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Intolerance and its terrible effects are examined in four historical eras. In ancient Babylon, a mountain girl is caught up in the religious rivalry that leads to the city's downfall. In Judea, the hypocritical Pharisees condemn Jesus Christ. In 1572 Paris, unaware of the impending St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, two young Huguenots prepare for marriage. Finally, in modern America, social reformers destroy the lives of a young woman and her beloved. Written by
Erik Gregersen <email@example.com>
The Babylonian orgy sequence alone cost $200,000 when it was shot. That's nearly twice the overall budget of The Birth of a Nation (1915), another D.W. Griffith film and, at the time, the record holder for most expensive picture ever made. See more »
Alexandre Édouard de France (later King Henry III) is referred to as "Monsieur La France," when he should be called "Monsieur de France." See more »
Constance Talmadge is credited as 'Georgia Pearce' for her performance as Marguerite de Valois in the French Story. She is credited under her own name in the role of The Mountain Girl in the Babylonian Story. See more »
"Intolerance" (Wark Producing Corporation, 1916), directed by D.W. Griffith, became an immediate follow-up to the director's previous effort, a civil war story titled "The Birth of a Nation" (1915), using many of the same actors including Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Miriam Cooper, among others. Of the two, I find "Intolerance" the most interesting, mainly because of its advance style in story telling. Yet, "Intolerance" did not become as successful nor controversial as "The Birth of a Nation" when first released.
"Intolerance" consists of four separate stories into one movie, but what's unusual about it is that the stories are not told episodically, but presented simultaneously in parallel action, linked together with Lillian Gish as the mother rocking her cradle. The stories consist of THE MODERN STORY, THE JUDEAN STORY, THE FRENCH STORY and finally THE BABYLONIAN STORY. Of the four, only THE JUDEAN STORY is the shortest and less detailed, featuring the life of Jesus Christ, as played by Howard Gaye. THE MODERN STORY, starring Mae Marsh and Robert Harron, finds the young couple getting married, followed by the husband resorting to life of crime when unable to find work, and later accused of a murder he did not commit; THE FRENCH STORY is set during the Middle Ages with Brown Eyes (Margery Wilson) and Prosper Latour (Eugene Palette) of religious intolerance under the regime of Catherine De Medici (Josephine Crowell); and THE BABYLONIAN STORY finds the Mountain Girl (Constance Talmadge) treated kindly by Belshazzar (Alfred Paget) when she is forced by the judicial system to appear on the marriage market, and falls in love with her prince. The battle scenes in this segment are well staged, considering the time of when this movie was produced. The Belshazzar's Banquet Hall set is the most famous sequence of all, shown many times as a film clip segment in several documentaries about silent films. The sets are lavish and the expense of this production shows. In spite of some hokey acting and title cards, which was taken seriously by 1916 standards, it's still a worthy viewing, especially for film scholars. Of all the actors who have appeared in this production, and there are too many to mention, the one who's most remembered long after the film is over is the one with less footage, Lillian Gish.
"Intolerance" is available on video in several different versions. Besides public domain videos with bad copies and no music score whatsoever, the three noted mentions include, (1) The former Blackhawk Video Company distributed it in the 1980s at 135 minutes accompanied with clear picture, an organ score and intermission. The opening titles of that print claims it to be the most complete copy, which includes the list of cast actors and their roles. (2) When Blackhawk merged with Republic Video several years later, it presented another copy, a shorter but almost clearer print running at 121 minutes accompanied with a good piano score and tinted picture, but minus the listing of the cast of actors and their roles. This was the copy used for the Public Television presentation of "The Silent Years" (1971), as hosted by Orson Welles. (3) Then there is another video copy, compliments of Kino Video, which runs at silent accu-speed, making it as long as three hours, color tints, accompanied with organ score, this version which can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. With several video copies currently available, it would certainly make a difference as to which one would make watching this movie enjoyable. On a personal level, I'd recommend No. 2, the Republic Video copy with the piano score.
"Intolerance" can almost be said to be the first all-star movie production. But for what it's worth, this epic should rank as one of the greatest of all silent films. It's amazing that it wasn't named as one of the 100 Greatest American Movies of the twentieth century by the American Film Institute. Maybe a proposed TV special on the selection of 100 Greatest Silent Movies of All Time will amend that (****)
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