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From the days when his once revolutionary style was seeming rapidly outdated, D.W. Griffith's last film with the Gish sisters and his last popular success, Orphans of the Storm does not see him at his best. As Orson Welles says in his TV screening introduction that's included on Kino's DVD, it's the kind of film that was old-fashioned even when it was new, a remake of The Two Orphans, a theatrical warhorse since the 1870s that had already been filmed twice and which also saw a German version produced the same year. A Dickensian stage melodrama filmed on a lavish scale, the scene setting is initially abrupt, the performances for the most part wildly overplayed, characterisation one-dimensional, the plot contrived and the sentiment laid on thick to little genuine emotional effect. It's not a terrible film, more a mediocre one, but it's hard to escape the feeling that a mere six years after shaking up the industry with Birth of a Nation, he's just stuck in a creative rut making the same film over and over again and making it a little bit worse each time. There's no great innovation here of his own and, worse, he's rejected the innovations of lesser directors who were making better films.
As far back as Intolerance Griffith had been increasingly disillusioned with cinema, regarding the theatre as a more legitimate art form that was less in thrall to the demands of censors and commerce but also believing that the audience themselves dragged cinema down to a mere diversion, and there's certainly the sense of the director pandering to what he perceives as the lowest common denominator with plenty of bacchanalian revels, be it lascivious drunken aristos or lascivious drunken peasants, as well as plenty of low comedy of the sword-up-the-jacksi variety.Read more ›
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"Orphans of the Storm" is the last great box-office success for direct D.W. Griffith and arguably the most melodramatic of his best films. Set on the even of the French Revolution the titular characters are the fabled sisters Lillian and Dorothy Gish who have to endure all sorts of traumas as the bloody Reign of Terror consumes Paris. Basically we have too parallel stories between which "Orphans of the Storm" moves back and forth. On the one hand we have the plight of Henrietta (Lillian), the poor little peasant girl, and Louise (Dorothy), her blind "sister," who was abandoned by her upper class mother. On the other we have the growing discontent of the rabble with the aristocracy ("Poverty murmurs ominously outside the gates," as one title card puts it). The two plot lines are put on a collision course when Henrietta falls in love with Chevalier de Vaudrey (Joseph Schildkraut), an aristocrat with a noble heart (he distributes bread to the starving masses). Of course, this will matter little once the guillotine gets going. But before that the key event takes place when the two sisters arrive in Paris so that Louise can undergo an operation that would restore her sight. Henrietta is kidnapped because of her beauty by the lecherous Marquis de Praille (Morgan Wallace), and her blind sister is taken in by gypsies, at which point the melodrama is on in deadly earnest. The Gish sisters are the stars of this film; their names do not appear in the opening credits; they are reserved for when the pair make their first appearance. But this is really Lillian Gish's movie, even more so that Griffith's.Read more ›
I prefer other Lillian Films. It's too much like a cowboy film at the end. Lillian kisses a man and her younger sister more than usual. I bought it particularly to see her sisters acting. It has the usual heart rending moments. I think its because I find silent movies tell the story too quickly for me.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
You'll shiver better without that shawl9 May 2004
- Published on Amazon.com
ORPHANS OF THE STORM is a great movie, and this time I'm not going to deduct a point for print quality and its non-sequiter of a sound track. Real sisters Lillian and Dorothy Gish star as half-sisters Henriette and Louise Girard. Louise (Dorothy) was found on the cold and snowy steps of the church Henriette's father had, before a change of heart, placed her. Their parents die, the girls grow into porcelain beauties and Louise loses her sight. Henriette vows to take care of Louise forever, and they travel to Paris in hopes of restoring Louise's sight. En route a cruel aristocrat is inflamed with Henriette's "virginal beauty" and connives to kidnap her. Henriette is indeed kidnapped shortly after her arrival in Paris, and the helpless Louise is forced to fend for herself. Half of the fun of ORPHANS OF THE STORM is watching the indignities DW Griffith subjects his two starlets to. Henriette is kidnapped by one of the slimier specimens of the over-fed and over-sexed aristocracy. Her desperate search for Louise is frustrated at every turn- when she finally spots Louise and attempts to reach her the police arrive and she is sent to a prison for fallen women. Oh, yeah, did I mention her delivery to "the foot of Death's gate?" Louise has it no better. She is kidnapped by the monstrous Mother Frochard (Lucille La Verne). Mother Frochard, with her hair mole and moustache and missing teeth, may be the ugliest woman ever filmed. Mother F is a street beggar, and she plans to use the blind Louise as her main attraction. After she breaks Louise's spirit, that is. So, down into the rat-infested cellar with Louise and up comes the ladder. They're real rats down there. Griffith also throws a few cold days of beggary and an attempted rape in Louise's direction. It's all great fun and the girls are indomitably strong and resourceful. The print quality is quite good in spots, simply awful in others. Most of the stock is sepia-toned, but some battle scenes seem to have been tinted red and there's a scene towards the end of the movie that seems to have been colorized. Because this isn't a restored print it's impossible to tell. Having watched a handful of silent movies recently I'm beginning to wonder why they aren't rescored. Alpha Video puts a classical recording on the track of their releases and calls it good. It's not. These old films are works of art and national treasures, and they deserve better than this. Sound IS an important component to movies. Either restore the original music or have a contemporary composer write a brand new score. (Note: I watched the discount Alpha release of the film, and I didn't realize that Kino has a pricier print that includes the original music. I'm going out on a ledge here, but I'll bet the print quality is better, too. I'll be trading up to the Kino version in the near future.)
