The Adventures of Dollie
The wee tyke, seen learning to play badminton on a day’s outing, is kidnapped by a gypsy whom her father has trounced for stealing her mother’s purse, Dollie is hidden in a barrel that falls in the river and over a small waterfall, a boy fishing directs her father’s attention to it, she is rescued safe and sound.
Griffith’s first reel.
The Black Viper
A remarkably vicious criminal who attacks the woman and is repulsed by her beau, later kidnapped by his gang and taken to a quarry, finally locked in a house set afire, all this is ended by a fight on the rooftop.
A Calamitous Elopement
A surrealistic treatment, probably founded on Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, involving a rope ladder, a burglar, an appearance in court, a trunk, and a hotel suite.
Romance of a Jewess
The pawnbroker’s daughter receives the ministrations of a matchmaker whose client is considered estimable by her father, she however marries a bookseller and is disowned.
Her husband dies in a Tolstoyan fall at work, leaving her poor, she sends their little daughter with her last possession to the pawnbroker, a righteous man who recognizes it and is reconciled to her on her deathbed.
A theme later worked out in various ways, As It Is in Life, for example, or The Avenging Conscience.
Those Awful Hats
Griffith wants to represent, in this two-minute notice to patrons, both the objection to large hats in the theater and a possible solution. The first requires him to adapt the cinematography of Méliès to his purpose, as he must show the interior of a theater during a performance. He shoots from the back of the hall, and the trick is in putting something on the screen. With that solved, he goes on to his coup de théâtre.
The lady’s ostentatious hat visibly blocks the view of the rather boisterous spectators, but she will not remove it. So, a steamshovel bucket descends from the heavens and snatches it off her head. Another will not acquiesce, it comes back down and takes her away, to the cheers of the crowd, followed by a title card with the moral.
What has been revealed, and there is no mistaking this in the theater, is a direct link between Méliès and the Keaton of The Projectionist and Steamboat Bill, Jr., and that link is Griffith.
On one hand, Griffith invents what is needed to produce a specific effect, in the spirit of Méliès. On the other, his technique is of dazzling ease, naturalness and celerity, like Keaton’s.
Edgar Allan Poe
Ink goes on paper like a raven on Pallas, the maze of scribblers and hacks and publishers’ readers finally leads to the editor who pays, too late.
Any resemblance to Ken Russell’s Dante’s Inferno is mutually advantageous.
A film with a great likeness in the lead (Herbert Yost), for the centenary of the poet’s birth.
Politician’s Love Story
A faceless villain in a top hat, says the editorial cartoon.
He rampages through the newspaper offices with a pistol, the lady cartoonist disarms him.
Sitting on a park bench amid the snow, he sees an endless parade of happy lovers to vex him.
She is accosted by a masher, he knocks the fellow down, they stroll off arm in arm.
A demi-reel of genius.
The Golden Louis
The good Samaritan crosses himself, tosses and gives it, the gambler borrows it and brings a bag of gold to the sleeping beggar-girl, now dead.
A superb demi-reel set in the seventeenth century.
The Voice of the Violin
The talky heiress won’t love her violin teacher, he joins the anarchists.
She plays for her father, a monopolist hated by the group, the wooer disarms the bomb and wins her love.
Who has the girl and dies, knowing her, who cannot be lived with.
The peculiarly fixed camera takes in her transformations at table like the breakfast sequence of Citizen Kane.
Thieves send Father on a fool’s errand to rob the house, Mother and the girls lock themselves in, a telephone call apprises Father en route, he borrows a gypsy wagon to return with help.
An Unseen Enemy is a variant.
The Country Doctor
His duties do not prevent him from saving the life of a sick little girl in the vicinity, but alas his own daughter dies while he is away.
And thus the dilemma.
A splendid joke about two Forty-Niners who nearly come to mortal blows, though the better shot has given up his claim whilst recalling their childhood friendship, over a woman, turns out she loves another and a tenderfoot at that.
What Drink Did
Cf. The Fatal Glass of Beer (dir. Clyde Bruckman), also Oscar Wilde on Dickens’ Little Nell.
The Sealed Room
A Liebestod for the king’s favored one and the king’s minstrel, found wooing in the king’s “sequestered dove-cote” and immured there at the king’s command.
The Little Darling
The title character expected by train is not the very small girl the men have all bought presents for, which makes for a great gag.
or The Hessian Renegades
They take over a house, kill a courier to Gen. Washington, revel and carouse.
