Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl (1919)
Cheng Huan is a missionary whose goal is to bring the teachings of peace by Buddha to the civilized Anglo-Saxons. Upon landing in England, he is quickly disillusioned by the intolerance and apathy of the country. He becomes a storekeeper of a small shop.
Out his window, he sees the young Lucy Burrows. She is regularly beaten by her prizefighter father, underfed and wears ragged clothes. Even in this deplorable condition, Cheng can see that she is a priceless beauty and he falls in love with her from afar. On the day that she passes out in front of his store, he takes her in and cares for her.
With nothing but love in his heart, he dresses her in silks and provides food for her. Still weak, she stays in his shop that night and all that Cheng does is watch over her. The peace and happiness that he sees last only until Battling Burrows finds out that his daughter is with a foreigner.
Lillian Gish ... Lucy Burrows (as Miss Lillian Gish)
Richard Barthelmess ... Cheng Huan (as Mr. Richard Barthelmess)
Donald Crisp ... Battling Burrows
Arthur Howard ... Burrows' manager
Edward Peil Sr. ... Evil Eye (as Edward Peil)
George Beranger ... The Spying One
Norman Selby ... A prizefighter
Director: D.W. Griffith
Codecs: DivX 3 / MP3
Many people believe the best Griffith film is "Intolerance"; some stand by "Way Down East" and still others believe in "Birth of a Nation" despite all its problems. However, I think "Broken Blossoms" is the Griffith film which stands the test of time and still rings true today, over 83 years from its debut.
"Broken Blossoms" is the story of two wounded, abused, seemingly hopeless individuals who find comfort and strength in one another. The Chinaman (played by Richard Barthelmess) and little Lucy Burrows (played by Lillian Gish) are as different as night is to day, however they complement each other and give each other what the other needs; Lucy gives the Chinaman respect as a human being, he in turn gives Lucy affection and love.
What happens to the two souls is, in my opinion, one of the most heartbreaking turn of events ever filmed. The brutal treatment of Lucy by her father and the ultimate sadness of the Chinaman at the end of the film always reduce me to tears.
Those who believe that silent movies are inferior to today's craft really needs to see "Broken Blossoms" and open their hearts and minds to a world that is beyond beauty and beyond pain.
Like the BROKEN BLOSSOMS of a trampled rose, the pure affection between two unutterably lonely people is destroyed by evil & hatred.
Turning his back temporarily on the Silent epics of his past, movie master David Wark Griffith turned the laser beam of his talent on the tragic story of three pathetic individuals living in the slums of London's Limehouse: a fragile waif, her vicious father, and the gentle Chinese shopkeeper living nearby. No huge casts rampaging through innumerable subplots, no tremendous production values spent to illustrate the sweep & flow of a historical period. Just three people living increasingly desperate lives, brought together by a tidal wave of pure emotion.
Lillian Gish was right thinking she was too old to play the young girl, and she did so only at Griffith's insistence, but it is impossible to contemplate anyone else in the role. She is utterly luminous as the abused child who finds a few moments of glorious affection with the young foreigner from the East. Miss Gish's magically expressive face creates a classic cinema moment when she attempts to smile to save herself from a beating, pushing up the corners of her mouth with two fingers, while her tormented eyes reveal to the viewer her deep pain and fear. Later, in her celebrated closet scene, like a trapped animal she releases an explosion of frenzy which is still difficult to watch, as her attacker uses a hatchet to smash the barrier between them. Miss Lillian had started rehearsals while weakened from the Spanish Flu; she created a movie portrait which caught her genius forever.
Matching her in almost every particular is her costar Richard Barthelmess, who gives a most sensitive portrayal as the Chinese missionary who comes to England to proselytize for Buddha, but instead finds himself alone & friendless in the squalor of the great city. Barthelmess uses his eyes almost exclusively to express what's in his heart, bringing enormous dignity & repose to his role. It is too easy today to criticize a performer for playing an ethnic role, but once, to be able to do so convincingly, was considered the hallmark of a capable actor. Barthelmess does so with both conviction & distinction, bringing the film to a heartbreaking conclusion.
Rounding out the threesome is Englishman Donald Crisp. Although in reality the most gentle and affable of men, he nonetheless made a career during the Silent Era of playing violent brutes, never more despicable than here. His character glories in the terrors he inflicts on Miss Lillian, the viewer loathes him, and his eventual fate is most welcome & well deserved.
The film almost didn't get released. Paramount Pictures boss Adolph Zukor hated it; he thought it too morbid. Griffith raised the operating costs of $91,000 and purchased the film, releasing it through United Artists. Receptive audiences helped it make millions. As Miss Lillian said decades later, "Griffith put tragic poetry on the screen for the first time."
* While filming the closet scene, Lillian Gish's performance of pure terror was so realistic that D.W. Griffith was compelled to shout back at her and urge her further. A passerby heard this going on and, convinced that something terrible was going on, had to be restrained from entering the studio.
* This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1996.
* This movie was originally made for Adolph Zukor at Paramount Pictures. D.W. Griffith bought it from him in order to release it through his new company, United Artists.
* Lillian Gish did not want to make the picture and D.W. Griffith had to work hard to persuade her to do it. She later said she was glad she consented.
* Filming took 18 days and nights. Crisp's scenes were filmed at night because he was directing another film during the day.
* Griffith saw Gish using her smile gesture with her fingers and decided to incorporate it into the filming.