Having turned the creaky old stage melodrama Way Down East into a money-spinning film, director D.W. Griffith set about to perform the same magic with the barnstorming theatrical piece The Two Orphans. Adolphe Philippe Dennery's play told the story of two orphaned girls, one blind, who are separated early on and undergo innumerable deprivations before their tearful reunion. Though the play took place in France, it had nothing whatsoever to do with the French Revolution; this didn't stop Griffith from plunking the storyline smack dab in the middle of that late-18th-century maelstrom, allowing him full scope for the spectacular scenes which had brought him worldwide fame. Lillian Gish plays Henriette, the sighted sister, while Dorothy Gish is cast as the visually impaired Louise. Henriette brings Louise to Paris, in search of a surgeon who might be able to restore her sister's sight. Henriette is kidnapped by a lascivious nobleman, leaving Louise to wander helplessly about until she too is "stolen" by a family of beggars. Rescued by kindhearted aristocrat Chevalier de Vaudrey (Joseph Schildkraut), Henriette begins the arduous search for her lost sister. Just before the film's intermission, Henriette hears Louise begging on the streets. Before they can be reunited, Henriette is arrested by minions of the evil nobleman who'd earlier tried to seduce her. Released from the Bastille by the revolutionaries, Henriette resumes her search, only to be arrested again--this time because she has consorted with the aristocracy, and is therefore a candidate for the guillotine. The stage is thus set for a thrilling "race to the rescue" climax, and of course the reuniting of the two orphans. Orphans of the Storm was filmed at Griffith's east coast studio in Mamaroneck, New York, which explains why the exteriors are always so overcast. In an effort to be topical, Griffith took every opportunity possible to equate the French revolution with the recent Bolshevik rebellion in Russia, and to warn his audience of the dangers of mob rule (this from a man who glorified the Ku Klux Klan in Birth of a Nation!) The film opened to excellent reviews and great business; Griffith, who always placed art above commerce, poured virtually every penny of profit into his "smaller" project, Isn't Life Wonderful, which died at the box office.
by Hal Erickson synopsis