to get there on the first available boat. When Lillian informed director Victor Sjöström of the need to finish the film quickly, he created a shooting schedule that crammed two weeks worth of shooting into three days of non-stop work. The crew worked without complaint so that she could finish the film early and catch the earliest possible train to New York.
Lillian Gish … Hester Prynne
Lars Hanson … The Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale
Henry B. Walthall … Roger Prynne
Karl Dane … Giles
William H. Tooker … The Governor
Marcelle Corday … Mistress Hibbins
Fred Herzog … The Jailer
Jules Cowles … The Beadle
Mary Hawes … Patience
Joyce Coad … Pearl
James A. Marcus … A Sea Captain
By October 1927, with The Wind finished but the studio postponing its release, Gish was writing that “I hardly think that I will continue with Metro. Theirs is such a large organization that I feel they haven’t the room or the time for me.” Shortly afterward, MGM let the greatest film actress of her generation go—not because her films didn’t make money, but because they didn’t make enough. Gish was “difficult” and single-minded about her work, which was more important to her than the MGM method. (Scott Eyman)
Writers: David O. Selznick (screenplay) Niven Busch (a novel by)
Nominated for two Oscars. David O. Selznick reportedly spent $2,000,000.00, an unheard of sum in 1946, on the promotion of this film.
Adjusted for inflation in 2013, the film’s US box office gross of $20,408,163 would be $410,714,300. Martin Scorsese has said that the movie that influenced him most was this one.
Duel in the Sun was directed by King Vidor, a much more talented and personal director than Victor Fleming was on Gone With the Wind.
Vidor scored in the silent era with films like The Jack Knife Man (1920), Tol’able David (1921), The Big Parade (1925), and his masterpiece, The Crowd (1928). Though he continued working steadily, he never regained the personal vision he imbued on those films. Along with Duel in the Sun, he was resigned to making camp films like The Fountainhead (1949), War and Peace (1956), and Solomon and Sheba (1959). However, as much as he was pestered and manipulated by Selznick, Vidor ultimately gives Duel in the Sun more immediacy than Gone With the Wind ever had.
Opened at the 44th Street Theatre, New York, April 4, 1918. 12 reels.
Directed by D. W. Griffith; scenario by M. Gaston de Tolignac, translated into English by Capt. Victor Marier (both pseudonyms for D. W. Griffith); photographed by G. W. Bitzer; technical supervision by Erich Von Stroheim; music arranged by Carli Elinor and Griffith.
The Grandfather – Adolphe Lestina
The Mother – Josephine Crowell
The Girl, Marie Stephenson – Lillian Gish
The Boy, Douglas Gordon Hamilton – Robert Harron
The Father of the Boy – Jack Cosgrave
The Mother of the Boy – Kate Bruce
The Littlest Brother – Ben Alexander
The Boy’s Other Brothers – M. Emmons, F. Marion
The Little Disturber – Dorothy Gish
Monsieur Cuckoo – Robert Anderson
The Village Carpenter – George Fawcett
Von Strohm – George Siegmann
The Innkeeper – Fay Holderness
A Deaf and Blind Musician – L. Lowy
A Poilu – Eugene Pouyet
A French Peasant Girl – Anna Mae Walthall
A Refugee Mile. – Yvette Duvoisin of the Comedie Frangaise, Paris
Not credited on the original programs: Erich Von Stroheim as a Hun in several scenes, and Noel Coward as the Man with the Wheelbarrow and as a Villager in the Streets.
On March 17, 1917, Griffith sailed for London to attend the opening of intolerance and to discuss a British offer to make a propaganda film for the war effort. On the same date he announced his Triangle severance and the signing of a contract with Artcraft, Adolph Zukor’s company that produced for Famous Players-Lasky (or Paramount, as it was to become known) . Zukor, whose firm had already swallowed most of Triangle’s directors and stars, put up some of the money for Hearts of the World in exchange for eventual distribution rights as well as a guarantee of future Griffith films. Thus began a long relationship between Griffith and Zukor.
