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The Mothering Heart (1913)

 -  Short | Drama  -  21 June 1913 (USA)
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A young couple struggle to get ahead, the wife always assuaging the troubles of her melancholy husband. As he climbs the ladder of success, he abandons the homely values and takes up with ... See full summary »


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Cast overview:
Walter Miller ...
Joe - the Young Husband
The Young Wife
Kate Bruce ...
Young Wife's Mother
Viola Barry ...
The 'Idle Woman' / Outside Club
Charles West ...
The 'New Light' / Among Waiters
Adolph Lestina ...
The Doctor / Club Patron
Jennie Lee ...
The Wash Customer
Charles Murray ...
Male Apache Dancer
Gertrude Bambrick ...
Female Apache Dancer


A young couple struggle to get ahead, the wife always assuaging the troubles of her melancholy husband. As he climbs the ladder of success, he abandons the homely values and takes up with another woman. His wife leaves him, returning to her mother's home where she bears a child. When the husband is abandoned by his concubine, remorse drives him to find his wife... Written by Thomas McWilliams <>

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Short | Drama





Release Date:

21 June 1913 (USA)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

A showcase and a career turning point for Lillian Gish
5 August 2002 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

This two-reel drama ranks with the best of D. W. Griffith's output for Biograph, and is therefore a prime example of the best American film-making of its day. It was also one of the first of the Biograph films to feature Lillian Gish as the central figure, and although the supporting cast is more than competent it's very much her vehicle all the way. The story is a simple one, focusing on the difficult early days of a marriage that nearly unravels. According to her memoirs Gish was determined to play the wife, but almost didn't get the part because Griffith thought she looked too girlish to play a married woman (she was about 20 at the time), so Lillian contrived to audition a second time in an outfit padded to enhance her figure, and landed the role.

The story moves briskly, rather like a condensed version of the domestic scenes from King Vidor's much later film The Crowd. One moment Lillian is a girl playing with puppies, and the next, having married her suitor "against her better judgment," she's keeping house. No attempt is made to glamorize married life in these scenes. (Not so incidentally, director Griffith's own marriage had recently soured.) Pretty soon we are told that the husband is "turning away from the homely joys," i.e. taking his reluctant young wife to decadent nightclubs. The nightclub scenes are the closest this movie gets to those inadvertently funny moments which sometimes mar silent dramas; here, cultural decadence takes the form of a floor show featuring chubby "modern" dancers in togas and animal skins, performing what looks like Isadora Duncan's take on The Bacchae. Oh well, perhaps Griffith meant this sequence to be satirical. In any event the scene provides a light moment in an otherwise heavy story.

The husband falls into an affair -- more of a guilty fling, really -- with a buxom (i.e. wicked) woman he meets at the nightclub, while wife Lillian, who is pregnant, becomes increasingly distraught back at home. There's a striking scene when Lillian finds a woman's glove in his jacket, and realizes that her husband is drifting away. Eventually she leaves him, then gives birth to a sickly baby who soon dies. The death scene is handled with restraint, almost too much so, until the dazed Lillian wanders out into the garden, picks up a stick, and wildly thrashes all the buds off a rosebush. All these years later, this scene is still powerful. The reconciliation sequence that follows and brings the film to a close is beautifully played, and feels well earned and justified, not a contrived Happily Ever After coda tacked on to send viewers home satisfied. The Mothering Heart is indeed a satisfying experience, but it's not an easy ride.

Casting Note: actress Viola Barry (also known as Peggy Pearce) who plays the "other woman" in this film, worked at Keystone the following year and was said to be Charlie Chaplin's first girlfriend there. She played opposite Chaplin once, in His Favorite Pastime, but is seen to much better advantage here.

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