Thursday, April 16, 2015

Orphans of the Storm (1921)

Director: D.W. Griffith
Starring: Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Joseph Schildkraut, Frank Losee, Cathering Emmet, Morgan Wallace, Lucille La Verne, Frank Puglia, Sheldon Lewis, Creighton Hale, Leslie King, Monte Blue, Sidney Herbert, Lee Kohlmar

Before the breakout of the French Revolution, young orphan Henriette (L. Gish) takes her adopted sister Louise (D. Gish) to Paris in the hope of finding a cure for her blindness. An evil aristocrat (Wallace) kidnaps Henrietta, leaving them both helpless in a city on the verge of change.

Based on the 1874 French play Les Deux Orphelines, this politically heavy and very long piece shows its age and seems more concerned with delivering the message than for entertainment value. Considering it was 1921 in the midst of the World Wars it's not hard to see why, however I'd be more inclined to check out Griffith's Birth of a Nation for a film history lesson.

It's not hard to see why Griffith's worked with the Gish girls as they both perform delightfully; Lillian in particular sparkles (she is often referred to as the First Lady of American Cinema). Many famous also appear in early roles including Schildkraut (universally known for playing Otto Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank), La Verne (who iconically voiced the Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves) and the film debut of Puglia, who featured in over 200 productions including Jungle Book, Phantom of the Opera and Blood on the Sun.

Griffith's, a pioneer of the filmmaking industry who is said to have directed over 500 films, was quite politically driven which doesn't always lend itself to the art form, though we have him to thank for shot of the American flag; Orphans was Griifith's last commercial success, directing only 7 films over the next 12 years. The film was also the final film to feature both Lillian and Dorothy Gish.


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