Although the latter did not function as Griffith’s boss, his suggestions had the force of coming from the man most interested in the financial success of the film. Nevertheless, Griffith retained ownership of hearts of the world, raising money for it on his own reputation. After it was completed, he supervised its presentation, distribution and the sale of rights in conjunction with Zukor. The financing of HEARTS as even more complicated than Griffith’s previous big films; nevertheless Griffith handled it personally. Hearts of the World has long been neglected as a major Griffith film. A shortage of good prints has probably contributed more to its disappearance than its immediate propagandist purpose and a nearly complete version now made should help to restore admiration for it. Griffith had several motives in making it. He was enormously impressed by the welcome he received in England (he became a confirmed Anglophile and a lifelong friend of Lord Beaverbrook) , and he needed money badly to recover from the debts of the Wark Corporation. But when he had toured the battlefields, slogged through muddy trenches and observed the suffering of soldiers and civilians alike, he was genuinely determined to recreate the scene for the benefit of Americans.
Publicity men created myths about the production of Hearts of the World, claiming that it consisted largely of on-the-spot recording of events. For the most part, Griffith recreated scenes which he witnessed or learned about first hand—Lillian Gish trying to guide her confused grandfather to safety as the village is bombarded; the orphaned children burying their mother’s body in the cellar. The only Americans who joined Griffith for filming in France and England were the two Gish girls and their mother, Robert Harron, George Fawcett, George Seigmann, Ben Alexander and his mother, and Bitzer with several assistants; even Von Stroheim was not hired until the company returned to California. The scenes in which other members of the Griffith company appeared must have been shot on the West Coast, and, though Griffith and Bitzer toured the front lines photographing action scenes, Griffith added stock footage later. When the war began a Captain Kleinschmidt, who had been lecturing here on his explorations and travels, filmed the German armies on the battlefield and showed them in New York. After the United States entered the war on the side of the Allies, Captain Kleinschmidt (an Austrian) was arrested as a spy, and Griffith paid him $16,000 for his films. An exchange of telegrams between Griffith in California and his New York office reveals Griffith’s use of the Kleinschmidt battle footage in hearts of the world. The question of how much of hearts of the world was shot by Griffith on the battlefields of France may never be solved. The audited accounts report that the Los Angeles charges against negative costs were more than twice those incurred abroad. The original purpose of the film was to convince Americans to enter the war, but before Griffith could begin work, America had entered. The S.S. Baltic, on which Bitzer, Robert Harron and Dorothy Gish sailed for England on May 28, 1917, carried as another passenger General Pershing.
America was unprepared, however, and it was almost a year before her armies were well enough organized to help turn the tide. The propaganda aim became our transformation into an angry, fighting people. It was a short war for America, and Hearts of the World had not been released long before the Armistice was in sight. The picture made a lot of money quickly—its profit by the end of 1918 was more than $500,000 —before being drastically cut and altered to fit the peace. Zukor wanted a shorter film for Artcraft distribution, and while Griffith fought him for the major showings under his own supervision, wiring his New York office … if picture is big enough twelve reels is short enough . . .,” he consented to a shorter version for general distribution. The peacetime alterations naturally included eliminating scenes that would arouse hatred of the Germans. The film which had begun in twelve reels ended up in eight. Fortunately for archivists, complete shot lists exist for the original and subsequent versions, made up for the use of Griffith’s cutters when the heavy demand for prints prevented Griffith from supervising all of them.
“Viewed as drama,” Griffith said, “the war is disappointing.” Wisely, he chose to portray the awesome holocaust in terms of a few individuals in a small village that changes hands as the fortunes of war sweep over it. The organization of his film was discursive in the manner of the rambling nineteenth-century novels on which he grew up. In the abbreviated versions it was incredibly jumpy, but in the restored film there is time to elaborate the elements of the story.
