ORPHANS OF THE STORM (D.W. Griffith, 1922, USA, 125m, BW)
Cast: Katherine Emmet, Morgan Wallace, Lucille La Verne, Sheldon Lewis, Frank Puglia, Creighton Hale, Sidney Herbert, Lee Kohlmar, Adolph Lestina, Kate Bruce, Flora Finch, Louis Wolheim, Kenny Delmar, Herbert Sutch, Frank Losee, Monte Blue, Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Joseph Schildkraut
Director: D.W. Griffith
Writer: D.w. Griffith
Running Time: 125 min.
When the plague kills their parents, Henriette (Lillian Gish) and her blind adopted sister, Louise (Dorothy Gish), go to Paris in hopes of finding a doctor to restore Louise's sight. As soon as they arrive, Henriette is kidnapped by an amoral aristocrat (Morgan Wallace), but escapes with the help of Chevalier de Vaudrey (Joseph Schildkraut). Louise, meanwhile, is taken in by thieves who force her to beg. As the French Revolution rages all around them, the two sisters struggle to reunite.
Orphans of the Storm interweaves history and melodrama in equal measure. Griffith follows the intertwined fates of two orphan girls, Henriette (Lillian Gish) and Louise (Dorothy Gish), whose fates are tied to the country's cruel divisions between rich and poor. Louise is the unwanted product of a marriage between an aristocratic member of the powerful De Vaudrey family and a commoner. She is taken away from her mother and deposited on the steps of Notre Dame where she is rescued by an impoverished man with a daughter of his own, Henrietta. The little girls grow up side by side as sisters. But they eventually lose their parents -- and Louise's eyesight -- to the plague.
Griffith also used Orphans of the Storm as a means of commenting, obliquely, on contemporary politics of his time. He drew parallels between the anarchist mobs that overthrew the French aristocrats, and what he says in opening titles to the film are the present American dangers of succumbing to the kind of "anarchy and bolshevism" he perceived in the recent Russian Revolution. It is, of course, a great historical irony that those Bolsheviks Griffith railed against were quite smitten with the director's incomparable ways of generating film tension in crosscutting as well as his cinematic means of conveying good and evil via sophisticated editing and framing techniques. As the father of film syntax Griffith was an enormous influence on the Soviet filmmakers Sergei Einstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin, who were inspired by many of his films including the anti-Bolshevik Orphans of the Storm.
Orphans of the Storm was the last movie the Gish sisters made together and Lillian's last film for Griffith. The film received rave reviews including one in The Moving Picture World which gushed "No more gorgeous thing has ever been offered on the screen," but only moderate box office success, and a great deal of the film's thunder was stolen by the premiere one week later of Erich von Stroheim's Foolish Wives (1922). The movie uses several visual effects throughout to capture the emotion of its story, using monochromic filters of red, blue, green, yellow and sepia to show feeling with the silent action which is accompanied by music; the movie also uses fade-ins to achieve this effect, expressing the distinct class divide and captivating the attention of viewers for a two-and-a-half-hour film.
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