Miser’s Heart (1911)
This Griffith short is a good combination of suspense with mild social commentary. I say the latter because I think it’s no mistake that the heroes of this film are a misunderstood old man (“The Miser” of the title) and a down-and-out street person. The basic story is that some thieves take it into their minds to rob the old man, using the sweet little girl from downstairs as a hostage to try to force the combination of his safe from him. The bum sleeping on the street below sees her being dangled from the high window and rushes to get the cops, only to have them arrest him for petty theft from the local baker. Griffith uses cross-cutting with sophistication to heighten the tension of the situation, although a modern audience will know the outcome beforehand. The police rushing to the rescue strike me as the more serious side of the Keystone Cops, a kind of template which Sennett would soon parody. The street person is played by a young Lionel Barrymore, who is better known today for his sound work with Frank Capra, including “You Can’t Take It With You” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Griffith’s wife Linda Arvidson appears again as little Kathy’s mother (we’ve seen her in a lot of these movies, including “Enoch Arden” and “The Unchanging Sea”).
Director: D.W. Griffith
Camera: Billy Bitzer
Run Time: 16 Min
You can watch it for free: here.