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A wealthy young Southern aristocrat, Joseph, graduates from a seminary and, before he takes charge of his assigned parish, decides to go out and see what "the real world" is all about. He winds up in New Orleans and finds himself attracted to a poor, unsophisticated orphan girl, Bessie. One thing leads to another, and before long Bessie finds that she is pregnant with Joseph's child. Written by
On her estate in Louisiana, wealthy plantation heiress Carol Dempster (as Marie Carrington) attracts the attention of handsome grocer boy Neil Hamilton (as John White). Mr. Hamilton adores Ms. Dempster from a distance, but the possibility of a relationship seems doomed. He is from a family of "poor white trash" and she is descended from European nobility. Hamilton also has to fight a "heritage of shiftlessness" as evidenced by his lazy aunt and uncle. Shaking off the laziness, Hamilton goes off to make his way in the world. These two characters, as it turns out, are secondary
Meanwhile, far away in a suburb of New Orleans, plain "little" Mae Marsh (as Bessie Williams) leaves the orphan asylum she has called home, to make her own way in the world. She carries a exemplary letter of recommendation and naively thinks she's a "first class orphan" since she's had both a mother and a father. A brief job-hunting search lands Ms. Marsh a waitress position. To improve her customer relations, Marsh gets a modern haircut and learns to flirt with male customers like a "Jezebel". Her new wiggle arouses handsome Ivor Novello (as Joseph Beaugarde), who is planning to become a minister...
As both are wealthy young aristocrats, Mr. Novello is expected to marry Dempster (the female half of the couple initially introduced). Forgetting their separate social status, Novello and Marsh are mutually attracted, and spend a date cuddling and kissing. Although there is no on-screen indication any sexual intercourse occurred, Marsh turns up pregnant. As you'll see, it wasn't immaculate conception (which seems, for a time, a possibility). Marsh had acquired the nickname "Teazie" along with an undeserved reputation as a tramp. As an unwed mother, Marsh is thrown out on the streets...
There is a fine message about what could be considered genetic "mixing" in the story; it's made obvious by how the two couples eventually pair up. Note how writer/director D.W. Griffith has deliberately opposed the early statement, "The family came out of European nobility, taking great care in marriages to preserve the pure strain of aristocracy." The "pure strain" language, and ability Hamilton shows in overcoming his "heritage of shiftlessness," finds Griffith in a better place than his preceding reputation. Still, there is no real, defining extension of these ideals to the stereotypical "black-face" characters herein.
"The White Rose" had possibilities, but it really doesn't rise to the level of the prose he produced from 1918-1920. Robert Harron had died, and Lillian Gish had left her mentor (and would soon be appearing in the similarly titled "The White Sister" for Henry King). To his credit, Mr. Griffith did re-hire Marsh and cameraman Billy Bitzer. However, Marsh is not served well as a waif turned flapper. Regulars Dempster and Hamilton are joined by new arrival Novello. All have some good moments, but only Griffith player Charles Emmett Mack (a "guest") seems totally unaffected by the usual Griffith acting indulgences.
***** The White Rose (5/21/23) D.W. Griffith ~ Mae Marsh, Ivor Novello, Carol Dempster, Neil Hamilton
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