Cast: Lillian Gish (Letty Mason), Lars Hanson (Lige Hightower), Montague Love (Wirt Roddy), Dorothy Cumming (Cora Beverly), Edward Earle (Jim Beverly), William Orlamond (Sourdough)


Letty Mason has come west from Virginia to live with her cousin, Jim Beverly, with whom she was raised. She meets Wirt Roddy on the train who takes a liking to her and eventually strikes up a conversation with her. Looking out the window at the constantly blowing wind and sand, she comments, "My, this wind is awful, isn't it? I wish it would stop," to which Roddy replies prophetically, "You're goin' to wish that a-plenty, little lady, if you're out here for any stay."

As Letty disembarks from the train, it is nighttime, and the wind and sand are continuing to blow furiously. Lige Hightower, a young, handsome cattleman, and Sourdough, a character in the vein of the later cowboy sidekicks, meet her at the station. Lige is the nearest neighbor to her cousin, 15-miles apart from one another, and has offered to pick her up and deliver her.

Upon arriving at her cousin's ranch, "Bev," as she calls him, is very excited to see his cousin, however, his wife, Cora, is not so excited. Beverly runs into the next room, where Cora is tending to the three children, and tells her Letty has arrived. She responds uninterestedly, "What's the hurry? She'll be here a long time!"

Cora's jealousy of Letty is heightened by the affection Beverly and Letty show for one another and the children's fondness of her, even to the point of ignoring their mother in favor of Letty.

At a church dance, Letty encounters Roddy again. She is happy to see him, and, in a short time, he offers to take her away from "this terrible country," adding, "I love you." Roddy says he will be in town a while longer, asks her to think about it, and leaves.

Meanwhile, Lige and Sourdough both decide to ask Letty to marry them, much to Cora's delight. The two confront Letty, argue over who is going to marry her, and flip a coin for the honor. Although Lige wins, Letty laughs thinking they are both kidding her. As they leave with hurt feelings, Cora enters and angrily tells Letty, "You're gonna take one of 'em serious," at the same time accusing Letty of being in love with Beverly. She then tells Letty she will no longer stay at their house.

Letty decides the only thing she can do is accept Roddy's offer and goes to him the next day to tell him so. He informs her that he is already married, but says he will take her away anyway. Letty leaves in disgust, finds Cora, and asks if she can return. Although Cora does not turn her away, she orders her to either marry Lige or Sourdough because she will not spend another night at the ranch.

Letty marries Lige, and, on their first night together, she refuses to return his affections. Lige finally tries to force himself on her, but Letty pushes away. "You've made me hate you!" she says. "I didn't want to hate you!" Lige, dumbstruck and hurt, tells her not to be afraid. He'll never touch her again. Also, he will get the money somehow to send her back home.

Later, Letty begins to find that she much prefers Lige's company to being alone with the constantly howling wind and blowing sand, although there is no physical affection between the two of them, and Lige still intends to pay for her return home as soon as he can.

One day he leaves with the other cattlemen but returns with someone they found hurt in the desert. It is Roddy.

When Roddy has convalesced, a "norther," a severe and dangerous wind storm, begins to develop. However, when these storms develop, they drive wild horses down from the hills which can be caught and sold. Lige tells Letty this is his one chance to get the money to send her home. Although Letty begs Lige not to leave, he does anyway taking Roddy along to help.

Alone in the cabin, Letty is terrified when the storm reaches its peak. Curtains are fluttering, sand is pouring in through the cracks, and even the lantern is blown down causing a fire on the table that she has to smother with a blanket. The wind is so strong that it blows out a pane of glass which Letty has to plug with a blanket. Just when the storm is at its worst and Letty is her most terrified, someone knocks at the door. At first afraid, but then realizing it may be Lige, she opens the door, is blown back by the wind and sand, and suddenly realizes she is in Roddy's arms. He sneaked away from the other cattlemen to be alone with her.

The next morning, Letty sits, emotionless and expressionless, at the table with a shawl around her. On the table beside her is Roddy's gun, gun belt and lots of sand. When he emerges from the bedroom, it is obvious Letty has been raped. Although the storm is over, the wind continues and the sand still beats against the window panes.

Roddy tells her to get ready to go away with him before Lige returns. She refuses. "If he finds us here, he'll kill us both," Roddy warns.

"I hope he will," she says firmly.

At that, Roddy grabs her and throws her against the table. She takes Roddy's gun from the table and points it at him. He laughs, moves toward her, grasps the barrel of the gun, and she pulls the trigger. Roddy stands motionless for a moment, and then falls to the floor.