Griffith discarded forever the brilliant pyrotechnics of Intolerance, settling down to an assured style in which technical means do riot often call attention to themselves. The spectator is moved by, though scarcely aware of, the beautiful slow camera movement that discloses Lillian Gish to the eyes of Robert Harron as he falls in love with her. The next few years might be called the “Gish period” in Griffith’s career, with Lillian Gish playing the lead in one film after another, continually growing in stature as an actress. But Dorothy Gish all but steals this film away from her. Without any really funny material to work with except her own elastic face and jaunty movements, she used her role to launch a magnificent career as star of a long series of comedies.
Griffith used long explanatory titles to avoid interrupting the flow of action with dialogue titles, the more popular method with other film-makers. As time went on he was much criticized for his titles even by critics who admired his films. Titling was a problem never completely solved in the silent period, and certainly not by Griffith.
As for hearts of the world’s effectiveness as propaganda, the young Kenneth MacGowan, writing in The New Republic of July 1918, while deploring the lack of restraint in bloody scenes of violence, said:
“Here we have an art of pure emotion which can go beneath thought, beneath belief, beneath ideals, down to the brute fact of emotional psychology, and make a man or a woman who has hated war, all war, even this war, feel the surge of group emotion, group loyalty and group hate.”
Griffith made several contributions to the war effort along with other Hollywood notables. He made personal appear ances to sell war bonds, and produced a one-reel film for the Liberty Loan Appeal starring Lillian Gish, and with Carol Dempster and Kate Bruce. The film was completed in September 1918. In it, Lillian’s mother urges her to buy bonds but she prefers to buy clothes until she has a dream of German atrocities which stirs her to patriotism when she awakes. No prints are known to exist today. Long before hearts of the world was ready for release Griffith set in motion a number of programmers for his Artcraft contract, and in December 1917 leased his old Fine Arts studio from Triangle. His first such Artcraft project, The Hun Within, was one with which his name was not formally associated. He wrote the script (with assistance from S. E. V. Taylor) under his old pseudonym Granville Warwick, and the film was directed by Chet Withey. Griffith probably made use in it of footage left over from Hearts of the World (which was to supply scenes for several of his next pictures) and he cast it with Dorothy Gish, George Fawcett, Erich Von Stroheim and other members of the stock company. He invested his own money in The Hun Within, and once again a separate organization, the F-4 Company, was formed to finance it. The completed film was later sold to Famous Players-Lasky at a profit of over $25,000.
When Griffith returned to Los Angeles from the opening of hearts of the world he began directing his own Artcraft films. While he retained ownership of Hearts, the other films he made went to Paramount under the separation agreement at the end of the contract with Zukor. Because of the deterioration of the original negatives that were placed in Paramount’s vaults, only two of these films are known to exist today. At the same time that Griffith directed the Artcraft films he contracted with Artcraft to produce a series of comedies starring Dorothy Gish (wearing the same black wig she had worn in Hearts of the World) and work was begun on the series after the star completed a sensational personal-appearance tour with hearts of the world. Griffith spent more money on these comedies than he did on the films he was directing, but he declined to have his name attached to the series. The directors included Elmer Clifton, Chet Withey, F. Richard Jones, and Dorothy Gish’s sister Lillian, who directed remodeling her husband all by herself at the half-completed Mamaroneck studios while Griffith was off getting lost in southern waters. The co-star in the later films of the series was James Rennie, who became Dorothy Gish’s husband. Zukor advanced production costs in exchange for distribution rights, and the comedies provided a steady income for Griffith.
The results of fame : HEARTS OF THE WORLD and the films made for Artcraft Pictures
By now Griffith was at the height of his fame, and it is interesting to speculate on the effect the acclaim that greeted him everywhere may have had on his personality. Brought up in poverty and without adequate education, Griffith had aspirations to be a great writer, in particular a great playwright . Now he was hailed as the Shakespeare of the screen and he walked with the great of his time, the wealthy and the socially prominent. Although he knew he had poured his heart into the birth of a nation and intolerance, he must have been a bit bewildered to have achieved such success in the medium he had originally despised. He was an intuitive genius, and fame made him self-conscious. His deliberate striving for artistic excellence or for popularity in his later films led him at times to descend into mannerism.
