Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Orphans of the Storm

Quite a jump this, from 2011's HANNA to D.W. Griffith's ORPHANS OF THE STORM 90 years ago! We have a new History of Cinema series (by Mark Cousins) here in the UK, and appropriate films from each era are being televised as well. I had never seen ORPHANS OF THE STORM, 1921, before though am familiar with several of the early Lillian Gish films like THE WIND or the marvellous BROKEN BLOSSOMS.

ORPHANS begins like it will be a chore watching it all, as its very stilted and scenes are like tableaus as we get to meet the impoverished Gish sisters - and the other one, Dorothy, is blind - so the sentiment is trowelled on, it seems pure Victorian melodrama. But as it unfolds something begings to happen, one begins to be be drawn into it, it being a silent does not matter as the emotions are conveyed so effectively.

By the time Lillian's love, the Chevalier de Vaudrey (a young Joseph Schildkraut) is arrested and so is Lillian for harbouring him as the Revolution is in full flow, one gets involved in their plight. The scenes of the rioting mobs are very well done - it almost feels like the real thing. Cast also includes Creighton Hale and the Karloff-like Leslie King as Jacques Forget Not relishing sending those aristocrats to their doom! Then the guillotine appears and the hags knitting waiting for the heads to fall. Lillian is in the tumbril following her lover to the place of execution, as Danton (Monte Blue) pleads with the court to spare them. Will he succeed in time? The villains like Robespierre are nicely drawn and the music sweeps us along - to the stunning climax with Lillian on the very realistic-looking guillotine with that sharp blade above her.... one imagines this is what it really was like.
the aftermath is bathed in a lovely pink shade, and nice other colour washes are used for other scenes, a nice blue for twiling and darkness.

Again, for a 90 year old film, the editing and drama and marvellously conveyed - the acting styles of course are heavy-handed to us now, but as a film its excitement and passion matches anything today - the sets, costumes and crowd scenes are terrific. It must have left audiences back then limp in their seats after all that excitement - Griffith, like De Mille, is a terrific story-teller and sweeps us along. So, I liked it a lot.

I also loved Douglas Faibanks' 1924 silent THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD ever since I saw in on television decades ago, and the 1926 Beatrice Lillie EXIT SMILING, and of course METROPOLIS in 1928. I must now get around to the silent BEN HUR from 1925 - its included in the 3 disk edition of the 1959 film - its supposed to be marvellous too! And I have some early talkies like OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS and OUR BLUSHING MAIDENS to investigate ...

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