Terror-stricken at what she has done, Letty takes him out and buries him in the sand. As the horror of her deed continues to haunt her, she looks out the window at the wind and sand blowing and notices Roddy's body beginning to be uncovered by the ever-shifting sands. Her stark terror is conveyed only through her eyes as she looks out the window, the lower half of her face covered by the blanket which was stuffed in the broken window. Suddenly she sees his face has been uncovered, and she recoils from the sight.

At that moment, she looks and notices a hand reaching around the edge of the door trying to remove the shovel which she has propped against it to hold it closed. Wind and sand swirl into the cabin through the partially opened door as the hand pushes and reaches for the shovel. Panic stricken, Letty moves to the opposite side of the room hiding her face in the corner. Suddenly, a hand grasps her shoulder, tugs at her as she resists in panic. The man's hand is too strong, and she is swung around, horror on her face, until . . . she realizes it is Lige!

At once, she throws her arms around him in relief, but quickly admits that she has killed Roddy and points outside where she buried him. Lige looks at the blowing sand. "There's nothin' out there," he says. "Nothin' but sand." When Letty regains her composure, he says, "Wind's mighty odd - if you kill a man in justice - it allers covers him up!"

Lige caresses her and tells her she'll "soon be out of all this," but she surprises him by saying she doesn't want to be sent away - she loves him. Then, assuring him that that wind no longer frightens her, they both stand in embrace in the open doorway, the wind blowing intensely against them, as the scene fades.

"Excellently executed both performance-wise and in direction"

"The Wind" always gets mixed reviews, some who appreciate its artistic merits and others who complain about its harsh realism, which, they claim, is almost taken to the point of surrealism. The bottom line is, it is an excellent film, excellently excecuted both performance-wise and in direction, but which could have been improved with a little "fine-tuning."

Of course, the major attraction of the film is the presence of Lillian Gish in the lead, and, therefore, should be considered a rare jewel in the cinematic realm along with the every one of her films. For, although each film may not be perfect gem, Gish's performances are always perfection epitomized.

And it is no less so in "The Wind." From the very early scenes on the train, Gish begins to sweep us up into her character. She is at once beautiful, conquettish, alone, afraid, naive, vulnerable, and yet determined. Her nuances of expression set her apart from everyone else, and we see evidence of this as she talks to Roddy on the train.

For example, when she wishes the wind would stop, Roddy replies, "You're going to wish that a-plenty, little lady. . ." Concern immediately takes the place of her smile as she turns and looks out the window. That only lasts a moment, however. She regains her composure, turns back to Roddy, and, as if to put the unpleasant thoughts out of mind, changes the topic of conversation with a comment about her cousin and his ranch. All within a few seconds, we see into the soul of her character - somone who is ignorant of the relentlessness of the land to which she has come - someone who is unsure of where she is going and what she is doing - someone who is easily frightened - someone who is all too trusting and believing. And, finally, this little scene rings an ominous tone for what our heroine is to encounter, conveying a glimpse of the unknown that so effectively draws a viewer into a story.

"The story wastes no time in establishing characters"

The story wastes no time in establishing characters when Letty arrives at her cousin's ranch. We immediately see Cora's reluctance to accept Letty's presence, Beverly's delight at having his cousin come to live with him, and Letty's naivité about the intrusion she is creating in her new home.

The best scene in this segment, however, comes about at the church dance when Cora has Letty alone in a room and tells her she is no longer welcome at the ranch. Dorothy Cumming's portrayal of Cora is superb and at once brings the viewer to dislike her because of her actions toward Letty (she physically slings Letty across the room in her anger) and sympathy at her desire to maintain her home against what she perceives as a threat to her marriage. However, from this point on, the whole affair is conducted between Letty and Cora, and we can't help but wonder what "say-so" Beverly (portrayed by Edward Earle) has in all this. We are told he has a very serious "cough," but does that prevent him from being a part of the decision about Letty's fate? We never find out.

Lars Hanson peforms wonderfully as the good-hearted Lige. He has more than one scene in the film that deserves mention.

At the church dance, after he has proposed to Letty and given her a ring, Letty puts her handerkerchief up to her face and begins to laugh, not believing (or understanding) their sincerity. Lige's hurt is evident in his face, and he leaves dejected, wringing sympathy from the viewer.

This is not the only instance in which he wrings sympathy from the viewer. Far more effective is the wedding night of Lige and Letty which is equally as worthy of commentary as the final (and most famous) scene in the movie.

