This film, made in just nineteen days, along with Way Down East represents D W Griffiths finest achievement. The atmosphere of limehouse was expectly recreated and is a perfect setting for the story. Lillian Gish's plays the part of a fifteen year old girl called Lucy totally convincingly (she was actually twenty six at the time). The scenes of her trapped in the cupboard turning hysterically, while Battling Burrows (Donald Crisp) beats down the door is truely harrowing and must represent one of the finest moments in motion picture history. If there had been academy awards available at this time Gish would have deserve the best actress award for this performance. The addition of Broken Blossoms on this DVD has been restored by David Sheppard and the picture quality is therefore stunning, it includes the original colour tints of the films release as well as a score written especially for the film in the 1920's. I can not recommend this DVD more, it is one that you will want to watch again and again.
As we are unable to hear how a character speaks in a silent film, the inflections of voice and use of langauge, how can we know a characters thoughts and motivations? How do we understand the emotions behind a scene? Captions can slow the action, the film effectively being paused while we read. The answer lies in a style of physical acting that requires a different set of skills than those of today. We have to know in moments whether a character is strong, weak, shy, confident, healthy, trustworthy, a friend or enemy and this has to be done through physical performance. Lillian Gish excels at such skills in this marvellous, but harrowing film. Lillian Gish plays tragic heroin Lucy, the teenage illegitimate daughter of 'Battling' Burrows, a brutish heavy drinker who earns his pennies through winning back-street prize fights. She lives a life of domestic servitude to her bullying father, who enjoys exerting his power over her through intimidation and violence. Even to this day the scenes of domestic violence are powerful and heart rending. Lucy's terror is apparent as she squirms and cowers. The scene in which her father forces her to "Wear a smile" as tears poor down her cheeks produces what must be one of the most tragic expressions in cinema history. However, the great emotional scene is when her father attacks the wardrobe with a hatchet, inside of which Lucy has sought refuge. This is very similar to the "Here's Johnny' moment in The Shining as a panicked Lucy turns like a trapped animal, searching for an impossable means of escape. In this scene the silence of the film adds to the drama as her screams for help cannot be heard. This compounds the sense of entrapment and isolation, putting distance between Lucy and the audience and therefore the world. She seems all the more pittyful as, at her greatest moment of need, she has no voice. There is respite from the domestic misery when Lucy is befriended by young Chinese shop owner Cheng Huan. Having initially travelled to the west to spread the peace and wisdom of Buddhism, he looses his way in the face of ignorance and casual racism. When his path crosses with Lucy, he finds his chance to help another outsider like himself, and sees a beauty behind her world weary exterior that is unnoticed by others. Most of the silent movies that I have seen have been the comedies, the work of Chaplin, Keaton and Harold Lloyd. This was the first silent movie I have seen that is a tragidy and if you're a fan of silent films, or want to get into them and start a collection, then I must recommend this film highly. Lillian Gish puts on a performance which is not only wonderful and powerful, but heart aching in it's emotional intensity. A must see for all fans of movie history and the silent era.