The good old man who lives there rouses his neighbors, they take the Hessians captive and deliver them to Washington, with the message.
Browning’s Pippa and no mistake, sister to the kitchen maid of De Sica’s Umberto D., by way of T.S. Eliot.
Griffith of all directors knows the value of a frame of film. Three years earlier the New York Times greeted a production of the play with a question, “why quarrel with persons who enjoy sitting for four hours in a darkened theatre while the actors monotonously spin off reams upon reams of dialogue?” Griffith’s film is said to have been applauded, in what is also said to be the New York Times’ first film review.
A taverngoer sent back to his wife and daughter, Jules the sculptor reconciled to his Phene, delicious Ottima and handsome Sebald brought to repentance over the murder of Gonzago before the fact...
The Gibson Goddess
Absolutely the loveliest thing at the seaside, so svelte, so demure, so off-putting to the crowd of mashers who attend her every move.
Ken Russell composes the whole thing rather differently as The Insatiable Mrs. Kirsch, Griffith has her separate a sheep from the goats by a stratagem.
Nursing a Viper
Taking in an aristo against the crowd of killers, catching him at it with the wife, the crowd’s mercy for him.
The Redman’s View
He takes a squaw (she consents to be his), the white man takes his land and her, the tribe moves on, the old chieftain dies, the white man consents to his taking the squaw, they pay their respects at the chieftain’s resting place.
A film closely related to Ramona.
Corner in Wheat
The sufficient criticism of this flawless masterpiece is by Dreyer, who incorporated the demise of the Wheat King in Vampyr.
The author of Greed is the source.
As It Is in Life
Griffith’s one-reelers are of the essence, uncompressed, cut to the quick.
A man who loses his daughter but refuses the gain of a son, the child pleases him greatly.
The Unchanging Sea
To Charles Kingsley’s three dead fishers Griffith adds a fourth stricken with amnesia. “Years roll by”, he goes to sea again at the time of his daughter’s wedding, it all comes back to him (cp. Alan Bridges’ The Return of the Soldier).
Beautifully filmed, like The Mender of Nets, at the seaside.
A Story of the White Man’s Injustice to the Indian
“Have you heard the Spanish lady, how she wooed an Indian man?”
The terrible epic grinds down an Indian village, leaves no refuge, kills the child, drives the man mad and shoots him dead.
Filmed where the story is laid, at Camulos.
A Child of the Ghetto
New York is a very busy place, Rivington Street, filmed on location as a high-angle view just off the sidewalk full of people and merchants as far as the eye can see.
The girl finds work there taking home garments and bringing them back in a bundle, she’s been evicted for back rent, her mother has just died.
So much business in the shop, so much to-and-fro, the owner doesn’t notice his grown son fob a theft onto her. A policeman chases her home, she escapes through the window. A bus lets her off on a country road, she faints at a rail fence under a spreading tree. Cows graze nearby, a farm boy helps her up and walks her to his home.
His mother is on the porch foreground left, a man in the background is drawing water from a well, girls skip through the scene happy with flowers, the girl even joins in.
Two men from the city fish nearby, one asks the boy to fill his coffee pot, it’s the policeman in an off-duty suit. He gradually recognizes the girl, she prostrates herself and stands again, the boy brings the coffee pot, smiling, they embrace as the policeman returns to his fishing. The boy and girl draw water like Jack and Jill, the policeman broadly smiles and casts his line.
In the Border States
“With malice toward none; with charity for all.”
This is the message carried “through Confederate lines”, damage is done but the Yankee and the Reb both live, “and a little child shall lead them.”
Cf. The Fugitive.
An Arcadian Maid
In one reel, “she secures work at the farmhouse”, gives the dough in the sock to a gambling peddler, finds him thrown off a train onto the track, returns the dough to the farmer’s mattress and takes up her rosary beads to pray, the title is somewhat ironic, a joke at her expense.
Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett.
The House with Closed Shutters
A Faulknerian marvel on a Confederate officer whose sister dies in his place at the front.
Walthall has the role, a most impressive preparation for The Birth of a Nation, in one reel.
The peasant bride, an “artless colleen”, cannot stand or go in a lady’s attire, her husband’s nephew puts her in breeches and woos her at an inn, she trounces him.
The lord of the manor, wise to all this, greets her at home with open arms.
The Oath and the Man
A nobleman woos and wins the perfumer’s wife, French blood is cooled with a priest’s intercession.
