Orphans of the Storm (1921) Director: D.W. Griffith
Drawing inspiration from Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, Orphans of the Storm is often regarded as the last of D.W. Griffith’s great films. In my view it is a worthy film indeed, though I found myself drawn more to the incredible backdrops and sets rather than the plot itself. Otherwise, the acting is not particularly dazzling and the film falls far short of its lofty ambitions, or at least of the kind achieved in other Griffith’s earlier films, such as Birth of a Nation (1915) and Broken Blossoms (1919). This is the last of Griffith’s films to feature the famous Gish sisters, Lillian and Dorothy. As a lifelong Republican, Lillian Gish was thrilled to be invited to the White House by Warren G. Harding after the film was released.
Based on a French story which was adapted for the American stage, Orphans of the Storm tells the story of two lower-class sisters during the French Revolution who venture to Paris in order to cure one of the sisters of blindness. Upon arrival, they are caught up in a series of events which highlight the class distinctions between aristocracy and plebeian. Griffith initially intended for the film to be interpreted a commentary on growing political issues, primarily the rise of Bolshevism, and some critics have seen the film as a defense of aristocracy. It is a two and a half hour epic filled with unique visual effects, such as color tinting in monochromatic scenes and also the implementation of large constructed sets of revolutionary Paris. In the end, an aristocrat is saved and he falls in love with Henriette (Lillian Gish) while her sister’s blindness is cured and she is prevented from living the life of a poor blind woman.