HEARTS OF THE WORLD
starring Lillian Gish, Robert Harron, and Dorothy Gish
NEW YORK TIMES
April 5, 1918
Invited spectators who filled the Forty-fourth Street Theatre last night were stirred as few audiences at war plays and photoplays have been by the private showing of D.W. Griffith's "Hearts of the World," which will have its first public presentation at the theatre tonight. Mr. Griffith's film seeks to make the war a big reality, to bring as much of it as possible within the four walls of a comfortable Broadway theatre; and, if the demonstrations by which those who saw the picture manifested their succession of emotions can be accepted as faithful indications, the motion picture succeeds in its ambitious aim.
But the picture is not just a series of photographs of fighting. Mr. Griffith does not plunge his spectators straight into action that would be only confusing and spectacular. His story begins some years before the war, the scene in a quiet French village where the homely people have not thought of war and death and disaster. There is a young girl living with her old grandparents. And there is a young man living with his parents and three little brothers. Monsieur Cuckoo, The Little Disturber, The Village Carpenter, A Deaf and Blind Musician, and many others are village characters with their happiness and little difficulties that do not matter.
The Girl and the Boy love each other. The Little Disturber, delightful little devil of a flirt, loves the Boy, but he loves the other Girl and angrily spurns her. The Disturber at last turns to Monsieur Cuckoo, who has been pursuing her from the first. The Littlest Brother of the Boy, as fascinating a little fellow as has been seen on any stage, idolizes his big brother and gives the spectators much amusement with his merry exhibitions of affection. The scenes of this French village suggest all that had been known by travel and books of provincial France - before the war. Many times those in the theatre broke into applause just at some particularly beautiful landscape of rural vista.
Into such an atmosphere and environment the war bursts. First a German spy inspecting possible fortifications appears with sinister suggestion. Then, just before the set wedding day of the Boy and the Girl, the town crier startles the village with the mobilization order. The whole peaceful arrangement of life is violently shattered. The men rush off to war and the women stay behind to worry and wonder.
With the beginning of the war, the film introduces the first of the scenes of actual fighting made by Mr. Griffith at the front with the co-operation of the British and French Governments. These scenes are skillfully worked into others specially made for the play, so that, were it not for the appearance of characters peculiar to the plot of the play, one would scarcely know where the actual ends and the made-to-order begins. Sometimes one does not know whether what he is seeing is a real war or screen make-believe. The pictures of hand to hand fighting in the trenches, the bursting of shells from big guns, the demolition of buildings, the scouting trips and raids into enemy trenches are impressively realistic.
Continuing the story, the Germans advance against the village; many of the inhabitants flee in confusion, while shells do their destruction around them; others remain behind and seek shelter in cellars and crypts and vaults. Certain characters in the play are killed; others survive to face the fearful future. After furious fighting the Germans take possession of the town, and Prussian brutality reveals itself in a number of vivid scenes.
The horrors of German occupation are shown, chiefly as they affect the persons in the play, the Girl and the Disturber, who become companions in misery,. There is a great deal of detail both of actual fighting and of play plot, and finally the Boy, whom the girl had left for dead on a battlefield, enters the village disguised in the uniform of a Prussian officer and finds his sweetheart, who escapes with him from the clutches of a Prussian officer to a garret room, where a struggle that has all of the thrill of melodrama takes place. But this little clash of individuals is not long continued. Soon the French troops retake the town, and more of the action of real war is seen.
The conclusion shows the characters of the play, lovers reunited, on furlough, and as they are dining, American troops pass outside. The Stars and Stripes enter, and at the very end ultimate victory for the Allies is symbolically forecast.
All of the actors in the play were frequently applauded. Lillian Gish, as the Girl, moved the people in her biggest moments, and Dorothy Gish, as the Little Disturber, with her bewitching ways, was applauded many times after stepping beyond the range of the camera just as if she had been on the stage in person, retreating into the wings after an effective scene. Ben Alexander as the Littlest Brother, was a child wonderful, and Robert Harron as the Boy, George Fawcett as the Village Carpenter, and Eugene Pouyet as a Poilu were especially good.
Descriptive music, in which the leading characters had motifs that accompanied their appearances, added greatly to the performance.
After "The End" had been flashed upon the screen, the spectators stood and shouted for Mr. Griffith until he appeared on the stage. He said that he had no speech to make but only wanted to thank those present. When he attempted to ask the spectators to pray for and support the men fighting in the war, which, he said, the flickering shadow on the screen represented in a small way, his voice broke, and he never finished his sentence.
Historic meetings of the British Parliament and French Chamber of Deputies, as well as the leading figures in France and England, were shown and received ovations. A representation of the Kaiser was eagerly hissed.
The scenario of the play was written by M. Gaston de Tolignac and translated by Captain Victor Marier. The film is presented under the management of William Elliott, F. Ray Comstock, and Morris Gest.
Many officers of the allied armies and navies, public officials and friends of the producers were present by invitation.
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