Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Dorothy Gish

Orphans of the Storm (1921)

Five years after “Intolerance,” D.W. Griffith released this epic film about sisters in revolutionary Paris, filled with romance, intrigue, suspense, and, yes, spectacle. Griffith had a huge reputation to live up to, and struggled to maintain his critical success with each new picture. How does this movie hold up after 100 years?


The movie begins with the usual Griffith intertitles expostulating on the past and current affairs. In this case, he evokes the history of the Reign of Terror to warn against America’s possible descent into “Anarchy and Bolshevism,” putting you on notice as to where he stands. Then more intertitles introduce our backstory, which establishes the classic orphaned child of the nobility being left at the steps of Notre Dame Cathedral to freeze, but rescued by a peasant who had intended to do the same with his own baby daughter. These two grow up together in provincial poverty, never knowing their roots, and become real-life sisters Dorothy and Lillian Gish, playing Louise and Henriette Girard, respectively.

Orphans of the Storm1 Read the rest of this entry »

Judith of Bethulia (1914)


This is the big contender from 1914 for D.W. Griffith and the Biograph Company. Biograph allowed Griffith to make this feature-length film, but then blanched at the cost and refused to make any more, causing Griffith to depart, taking most of Biograph’s big stars with him. Left with little to show for it, Biograph let the movie languish on the shelf for several months before releasing it to strong critical acclaim. I want to highlight one of the reviews from Moving Picture World, which said it “will not only rank as an achievement in this country, but will make foreign producers sit up and take notice.” This illustrates the degree to which American film was still regarded as “inferior” in the international film market, where it would be “dominant” just a few years later. Anyway, this movie is based on a story from the Apocrypha, about a devout young woman (Blanche Sweet, who we’ve seen in “The Avenging Conscience” and “The Last Drop of Water”) who saves a city from attack by the Assyrians by seducing the general (Henry B. Walthall, from “The Avenging Conscience” and 1915’s “Birth of a Nation”) and chopping his head off while he is drunk on wine. It’s pretty heady stuff for 1914, and the battle scenes and other large-scale scenes are impressive, even when compared to foreign works like “Cabiria.”

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Blanche Sweet, Henry B. Walthall, Mae Marsh, Dorothy Gish, Lillian Gish, Robert Harron

Run Time: 48 Min

You can watch it for free: here or here.

Burglar’s Dilemma (1912)

Burglars Dilemma

DW Griffith directed this short crime-melodrama that, typically, has a hint of social message to it. In this case, a young man (Robert Harron, who we’ve seen in “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” and “Enoch Arden”) is nearly framed for a murder he didn’t commit when he conveniently breaks into the owner’s house to steal, at the behest of an older criminal (Harry Carey, Sr., also in “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” and “An Unseen Enemy”). The younger brother (Henry B. Walthall, later known for “The Birth of a Nation” and also in “The Avenging Conscience”), who is really guilty, turns him over to the police, who grill him mercilessly. The victim, the older brother (Lionel Barrymore, also in “The New York Hat” and later known for his series of “Dr. Kildare” movies), eventually revives and sets things straight, even getting his kid brother off the hook for good measure. The Gish sisters show up briefly before the heist goes down, but are barely in the movie. This seems like one of Griffith’s less innovative pieces, being constructed in a fairly linear fashion with minimal cross-cutting, and nearly all on square internal sets (often with the prominent “AB” for American Biograph visible on a wall!). No doubt audiences went more to see the now-familiar cast and simple morality play than for great originality.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Lionel Barrymore, Henry B. Walthall, Harry Carey, Dorothy Gish, Lillian Gish, Robert Harron, Charles West.

Run Time: 15 Min, 22 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)


This short movie by Griffith has been credited as the “first gangster movie,” and, although other films from the period dealt with crime as a social problem, it certainly has many of the familiar tropes of later movies about criminals. Lillian Gish (from “An Unseen Enemy” and later star of “The Wind”) gets an early starring role as “the little lady,” a married woman living in a tenement over-run with gangsters, including the dapper “Snapper Kid” (played by Elmer Booth, also in “An Unseen Enemy” and “The Painted Lady”) who runs the Musketeers. She resists his advances, and later he robs her husband (Walter Miller, who’s in “The Mothering Heart” and “An Unseen Enemy”). Poor Lillian makes the mistake of attending a “gangster’s ball” with a friend, and another gangster tries to slip her a drugged drink, which Snapper Kid sees and prevents, resulting in a gang rivalry. After a very tightly-staged back alley gun battle, the husband gets his wallet back and Snapper runs to the couple’s flat for refuge from the police, learning of their married status and renouncing his interest in the little lady. The couple pay him back for his decency by giving him an alibi for the police. The complex plot and use of closeups as well as an early follow focus device demonstrate the degree to which Griffith was innovating. A brief shot of Dorothy Gish passing her sister in the street reputedly made a big hit with audiences.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Lillian Gish, Elmer Booth, Walter Miller, Harry Carey, Robert Harron, Lionel Barrymore, Dorothy Gish.

Run Time: 18 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Unseen Enemy (1912)


This taught little suspense thriller by Griffith introduced the world to the Gish sisters – Dorothy (who we’ll see in “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” and was later in “Orphans of the Storm”) and Lillian (later in “The Mothering Heart” and “Birth of a Nation”). What’s interesting to me is that, although they’re made up to be twins in identical wardrobe, makeup, and hair, they come across as highly individual actresses, with distinct screen presences even at this early stage (Dorothy would have been 14, and Lilian 19 at the time). The story is that they were introduced to Griffith through his leading star Mary Pickford, and he immediately signed them to work for Biograph, making them into equally big stars overnight. The story is essentially that the two are locked into a room at gunpoint while a “slattern maid” (Grace Henderson, who we’ve seen in “Corner in Wheat” and “The Usurer”) and her thieving henchman (Harry Carey, Sr. who went on to “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Musketeers of Pig Alley”) attempt to break into the safe with their inheritance. Meanwhile, they manage to call their brother (Elmer Booth, from “Friends” and “The Battle at Elderbush Gulch”) on the telephone in the room and he races to their rescue in an automobile – emphasizing the fascination of film audiences with technology and speed.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Dorothy Gish, Lillian Gish, Elmer Booth, Robert Harron, Harry Carey, Grace Henderson

Run Time: 15 Min, 20 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

New York Hat (1912)

Image from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to "Fredojoda."

Image from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to “Fredojoda.”

The arrival of a $10 Merry Widow hat (worth $237.07 in adjusted dollars today) from New York City causes quite a stir in a small-town haberdashery. But, when the local pastor (Lionel Barrymore, from “The Miser’s Heart” and later “You Can’t Take It with You”) buys it for Mary Pickford (also in “The Usurer” and later “Daddy Long Legs”), the local gossips set to work to destroy both their reputations! Her stingy father destroys the hat and the local church board seeks to oust the minister, until he explains that he is simply the holder of a trust from Mary’s dead mother, who willed that she be provided, from time to time, with “bits of finery.” This fairly light bit of fluff does showcase both Barrymore and especially Pickford’s talents, as well as being another avenue for D.W. Griffith’s directing. The “AB” logo for American Biograph is visible in nearly every shot, showing that they were becoming increasingly concerned about copyright and piracy. Imdb claims that Mack Sennett and Dorothy Gish appear uncredited, although it’s a bit late for Sennett to still be hanging around Biograph (he founded Keystone Studios the same year) and it would be a very early appearance for Dorothy, who was only 14 at the time.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore, Robert Harron, Mack Sennett (?), Dorothy Gish (?)

Run Time: 16 Min

You can watch it for free: here.