BROKEN BLOSSOMS (1919) B/W "silent" 89m dir: D.W . Griffith
w/Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Donald Crisp
Classic love story of a young woman and a Chinese gentleman can still tug at the heartstrings. Griffith allowed Gish and Barthelmess to play the romantic duo with realistic enthusiasm. Crisp, one of Hollywood's most distinguished character actors, is hateful and menacing as Gish's vicious ex-prizefighter father. If you'd like to know more about the film (and if you don't mind having the entire plot revealed), read on.
From Georges Sadoul's Dictionary of Films :
"USA 1919. Dir D.W. Griffith Scen D.W. Griffith based on The Chink and the Child in Thomas Burke's Limehouse Nights Photog G.W. Bitzer Special Effects Hendrick Sartov Mus Arrang Louis F. Gottschalk, G.W. Griffith Cast Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Donald Crisp, Norman Selby Prod D.W. Griffith for United Artists. 6,013 ft.
"Set in the Limehouse district of London, the story of a Chinaman's (Barthelmess) chaste love for a young girl (Gish), persecuted by her brutal father (Crisp). Her father is defeated in a boxing match and beats the child to death. The Chinaman kills the father then commits suicide.
"'The Chink and the Child was completed in eighteen days and nights. In rehearsals we timed the film so perfectly that, when it was first cut and put together, there was only 200 ft. over. There were no retakes ... The budget was $90,000 and the returns exceeded a million' (Lillian Gish autobiography).
"'We find here the eternal and the basic antithesis involved in the fight between beauty and ugliness, good and evil. This contrast creates naturally the choice of similar rhythms for the film, a slow rhythm being set against a fast one. In this way, brutality and crime are made more meaningful when faced with the harmonious beauty of love and dreams. What I especially remember are the perfect boxing sequences and the mute admiration of the yellow man for the young girl he has helped and idolized. A small number of simple sets are sufficient, but they are used with great art and conscience. One hardly need say that the artist has transposed life' (Leon Moussinac).
"This film was made before the style of Kammerspiel developed in Germany and perhaps influenced it. It is a tragedy with a dramatic structure based on a mainly instinctive use of the three unities rule and parallel editing (analyzed by Leon Moussinac). The film was made entirely in the studio but Griffith created a marvelous atmospheric sense of Limehouse: the foggy street and houses, the Chinaman's shop and miserable room.
"The climax is masterful, with Lillian Gish cringing and spinning desperately in a closet as her father breaks the door down with an ax and then beats her to death with a whip handle. Lillian Gish is entirely believable as the young girl (though she was then 30) and her creation of the role is exceptional. One especially remembers the smile she made by pushing the corners of her mouth up with her fingers. Barthelmess succeeds in making the Chinaman touching and convincing, but Dnald Crisp's brute is too heavy-handed, 'the boxer's gestures often become grimaces' (Moussinac). Apart from this small failing, Broken Blossoms is Griffith's most perfect, and perhaps his most enganging, film even though it was made quickly and cheaply."