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The White Sister (1923)

 -  Drama | Romance  -  1925 (Austria)
7.0
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A young woman becomes a nun when she believes her sweetheart has been killed, but things get complicated when he returns alive.

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Angela Chiaromonte
...
Capt. Giovanni Severini
...
Marchesa di Mola
J. Barney Sherry ...
Monsignor Saracinesca
Charles Lane ...
Prince Chiaromonte
Juliette La Violette ...
Madame Bernard
Gustavo Serena ...
Prof. Ugo Severi (as Signor Serena)
Alfredo Bertone ...
Filmore Durand
Roman Ibanez ...
Count del Ferice
Alfredo Martinelli ...
Alfredo del Ferice
Ida Carloni Talli ...
Mother Superior (as Carloni Talli)
Giovanni Viccola ...
Gen. Mazzini
Antonio Barda ...
Alfredo's Tutor
Giacomo D'Attino ...
Solicitor to the Prince
Michele Gualdi ...
Solicitor to Count
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Storyline

Lillian Gish is the daughter of a rich Italian count who is killed in a fall from his horse. Though Lillian stands to inherit a large estate, her older half-sister burns the will and thus inherits the property herself, throwing Lillian into poverty. Fortunately, she is engaged to marry the dashing officer Ronald Coleman, but he is captured by Arabs on an expedition to Africa. Dedicating her life to his memory, Lillian becomes a nun, unaware that her lover has escaped his captors and returning to Italy! The climax takes place against a backdrop of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Written by Ed Lengel <egl2r@faraday.clas.virginia.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

LILLIAN GISH! What a flood of pleasant memories rushes along at the mere mention of her name! YOU sympathized with her in "The Birth of a Nation." YOU suffered with her in "Hearts of the World." YOU pitied her in "Broken Blossoms." YOU cried over her in "Orphans of the Storm." YOU actually cheered her in "Way Down East." Now when you see her in Henry King's production of "The White Sister" you will be thrilled, captivated, and exalted as never before. See more »

Genres:

Drama | Romance

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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

1925 (Austria)  »

Also Known As:

Die weiße Schwester  »

Filming Locations:

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Quotes

Title Card: Because of his hopeless love for Angela, the artist had painted her as an unattainable ideal - a woman too holy for mere man to possess.
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Version of The White Sister (1933) See more »

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User Reviews

 
"Nature seemed to hold her breath"
3 April 2011 | by (Ruritania) – See all my reviews

The 1920s were the golden age of the screen melodrama. As motion pictures became ever more elaborate in their expression and ever more legitimate as part of culture, so they became less of a picture show and took their cues more from stage and literature. The White Sister is a typical example. Derived from a book by F. Marion Crawford, like so many novels from the previous hundred years, it tells a tale of romantic love versus social convention, with fate, or rather bad luck, playing a hand. Crawford is all but forgotten today, but in 1923 he was still remembered as a popular author of the previous generation, and regarded worthy of this rather extravagant production.

The White Sister was directed by Henry King, another name not so familiar now, but a high profile one in Hollywood throughout his career. King was a firm believer in physical space as a psychological factor – a bit like Fritz Lang but not nearly as abstract. The large sets provide him with a lot of material, and he really allows them to dominate, emphasising both their height and depth, in the early scenes showing the disinherited Lillian Gish dwarfed within them. But he knows to keep focus on the characters by placing us inside the action, for example with the point-of-view shots of the musicians when Gish and Ronald Colman sit together on the wall. He is also able to move right in on a personal level, such as his memorable introduction to Gish, a face peeping through a barred window. Throughout the picture he is juxtaposing the big canvas with the little. For example, when Gish's carriage rides away after her goodbye to Colman, we get a close-up of her pulling down the blind, followed by the carriage receding away down a lonely looking street – the emptiness of the latter image complements the emotional moment of the former.

As for Miss Gish, this were first picture since parting ways with her mentor D.W. Griffith. Her recent performances for that great director had not been impressive. For one thing she had too often been cast as a teenager and encouraged to put on a twee girly act. Secondly in pictures like Broken Blossoms and Orphans of the Storm she had been unbearably hammy, throwing wild gestures and pulling faces in every scene. The White Sister finds her refreshingly understated, just as she was in her earliest Griffith pictures. In scenes such as the one where she meets Colman after being turfed out of her home, or the moment she takes her vows, her face is passive, her emotions stifled, but clearly burning below the surface. Of course, when she is lead to believe that her love has been killed her reaction is extreme, but this is natural given the context, and compared to the subtlety of the rest of her performance it has all the necessary impact. In some of her later Griffith movies Gish would have reacted like that if she heard the next-door neighbour had a cough.

Ultimately however The White Sister bears the traits of a movie industry seeking to become more literate and prestigious, in that its title cards are too long and too many. At 143 minutes this is not a short picture, and a lot of that runtime is accounted for by wordage that would be better left out. After all, King's images are so meaningful, and Gish's performance is so intelligent, there is no need to break them up with a lot of text. We even get a title pointing out that the portrait of Gish as a nun by her lovelorn admirer shows her as an unattainable ideal, forcing the symbolism upon the audience rather than allowing them to interpret it for themselves. Incidentally Henry King was also the producer, and while not actually responsible for writing the titles he certainly would have had final say over what was included, so perhaps to some extent he lacked confidence in his own ability to tell a story visually. Whatever the case, it makes what could be one of the more sophisticated melodramas of its era just a bit more boring than it ought to be.


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