Monday, August 24, 2015

Blind Spot: Broken Blossoms (1919)

A somewhat intriguing failure from D.W. Griffith.

Directed by D.W. Griffith
Produced by D.W. Griffith
Written by Thomas Burke (story); D.W. Griffith
Starring Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess and Donald Crisp

Plot Summary: A religious Chinese immigrant tries to save an abused girl when he moves to London.

Significance: Considered one of D.W. Griffiths’ most notable works, this film, which is fully titled Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl, was featured in the latest Sight and Sound Poll (#323 in 2012 critics' poll and #546 in the directors’ one). Also, it was added to the U.S. National Film Preservation Board’s Film Registry in 1996.

Thoughts: While the film’s tragic story has obviously moved many viewers over several decades, it just didn’t grab me at all. It’s hard to engage with a film that’s a product of its time. Of course, great films can overcome that obstacle. Still, the rushed plotting, wooden acting, and overbearing melodrama make this classic a grind to watch. Though the film is not a terrible one, it’s a poor example of early cinema, which was already being influenced by D.W. Griffith’s earlier work. Blossoms is a small, simple story that feels lifeless and mishandled. In fairness, the film is almost a hundred years old, so it’s no wonder it’s dated. Griffith and company have been better, but I’d still recommend this film mainly for early cinema completists.

Rating: C+

This is the eighth film in my 2015 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil.


  1. I can't honestly say that it's something that I'd ever watch again but I was glad that I was able to view it at least once. How great is it that a moving picture of almost 100 years ago is available for modern audiences to watch, what a unique chance it provides.

    The slant of the story is very much of its time and I'll never understand how Richard Barthelmess was a star, whether silent or talkie I've never seen a single performance of his that I thought was very good.

    Talkies hurt a lot of silent performers but like Ronald Colman and William Powell they helped define Donald Crisp's persona and he was able to tone down his theatricality which is very much in evidence in this to the detriment of his performance. I loved him in his supporting years but the few leads I've seen of his have been in silents and he's always too big.

    I did like Lillian Gish's work but Lucy was such a pathetic wretch that she had little chance to do more than pained suffering, which of course was a specialty of hers and Griffith probably picked the picture for her so she could wallow in misery which her fans would then eat up.

    1. Yeah, I'm always amazed that films this old are still available, and that's fantastic. Though, I doubt I'll ever revisit this one.

      Gish was easily best in show, but that's not saying much in this case. I need to explore more of the 1910's and 1920's. At some point, I want to be able to make complete ballots for those years as well. Of course, the early 10's will be tricky.

    2. That's an ambitious goal. I've been trying to fill in gaps, I just saw Birth of a Nation and Intolerance and I've been trying to take advantage of TCM's Silent Sunday Nights, but I doubt I'll ever get to the point where I could make lists.

      I've seen most of Garbo's films and several other notable ones such as The Last Laugh, Wings, Sunrise and It all of which I've liked but I'm just not an ardent fan.

      One I did find fascinatingly bizarre was The Unknown with Lon Chaney and a very young Joan Crawford, it's the only silent I've watched more than once. If you haven't seen it I'd recommend it highly.

    3. Haha, the 1920's are doable, but it'll probably be a few years before I'm heavily working on that decade. Currently, I'm finishing years that I haven't made images for yet. (I should have 1939 finished soon.)

      I recorded some of the Garbo flicks on TCM, and I need to see Intolerance and The Unknown. Sunrise is brilliant, and Wings is pretty good. Though, I really, really need to rewatch Sunrise.

  2. I've never heard of this, but I'm kind of intrigued despite your warnings against it. I mean, overbearing melodrama is pretty much my favorite thing in the world.

    1. Oh, I love melodrama, too, but this is...not very good, to say the least.

  3. A pity it didn't grab you all and was a grind to watch. Broken Blossoms is on my watchlist, I'll probably watch Intolerance (1916) instead, which I've read positive things about.

    1. I only had Broken Blossoms on my list because it was shorter, but I really want to see Intolerance.