2 November 2004 | Snow Leopard
A Well-Acted, Memorable Story
With some excellent acting performances and an interesting, memorable story, "Broken Blossoms" is one of the better pictures of the late 1910s, and it has held up rather well despite a couple of obvious signs of age. It would be hard to top Lillian Gish's performance as Lucy in any era, and Richard Barthelmess turns in a purposefully restrained and surprisingly effective performance in a role that was far from easy.
The story ties together several weighty themes, and most of them are still pertinent. This is the kind of movie that is sometimes considered to be dated, yet in terms of the main conflicts and struggles that the characters face, there are probably fewer differences between 1919 and 2004 than many might wish there to be. With material like this, it is also easy to allow it to become labored or heavy-handed. As it is, the tone is somber and austere throughout, yet most of the time this is in a thoughtful way.
Since Griffith's work is still so well-known and meets with such widely varying responses, it can sometimes be hard to evaluate his movies individually, without reference to the rest of his filmography. The story here is unusual enough in itself, with the different races and religions of the characters and the implied images represented by each of them. Each character is rather quickly defined as good or bad - a common state of affairs in Griffith movies - and as a result the story is told in a way that reflects that presumption, for better or for worse.
What is hard to deny is that the story and characters will stick with you afterwards. The impression that it leaves is not an entirely happy one, but the movie successfully evokes the humanity of all involved, which is a not unworthy goal and a not insignificant achievement.