Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Broken Blossoms (1919)

Like No Way Back, Broken Blossoms is based on a short story from Thomas Burke's Limehouse Nights collection and like the 1949 film it is rather bleak. It stars Richard Barthelmess as a Chinese man (suspend belief remember?) who travels to the West to spread the message of Buddha. Unfortunately he ends up in London's brutal East End where his idealistic message is a hard sell.

He comes across a poor unfortunate girl played by Lillian Gish who suffers terribly at the hands (literally) of her brutal drunk of a father (Donald Crisp). Richard nurses Lillian back to health when he finds her after a beating and a friendship blossoms. A sanctuary amid the misery, but her father soon drags her back to Hell. Lillian's portrayal of fear and anguish in the closet scene near the end of the film is extraordinary, truly she was the goddess of silent movies.

A film of it's time (the portrayal of Chinese people and China is perhaps a little fanciful) but in some ways not. Unusually for the time, when fears of the "yellow peril" were rife, a Chinese man was portrayed sympathetically in the film, as the hero. The scenes of child abuse shocked at the time and are still pretty difficult to watch now.