Broken Blossoms (1919)

Genres - Drama, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Melodrama, Romantic Drama  |   Release Date - May 13, 1919 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 95 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Despite the great expense taken to recreate its London Limehouse-district setting, Broken Blossoms is one of D.W. Griffith's most intimate films, and some critics consider it his masterpiece. The director used his vast soundstage to tell the story of a young woman (Lillian Gish) whose love for a spiritual Chinese man (Richard Barthelmess) is thwarted by her abusive boxer father (Donald Crisp); the studio deemed the results too grim to be commercial, and Griffith was forced to buy Blossoms back and release it himself. The film is literally darker than anything the director had previously attempted: the controlled, non-location shoot allowed him to be more expressive with low light and shadow. In a pre-screening, the projectionist accidentally left on one of the theater's colored house lights, and Griffith liked the effect so much that he applied colored tints to subsequent prints. Aside from its technical achievements, Blossoms also features some of Gish's most evocative work. The actress' skills of gesture and pantomime are at their height, and her delicate, fragile performance deflects some of the attention away from Griffith's typically charismatic villain.