starring Constance Talmadge, Alfred Paget, Seena Owen
October 1919

David Wark Griffith's "The Fall of Babylon" stands out of a dull month in the cinema world; not because it reveals the hand of a genius, but because, despite its mellow age of three years, it overtops anything of more modern vintage revealed during this period.

"The Fall of Babylon" was once one of four stories of "Intolerance." As part of that complex super-spectacle, it shone out with its masses of fighting men, its clash of ancient arms, its reincarnation of a life now long passed to dust. Mr. Griffith took this, the oldest link in his argument of world intolerance, and elaborated it here and there with bits of hitherto unrevealed celluloid and now and then a new scene.

But, standing alone, this story of old Babylon and its downfall before the hordes of the mighty Cyrus represents another era of the motion picture. Mr. Griffith has himself brought us to the intimate drama - the glimpse of life thru the eyes of a poet. "Broken Blossoms" makes "The Fall of Babylon" a mere maze of extras - adroitly handled extras, it is true - but, for all that, extras working in a massive setting.

"The Fall of Babylon" tells a brief little story of a mountain girl who loves the brave and humane Babylonian prince from afar and who finally, perforce, gives her hand to a young warrior. But never once does the mountain girl seem a real being, never once does she grip and tear our heartstrings as does the little waif of Limehouse in "Broken Blossoms." And the flash of the Yellow Man, madly running thru the swirling fog of the London waterfront in search of his little stolen blossom, carries a thousandfold more drama than all Mr. Griffith's thousands of warriors fighting, tumbling from lofty walls, crowding attacking towers and galloping in war chariots. In brief, "The Fall of Babylon " never seems anything but a film play. "Broken Blossoms" touches the lofty heights of poetry, drama and painting.

"The Fall of Babylon" established the celebrity of Constance Talmadge as the wild, untamed mountain girl. But we never have been able to be half as interested in the mountain maid as in the barbaric but, withal, kindly prince of Alfred Paget and his loving favorite, opulently done by Seena Owen. And we still feel a sense of calm calculation in Miss Talmadge's untameness - of a director injecting abandon from the side lines.

No one, it is true, can handle masses like Griffith. But the drama of life lies not in the passing street crowd, but in the little newsboy who struggles thru it, in the shuffling derelict dragging along the curb, or the bravely painted girl who passes with calculated hurry. We believe history can be reincarnated, but the interest must be centered and the characters humanized - for Babylon was as human, alive and sinning as New York, Chicago or San Francisco. And, to tell a tale of Manhattan, Mr. Griffith would not film thousand and thousands of feet of hurrying traffic and dashing "L" trains. "The Fall of Babylon" is a story swamped in splendor - and, in many ways, unimaginative splendor.

Return to reviews page