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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
After "The Great War" (later called "World War I"), unfortunately orphaned Carol Dempster (as Inga) goes to Germany, with an also-on-the-move homeless Polish family. There, she waits for handsome soldier Neil Hamilton (as Paul), childhood sweetheart from her "adopted" family. So, living virtuously must have been difficult for the couple, since they grew up together. Presently, Ms. Dempster and Mr. Hamilton find their changes for happiness averted by devastating post-war conditions
Absent collaborators G.W. Bitzer, Robert Harron, and Lillian Gish might have given director D.W. Griffith another masterpiece with "Isn't Life Wonderful". His closest film-making partner was, by now, protégée Dempster. One of the problems with Dempster is evident herein - note the scene where she forces herself to "smile" while Mr. Hamilton is bedridden; this acting business is swiped from Ms. Gish's "smile" in "Broken Blossoms" (1919); and, Hamilton is directed to act like Mr. Harron.
This doesn't mean Dempster and Hamilton aren't adequate in the parts - but one of Mr. Griffith's problems was pigeonholing an actress like Dempster into something she was not. Griffith directed a "type" - the old lady, the mother, the virginal heroine, the suitor, etc. Herein, he is obviously directing his cast to act like the "types" co-created with performers like Gish and Harron; and, he incorrectly assumes one performer (Dempster) is able to deliver the same kind of performance as another (Gish).
This thematically beautiful film was said to be Griffith's apology for his ostensibly pro-War and necessarily anti-German "Hearts of the World" (1918, with Harron and Gish). But, Griffith apologists should have looked at "Hearts" more closely, and beat a hasty retreat; because, the turnaround began within that film. Like a war weary world, Griffith foresaw a pacifist mood. He knew how to be both ahead of the curve and behind the times; pulling no punches, "Isn't Life Wonderful" serves up blistering pessimistic optimism.
******* Isn't Life Wonderful (11/23/24) D.W. Griffith ~ Carol Dempster, Neil Hamilton, Lupino Lane, Frank Puglia
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