“Help me find my sister — I will do anything you say.”
During the French Revolution, orphaned young Henriette (Lillian Gish) and her adopted sister Louise (Dorothy Gish) head to Paris to seek a cure for Louise’s blindness — but as soon as they arrive, Henriette is abducted by a lustful aristocrat (Morgan Wallace), while Louise is kidnapped by an unscrupulous beggarwoman (Lucille La Verne) hoping to make money off of Louise’s ailment.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Cross-Class Romance
- D.W. Griffith Films
- French Revolution
- Historical Drama
- Lillian Gish Films
- Mistaken Identities
- Play Adaptation
- Silent Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary is clearly enamored by this “silent epic” by D.W. Griffith, which he labels “marvelous entertainment, as exciting, old-fashionedly melodramatic, and visually impressive — if not as important — as any of [Griffith’s other] films”. He notes that the movie — a “romantic adventure” which creatively “mixes fiction and historical events” — “never drags because Griffith makes sure that one of the characters we care about is always in deep trouble”; indeed, he literally “milks misery” out of the lead protagonists (the Gish sisters, in their final roles together for Griffith). Peary argues that “beautiful, ethereal [Lillian] Gish was never better than in this film”, with her “close-ups… as impressive as [Griffith’s] spectacular crowd scenes”, and he admits that when Lillian and Dorothy “stand together in the ending two-shot”, he gets “the same feeling as when gazing at a priceless painting”.
While I don’t find the film quite as personally moving as Peary, I’ll agree with him that it’s a masterful picture which, unlike the vast majority of silent films, stands up remarkably well today — thanks to the critical conflux of ingredients noted above, in addition to fine historical sets and snippets of surprisingly effective realism (see stills below). Lillian (as Henriette) is memorably nuanced in the lead role, and her relationship with her adopted sister thankfully comes across as genuinely touching rather than cloying. Indeed, their sororal bond remains the glue that holds this admittedly dense narrative brew together, as countless characters and subplots compete for space — including Henriette’s cross-class romance with kind Chevalier de Vaudrey (Joseph Schildkraut); the Countess de Liniere (Katharine Emmet)’s recognition that Louise is her abandoned foundling daughter; Louise’s mistreatment at the hands of evil “Mother” Frochard (Lucielle La Verne, hilariously hideous with her faux mustache); and Henriette’s encounters with various historical figures, including Danton (Monte Blue) and Robespierre (Sidney Herbert). It’s a lot to keep track of — but if you’re in the mood for just this kind of melodrama, you surely won’t be disappointed.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Lillian Gish as Henriette
- Dorothy Gish as Louise
- Lucille La Verne as “Mother Frochard”
- Effective historical realism
- Fine period sets
Yes, as Griffith’s final masterpiece. Available for free viewing at the Internet Archive.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)