The White Sister (1923)

The White Sister (1923)

Director: Henry King

Writers: Francis Marion Crawford (novel) George V. Hobart

Release Date: 1925 (Austria)

Villa Albani - Rome
Villa Albani – Rome

On The Seven Hills of Rome (authentic backgrounds for The White Sister):

Above is the Villa Albani, Rome, which was built in the fourteenth century by Cardinal Albani (later elected Pope). It is now owned by Prince Torlonia, who generously permitted its use for “The White Sister,” the Marion Crawford story which Inspiration Pictures made in Italy with Lillian Gish. It is considered one of the greatest beauty spots in Europe. Below is a convent near Porto San Giovanni, Rome, where many of the exciting incidents of “The White Sister” were shot. (Classic – Picture Book – Brewster, Oct. – 1923)

The convent near Porto San Giovanni
The convent near Porto San Giovanni

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LILLIAN GISH! What a flood of pleasant memories rushes along at the mere mention of her name! YOU sympathized with her in “The Birth of a Nation.” YOU suffered with her in “Hearts of the World.” YOU pitied her in “Broken Blossoms.” YOU cried over her in “Orphans of the Storm.” YOU actually cheered her in “Way Down East.” Now when you see her in Henry King’s production of “The White Sister” you will be thrilled, captivated, and exalted as never before. A young woman becomes a nun when she believes her sweetheart has been killed, but things get complicated when he returns alive.

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White Sister - Inspiration - Photoplay, Dec 1922
White Sister – Inspiration – Photoplay, Dec 1922

“The White Sister,” the picture recently finished by Lillian Gish in Rome. Sorrento and other Italian places, was unfolded last night upon the screen of the Forty-fourth Street Theatre before a most interesting assembly, which included persons prominent in society, distinguished politicians, well-known authors and writers, screen celebrities and heads of the motion picture industry. It seemed an occasion which revealed the standing of the films possibly more than any other photoplay presentation. The production itself is a notable one, an artistic effort on which the producers seem to have leaned backward to cling to the sterling worth of the picture, which was entirely made in Italy under the direction of Henry King. It was a difficult task to undertake as it is a love story with little or no comedy relief, and one in which the heavy part is taken by a woman.

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The picturesque surroundings in most of the scenes lend some contrast to the story of a great love between Angela Chiaromonte, played by Lillian Gish, and Captain Giovanni Severi (Ronald Colman). It is a serious, enthralling narrative of a young girl who, believing her fiancé dead, takes the veil as a nus???. A remarkable and successful effort at characterization is made in several instances by the director and the players. The latter actually appear to live the parts they enact on the screen. There is also pictured a beautiful contrast between the lives of the Captain and Angela—the former having a great adventure and the latter living for a time in a modest???, quiet way in an Italian town, with the love of Giovanni as a solace.

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Despite the fact that this is a story of emotions and tears, Miss Gish’s acting is always restrained. She obtains the full effect in every situation, being, as the Italians say, sympatico in all sequences. Giovanni, it is true, is not brought out in a very good light at the inception of the story, as he has had an affair with the Marchesa di Mola, which he tells her cannot continue. Angela, hated by the Marchesa, falls in love with Giovanni, who immediately reciprocates her affection. There is a splendid series of scenes showing the élite of that section of the world following the hounds at a hunt. Prince Chiaromonte, Angela’s father, is thrown from his horse, and eventually dies. This sequence is a thrilling one as the photographs show the open country and the pack of hounds, with the men and women on their mounts. The Prince had desired to unite his family with the del Ferice family by the marriage of his daughter to Alfredo, but these plans are upset by the stealing and burning of the Prince’s will by the Marchesa. So for a brief time the path of love seems free to Giovanni and Angela.

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) - Lillian and Ronald Colman in Rome during the filming of The White Sister - 1923 — with Lillian Gish and Ronald Colman.

Suddenly Giovanni receives orders to take an expedition to Africa. Here there are some realistic scenes of Arabs, the desert and camels. The small band under Giovanni is set upon and, according to the news received in Italy soon afterward, all are slain. Angela is plunged into a state of hopeless grief by the report of the death of Giovanni. There seems to be no hope and she is taken to a hospital, where the white nuns nurse her. An artist paints a picture of Giovanni, and Angela is seen patting the head on the painting and kissing the face. Hope abandoned, after talking with Mgr. Saracinesca Angela decides that she wants to do something to help in the world and she becomes a novitiate and finally is “wedded to the Church.” The last step precludes her ever giving up the veil, of which she is warned. (Source The New York Times)

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According to report—merely a report, mind you—it is quite likely that this will be Lillian Gish’s next picture for United Artists. The O’Neill drama, which revived the Shakespearean aside, took six hours to perform, the audience taking time out for “sandwiches” and such things. At any rate, Lillian is leaving for Paris to confer with O’Neill on the play. As if that weren’t enough exciting news, it is probable that Ronald Colman will play the leading male role, and that Henry King will direct. There you have the trio responsible for that beautiful picture, “The White Sister.” Lillian has never held a brief for sophisticated roles. In fact, for a small woman, she made a big protest about John Gilbert’s kisses.

Photoplay Magazine

  • Lillian Gish … Angela Chiaromonte
  • Ronald Colman … Capt. Giovanni Severi
  • Gail Kane … Marchesa di Mola
  • J. Barney Sherry … Monsignor Saracinesca
  • Charles Lane … Prince Chiaromonte
  • Juliette La Violette … Madame Bernard
  • Gustavo Serena … Prof. Ugo Severi (as Signor Serena)
  • Alfredo Bertone … Filmore Durand
  • Roman Ibanez … Count del Ferice
  • Alfredo Martinelli … Alfredo del Ferice
  • Ida Carloni Talli … Mother Superior (as Carloni Talli)

San Pedro News Pilot, Volume 2, Number 113, 16 July 1929

Theatrical News

Lillian Gish’s The White Sister,” Now at Strand,

Wins Applause of All Critics

When Lillian Gish’s greatest triumph “The White Sister,” showing today and tomorrow at the Strand, was brought back to the Capitol, New York City, recently in response to popular demand, newspaper critics hailed it as one of the few screen masterpieces that had stood the test of time. The Morning Telegraph said: “‘The White Sister,’ starring Lillian Gish and featuring Ronald Colman, being revived at the Capitol this week, proved as popular yesterday as it did at its initial presentation and again was proof of Henry King’s ability as a director.” The Evening World: ‘“The White Sister’ stands the test of time admirably, Packed houses greeted it . . . The story is quite as thrilling as it was back in 1923, the Sahara desert scenes being particularly hair-raising. And the storm at the end finishes it up with a bang.” The Daily News: “Poignantly  appealing, LillianGish returns to the Capitol this week in a revival of ‘The White Sister’ the dramatic screen tale of a daughter of Italian nobility who. cast out of her home and bereft of her soldier lover, seeks solace in the white robes of the nunnery.” Harry Langdon, as a doughboy who is mistaken for a king and makes a hit with the queens, is the comedy hit of today’s program in Mack Sennett’s fine Pathe comedy. “Soldier Man.”

San Pedro Daily News, Volume XXV, Number 123, 30 June 1927

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Miss Lillian Gish – The Dance scene – Angela Chiaromonte

Lillian Gish, White Sister - Inspiration Pictures
Lillian Gish, White Sister – Inspiration Pictures – Portrait inspired by Charles Albin’s photograph

Lillian Gish, White Sister - Inspiration Pictures Article

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Miss Lillian Gish as Angela Chiaromonte – The Dance Scene from The White Sister