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Mr Griffith and the French Revolution1 Mar 2001
Mr Peter G George
- Published on Amazon.com
This film shows Lillian Gish in one of her greatest roles, but is also noteworthy as an instance of one of the few readily available films in which she appears alongside her equally talented sister Dorothy. Dorothy was most famous as a comedienne, but shows her ability here as a dramatic actress especially in the way she portrays the fear and bewilderment of being alone, blind, in a hostile and unfamiliar world. It is also interesting to see a very early appearance of Joseph Schildkraut, who would go on to win an Oscar for his role in the Life of Emile Zola and much later would play Anne Frank's father in the Diary of Anne Frank. The scope of the film is enormous with lavish sets and costumes. This is remarkable for Griffith was in financial difficulties when the film was made, so much so that at times there were doubts as to whether he could finish it. Thankfully he did, for the film remains one of his best. The story is exciting and passionate with one of Griffith's best race to the rescue climaxes. Granted it has some cliché's which were common to this genre, such as an orphan with an identifying locket, but these cliché's are no worse than those of Dickens and Oliver Twist. Indeed Griffith portrays the French revolution as well as any adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities. Where he goes astray somewhat is in his attempts to liken the French Revolution to events and persons with which American audiences might have been more familiar. It is ludicrous to call Danton a French Abraham Lincoln and his comparisons with Bolshevism and warnings against the `red menace' come across now as mildly amusing. But these are really criticisms only of the titles which, as so often with Griffith, are sometimes overblown. This is a very good DVD for it shows the film in the most complete and, as far as I am aware, the longest version available. There is however, one brief scene of Danton arguing with a court which seems to repeat itself. Whether this was Griffith's intention or a restoration mistake I cannot say. The print shows very little damage and reproduces the film's original tints. The music is wonderful especially in scenes of the riotous dancing of the crowds. It is possible to quibble with the use of La Marseillaise, as this was written later than 1789, but this is a very minor point. To conclude I would highly recommend this film as a wonderful example of an historical epic and as one of the most exciting silent films I have ever seen.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Nice4 May 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
A review of the movie itself has been done and is subjective. I like it myself. Just wanted to comment that the quality of the picture and sound on the Kino DVD version is excellent. This type of quality comment is what I look for when considering a purchase and hope this helps someone decide. I havnt researched this film for original length but this version is 150 minutes.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Sweeping and Romantic2 April 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
"Her name is Louise. Save Her."
This is one of film pioneer D.W. Griffith's most rich and beautiful silent films. Griffith transformed A. D'Ennery's 19th century play into a mesmerizing and heartfelt epic which never lags, its stars and story holding the viewer's attention with its beauty and drama. The contrast of excess and poverty which brought about the French Revolution is told through the moving story of a blind orphan girl and the "sister" who sacrifices all to care for her. The casting of real sisters Lillian and Dorothy Gish in the parts of Louise and Henriette proved a fortunate one, both giving a sterling account of their talents.
Lushly photographed by Billy Bitzer, Griffith shows the ornate beauty of aristocratic life and how it was at odds with the tremendous poverty of the streets. His genius here, however, was using it simply as a backdrop to the more intimate story of Henriette (Lilian Gish) and her blind sister, Louise (Dorothy Gish). It made for a fast-moving and incredibly entertaining film, rather than some cerebral historical epic which looks great but can't hold your attention.
