During the French Revolution, a wealthy couple lives safely by professing republican beliefs. When a mob attacks a nearby chateau an aristocrat bursts into the couple's home. They save his ... See full summary »

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Cast

Credited cast:
Arthur V. Johnson ...
The Husband
Marion Leonard ...
The Wife
Frank Powell ...
The Viper
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Frank Evans ...
In Mob
Ruth Hart ...
Victimized Woman
James Kirkwood ...
In Mob
Henry Lehrman ...
In Mob
...
Fleeing Aristocrat
George Nichols ...
In Mob
Anthony O'Sullivan ...
In Mob
Billy Quirk ...
Fleeing Aristocrat
Gertrude Robinson ...
Fleeing Aristocrat
...
In Mob
Mabel Trunnelle ...
Victimized Woman
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Storyline

During the French Revolution, a wealthy couple lives safely by professing republican beliefs. When a mob attacks a nearby chateau an aristocrat bursts into the couple's home. They save his life by disguising him as a servant, but he soon forces his attentions on the wife. Hearing their struggle, the husband intervenes and, stripping the aristocrat of his disguise, thrusts him outdoors to be killed by the mob. Written by Anonymous

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Short | Drama

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4 November 1909 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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A print of this film survives in the UCLA Film and Television Archives. See more »

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"The reign of lawlessness"
18 June 2008 | by (Ruritania) – See all my reviews

After the American Civil War, DW Griffith's second favourite period setting was probably the French Revolution. In 1909 he was going through something of a French phase, with numerous films set either in the revolution or at least that era. The Sealed Room is probably the best known of these but Nursing a Viper, made a few months later is of equal merit.

Around this time Griffith was really beginning to develop in terms of space and action. The second shot in the film, which shows a group of aristocrats hiding by a wall is one of his greatest from this period. It's a nice, rather painterly tableau, but it's also a very functional set-up. With the wall in the foreground and the building in the background on screen-right Griffith creates two contrasting spaces in the one shot, which in the context has a psychological impact. We, the audience are behind the wall with the aristocrats, in effect sharing their hiding place, but we are also in a position to see the approaching rioters. In a very short space of time the mob reaches the foreground, rushing towards the audience and overwhelming the screen.

Griffith films of this period were not generally well acted, the performances tending to be a bit overwrought and pantomimey, but they are not bad here, I suppose because the action in this film doesn't call for much subtlety anyway. Of particular note is the apparent rebel leader – I think played by Mack Sennet but it's a bit hard to tell with all those beards – who taunts an aristocrat before knifing him. The scenes of violence here are fairly grisly for the time, and there is a real feeling of chaos. In fact a fair few Biograph shorts prior to 1910 are quite violent and morbid – "good taste" and "morality" obviously didn't have quite the influence they later would.

This is one of the best action shorts that Griffith directed in 1909 (his busiest year in terms of the number of films made). It's not quite as good an action film as The Hessian Renegades, but certainly one of the highlights of this early part of his career.


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