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Orphans of the Storm (1921) Poster

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William J. Walsh, an extra playing a soldier, was killed on set when a prop rifle he was leaning on went off by accident; although the weapon was loaded with a blank cartridge, the wadding from a blank fired at point-blank range is capable of inflicting serious injury or death.
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D.W. Griffith used this movie as a means of commenting, obliquely, on the politics of his time. He drew parallels between the anarchist mobs that overthrew the French aristocrats and what he says in opening titles to the film are the present American dangers of succumbing to the kind of "anarchy and Bolshevism" he perceived in the recent Russian Revolution. It is a great historical irony that those Bolsheviks Griffith railed against were quite smitten with the director's incomparable ways of generating film tension in crosscutting as well as his cinematic means of conveying good and evil via sophisticated editing and framing techniques. As the father of film syntax Griffith was an enormous influence on Soviet filmmakers Sergei M. Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin, who were inspired by many of his films--including this anti-Bolshevism one.
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D.W. Griffith decided to enlarge the scope of the melodrama by weaving in historical details from the French Revolution including the historical figures Danton and Robespierre. He made every effort to be true to real events and took additional inspiration from "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens and "History of the French Revolution" by Thomas Carlyle, which Lillian Gish noted every major player in the film studied. Carlyle's book was, in fact, also a major influence on Dickens, who took the incident of an aristocrat's carriage running over a small child from Carlyle's book.
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Lillian Gish first suggested D.W. Griffith film the enormously popular play "The Two Orphans," which had been translated into 40 languages, thinking of her sister Dorothy Gish in the role of Henriette. Interestingly, Griffith cast Dorothy as Louise, the passive blind victim, when it was Lillian who was best known for playing helpless heroines. Most who knew her would attest that Dorothy was the more vivacious and strong willed of the two sisters. Lillian had written of her sister in 1927 "She is laughter, even on the cloudy days of life; nothing bothers her or saddens her or concerns her lastingly."
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Lifelong Republican Lillian Gish was thrilled to be invited to the White House by President Warren G. Harding following the premiere of Orphans of the Storm (1921).
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Included among "The 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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The fountain in the Bel-Air scene was made of marble and filled with cider, because water would not photograph with the sparkle needed to suggest wine.
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The film was originally to be released under the title "The Two Orphans" until it was discovered two foreign films were about to be released with the same title. To avoid confusion, director D.W. Griffith changed the title.
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