Thursday, June 29, 2017

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2016) by Year - 0179 - MOTHER AND THE LAW, THE (D.W. Griffith, 1919, USA, 93m, BW)



(D.W. Griffith, 1919, USA, 93m, BW)


MOTHER AND THE LAW, THE (D.W. Griffith, 1919, USA, 93m, BW)

A re-edited version of the 'modern' story from Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916).

Director: D.W. Griffith
Writers: D.W. Griffith (screenplay), D.W. Griffith (story)
Stars: Mae Marsh, Robert Harron, Miriam Cooper

1h 35min
18 August 1919 (USA)


Wallflower Mary Jenkins, whose brother owns a prosperous mill, is easily seduced by reformers into leading their group. To provide their funds, Jenkins cuts his workers' wages. Using machine guns, the militia and company guards quell the resultant strike, leaving the Boy's father dead, and the Little Dear One and her father unemployed. In the city, the Boy joins a criminal band. After marrying the Dear One, he tries to leave the gang, but its leader, the Musketeer, gets him arrested. The Dear One has a child whom the reformers tear away from her insisting that she is an unfit mother. The Musketeer, trying to seduce the Dear One, promises help, but the baby dies from neglect in an institution. When the Boy returns, he fights the Musketeer, who is killed by his jealous mistress. After she confesses, a racing car speeds to catch the Governor's train, and the Boy, about to hang, is pardoned.


After D.W. Griffith's masterpiece Intolerance failed at the box office, two of the four tales that make up that movie were extracted and released as their own separate features to try to recoup more money. In the case of The Woman and the Law, the "modern day" segment, this is ironically fitting, since it was originally conceived as an independent feature before Griffith got the idea of incorporating it into a frame tale. It opens with the Ludlow Massacre but is otherwise a fictional tale, chronicling a man and woman who cannot seem to escape the lower class. 

One sequence, involving the interference of social workers in the integrity of a family, is wrenching and remains relevant today. Though good, The Mother and the Law is best seen in Intolerance, where the concurrent telling of three other tales adds power to the impact of this one. Film historian Kevin Brownlow has written that, when Griffith re-released "The Modern Story" separately as The Mother and the Law in 1919, he softened the actions of the National Guard in the film, due to the First Red Scare that year. "He was obliged to put this title in the strike sequence: 'The militiamen having used blank cartridges, the workmen now fear only the company guards.'" In fact, "machine guns could not operate with blank cartridges at this period," Brownlow noted.


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