Orphans of the Storm is one of my favorite D.W. Griffith films. Sure, he made bigger/ more influential movies prior to this, but there’s something just so charming and beguiling about this magnificent and epic melodrama.
was always at his best when he let the melodrama flow unheeded, like in Broken Blossoms (1919), another brilliant example from this era. Here the overt, unabashed emotion is
propelled beyond self-consciousness into a near obsessive meditation on cliffhangers, impossibility and outrageousness. Perhaps also, it’s just the presence
of Lillian and Dorothy Gish that makes this film sing for me. These two sisters are just
so wonderful in this film and their star power makes this an essential
example of talent sometimes being the reason for the lasting impact of a film.
I’m not so sure this film is half as good without their presence. Griffith
Orphans of the Storm regards 2 orphans who are found and raised by a family in
around the time of the French revolution. They grow up together as caring
and loving sisters. Louise (Dorothy Gish) goes blind at a young age and Henriette (Lillian
Gish) decides to take great care of her. They are literally bound to each other.
Louise doesn’t use a cane to get around and instead, in a deeply melodramatic touch, she
uses her arms to feel about her, leading to some rather desperate moments later in the film. The
two sisters are separated in France ,
when Henriette is kidnapped by some party-goers and Louise is left to fend for
herself. Louise is picked up by a street gypsy who takes her back to her home and forces her into being a street beggar. Both sisters remain
separated for some time. Henriette is thrown into the midst of French
Revolution politics and scandal and winds up on the chopping block at the end of the film,
through which comes an opportunity for the sisters to be reunited at the
end in a great flourish of cliffhangers. Paris
What I love best about this film is Lillian and Dorothy Gish, whose chemistry and star power is absolutely what makes this film so watchable for me today. Dorothy Gish was a fine actress in her own right here with her long dark hair and rather childlike face. She's a bit unpolished when compared to Lillian, but she manages to pull-off her role. It’s Lillian Gish who is absolutely a knock-out here. She has a way of just BEING in front of the camera and giving you everything you need to know. There is a particular pose where she has this way of cocking her head to one side and looking so sad. In fact, when she cries on camera (which she does a lot in this film), she has a way of CRYING, as if it’s the primordial expression of feminine catharsis...... as if she is the beginning and the end of cinematic weeping. I don't even think Garbo was as good at crying on camera as Lillian Gish. Her expressive eyes, lips and angelic face keep me riveted to the screen. She is one of the essential silent film faces and her gift for acting is so glorious that it makes this film unforgettable.