- SKU: 18092724
- Release Date: 08/25/2009
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Ratings & Reviews
"I'm not a bad businessman", filmmaker D.W. Griffith once protested, "Honestly I'm not!" Yet industryites were certain that Griffith had taken leave of his financial senses when he paid $175,000 for the screen rights to the old Lottie Blair Parker stage play Way Down East. Considered out of date even in 1920, the play told the story of Anna (Lillian Gish), the efficient yet secretive serving girl for a large farm family. Anna falls in love with David Bartlett (Richard Barthelmess), the family's son, but feels unworthy of him due to her checkered past. It seems that, years earlier, Anna had been duped into a sham marriage by city slicker Lenox Sanderson (Lowell Sherman). When she became pregnant, Sandson walked out on her. Shortly afterwards, her newborn child died, and Anna was shunned by her home community. These facts come to surface when Sanderson returns to Anna's life as the local squire. David's prudish father orders Anna out of the house and into a blinding snowstorm, but David, after settling accounts with the duplicitious Sanderson, goes after Anna and claims her as his bride. In adapting Way Down East for the screen, Griffith fleshes out the characters of Anna and Sanderson by adding a prologue, which included one of those poignant scenes ever filmed: Anna's tearful insistence that her dying baby be baptized. He also injected the weary old property with a jolt of sheer showmanship, added a "last minute rescue" sequences wherein Anna, lying exhausted on an ice floe, is rescued by David seconds before plunging over a precipitous waterfall. Even today's audiences, armed with the foreknowledge that Lillian Gish enjoyed 73 hale and hearty years after the completion of Way Down East, invariably gasp in fright and urge Richard Barthelmess to "hurry! hurry!"during the climactic scene. Far from becoming Griffith's Folly as predicted, Way Down East was a huge moneymaker. There is no better of Griffith's artistry than the fact that the 1930 talkie remake of Way Down East, though directed by the formidable Henry King, failed to match the pathos and power of the 1920 version. Our own quibble: why did Griffith retain so much of the original play's wheezy comedy relief, and why did he put that relief in the hands of the relentlessly unfunny Creighton Hale? ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
The Birth of a Nation
The most successful and artistically advanced film of its time, The Birth of a Nation has also sparked protests, riots, and divisiveness since its first release. The film tells the story of the Civil War and its aftermath, as seen through the eyes of two families. The Stonemans hail from the North, the Camerons from the South. When war breaks out, the Stonemans cast their lot with the Union, while the Camerons are loyal to Dixie. After the war, Ben Cameron (Henry B. Walthall), distressed that his beloved south is now under the rule of blacks and carpetbaggers, organizes several like-minded Southerners into a secret vigilante group called the Ku Klux Klan. When Cameron's beloved younger sister Flora (Mae Marsh) leaps to her death rather than surrender to the lustful advances of renegade slave Gus (Walter Long), the Klan wages war on the new Northern-inspired government and ultimately restores "order" to the South. In the original prints, Griffith suggested that the black population be shipped to Liberia, citing Abraham Lincoln as the inspiration for this ethnic cleansing. Showings of Birth of a Nation were picketed and boycotted from the start, and as recently as 1995, Turner Classic Movies cancelled a showing of a restored print in the wake of the racial tensions around the O.J. Simpson trial verdict. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Orphans of the Storm
Having turned the creaky old stage melodrama Way Down East into a money-spinning film, director D.W. Griffith set about to perform the same magic with the barnstorming theatrical piece The Two Orphans. Adolphe Philippe Dennery's play told the story of two orphaned girls, one blind, who are separated early on and undergo innumerable deprivations before their tearful reunion. Though the play took place in France, it had nothing whatsoever to do with the French Revolution; this didn't stop Griffith from plunking the storyline smack dab in the middle of that late-18th-century maelstrom, allowing him full scope for the spectacular scenes which had brought him worldwide fame. Lillian Gish plays Henriette, the sighted sister, while Dorothy Gish is cast as the visually impaired Louise. Henriette brings Louise to Paris, in search of a surgeon who might be able to restore her sister's sight. Henriette is kidnapped by a lascivious nobleman, leaving Louise to wander helplessly about until she too is "stolen" by a family of beggars. Rescued by kindhearted aristocrat Chevalier de Vaudrey (Joseph Schildkraut), Henriette begins the arduous search for her lost sister. Just before the film's intermission, Henriette hears Louise begging on the streets. Before they can be reunited, Henriette is arrested by minions of the evil nobleman who'd earlier tried to seduce her. Released from the Bastille by the revolutionaries, Henriette resumes her search, only to be arrested again--this time because she has consorted with the aristocracy, and is therefore a candidate for the guillotine. The stage is thus set for a thrilling "race to the rescue" climax, and of course the reuniting of the two orphans. Orphans of the Storm was filmed at Griffith's east coast studio in Mamaroneck, New York, which explains why the exteriors are always so overcast. In an effort to be topical, Griffith took every opportunity possible to equate the French revolution with the recent Bolshevik rebellion in Russia, and to warn his audience of the dangers of mob rule (this from a man who glorified the Ku Klux Klan in Birth of a Nation!) The film opened to excellent reviews and great business; Griffith, who always placed art above commerce, poured virtually every penny of profit into his "smaller" project, Isn't Life Wonderful, which died at the box office. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Based on "The Chink and the Child", a story by Thomas Burke, Broken Blossoms is one of D.W. Griffith's most poetic films. Richard Barthelmess plays a young Chinese aristocrat who hopes to spread the gospel of his Eastern religion to the grimy corners of London's Limehouse district. Rapidly disillusioned, Barthelmess opens a curio shop and takes to smoking opium. One evening, Lillian Gish, the waif-like daughter of drunken prizefighter Donald Crisp, collapses on Barthelmess' doorstep after enduring one more of her father's brutal beatings. Barthelmess shelters the girl, providing her with the love and kindness that she has never known. Crisp, offended that his daughter is living with a "heathen," forces the girl to return home with him. In a terrible drunken rage, Crisp beats Lillian to death. Barthelmess arrives on the scene, kills Crisp, then kneels beside Lillian's body and takes his own life. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Cast & Crew
- Lillian Gish - Anna Moore
- Richard Barthelmess - David Bartlett
- Lowell Sherman - Lennox Sanderson
- Burr McIntosh - Squire Bartlett
- Creighton Hale - Prof. Sterling
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