Come the Revolution, all is overthrown, the oath holds, the unhappy couple are forgiven and forgotten.
Rose O’ Salem-Town
The true evil of the witch-burnings was more than superstition, it was greed, lust and envy, as Griffith shows here at the root of Lloyd’s Maid of Salem and Dreyer’s Day of Wrath.
Boetticher’s Seminole remembers the trapper aided by Mohawks to stop the execution.
A Confederate mother shields him from the troops, a Union soldier who has just killed her son in an exchange of fire, she does this by reckoning a mother’s grief in the North.
A masterpiece worthy of study, the jollity of the Reb, the sobriety of the Yankee, the confrontation in the parlor over the body, the scene North and South after the war, a terrible poem in one reel.
His Trust and His Trust
The Faithful Devotion and Self-Sacrifice of An Old Negro Servant
His Trust and its sequel.
George houses the widow and her young daughter in his quarters, sleeping outside.
Later, he sends the orphan to school unbeknownst with the last of his savings.
An English cousin pays court to her, George retires to his cabin.
A work of genius.
What Shall We Do with Our Old?
The insolence of office, the law’s delay, poverty and starvation, a stark, brutal lot.
For the structure, which differs from McCarey (Make Way for Tomorrow) and Ozu (Tokyo Story), see Edgar Allan Poe.
The Lonedale Operator
A magnificent film of trains and gold and riding the rods, the title character fills in for her father at the telegraph key and fends off robbers with a little nickel-plated monkey wrench held in the dark like a pistol, until the engineer who loves her arrives on No. 9 for a downright belly laugh.
“In a garden”, Tennyson’s lost man, who returning chooses not to be found and, as Griffith represents him, has a brainstorm and dies (cp. notably The Unchanging Sea).
The Civil War veteran, one arm limp, runs his cabin like a regiment, children marching to reveille and retreat. An older boy skips out to see his girl, rescues her from Sioux braves on the warpath, meets the cavalry and brings them to the besieged cabin, where for a moment he faces a court-martial.
A highly virtuosic Western full of genius.
The Indian Brothers
A renegade seeking to join the tribe is refused, he kills the chief and flees. The chief’s brother returns from hunting, pursues the renegade, fights for him with a brave whose horse he stole, brings him to the chief’s funeral pyre and kills him there.
Cf. for example The Redman’s View.
The Last Drop of Water
A wagon train beset by Indians in the desert.
A prevalent theme, two suitors (Robert Harron, Charles West) for the one lady (Blanche Sweet), as shortly in Through Darkening Vales and Death’s Marathon.
The drunken, careless husband gives his share of water to the dying rival and expires before the cavalry arrive.
Swords and Hearts
“A story of the war time in old Virginia”.
After the war, a patent delusion (cp. The House with Closed Shutters), the wealth of the South remains in the land.
So much the least can be said of the stunning satire preparing The Birth of a Nation.
The Squaw’s Love
Mabel Normand as Wild Flower the chief’s daughter dives in and sinks the pursuing canoes with her knife as the two couples make their escape from the tribe in this “Indian poem of love in pictures”, a variant of The Mended Lute.
The Adventures of Billy
The bootblack, who sleeps on straw.
This is how anybody’s Oliver Twist becomes A Perfect World (dir. Clint Eastwood), among other things.
A great, serene masterpiece in two reels.
A magnificent film on the same theme as The Red Badge of Courage, a young Union officer is seized with cowardice and hides in his girl’s house facing the battlefield, but brings powder for the artillery at great peril and the Confederate attack is repulsed.
Bonfires laid for the powder wagons figure as the central motif of Boetticher’s Red Ball Express.
Through Darkening Vales
Chaplin did all the work of analysis in City Lights, the girl is blinded in an accident, her rejected suitor goes blind from overwork, he pays to have her sight restored, she was never so glad to see him.
The title is elsewhere given as Through Darkened Vales.
The Miser’s Heart
The intricate construction has the miser robbed, the little girl befriended, and the thief let go to sleep in an alley, this later makes The Sunbeam and The Transformation of Mike by extrapolation and refinement, nothing beats the original.
Saved from Himself
A desk clerk facing ruin in the stock market on margin is tempted to rifle the hotel safe, “his sweetheart’s influence saves him from dishonor”.
Joseph Graybill, Mabel Normand.
