“The White Sister”—Inspiration – Pros and Cons

“The White Sister”—Inspiration

Lillian Gish, away from the guiding hand of Griffith, proves to be as moving as ever. In an emotional race with Vesuvius in eruption she captures all the honors. In her support she has a tragic but uplifting story, real Italian scenery, and a charming new leading man named Ronald Colman.

Excerpts from – The White Sister – Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923-Feb 1924)

Signed Promotional Photo - Lillian Gish and Ronald Colman - The White Sister
Signed Promotional Photo – Lillian Gish and Ronald Colman – The White Sister

Some Souvenir Postal Cards.

Agnes Smith (Known MGM – professional hired – hater)

Lillian Gish went to Italy to make “The White Sister,” and the result is some beautiful scenes showing native life and some shots of that great dramatic star, Mount Vesuvius. Miss Gish’s error was, not in going to Italy, but in taking a scenario of F. Marion Crawford’s novel with her. Of all the aggravating and annoying plots in the world, “The White Sister” is the worst, except maybe a few by Hall Caine. Mr. Crawford lived in an age when it was popular to pump up artificial sentiment by playing strongly on religious young ladies and by making a lot of fuss about the difference between worldly and spiritual love. And then he turned on the soft music of Italian scenery to ease the story over on the public.

Why any one in this period of the world’s history wants to film a religious story is more than I can figure out. Unless you handle it with care, the Catholics are apt to be offended while, on the other hand, a great many non-Catholics can get none too excited over the girl who takes the veil. I am not trying to imply that “The White Sister” will stir up feeling, I am only saying that there are certain rational aspects of the public mind that demand consideration from producers. Most fans are apt to look at “The White Sister” merely as florid and romantic melodrama. The postal card views of Italy have a certain charm and the unreal story works itself up into a good thrill climax. Dear old Vesuvius jumps into action and obligingly kills off some of the characters. However, the hero, in the midst of the eruption, for some strange reason goes and gets drowned. A dambursts and floods the city. It seemed an unnecessary trick to bring in the flood and a nasty crack at the destructive talents of Vesuvius besides. The incident was as foolish as though I should get mixed up in an earthquake and die of hay fever.

Miss Gish gives Vesuvius and the flood a winning race for the honors. The girl has a habit of breaking my heart. Once she gets that heart-broken, woebegone look on her face, I am simply overcome by emotion. Miss Gish has a perfect technique, combined with the face of an angel. She deserves more reliable material than “The White Sister.” Her new leading man, Ronald Colman, breaks all records by playing an Italian role without imitating Valentino. He gives a splendid, sincere and truly convincing performance, even though he is called upon to do all sorts of ridiculous things. A recruit from the stage, he is an addition to the screen. And he has such a way with him in love scenes that I suppose he’ll have to engage a secretary to answer his fan mail.

The White Sister - Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923)
The White Sister – Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923)

THE production of “The White Sister” on which Lillian Gish worked for seven months in and near Rome, will not be released until fall. So, for consolation, Picture-Play offers in the meantime, this exquisite photograph of her in the role.

The White Sister 2 - Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923-Feb 1924)
The White Sister 2 – Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923-Feb 1924)

This glimpse of one of the early scenes in “The White Sister,” Lillian Gish’s first picture for the Inspiration company, holds rare promise of beauty, for it seems to haye caught in its very backgrounds her ephemeral charm.

The White Sister 3 - Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923-Feb 1924)
The White Sister 3 – Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923-Feb 1924)

Only in Italy could be found such exquisite and time-worn walls as those which provide settings for some of the scenes in ”The White Sister.” Of all her portraits, the one above is Lillian Gish’s favorite. In this famous old Italian garden which has been visited hy scores of Americans traveling abroad, “The White Sister” meditates upon the spiritual life and seeks to crowd out of her consciousness the tragedy that sent her to seek the solace of the convent.

The White Sister 4 - Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923-Feb 1924)
The White Sister 4 – Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923-Feb 1924)

Ever since the first announcement almost a year ago that Lillian Gish was going to play this widely known heroine of F. Marion Crawford’s there has been keen interest in this production. For such quiet power and spiritual beauty as hers suits the character of the little romantic girl who enters a convent when her sweetheart disappears. In ‘ the scene shown above, the three nuns are played by three old and famous character actresses of the Italian stage.

The White Sister
The White Sister

Concerning “The White Sister.”

The most interesting feature of your magazine to me is the review department by Agnes Smith. I always read the reviews first and usually find that I not only agree with Miss Smith, but wish that I might have thought of expressing my judgment in her delightful way. Naturally, I was eager to see her review of “The White Sister,” for Lillian Gish, it seems to me, is by far the most important person on the screen. Miss Smith’s flippant and disparaging remarks were a distinct shock. I cannot understand her point of view when she says “Most fans are apt to look on ‘The White Sister’ merely as florid and romantic melodrama.”

I do not know on what Miss Smith bases her opinion on what the fans are going to think. I only know that both times I saw the picture the strangers all about me were sincerely and deeply moved. Two women, sitting near me, who looked as though they could ill afford the price of the tickets, murmured several times during the course of the picture that they had never seen anything so exquisitely beautiful.’ The people were so real that they forgot it was a plot and not life that they were watching. Now, if you will permit me the space, I would like to comment on a few points that Miss Smith raised. She says, “Mr. Crawford lived in an age when it was popular to pump up artificial sentiment by playing strongly on religious young ladies.”

Mr. Crawford may have shown poor taste and been artificial sometimes in his writings, but I am not so sure that the sentiment he aroused was artificial. I think that it was sincere just as the sentiment aroused by George Cohan’s flag-waving and other bits of hokum is sincere. “The difference between worldly and spiritual love” will, I believe, continue to be one of the most engrossing themes in all literature in spite of Miss Smith’s disapproval.’

“Why any one in this period of the world’s history wants to film a religious story is more than I can figure out,” she continues. When the world ceases to be interested in faith, it has ceased to be interested in the most vital and important factor in human life. The faith of “The White Sister” may not be mifaith ; in fact, I was enraged by her insistence that her vows to her church were more binding than her promise to the man she loved. But, any sincere and convincing presentation of another person’s beliefs commands my respect, at least. It was reassuring to find that even though she was thoroughly out of sympathy with the story, Miss Smith was deeply moved by the work of the star and Ronald Colman, the gifted and magnetic young leading man. I do wish, though, that her review, which is sure to influence many people, had not shown such a strong personal bias. – Joice Marie Sidman – Ansonia Hotel, New York City.

The White Sister
The White Sister

 

Back to Lillian Gish Home page