The financial failure of intolerance made him painfully aware of the need to cater more to popular taste, yet he was never sure of what popular taste was. No amount of success quite gave him full confidence in his powers, and failure, when it did arrive, was what he had been half-expecting all the time. His written and spoken words at times became pompous, at times cynical. As the failures grew more frequent toward the end of his career, the cynicism predominated. (Iris Barry)
Wid’s Weekly – The Film Authority – Published in Hollywood
Thursday, December 25, 1924
This is Beautiful But Blaa as Drama. Watch Your Step
LILLIAN AND DOROTHY GISH in Romola
Inspiration—Metro-Goldwyn Length 14 Reels
AUTHOR.George Eliot’s story, adapted by Will Ritchey.
CAMERAMEN.Roy Overbaugh, William Schurr and Ferdinand Risi.
GET ’EM IN.I can’t see this for big box office values, except where you make rash promises, which I would advise you not to do.
PLEASE ’EM.The atmospheric background is beautiful, but this misses entirely as entertainment. There are a few good moments, but on the whole it doesn’t stir you.
WHOOZINIT.Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, William Powell, Ronald Colman, and a lot of Italian players.
STORY VALUES…. There were good situations here, but they tried to tell too much story, and as told, none of it carried a wallop.
TREATMENT.I believe the evident struggle of photographing abroad, under baffling conditions, hampered the director and players in getting across what they were striving to register.
CHARACTERIZATIONS.William Powell dominated. Lillian Gish, as the sweet, sad-faced child, and Dorothy Gish, as the slapstick roughneck, did their well-known stuff, but instead of impressing as characterisations, it was rather an effect of the Gish girls running around in a lot of foreign atmosphere.
ARTISTIC VALUES.Certainly this is impressive as an artistic achievement, figured from the composition and photographic viewpoint.
When they have to tell you how to pronounce a title, I believe that the title is a flop. Before I saw this film I was ready to say that it was going to be a tough job to get the customers past the box office, because of the exploitation angles available. I knew that if the picture was big enough it could pull, in spite of these handicaps. Unfortunately, the picture is not big enough.
Henry King is a darn good director, but Henry here was undoubtedly licked before he started by conditions necessary to be faced in eleven months of knocking around Italy, grinding atmosphere.
I never read this book. I am willing to display my ignorance. I am willing to go on record with the statement that about 90 per cent of the prospective ticket purchasers will not only never have read this book, but will not be impressed with the fact that it was written by George Eliot. At least I knew about George, and when I discovered that it was her book, then I was interested.
There were some excellent situations in this yarn. Unfortunately, as visualized, these situations do not register. I attribute that principally to conditions under which the film was shot, and afterwards, conditions under which it was edited, since friction existed, during that period, between the director and the company for whom it was made. I still feel that possibly some of the failure to make this story register was due to the fact that they did not build a continuity which would high spot certain big moments and bridge over the routine mechanics.
This thing, as it is, just drifts and drifts and drifts. It runs too much in the same tempo. Too much attention is paid to the doings of people who really mean nothing to the audience. Savonarola and his career might be of interest if this had been figured as a study of Italian history, but where we were supposed to be following the adventures of a quartette of young people, the priest’s trials and tribulations failed to get a rise, although they took up an awful lot of footage.
There was a great situation where the young willun’s foster-father loomed up at-the banquet, but they let it flop. As Frank Tinney always said, they put it over but it laid there.
I have liked the work of Lillian Gish, and I have liked the work of Dorothy Gish in many things. I couldn’t become the least enthused about either of them in this. A lotta Dorothy’s stuff was too broad, and too evidently a request for a laugh, to fit in smoothly. Lillian seemed to be taking herself too seriously. Throughout the picture I got the reaction that you were expected to consider that Lillian was giving a great characterization, just because she was Lillian Gish. Each of the girls pulled, upon occasion, their whirl gig run and dash stuff, which has caused some people to dub them the “Windmill Sisters.”