He lives with his mother in the hotel, his sweetheart is on the staff, guests make him jealous, she laughs it off.
The money belongs to an old friend who made a killing and inspired the venture.
A flower on his pillow from Mother ends this masterpiece.
For His Son
The boy must have money, Father markets Dopokoke, the boy dies of it.
A very amusing lesson, dapperly presented.
The Transformation of Mike
A big thug on the lam in a tenement house, a pretty girl stops him cold, he tries to rob a debt collector, it’s her father (cp. The Voice of the Violin).
A very authentic tale of Runyonesque proportions.
The Mender of Nets
She resumes her occupation after a brief engagement to a fisherman, he had a prior commitment.
A Griffith masterpiece in one reel, “pictured” at a locale not unlike the cove in Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks (the opening shot is reversed by Peckinpah at the end of Ride the High Country).
Hitchcock’s The Manxman, from this vantage point, is only a matter of elaboration.
Under Burning Skies
“The Bad Man of San Fernand” loses the girl, she and her husband are like to perish in the desert leaving town, he comes to crow but gives them water and his horse and walks back to town, laughing.
Thus The Last Drop of Water and a few other things (The Oath and the Man).
A terrific film ahead of Stroheim’s Greed.
In which Griffith invents Shirley Temple.
A sublime boarding-house drama with a tinge of comedy, the director’s art finely displayed.
The Girl and Her Trust
Griffith applies himself even more vigorously to The Lonedale Operator and ends with a locomotive pursuing a handcar along the track, the two tramps pumping themselves into exhaustion, the girl knocked out and the express box aboard.
The Female of the Species
A Psychological Tragedy
An important masterpiece situated amongst Strindberg, Lorca, and Russ Meyer (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! ).
Deserted mining camp, fleeing for life’s sake, several women, incidents en route (cp. Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre).
One Is Business, the Other Crime
The brokering of a bribe to a city official, the robbing of the same.
The official’s wife puts her foot down, the money goes back to its source, the destitute robber is given work.
A Beast at Bay
It emerges from the thicket, an escaped convict who changes uniforms with a policeman to make life hell for the Girl and her Ideal, whom she takes to be a coward and dismisses from her sight.
Griffith’s consideration of the theme is practically limitless, a reel worth a dozen.
“The birth of an idea”, half a century before Kubrick’s apes.
A film noted by Vachel Lindsay in his praises of Mae Marsh.
“Kin to the myriad artist
The Narrow Road
A goddamn funny, very modern view of an ex-convict and his temptations.
A counterfeit setup doesn’t inveigle him, but he might do a favor for an old friend, the difference saves him by a comic turn of events, only just.
Superbly acted (Elmer Booth, Mary Pickford as the wife, Christy Cabanne a tramp).
An Unseen Enemy
The slattern maid would rob the orphans, she holds the daughters at gunpoint, their brother motors in from his office miles away, a revolving bridge delays him, the “boyish” suitor not yet at college climbs in a window and leads them out, brother and colleagues arrive.
Still she withholds a kiss.
The hurdy-gurdy player cannot see, but knows when his wife is being trifled with.
And so, the young widow returns home from the flashy sport, a music lover of sorts.
“A gambolier bond” and prospectors. The former leaves the played-out creek for pickings elsewhere, one of the latter meets his girl and proposes. Amity still reigns when the gambolier returns (cf. The Renunciation).
Henry B. Walthall, Lionel Barrymore, Harry Carey, Mary Pickford.
The Painted Lady
She is popular, her big sister doesn’t paint or powder, shoots her first beau dead as he’s robbing her father’s treasure, loses her mind and her life.
Probably the greatest Griffith one-reeler, perhaps nothing equals it but certain works of Bergman or Rossellini, Blanche Sweet is the actress.
The Musketeers of Pig Alley
Gangsters on the streets of New York foul up the Musician and the Little Lady, for a time.
Superbly glossed by Robert Mulligan in The Rat Race.
A work of genius typically ahead of its time to all appearances and of it, as noted by subsequent reviewers, essentially a variant of The Sunbeam.
The New York Hat
It’s more than “just from New York” as advertised in the shop window, more than the hat she literally dreams of wearing, it’s brought to her by a minister as part of an endowment from her late mother “worked to death” by her father, the minister’s charge is that the daughter should not be lacking in “bits of finery”.
Gossips get wind, the church board investigates, all is explained and the minister marries the girl.
Cp. Ken Russell’s Amelia and the Angel on a slightly different theme.
