Orphans of the Storm (1921)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Melodrama, Period Film  |   Release Date - Dec 28, 1921 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 125 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bob Mastrangelo

Another high melodrama by the father of film, this time set against the backdrop of the French Revolution with plenty of historical flavor and enough plot to fill four hours of screen time. Throughout the film, director/writer D.W. Griffith repeatedly contrasts the lives of the rich and poor. The opulent palaces and parties of the aristocracy, especially the Marquis' orgies, stand in sharp contrast to the destitution of the poor on the dirty streets of Paris. But the object of Griffith's scorn is not the rich, but tyranny and mob rule. Indeed, he displays equal disgust for both the excessiveness and inhumanity of the rich and the thievery of some elements of the poor. After the revolution, he is as harshly critical of Robespierre and the bloodthirsty mobs as he had been of the Marquis and the cruel aristocrats. If there are villains on both sides (the Marquis, the Count, Robespierre, the disgusting Mother Frochard), there are also heroes, including the Chevalier de Vaudrey on the aristocratic side and Danton on the side of the underclass. It is also worth mentioning that for all his supposed prudishness, Griffith often filled his movies with scenes of debauchery; granted, he usually did so as a means to condemn the behavior depicted, but it didn't stop him from showing it, and this is certainly true of Orphans of the Storm. Before the revolution, Griffith takes every opportunity to display the parties and orgies of the aristocracy, and after the revolution, even more screen time is spent on the street celebrations and dancing that draws obvious parallels to the behavior of the rich. As for the acting, much of it is over-the-top and strongly melodramatic, as was the fashion of the time. Lillian Gish comes off best, even when she overdoes it. Her unique acting ability is very much evident and she towers over her co-stars.