29 February 2008 | Michael_Elliott
Judith of Bethulia (1914)
*** (out of 4)
D.W. Griffith's first feature as well as his final film for the Biograph company. Semi historical story from the Old Testament about Judith (Blanche Sweet), a strong willed woman who rises up to defend her town of Bethulia against Holofernes (Henry B. Walthall) and the Assyrians. Griffith was the first to take film-making to Los Angeles and that's how he got away with this film when Biograph refused to let him make longer running films. Griffith told the company he was going back out West so that he could film in better weather. The studio was under the impression that he was going to make six short films but instead he spent $36,000 (nearly five times the cost of a normal picture) and created his first feature. Even though the film became a huge hit, Biograph still refused to let him make features so Griffith left the studio, taking the majority of their actors with him and the rest is history. Needless to say but Biograph didn't last much longer. As for the actual film, it's a pretty good telling of events but for some reason that beautiful editing of Griffith's isn't to be seen here, which is a shame because it probably would have helped the film a lot. I think it would have also helped had he inserted more title cards but it's clear Griffith's mind was on the technical side of the epic battle scenes. The battle scenes here are very good and quite a treasure for the eyes. There's one scene where the Assyrians are trying to break down the gate leading into Bethulia and this here is where the greatest action is. People are on top of the gate throwing down large rocks, which was all done for real. Griffith paid the actors an extra $5 a day to let these rocks be thrown at them. The performance from Sweet is exceptionally good and the supporting cast also includes Mae Marsh, Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Harry Carey and Robert Harron.