The Burglar’s Dilemma
The worm turns, and it really is a worm, everything turns on the mirror-plot of householder and weakling brother, reluctant burglar and dominating older crook.
One of Griffith’s many masterpieces, among the finest.
Wittily “representing the manipulation of the third degree” and “the fallacy of circumstantial evidence”.
The House of Darkness
A course of treatment found by chance for “disordered minds” (delusional, overtired, melancholy, violent), its source is as ancient as the Bible (the madness of Saul). The string of surrealistic humor (the pussycat and the pistol) suggests an etiology of sexual repression against which is proposed “the lineaments of gratified desire”. The frank, realistic handling of the material (the discovery of music therapy at a mental hospital) is very fine indeed (cp. Litvak’s the snake pit or Cassavetes’ A Child Is Waiting), see also The Transformation of Mike.
She marries the wrong business partner, he neglects her to gamble away the firm’s reserves and shoot himself in the office (while talking to her on the telephone as the other partner races to him in his car, a characteristic of Griffith’s technique in yet another arrangement), she is consoled at the end of her mésalliance with a solemn bouquet of roses.
The Mothering Heart
A study to rival The Painted Lady in the canon of Griffith’s work. The reluctant wife lets her husband drift away and loses her baby, her charming control of his tie and the teething ring in the last shot express the pinion of marriage, as Mallarmé says.
Brilliantly filmed, twice the length of the earlier work (the infant’s death is remembered in Gilbert’s Alfie, Clayton’s The Pumpkin Eater is a great relation of the theme).
Lillian Gish has the part.
The Battle of Elderbush Gulch
The casus belli is revealing and to the point, puppies from back East have no place in the frontier cabin, Indians find them a delicacy (to complete the picture, Mr. & Mrs. Harlow bring the first baby the locality has seen).
The battle is essentially similar to Fighting Blood.
Hitchcock remembers it in the skinned cat of Rich and Strange.
The cavalry raid on an Indian village is repeated by Penn in Little Big Man, also the subsequent Indian attack on the settlers.
An expanded variant of The Last Drop of Water, the hardy scout joins the raid and dies in the attack, the girl and her baby survive, joined by her husband.
Judith of Bethulia
Later, as Griffith would say, the theme is handled by Lubitsch as That Lady in Ermine and Ford as 7 Women, Holofernes besieges the city with his army of Assur, and there is no water or food for the people, to borrow an intonation that DeMille made his own.
The courtly tent of the Assyrian prince has the barbaric splendor of the Ballet Russe banned in Boston.
Judith in her “garments of gladness” wears a peacock headdress and has a live peacock for a pet.
Blanche Sweet, Henry B. Walthall.
It was richly lauded, “to pen an adequate description,” said Variety’s reviewer, “is, to say the least, a full-grown man’s job.” Halliwell’s Film Guide has no idea of it.
It could master primitive man and woman, necessity created the bow and arrow.
An inventor dreams this masterpiece over his book after black-tie cocktails, his girl is a mischief.
Home, Sweet Home
The life and afterlife of John Howard Payne, who wrote the song, with three tales of its effect on the public.
It persuades a prospector not to head back East.
It stops a grieving mother from suicide after the death of her two sons at each other’s hands.
It saves a wife from adultery (“The Marriage of Roses and Lilies”).
Payne in Hell, an actor among other things in life to his mother’s horror, rises toward Heaven with the angelic vision of his sweetheart exactly as the end of Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête pictures them.
Pasolini (I racconti di Canterbury) is an heir to this.
The Avenging Conscience
or “Thou Shalt Not Kill”
A superexcellent nightmare vision from Poe, cold cruelty and madness are the elements in the murder of Uncle to be rid of an impediment to marriage.
The entire structure (with Henry B. Walthall in the lead) is transcribed mutatis mutandis in The Birth of a Nation, for which this is evidently a study.
The Birth of a Nation
The rise of national sovereignty over states’ rights.
Consequences of Lincoln’s death, the degradation of the South as Ku Klux Klan vs. Negroes and carpetbaggers.
Woodrow Wilson’s History of the American People is cited as authority.
The full-length film with its original score and tintings ends in the God of War supplanted by the Prince of Peace.
Cf. The Avenging Conscience, which is the key to the structure.
Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages
A moral surtax on the people decimates them.
A mercenary sees his chance on St. Bartholomew’s Day and does the Huguenot girl.