"Hanson effectively exudes excitement"

Hanson effectively exudes the excitement of a new groom with a broad grin, nervous flittering about the room, indecisiveness about how to approach his new bride and a uncontrollable giddiness that is charming. However, Letty remains reluctant and withdrawn through all this. The scene where Lige brings her coffee and they sit on the bed drinking it is touching. Although Lige doesn't realize Letty has poured the coffee in the pitcher on the dresser, he thinks this "moment" is breaking the ice between them.

The excitement he feels is still evident, but, as he attempts to get close to her, she gets up, ignoring him and begins brushing her hair, quickly, nervously. Lige leaves the room, again hurt at being spurned, eliciting sympathy from the viewer. When he returns and tries to force himself on her, Letty declares that she hates him. Hanson's performance has been excellent up this point and continues its excellence as a total change comes over him. He looks at her, eyes unblinking, dumbstruck. The hurt and the shock of her words pierce him. He turns, not knowing what to say, and leans on the dresser. Then, he notices the coffee in the pitcher, and realizes the closeness he felt when they shared the coffee on the bed was never there.

Deeply hurt, he tells her she shouldn't be afraid, he'll never touch her again, and he'll get the money somehow to send her back to Virginia. Then, he leaves the room. As touching moments go, this sequence of events certainly deserves more notice as one of the highlights of the silent cinema.

Montague Love is effective as the villain, Wirt Roddy, portraying a thoroughly distasteful character without being a "caricature."

William Orlamond, although not in the film for comic relief, provides some humorous moments as Sourdough - enough the ease the tension for the viewer but not enough to detract from the story.

"Lillian Gish's superiority as an actress"

The final scenes of the movie have been dissected by several critics and historians and will not be gone into in detail here, but, suffice it to say, the ending of "The Wind" is just another example of Lillian Gish's superiority as an actress, somewhat reminiscent of her unsurpassed performance in "Broken Blosoms." Her fear of being alone with the ferociousness of the wind, her terror when attacked by Roddy and her near-insanity after she kills Roddy leave the viewer exhausted and emotionally drained.

Victor Seastrom's direction deserves much credit for the beauty of this film, too. The realism of the desert country in which it takes place, the "plainness" (almost ugliness) of the rooms and structures, the persistent instrusion of the wind into every aspect of the characters' lives - all establish the somber mood of the story. (Of course, due credit should be given to Cedric Gibbons who was one of the best set directors to ever come out of Hollywood).

Since this is a silent film, we are contantly reminded of the wind by movement - movement of curtains, clothes being blown, sand striking the windows, doors that resist closing and more. However, Seastrom reminds us of the wind in other ways. When Letty sits down to eat her first meal with her cousin and his family, she must brush the sand off her bread. On her wedding night, Lige has to brush the sand off the bed, and when Letty goes to fill the wash bowl, she must first empty the sand that is in it.

The most effective, and ubiquitous, reminder of the wind is a bit of business in which the characters brush sand from sleeves or lapels with a quick "flick" of the back of the hand. This occurs numerous times throughout the movie by almost every one of the male characters.

"A moving and emotion-filled film"

"The Wind," which was based on the Dorothy Scarborough novel of the same name, was supposed to have ended with Letty wandering into the desert after having gone insane, and that was the way that Lillian Gish wanted it. However, this is one time that it seems the producers may have chosen the better route when they (Irving Thalberg, actually) insisted the movie have a happy ending. Although some may consider the ending somewhat "maudlin," especially the sudden disappearance of Letty's fear of the wind, it is far more satisfying after almost 75 minutes of such emotional intensity than to have the viewer walk away from it with no relief by seeing Letty disappear into the desert having lost her insanity.

One other criticism that has arisen over the years is the amount of attention that was given in the movie to the wind and the ever blowing sand. Some have felt it was overdone, and the effect could have been the same with less frequency. That is entirely possible, and the movie may be just as well without so much. The window views from inside a building, the train, or the cabin appear that much more sand is blowing than the views from outside indicate. And, the constant blowing of sand as portrayed in the movie would be blinding, making it difficult, if not nearly impossible, to be out of doors under such conditions.

There isn't enough criticism that can be generated, however, to adversely affect this moving and emotion-filled film. Gish is wonderful as usual, the story effectively moves the viewer, and the execution (direction, set design, cinematography, acting) of the film is near flawless.

copyright 1998 by Tim Lussier. All rights reserved.

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