A family of Polish refugees tries to survive in post-World War I Germany. For a while it seems that they are making it, but soon the economic and political deterioration in the country begins to take their toll.
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The story follows a Polish professor and his family who have become refugees in the aftermath of World War I. They try to survive in Germany during the period of the Great Inflation. Carol Dempster is Inga, a Polish war orphan who struggles to provide for the family that has taken her in, while accumulating a meager dowry from the rubble of depression-stricken Berlin so that she can marry Paul. Returning to his family, weakened by the battlefront's poisonous gases, Paul invests in his and Inga's future by tending a secret garden which he hopes will provide the resources for them to live, and which serves as a symbol of optimism for the two young lovers. Written by
Fiona Kelleghan <email@example.com>
Griffith's Last Independent Production Was His Last Great Film.
ISN'T LIFE WONDERFUL was D.W. Griffith's last independent production before he was forced to sell his Mamaroneck studio to help pay off mounting debts from his Revolutionary War epic America and his bad business practices. Though little known today compared to earlier films like BIRTH OF A NATION or INTOLERANCE, this little film, in my opinion, is Griffith's last great film. It incorporates the best elements of intimate dramas like BROKEN BLOSSOMS with a large scale backdrop like HEARTS OF THE WORLD. In fact it has been said that Griffith made this film to atone for the rabid anti-German sentiments of HEARTS (just as INTOLERANCE was supposedly made to respond to the rabid racial bias of BIRTH OF A NATION). This story of a poor family's trials and tribulations in inflation ravaged post World War I Germany is remarkably grim and is presented realistically. Griffith came under heavy criticism for presenting a sympathetic portrait of a family in Germany (they had to be changed from German to Polish although one character still tears up a picture of the Kaiser) and for shooting the film in Germany itself. His protégé' Carol Dempster gives the performance of her brief career showing what she could have been capable of had Griffith used better judgment as to what he put her in. She plays Inga, a poor girl trying to keep her family's spirits up while trying to realize her own dreams. As the wounded veteran Paul who hopes to marry Inga, Neil Hamilton (who would play Commissioner Gordon on TV's BATMAN 40 years later) gives a sensitive and engaging performance. The film plays like an early neorealist drama and surely had an impact on later filmmakers such as G.W. Pabst, Sergei Eisenstein, and Vittoria De Sica. It is starkly but beautifully photographed and full of social criticism which did not go down well at all with Jazz Age audiences. For modern audiences the film looks like the forerunner that it is and it brings out the best of what Griffith had to say both personally and professionally. Hopefully this will soon be released on DVD to join most of Griffith's other films which despite his fame/infamy are still awaiting major restoration.
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