When the plague takes the lives of both their parents, Henriette vows to care for her blind sister Louise, abandoned on their doorstep as a baby. The two have grown up as sisters and it is that love which carries them through the storm about to engulf France. It is to Paris they travel in hopes of restoring Louise's sight, where Henriette's beauty does not go unnoticed. A crass aristocrat showing more concern for his horses than the poor young Parisian girl he runs over abducts Henriette, leaving the blind Louise on her own.
There is one aristocrat with a heart, however, and young Chevalier (Joseph Schildkraut) falls deeply in love with Henriette, offering a bethrothel ring. Though she loves the young man, she has promised not to marry without her sister's approval. While Chevalier tries to find Louise, Henriette befriends the voice of the downtrodden, Danton (Monte Blue). She hides him, only to find herself and find imprisoned, while Louise is at the mercy of street people. Louise is not without her protector either, however, even though it comes in the form of a cowardly street urchin named Pierre (Frank Puglia).
The shadow over Henriette's happiness darkens when fate finally brings the sisters together, only to allow them to be torn apart once again. Henriette is freed during the revoulution but is sentenced to the guillotine with Chevalier, who has returned to Paris, facing death to find her. Only an impassioned plea from Danton, a voice of reason in the midst of chaos can save the two lovers, as Louise looks on. But a desperate ride to get to the guillotine may not come in time.
Both Lillian and Dorothy Gish are wonderful here. Each have that dainty beauty which enabled them to play younger than they were. Those who doubt Lillian's physical appeal, however, will no longer do so after viewing this romantic historical epic. One scene in particular, as an umbrella clad Henriette braces the rain, offers ample evidence that a beautiful woman lurked just beneath her child-like beauty.
Creighton Hale and Lucille La Verne lend support, but this film truly belongs to the Gish sisters. This Alpha version is surprisingly good, with a fitting classical score accompanying the action. For the price, it is an excellent way to see this silent masterwork without spending a lot. The film itself is a dazzling spectacle, its mix of sentiment and heroics nearly unequaled in American cinema. A fantastic silent film which is as artistic as it is entertaining. A true American masterpiece.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A compelling historic drama28 Mar 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
By 1921, "the Father of Film" D.W. Griffith was well on his way to setting the standard for Hollywood epics with all the main ingredients: emotional drama and tragedy, romance, political intrigues, moral injustices and the essential thrilling climax to keep you on the edge of your seat. In fact, Griffith had set the benchmark several years earlier with grand epics such as "Birth of a Nation" and "Intolerance", and like these, "Orphans of the Storm" is also a fast-paced drama packed with action and emotion, as well as conveying an important message, which Griffith had always done since his early short films from 1908 onwards. Like these fascinating short films, such as for Biograph in those early years which always carried some kind of social or moral message, the point Griffith wanted to make in "Orphans of the Storm" is of the destructive elements which lead to bad governments, anarchy and revolution, such as in France where this story takes place, but also the Russian Revolution of 1917, which apparently inspired Griffith to use this theme. He also made the point that we, living in peaceful countries, should be glad and grateful for our good governments. Soapbox speeches aside, Griffith was also a master storyteller and could balance all elements of an entertaining but also meaningful film, and "Orphans of the Storm" is a good example. From the very start, the audience is drawn into pity and empathy for the two orphan girls, one of whom becomes blind and is lovingly cared for by the other. Lillian and Dorothy Gish are perfectly cast in these roles, and once their path leads straight into the debauchery of French aristocrats, peasants and revolutionists, and they become separated and lost, the suspense continually escalates up to the grand climax. With so many events and scenes, the viewer has to stay reasonably alert to follow the story and become familiar with the many varied characters in this film, but the effort is rewarding. There is not a single dull moment in the entire two hours of "Orphans of the Storm", and while following the fast action, one cannot fail to notice that a lot of effort was put into sets and costumes to recreate Paris at the time of the French Revolution. Although this DVD is by the budget-priced label, Alpha Video, the picture quality is very good in this case, and only the accompanying music is at a lower standard than most other labels such as Kino Video and Image Entertainment. The score is orchestral classical music, and while it was not composed for this film, it is actually still quite suitable and fits the atmosphere of the period. For a budget-priced version of this Griffith epic, this DVD is not too bad at all.