D.W. Griffith Productions
Lillian Gish (The Girl, Marie Stephenson), Robert Harron (The
Boy, Douglas Gordon Hamilton), Dorothy Gish (The Little Disturber),
Kate Bruce (The Mother of the Boy), Jack Cosgrave (The Father
of the Boy), Adolphe Lestina (The Grandfather), Josephine Crowell
(The Mother of the Girl), Robert Anderson (Monsieur Cuckoo), Ben
Alexander (The Youngest Brother), George Nicholls (German Sergeant),
George Siegmann (Von Strohm), George Fawcett (Village Carpenter),
Fay Holderness (Innkeeper), Mary Hay (A Dancer), Marion Emmons
and Francis Marion (the Boy's other brothers, L. Lowry (a deaf
and blind musician), Anna Mae Walthall (a French peasant girl),
Mrs. Mary Gish (a refugee mother), Mrs. Harron (a refugee), Johnny
Harron (boy with barrel), Noel Coward (boy with wheelbarrow),
Erich Von Stroheim (a German soldier)
Two families live next to one another in a French village
on the eve of World War I. The Boy in one of the families falls
for the only daughter in the other family. As they make preparations
for marriage, World War I breaks out, and, although the Boy is
American, he feels he should fight for the country in which he
When the French retreat, the village is shelled. The Boy's
father and the Girl's mother and grandmother are killed. The Girl,
deranged, wanders aimlessly through the battlefield and comes
upon the Boy badly wounded and unconscious. She finds her way
back to the village where she is nursed back to health by The
Little Disturber who had previously been a rival for the Boy's
affections. The Boy is carried off by the Red Cross.
Upon his recovery, the Boy, disguised as a German officer,
infiltrates the enemy occupied village, finds the Girl, and the
two of them must kill a German sergeant who has discovered them.
Von Strohm, by whom the Girl had narrowly escaped rape earlier
in the story, discovers the dead sergeant and locates the Boy
and Girl who are locked in an upper room at the inn. It's a race
against time with the Germans trying to break the door down as
the French return to retake the village.
So much is said about the film's "exaggerated" depiction
of the Great War and Germans in general, however, it serves its
purpose today as it did when it was made. D.W. Griffith's charge
was to make a propaganda film, and that he did. From the standpoint
of today's viewer, it is good heart-tugging, edge-of-your-seat
entertainment. Who cares if it is not historically precise?
"Hearts of the World" is pure Griffith with many
of the typical Griffithian touches that one would expect in his
films such as the Girl playing with "three harmless little
goslings" or the Boy's youngest brother looking up at him
lovingly with an intertitle explaining, "The littlest of
the Boy's three brothers is inclined to hero worship." In
another scene, we see the Girl praying before she gets into bed,
"Please make me so nice and good that Boy will love me forever
and ever." These vignettes depict the peace and serenity
that was being enjoyed by these simple folk, and, certainly, all
of France, prior to the invasion of the Hun.
Although Lillian Gish and Robert Harron have the lead roles,
Dorothy Gish gives the most memorable performance. Her portrayal
of "The Little Disturber" is both humorous and human.
Not only does she make us laugh, she is able to elicit sympathy
when her attempts to win the Boy are unsuccessful - even though
we certainly don't want anyone to take the Boy away from the Girl.
George Siegmann deserves high honors, too. His portrayal of
Von Strohm is menacing and convincing. He makes a much better
German villain in "Hearts of the World" than a mulatto
villain in "Birth of a Nation."
Lillian Gish and Robert Harron do their usual superb job of
acting, Gish, particularly, in the scenes where the village is
being bombed and when she wanders aimlessly through the battlefield
looking for the Boy. And both, along with Siegmann, sweep the
viewer spellbound through the final, hand-wringing scenes.
What others said about "Hearts
of the World"
Lillian Gish . . .
"Hearts of the World enjoyed great success until the
Armistice when people lost interest in war films. The film inflamed
audiences. Its depiction of German brutality bordered on the absurd.
Whenever a German came near me, he beat me or kicked me.
I don't believe that Mr. Griffith every forgave himself for
making "Hearts of the World." "War is the villain,"
he repeated, "not any particular people."
Karl Brown (Griffith assistant cameraman) . . .
I can't remember when the grapes were quite so sour as they
were after the release of "Hearts of the World." The
general opinion, expressed in terms of hurt indignation, was that
Griffith had botched his picture abominably. Made a mess of it.
And what was it, after all? A made-to-order, government-sponsored,
paid-in-advance propaganda picture! Horrible.
And I can't remember when our publicity department was ever
quite so delighted as sour criticism after sourer criticism came
in. . . The reason for all these deep chuckles by our publicity
men was the smashing success of "Hearts of the World"
wherever it was shown. Here was one picture that did not have
to be sold to the exhibitors. They were all begging to get it,
but with no luck.
Richard Schickel . . .
And if "Hearts of the World" measures poorly against
even our most rudimentary understanding of the historical events
that it seeks to capture, as well as against the sober literature
(and films) that later sought more honestly to invoke the Great
War, it is still a reasonably good Griffith film, more assured
than "Birth," more controlled than "Intolerance,"
and perhaps somewhat more deeply felt than later historical spectacles,
"Orphans of the Storm" and "America."
Edward Wagenknecht . . .
"Hearts of the World," Griffith's most important
World War I picture, is the hardest of all his major productions
to evaluate fairly today.
The story in "Hearts of the World" is less interesting
in itself than in any other leading film of Griffith's with the
possible exception of "America." The focus of interest
falls on the war itself, and the characters are primarily significant
as they illustrate its ebb and flow.
Aside from Griffith's use of weapons and other war materials.
. . there is not a great deal of technical interest in "Hearts
of the World," but the scenes set in various locations in
and around the inn as the picture approaches its climax achieve
great tensity, and the modified "chase"which makes up
the closing sequence is possibly the most complicated example
of this device in any of Griffith's films.
Copyright 1998 by Tim Lussier. All rights