They opened this up with a sequence showing a pirate attack upon a merchant vessel. Once more we had the galley slave action on the screen. This sequence was rather well done photographically, but really did not give you a thrill. There were a good many mob sequences in the picture, but none of them meant much. It was an odd thing as a reaction, but on the first night’s showing in the Egyptian Theatre here the only spontaneous applause, excepting the introduction of the players at the first, came when on the screen appeared the leaning tower of Pisa, looming up at the back. To be sure that no one missed this tower, they put in a terribly crude title explaining its presence. Many other titles were decidedly crude, although at the end they didn’t even attempt to explain how hero Colman, in a rather mysterious manner, managed to get out of jail, where he had been languishing through considerable footage.
On the whole, I got rather the impression from ‘this of watching a lotta college students seriously doing Shakespeare before the marvelous buildings of their university. Everyone seemed so thoroughly to feel the weight of the undertaking.
My hunch about this would be that if you think it wise to occasionally hand your gang something about which in your exploitation you can high-hat them a little bit, then this will serve your purpose. You will have to do some plugging to get them in, but that may be accomplished. I have a feeling that while they will not particularly like it, they will be afraid to attempt to argue about it or pan it.
Griffith Puts Over Winner in His Latest Film. It’s Human
D. W. Griffith Presents
“The Greatest Thing In Life.” – Artcraft
Producer/Director D.W. Griffith, AUTHOR Captain Victor Marrier, CAMERAMAN G W Bitzer, SCENARIO BY Captain Victor Marrier
AS A WHOLE.. . . ..Splendid production with strong human interest element; war scenes presented in masterly fashion.
STORY Has a real theme apart from war, developed with keen comprehension of feminine nature in search of “the greatest thing in life.”
DIRECTION Reveals the flawless technique expected of Griffith: always avoids the superfluous and makes much of seeming trifles that spell reality.
PHOTOGRAPHY Always superior
LIGHTINGS Excellent in getting beautiful modulations of light and shadow; never permit monotony.
CAMERA WORK Notable for the introduction of a new and artistic close-up suggestive of an impressionistic photograph. Effects gained by what may be termed “a soft focus”
PLAYERS Lillian Gish vivacious and charming ; Bobby Harron registers fine characterization; David Butler and others add to story.
EXTERIORS Delightful to look at; largely because of excellent photography.
INTERIORS Richly furnished when situations demand it; always look like real thing.
DETAIL Includes significant incidents; subtitles give natural expression to the mood of the
CHARACTER OF STORY Shows Germans as “the enemy”, but doesn’t harp on atrocities.
LENGTH OF PRODUCTION About 6,500 ft.
Griffith remains pre-eminent on account of what he doesn’t do as well as what he does. When a scene has reached the “punch” point he uses the scissors, and the audience isn’t bothered by the loose ends of dramatic action. He doesn’t work with stereotyped characters because they are convenient; he doesn’t show a German officer assaulting a woman because it has become the custom to present brutality in war films; he doesn’t use a sledge hammer to pound home his meaning and he doesn’t hesitate to tackle a delicate situation because there is danger of its not getting over.
Get “The Greatest Thing in Life” and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll see the difference between the output of a creative artist and the work of a conscientious craftsman who learns to do well something which others have done before him. There’s a big difference and it is the difference that makes this a distinctly superior production.
Griffith took a story of character good enough to have been developed irrespective of the war angle, yet so devised that it appears to have its natural outcome in the world conflict. Lillian Gish is a French girl, vivacious to the point of seeming triviality. Living with her father, who runs a shop in New York, she seeks, under a cloak of laughter, the perfect man, the ideal love, the “greatest thing in life.”
Bobby Harron is the incarnation of snobbery. He detests commonness in all forms, but incongruous as he feels it is, he is fascinated by the merry Lillian, who might love him if only he were more human. David Butler, a great stupid French boy, is all human, he is everything that Bobby is not, but he has no poetry in his soul. Lillian tests him with merry talk about Rostand’s “Chantecler” and the Golden Bird. But to the French youth, a chicken is only a chicken and can never be anything else.
