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The House of Darkness (1913)

A potentially violent patient in an insane asylum is calmed when he hears a nurse playing the piano. But shortly afterwards he breaks free, eludes his pursuers, and acquires a gun. He soon ... See full summary »

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Cast

Cast overview:
...
The Doctor
...
The Doctor's Wife
Charles Hill Mailes ...
The Lunatic aka The 'Unfortunate' Patient
...
The Nurse
Christy Cabanne ...
Attack Victim (as W. Christy Cabanne)
...
Asylum Guard
William Elmer ...
Asylum Guard (as Billy Elmer)
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Storyline

A potentially violent patient in an insane asylum is calmed when he hears a nurse playing the piano. But shortly afterwards he breaks free, eludes his pursuers, and acquires a gun. He soon comes to a house where a young wife is home alone, and there is a tense confrontation. Written by Snow Leopard

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Short | Drama

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10 May 1913 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Featured in Kingdom of Shadows (1998) See more »

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"At last a happy result"
26 July 2008 | by (Ruritania) – See all my reviews

At a time when Griffith's films were becoming increasingly gloomy and pessimistic (See The Painted Lady, Death's Marathon etc) The House of Darkness, in spite of the title and its theme of madness, is a little ray of hope. Griffith uses all his skill and technique to produce a work of humanity and poignancy.

The opening shot is one of the most beautiful and considered of Griffith's Biograph career, using contrasts in depth that are reminiscent of his earliest shorts, albeit far more carefully composed. Although it is a crowd shot, he has clearly given thought to every individual in it, giving each personal direction and allowing them to stand out. Griffith also contrasts the natural beauty of the setting with the plight of the asylum inmates, establishing a bittersweet tone right from the start.

Griffith repeats his famous "approaching" close-up from Musketeers of Pig Alley, having Charles Hill Mailes gradually creep up on the camera until his face is almost filling the screen. It's not as effective as it was with Elmer Booth in Pig Alley, although there is some early use of foreground framing with the dangling branch. Two other close-ups have even greater impact. First, there is the use of the ticking clock as a tension building device. Then there is that amazing close-up of Claire McDowell's hands striking the piano key, which has a really great impact, releasing the tension which has just been built up and grabbing the audience's attention simultaneously.

As with many of Griffith's films of this era, it is the acting which holds things together even more than the technical direction. Griffith knew that the performances had to be convincing for a film like this to work. Charles Hill Mailes was not often a lead player at Biograph (he can mostly be seen playing stern fathers), but he is very good here in a role which could easily have been all mugging and arm-waving. Interestingly Claire McDowell whom he menaces here was in reality his wife. They actually played side by side as an elderly couple in a number of pictures in the 30's.

This is a strong film with few flaws, and is among the four or five best Biograph shorts. Although Griffith had been wanting to make feature films for some years now, at this point he really looks ready to.


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