On the heels of his masterpiece, Intolerance
, which dramatized the futility of war born out of prejudice, director D.W. Griffith shifted gears for this film. Intolerance
had proven a financial disaster for Griffith, so he signed with producer Adolph Zukor to release his next film. He came upon the subject matter on a trip to England to promote Intolerance
. The British government, desperately looking to America for help in fighting the Germans in the first World War, persuaded Griffith to make a propaganda picture. Set in France, it's the portrait of a village overrun by the Germans during the hostilities. Griffith begins the story in 1912 with a slow developing romance between The Boy, Douglas Gordon Hamilton (Robert Harron) and The Girl, Marie Stephenson (Lillian Gish). A street singer known as The Disturber (Dorothy Gish) tries to come between them, but she settles for her own romance with Monsieur Cuckoo (Robert Anderson
). In the summer of 1914, The Boy and M. Cuckoo answer the call to arms, forcing the postponement of The Boy and Girl's wedding. The film's second half cuts back and forth between the battlefield and the home front (which in this case are separated by only a few miles). By the time the film was completed, the United States had already entered the war, and over the years its extreme portrayal of German soldiers has been trimmed, the first time at the request of the wife of President Woodrow Wilson. In fact, Griffith included shots of American troops helping out in the story's final battle and then marching off to return home. The version viewed for this review, running 115 minutes, included a brief prologue with footage of Griffith touring the battlefields in France, where some documentary footage was shot, though most of the film was made in Southern California, and the director meeting with British prime minister David Lloyd George. Also notable is the appearance in small parts of future filmmaker Erich Von Stroheim as a German soldier, future character actor Ben Alexander as The Boy's youngest brother, and future entertainer Noël Coward as a young villager pushing a wheelbarrow.