Orphans of the Storm (1921) Director: D.W. Griffith
Orphans of the Storm is a decent film, though not Griffith’s best by any stretch of the imagination. It is the last film to feature of the famous Gish sisters, Lillian and Dorothy.
Based on a French story adopted for the American stage, it tells the story of two lower class sisters during the French Revolution who venture to Paris to cure one of her blindness. Upon arrival, they are caught up in a series of events that highlight the class distinctions between the aristocracy and the poor. Griffith intended for the film to be a commentary on contemporary political issues, primarily Bolshevism, and some have seen it as a defense of aristocracy. It is a two and a half hour epic film filled with some visual effects, such as color tinting in monochromatic scenes and also the use of large constructed sets to show Paris during the revolution. Additional inspiration came from Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, as characters played both Danton and Robespierre. In the end, an aristocrat is saved and 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.
An extra was accidentally killed on set while leaning on a rifle that fired, though it was unloaded, but the impact from the barrel’s release can still be lethal at point blank range. As a lifelong Republican, Lillian Gish was thrilled to be invited to the White House of Warren G. Hardin after the film was released.
Orphans of the Storm is often considered the last of Griffith’s memorable films. It is a decent film, though its main redeeming qualities consist of its large sets and cinematography. Otherwise, the acting is not dazzling and the film falls far short of greatness, at least of the kind achieved in other earlier Griffith films, such Birth of a Nation and Broken Blossoms.