Of all the major directors on the list, D.W. Griffith is the first chronologically, and he has five films all in the first eleven of the list, so the book seems to have quite the love affair with Mr. Griffith to have so many of his productions here. My personal feelings are that Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, and maybe Broken Blossoms, are all that need to represent Griffith on the list, and the rest could’ve been excised to make room for more worthy candidates of the time, like Cabiria or The Great Dictator. Nevertheless, we are left with Orphans of the Storm, the last of Griffith’s titles on the list, which once again stars Lillian Gish as well as her sister Dorothy.
The film begins with a literal political statement; seems Griffith decided not to pull any punches with this one. The film then starts us off on the life story of two young orphans, Henriette and Louise, played as adults by the sisters Gish. The whole film is the story of these two, set against the backdrop of the French Revolution. Griffith’s natural talent for melodrama comes to play quite voraciously here, and it is evident from the beginning of the film that we will be delving into this particular subgenre; Louise is blind, and much of the film’s middle plotline deals with people taking advantage of her handicap. The other thing Griffith films are generally known for are spectacle, and thanks to the French background, there is plenty of opportunity here to show off the production design and dressing. As is typical of a Griffith film, it takes some time to really get to the main course of the film; there is plenty of time used for backstory and setup that could’ve easily been shifted around in the narrative to make for a tighter story told, but that may be due to me having modern film experience, which was only just beginning to be tapped by Griffith in those days.
The only versions of this I could find had no background music, which was annoying at first but I quickly got used to it, and was able to appreciate the film regardless. This was thankfully better than Way Down East, and indeed had more going for it non-historically than Birth of a Nation or Intolerance. Broken Blossoms is still Griffith’s pride and joy for me, but I was pleased with what I had been offered with this one. Lillian Gish was one of the first darlings of the cinema, and Griffith makes great use of her here. If you’re a fan of Gish, or classical melodrama in general, this is definitely one to watch. I still couldn’t pass up the nagging feeling that this could’ve been removed in favor of something else more worthy, but I at least wasn’t disappointed from watching this one.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10