France calls them all—father, daughter and the dissimilar suitors—the France of shell-torn villages. Characters are tested in the crucible. The French materialist dies a valiant soldier, still declaring that a chicken is only a chicken; the snob, reborn a human being in the trenches, heads the American soldiers into the French village, occupied by the Germans to save the girl and her wounded parent. This sketchy outline of the plot may suggest nothing new. It is the wealth of incident and characterization that make it throb with feeling. At first there is contagious animation in following the flirtatious Lillian through her days at the little shop. The performance of Miss Gish is a delight, while Harron supplies a striking portrayal of the snob.
There is humor here, and humor mingled with pathos when the scene moves to France. The war phases of the production, having suspense and thrills galore, are finely harmonized with the personal elements of the story. Be it noted to Griffith’s credit that he defies precedent by not showing any assaults on defenseless women.
A high spot in the picture, one that gets over superbly despite its dangerous character, brings out the transformation of the snob, when, lying in a dugout with a dying negro soldier, he listens to the pathetic appeal of the hysterical man for one kiss from his mammy. Bobby brings happiness to the negro in his last moments by impersonating the mammy and kissing him.
Be Sure to Let Folks Know What You Have. They’ll Come to See it
Box Office Analysis for the Exhibitor.
Some pictures are just artistic, some just business-getting, some are both, and I should say most decidedly that this is one of them. I don’t care what kind of a house you are running; this Griffith offering is bound to please your patrons. Don’t worry about whether or not folks are getting their fill of war films. “The Greatest Thing In Life” isn’t really a war picture; it’s a picture with a mighty interesting group of human beings who happen to get mixed up in the war. There’s a distinction here, and it’s the kind of distinction that’s going to make some productions live while others die. The name of Griffith is enough in itself to assure interest, and in addition to that you have the two Griffith celebrities, Lillian Gish and Bobby Harron, to attract the crowd that remembers “The Birth of a Nation” and “Hearts of the World,” not to mention numerous other pictures.
All that you need to do is to advertise in a big way and figure to hold the film long enough to profit by the word-of-mouth boosting which it is sure to receive. If you spend a little money with your newspapers, it ought not to be difficult to get picture layouts along with more than the usual amount of reading notices dealing with the career of Griffith and the stars he has developed. No doubt you will be supplied with plenty of effective lobby material of an artistic nature suitable to the character of the production. By all means get this if you can and don’t worry about the return on your investment.
“Broken Blossoms” is Poignant Tragedy Given a Masterly Production
D. W. Griffith Presents “Broken Blossoms”
DIRECTOR D. W. Griffith
AUTHOR Thomas Burke
SCENARIO BY D. W. Griffith
CAMERAMAN G. W. Bitzer
AS A WHOLE Wonderfully poetic expression of heart-gripping tragedy; production has the tone quality of a beautiful painting and the emotional force of a dramatic masterpiece.
STORY The spiritual romance of an idealistic Chinaman and a brutally abused white girl, ending in death.
PHOTOGRAPHY Many glorious effects marking a distinct advance in the impressionistic method of motion picture photography.
LIGHTINGS Every scene is given a tone in keeping with the mood of the action.
CAMERA WORK The soft focus introduced in some of Griffith’s recent productions is frequently used here; many of the close-ups are works of art.
PLAYERS Lillian Gish supplies a marvelously appealing portrayal of the pitiable little girl; Donald Crisp is tremendously forceful as the father and Richard Barthelmess gives a finely conceived impersonation of the Chinaman.
EXTERIORS Admirably devised to lend atmosphere to the story.
INTERIORS Appear correct even to the smallest item in the furnishings.
DETAIL The entire production is a composition of significant details perfectly blended; subtitles are beautifully worded in poetic passages; elaborately decorated borders and backgrounds are dispensed with and the dignity of the picture is increased as a result.
CHARACTER OF STORY Poetic tragedy
LENGTH OF PRODUCTION 6,000 feet
“BROKEN BLOSSOMS” is a rare accomplishment even for D. W. Griffith. There has been nothing like it in all the annals of the screen—nothing, perhaps, that in the delicate shades of spiritual expression attains such subtle effects; nothing so tremendously, uncompromisingly tragic ; nothing so permeated with poetry and feeling; nothing so frightfully brutal and wonder by turns, as this story of a pure love that is pushed to death—the love of a Chinaman who lives a world of opium tinted dreams and a poor little white girl who never learned to smile.
