Wednesday, June 28, 2017

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2016) by Year - 0171 - HEARTS OF THE WORLD (D.W. Griffith, 1918, USA, 122m, BW)



(D.W. Griffith, 1918, USA, 122m, BW)


HEARTS OF THE WORLD (D.W. Griffith, 1918, USA, 122m, BW)

Cast: Adolph Lestina, Jack Cosgrave, Kate Bruce, Ben Alexander, Marion Emmons, Frances Marion, Robert Anderson, George Fawcett, George Siegmann, Fay Holderness, L. Lowry, Eugene Pouyet, Anna Mae Walthall, Yvette Duvoisin, Herbert Sutch, Alphonse Dufort, Jean Dumercier, Gaston Riviere, Jules Lemontier, George Loyer, George Nichols, Mary Gish, Josephine Crowell, Lillian Gish, Robert Harron, Dorothy Gish, Adolphe Lestina

Director: D.W. Griffith
Writer: D.w. Griffith
Rating: NR
Running Time: 117 min.


Young American man Douglas Gordon Hamilton (Robert Harron) lives in a rural French community where he is successfully wooing local beauty Marie Stephenson (Lillian Gish). But their romance is interrupted when World War I dawns, and Douglas decides to join up with the French Army. The Germans then mercilessly bomb and infiltrate Marie's village, and Douglas is injured in battle. As lecherous German soldiers close in on Marie, a recovering Douglas plans a daring rescue


Hearts of the World (also known as Love's Struggle) is a 1918 American silent World War I propaganda film written, produced and directed by D. W. Griffith. In an effort to change the American public's neutral stance regarding the war, the British government contacted Griffith due to his stature and reputation for dramatic filmmaking.

Hearts of the World stars Lillian and Dorothy Gish and Robert Harron. The film was produced by D.W. Griffith Productions, Famous Players-Lasky Corporation and the War Office Committee was distributed by Paramount Pictures under the Artcraft Pictures Corporation banner.


Hearts of the World begins with a brief prologue in which the audience is shown scenes of the director collecting footage on the Western Front and standing outside No. 10 Downing Street shaking the hand of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Apparently, the British government asked Griffith to make a World War I propaganda movie to persuade America to become directly involved in the conflict at a time when its government was still pursuing a policy of isolationism. The impression given is that Griffith is receiving Lloyd George’s thanks for consenting to the British government’s request, and that the war footage in the movie that follows is authentic. The former may conceivably be true, but the latter definitely isn’t. Billy Bitzer, Griffith’s regular cinematographer was barred from the battlefield because of his German-sounding surname and so the director was forced to use an army cameraman whose footage was ironically considered to be rather dull. Although the film’s promotional material boasted of ‘Battle scenes on the battlefields of France — taken under the auspices of the British government’, the real war, it seems, just wasn’t exciting enough for Hollywood.

Hearts of the World has an odd set-up in that it features a couple of American families living next to one another in a small village in the heart of France. Quite how such an unusual arrangement might have arisen is never explained and treated as something entirely ordinary by the movie. Clearly, it’s a ploy to involve the American public in the movie in a way the filmmakers feared they might not have otherwise been if their story had focused on the effects of the war on a couple of ordinary French families. Strange, how we think of such conceits as a modern phenomenon when it’s clearly been going on for the best part of a century. 

Anyway, the son (Robert Harron — Intolerance, True Heart Susie) of one family, whose name never appears in the titles but is credited as Douglas Gordon Hamilton in the credits, is an aspiring writer, while the other family’s daughter, Marie (Lillian Gish — The Birth of a Nation, The Unforgiven) has just returned home after an extended absence. The couple meet cute when one of the goslings Marie is cooing over makes a dash for the Hamilton’s garden, and it’s not long before they’re head over heels in love, despite the fact that Douglas is also the object of the insistent affections of ‘The Little Disturber’ (Lillian’s sister, Dorothy — Judith of Bethulia), a drifter who, when she sees that her affections aren’t reciprocated by Douglas, settles instead for local comic relief, Monsieur Cuckoo (Robert Anderson). War clouds are looming, however, and the tranquillity of the little village in which these two couples live is about to be torn apart by the advance of the German army.

Although Griffith was still Hollywood’s foremost director, his best days were behind him when Hearts of the World was made, and his style of storytelling was growing increasingly outdated. Audiences were growing weary of the Victorian values and overbearing sentimentality that dominated his storylines, both of which are in evidence in this movie. There’s no mistaking the irritatingly florid prose of the intertitles as the work of Griffith, either, even though he wrote its scenario under the French pseudonym of M. Gaston de Tolignac, and then claimed credit for the English translation under the name of Captain Victor Marier in an attempt to increase the film’s claims of authenticity. There are no shades of grey with Griffith, his characters are either wholesomely good or despicably bad, and his depiction of the Hun as sadistic, whip-wielding rapists, while perhaps understandable considering the motive behind the picture, is still over the top even by his standards.

While not as innovative or groundbreaking as its two celebrated predecessors, the film can stand on its own merits. Filled with Griffith's special touches, its principle value exists in its revelation of his contemporaneous feelings about the War, even as the conflict still raged. He bestowed on it sequences as poignant and harrowing as any in his oeuvre. Who can forget Lillian Gish on her wedding day, driven mad by the bombardment, preparing to spend her bridal night alongside the corpse of her betrothed? Or the sight of three little boys secretly burying their dead mother in a cellar, so her body would not be disgraced by the enemy. Griffith assures scenes such as these are not easily banished from the viewer's memory.


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