Jesus is condemned by the Pharisees.
Babylon divided cannot stand.
Every director worth his salt has seen Griffith’s “Sun-play of the Ages”, said his prayers and gone to bed, “a drama of Comparisons”.
“Out of the cradle endlessly rocking” represents the poet “born, not made”, called out of Egypt. The asymmetry of construction is thrilling and remarkable, the jointures and fittings of the four stories make a geometry, the “turning-leaf” transitions posit a continuous forward motion (cp. Citizen Kane’s flashbacks).
The man with a pitcher and glass in the background when the Boy takes his leave of the Friendless One is thoughtfully applied by Capra to It’s a Wonderful Life, when “youth is wasted on the wrong people!”
Nabonidus and his excavated brick reappear in Love and Death (Allen). Modigliani’s nudes appear the following year. Elaine May’s Ishtar takes up the dual consistency of the theme.
The set of Babylon (with its crane movements) establishes a lost civilization. The theory of magnitude is picked up in Coward & Lean’s In Which We Serve (and thence to Smight’s Midway). Kubrick understands this via Lang as inserts to miniatures.
The hangmen and their open razors perhaps humorously reflect Duchamp’s Three Standard Stoppages.
The control and reference of Christ’s ministry (Cana, the woman taken in adultery, little children, Crucifixion) has a mirror in judgment (the fall of Babylon), the massacre is counterbalanced by the Michelade. Bresson (L’Argent) has a further consideration among many of the central, modern story.
or The Yellow Man And The Girl
A missionary to Limehouse (where he meets another bound “for China to convert the heathen” and is given a book of Hell).
The New York Times published a review called “Griffith’s Art”, the writer approached his subject as at first torn amongst “the enriching quality of humanness in the photoplay, or its notable photographic and lighting effects, or the distinctive acting of Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, and Donald Crisp, or the significance of Mr. Griffith’s production as an accomplished fact in demonstrating the frequently challenged capability of moving pictures to be artistic?”
George C. Scott has Crisp’s eyebrows in Rage.
True Heart Susie
The Story of a Plain Girl
Griffith’s supreme masterpiece on a theme taken up in very much the same way by Bergman in Wild Strawberries.
“The greatest filmmakers of the world have always worked in all genres and still do. And they also know the art of moving and amusing within the same scene (True Heart Susie, Sergeant York),” says Truffaut.
The stylistic difficulties irked Photoplay, “worth seeing solely because of Mr. Griffith’s characteristic lacery of character and fine humanities.” Variety saw the comedy and the drama and found it admirable.
College and career are a sham, snares and pitfalls, provided Wisdom is absent.
Halliwell’s Film Guide reports that “of its kind it is carefully made.”
The Scarlet Days
The bandit Alvarez ignores the goat-girl Chiquita, “you are too small for a man’s love.”
Rosy Nell is saving her dance-hall earnings to leave “this terrible place” with her daughter from Boston.
The man from Virginia pans out gold but would give an arm for the girl.
The terrible visitation of nefarious Bagley puts everything into perspective, the miner and the girl head “to Stockton, and matrimony,” Chiquita and Alvarez ride off on his horse, Angel’s Camp “when knights were bold” is the locale and location.
A true story, Griffith supplies a bibliography for his “tale of the Old West”.
The Greatest Question
The complicated structure defeated reviewers at the time (Motion Picture Classic, Photoplay), who had come to see a ghost story and got one and were not satisfied.
A murder and a memory, a drowning and a revenant, a perduring spirit while the place submerges like John’s submarine in the face of an enemy destroyer, which is the murderous couple, hence all the wealth underground as oil.
A great work of art, intensifying the labors expended on Broken Blossoms, which is an equal masterpiece on the same theme.
Way Down East
“A film poem” (Variety).
The robbin’ of a post office in a sleepy New England town, awful consequences thereof.
Other criticisms seem superfluous.
There aren’t that many directors in the Guild, so it hardly makes sense to say Griffith is worth two thousand, make it ten.
A funny thing happened on the way to the music halls, or the one about the baritone, the songwriter, and the Chinaman. “Trilogy of moral tales, fancifully and often charmingly assembled by the master director” (Halliwell’s Film Guide).
A drama of Limehouse, from the author of Broken Blossoms.
From the Harvard Crimson, Friday, May 6th, 1921, this review (signed “F.B.A.”), verbatim as reproduced on the Crimson website.
