Saturday, January 14, 2006


Recently saw two films that I really ought to have caught up on before: Broken Blossoms and The Night Of The Hunter.

Broken Blossoms is one of DW Griffith's quieter, more intimate works, a rest after the racist ballyhoo of Birth Of A Nation and the sheer, bonkers over-indulgence that was Intolerance. It's uncomfortable in many ways (white actors yellowed up, "Chinky" cast around on the intertitles) and the acting is very eyebrows, if you know what I mean. (Watch any male silent actor apart from Keaton and he'll do odd things with his eyebrows.)

That said, Richard Barthemless as the gentle Chinese immigrant is wonderful, a sort of wistful Belle & Sebastian fan before his time. And the recreation of a sort of foggy Limehouse dystopia is very clever (presume it was all done on the backlot).

The Night Of The Hunter, as you probably know, is the only film directed by Charles Laughton, and is best remembered for Robert Mitchum having LOVE and HATE tattooed on his knuckles. It's actually a Gothic southern thriller, with religious maniacs, misogynist psychopaths, good girls threatening to go bad and a kid who looks a bit like Christina Ricci in a hall of mirrors.

What unites the two, of course, is the presence of Lillian Gish. They were made 40 years apart, and her two characters (the doomed, naive, abused daughter and the plucky, shotgun-wielding mother hen) are very different. But it's clearly the same person - the high cheekbones, the weirdly pursed lips and those eyes boring into your soul...

They don't make 'em like that no more.

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