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Henriette and Louise, a foundling, are raised together as sisters. When Louise goes blind, Henriette swears to take care of her forever. They go to Paris to see if Louise's blindness can be cured, but are separated when an aristocrat lusts after Henriette and abducts her. Only Chevalier de Vaudrey is kind to her, and they fall in love. The French Revolution replaces the corrupt Aristocracy with the equally corrupt Robespierre. De Vaudrey, who has always been good to peasants, is condemned to death for being an aristocrat, and Henriette for harboring him. Will revolutionary hero Danton, the only voice for mercy in the new regime, be able to save them from the guillotine? Written by
John Oswalt <email@example.com>
Visually impressive melodrama is wildly overacted but still compelling to watch...
ORPHANS OF THE STORM is quite an impressive looking silent film from D.W. Griffith, who was obviously the Cecil B. DeMille of his day. He has an instinct for showing surging crowd scenes involving all the unrest during the French Revolution and these scenes are highly detailed and very arresting visually. All the sets and costumes look as though a lavish budget was spent on this story of two sisters who survive the French Revolution after many melodramatic twists and turns of their fortune.
DOROTHY GISH and LILLIAN GISH are the sisters, with Dorothy as the blind waif who is separated from her sister when an overly amorous nobleman orders Lillian to be brought to his orgy. From there on, the Dickensian plot becomes thicker and thicker as the girls suffer one indignity after another in order to survive.
LUCILLE LaVERNE is the old hag (she later was the model for Disney's Wicked Witch in "Snow White"), a harridan who makes Dorothy a beggar in the streets. "You'll shiver better without a shawl," is one of her immortal lines.
Joseph SCHILDKRAUT is very impressive in an early American screen role, demonstrating charm and skill of the kind that would land him important parts in future costume films like "Marie Antoinette." MONTE BLUE is Danton, a man who meets LILLIAN GISH early in the story and later becomes the defender who saves her and Schildkraut from the guillotine.
It's all very melodramatic, the acting ranging from overdone to wildly overdone. Griffith was never subtle in asking his performers to give it their all. Excessive wringing of hands, eye-rolling to show anguish, fierce looks to show hatred, etc. may cause unintended chuckles when viewed by today's audiences, but there is never any letdown in the telling of a compelling story using the French Revolution as rich background material for a tale of villainy and heroism.
A fascinating silent film with an appropriate film score added to give the story even more force and flavor.
Summing up: Overlong drama, but compelling from the start to the feverishly melodramatic end.
Exquisite close-ups of Lillian Gish are touching and lend poignant charm to her performance.
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