“At the Majestic Theatre on Wednesday evening, for the first time in Boston Mr. D. W. Griffith presented ‘Dream Street’, a dramatic comedy, suggested by characters of Thomas Burke in ‘Limehouse Nights’ In the Foreword in the program, Mr. Griffith acknowledge that the ideas of the photoplay we taken for two stories, ‘Gina of Chinatitown’ and ‘The Sign of the Lamp’. And yet while they were the small eiders, they were somehow changed in the transition from page to screen; made more romantic--although Burke is always romantic; and more cheerful, and the whole, while retaining all there interest.
“‘Our people are dream people who look from wistful winds, or wake with vision of the street of dreams’ said the prologue to the picture. And so they were. There characters seemed at first glance to be real people, acting in a real Manuel in real situations: yet they were not real people, but characterizations, showing not their normal reaction to various occurrences, but rather the thoughts and ideas in their hearts. Indeed, tow of the characters, the preacher of the streets, and the wandering musician were purely allegorical; the one representing, with his prayers and hymns, the Good Influence; the other, with his violin music, suggestive of sin, the Evil Influence. Between these two forces controlled first by one the n by the other the character of the play move on through the various episodes to the climax, and then to the happy ending.
“Miss Carol Dumpster, first raised to stardom by Mr. Griffith in ‘The Love Footer’ which was show in Boston some time ago was can as ‘Gypsy Fair’--the only woman character in the play Her smaller lie body was admirably adapted the role of music-hall dancer; her thin, your pretty face, with its slightly piquant nose and Chile, fitted her part absolutely; her ability to control both her face and body movement, so as to indicate the slightest shade of feeling made her characterization of the part one of the high lights in a production in which all the characterizations were well-night perfect.
“The settings, which were designed by Mr. Charles Mr. Giffith. They adequately portrayed the dirt and filth of dock-side London; yet instead of being merely disgusting, as most such scenes would be, they had a sort of the picturesqueness of the scenes, and partly to the well planned lighting effects.
“The incidental music, rehearsals of which have been held during the last few days under the personal supervision of Mr. Griffith, fitted nicely with the progress of the story; at no time was it obtrusive, yet at all times it added to the interoperation of the various characters, and so made the picture even more enjoyable to watch.
“At the close of the performance the audience had an opportunity of seeing and hearing Mr. Griffith, who made a short speech from the stage, and also of seeing Mr. Ralph Graves and Mr. Charles Mack, who, with Miss Dumpster, took the principal parts in the play.”
Orphans of the Storm
Griffith’s political allegory is a straightforward analysis for modern times of the French Revolution as two halves of the judge’s oyster. You may have your upper crust licentious as Pasolini’s Salò, the remedy is Savonarola, that makes justice, you have the shells between you.
But Griffith rides to the rescue, which is why for the longest time the Guild gave its highest award in his name.
“Only Griffith in Orphans of the Storm and Jean Renoir in La Marseillaise have reevoked the episode of the Reign of Terror as well [as Gance in Napoléon],” says Truffaut.
Two orphans, noble and commoner.
Schoenberg was shocked and amused by an American magazine advertisement presenting a man who has just run over a child in the street, the point being that one ought to be insured.
Of the Marquis de Praille and the blind girl, it may be observed, as an American secret agent would say, “missed it by that much” (Mel Brooks has a time with the Marquis’ fete in History of the World: Part I).
Love and Sacrifice
A quarrel among Englishmen, a duel over a doxy, the Minute Man and the Tory minx, Romeo and Juliet (whose name is Montague).
“The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”, a steeplechase.
“Lexington”, much as Delbert Mann filmed it (April Morning). “Oh, Spirit of Washington!” Concord, North Bridge. “The Shot heard ‘round the World!”
“Bunker Hill, from Boston Harbor.”
“In Philadelphia, at the Continental Congress—”
The agony of the contest.
“Fort Esperance, usually called Fort Sacrifice, in the Mohawk Valley,—”
A British captain’s dreams of “a new empire and a new world.”
J.R. Jones (Chicago Reader), “he must have relished the chance to wrap himself in the flag.”
Griffith’s note on Walter Butler, “at an affair given in Quebec, after the Cherry Valley massacres, British officers of the Regular Army refused to take the hand of this renegade.”