Griffith has made bigger pictures, certainly he has made many more in accord with the popular taste; but ”Broken Blossoms” is as sadly beautiful as the suggestion of its title. And how much finer it is to give a picture a soul than to dress it up in costly settings.
Behind the story one detects a serious theme—a touch of satire that is well directed at the smug complacency of western civilization, steeped in materialism, yet officiously ready to convert unregenerate Orientals to the gentle practices of Christian nations. In its fundamentals the drama presents a conflict between spirit in its most refined form and matter in its dominant arrogance. The sweet natured, self-effacing Chinaman and the poor little shrinking flower of a girl represent spirit; the prize fighter typifies matter, physically virile, spiritually sterile.
Richard Barthelmess is met as a young Chinaman who is shocked by the combative spirit of American sailors on leave in a Chinese port. Fired with an ambition to spread the doctrine of kindness and charity among western peoples, he sets forth as a missionary of peace.
Years later, in the slums of London, he is an ineffectual shopkeeper, dreaming his dreams in hopeless resignation. Like ships that meet in the dark of a spiritual night, Lillian Gish, half starved, and clothed in rags, passes before his window and the Chinaman sees beauty in her sad face and appealing eyes.
Donald Crisp is Lillian’s father, a prize fighter who drinks, then vents his ugliness with unspeakable fury upon his wan little daughter. One night, after she has been beaten almost into insensibility, Lillian staggers out to the alleyway and finally falls exhausted in the Chinaman’s shop.
He cares for her, he gives her gorgeous garments and a doll that she holds fondly to her breast. His dreary world is transformed into a dream paradise if only he may kneel beside his princess and hold her hand.
Donald wins the fight for which he has been training. Told of his daughter’s presence in the Chinaman’s home, he leaves the ringside to avenge his honor. For sheer tragic power and heart rending poignancy nothing could well exceed ensuing scenes that show the father dragging Lillian to their house and eventually killing her. The Chinaman follows, shoots the prize fighter and carries the body of the lifeless girl back to his rooms.
With infinite tenderness he places silk coverings over his princess and having performed the last rites for the dead, plunges a dagger into his heart.
Miss Gish has given many excellent portrayals, but it is doubtful if she has done anything so superlatively artistic as this interpretation of the abused child. Her expressions are irresistibly touching at all times and there are moments when she reaches emotional heights seldom attained by any actress. Also, it would be difficult to overestimate the contribution of Mr. Crisp and Mr. Barthelmess to the production.
Offers a Chance to See If the Public Will Accept a Tragic Ending
Box Office Analysis for the Exhibitor
In a brief curtain speech after the first public showing of “Broken Blossoms” at the Cohan Theater, Mr. Griffith spoke modestly of the picture and referred to vital necessity of a producer pleasing the public, His tone might be taken to indicate that he questions a wide appeal of an uncompromising tragedy, however it may be handled, a conclusion pretty much in acord with prevalent opinion. At all events, the producer had the courage of his convictions in carrying the story to its logical conclusion without resorting to the customary happy ending, the taste of the public will be put to the test, if is not accepted there is little chance for genuine tragedies, because “Broken Blossoms” is a masterpiece of its kind.
As shown under the director’s supervision, it opens with what is termed thematic overture, a sort of symbolical prologue set to music. This, of course, will be beyond the scope of smaller theaters, as will be a complete rendition of the elaborate music score; but even without such helpful auxiliaries there is no reason why the picture cannot be presented with appropriate dignity.
Passing by the more unusual and significant elements of the production and looking for something likely to appeal to a fan crowd that prefers physical to spiritual combats, you may count on the effectiveness of some cleverly handled prize fight scenes. Really, however, the picture should be accepted as a work of art without resorting to the conventional advertising appeals.
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