Valley Forge. Ferocities and cruelties. The structure pivots into an analytical image of the war as a fight against autocracy, the final battle has both sides in Fort Sacrifice defending against Butler’s Greens, the warning is given by that same Minute Man riding a white horse where Revere had ridden a remarkable black steed, this is a purely cinematic device and properly surrealistic (cp. Fighting Blood).
“The Surrender of Cornwallis.”
Leonard Maltin, “impressive... fine... silly love story... florid... quite good.”
Film4, agreeing with Maltin, “an engrossing watch.”
“Banned in Britain,” Halliwell’s Film Guide tells us, “nothing new.”
The Sorrows of Satan
The temptations of a young writer are provoked by these words from his editor, “Mr. Tempest, I am sorry to say that we will not be able to use any more of your material—we find you condemn books that every one likes—and praise books that no one likes.”
Justice to the actors (Ricardo Cortez, Carol Dempster, Adolphe Menjou) was roughly accorded by reviewers who, with the notable exception of Mordaunt Hall (“a marvelously beautiful film,” New York Times), regarded it as “this strangely unreal and unconvincing spectacle” (Picture Play), “a little old-fashioned” (Photoplay), “an out-of-date story” (Motion Picture Magazine).
It bids fair to be Griffith’s finest work, for the infinite attentions he pays to it.
Satan resisted gains proximity to Heaven for a time, hence the title.
Lady of the Pavements
The beautiful Countess his affianced is the Emperor’s mistress, he’ll marry such a one as the title character first, she arranges it.
Griffith the master of camera movement emulated by Hitchcock (notably in Blackmail) to convey emotion, hurtling forward to reach the balcony and tilt down over the railing at night for a fast Losey view of the rival entering his coach by the light of the open door, then up and back to the room.
Before he became a genius, a superb actor, William Boyd.
The chamberlain’s yes is worth a thousand pictures. The hilarious band at Le Chien Qui Fume, where he seeks out a prospect. Griffith reviews the candidates with him, one is an artist’s model posing for a sketch at her table, a masterpiece. The greatest director who ever lived parks his camera for a song and dance on the diagonal.
Ken Russell’s conductor (Dance of the Seven Veils) leads the band. The influence of Sam Taylor can be felt, and the birth of one of Hitchcock’s jokes, Lupe Velez is a prize comedienne and a rara avis, you’d be mad not to prefer her (it’s said that one of the sound discs at UCLA or Eastman House has her singing the number, an Irving Berlin, or another number by him). She’s taught the social graces by Franklin Pangborn, absolutely one of the funniest films ever made. All the effort produces an expensive pose like the quick study at The Smoking Dog, and as impermanent (cp. Wilful Peggy).
Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times could not quite see the point and thought little of Boyd (Velez, he tells us, appeared “in person before the picture four times a day... at the Rialto”), he noted “a handsome production.” Der Rosenkavalier didn’t and The Graduate couldn’t occur to him at that time. It will be observed that the Countess (Jetta Goudal) almost rises to this occasion.
The band from Le Chien Qui Fume are summoned to the wedding feast like The Three Stooges in Black’s Disorder in the Court.
The title is explained as an error, not of the pavements but of the cabaret, Nanon (cf. Ross’ Goodbye, Mr. Chips). He is all the men in the place, Boyd’s Prussian count, a noted photographic effect.
According to Mollie Caselli, writing for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, “all but forgotten today.” The boating party on the Seine is another remarkable effect.
The perfection of Griffith’s art, as noted by Sarris, who speaks of deceptive simplicity.
The President who preserved the Union and was murdered by “John Wilkes Booth, the actor. Can’t act, but the women don’t know it.”
In 1911, say Emerson and Loos, you could placidly sit in a beer garden and complain of the Republicans while wondering if college professor Wilson was a good idea as president. By 1923 it was illegal.
Griffith records the degradation of the country to the time of filming, Mordaunt Hall (New York Times) simply called it a “dismal chronicle” and thought it was a treatise on alcoholism.
“A Victorian tract,” says Halliwell’s Film Guide, exemplifying the delusion (Time Out Film Guide is of no better opinion).
Here and there, critics have taken notice ever so slightly of the genius exhibited in such matters as the sound, for example, to their surprise, yet not understanding what the picture was about, there was only some question of ameliorating bad brew, in their view.
Griffith does not mince words. “I’m sorry I let them take your lamp, Nellie,” says the sot whose nickname between them is Red, Griffith doesn’t give a damn about nicknames. He lived to see the country back on its feet, his last film is a masterpiece on the theme.