I do not know why I did not check the running time for Orphans of the Storm before I sat to watch it. I should have known the film would have been long for my attention span at the moment and that the story would be good but drag horribly since it is a D.W. Griffith film. The same thing happened to me with this film as it did with Way Down East- the main plot was very good but all the subplots dragged the story down. The time period of the story takes place during the French Revolution which after doing my whole senior thesis on Jacques- Louis David and the revolution I am so sick of the subject so that was drag down number one right there for me.
The film begins with an aristocratic young girl having to give up her baby daughter Louise because she had the baby with a commoner. One of the servants leaves the baby on the doorstep of Notre Dame for someone to take her. Not too long after a poor man unable to provide for his own baby daughter Henriette goes to leave her on the steps of the church as well but he comes across Louise. He sees that the baby is cold and helpless and he does not want that for his daughter. He brings the babies home to his wife. Wrapped up in Louise is a pouch of money.
The girls are happily brought up as sisters (played by real life sisters Lillian and Dorothy Gish). Their world is brought crashing down when their parents die from a plague and Louise is stricken blind by the same sickness. Henriette hears that a possible cure for her sister’s blindness can be found in Paris. On their way to the city the carriage breaks down blocking the way of the carriage of a marquis. The marquis is taken with Henritette’s virginal looks. He plans to have two of his men kidnap for the poor girl. Not long after they enter the city and stop at the place they were to be staying Henriette is indeed kidnapped and Louise is left to wander after her sister alone. Louise is found by a young man named Pierre Fouchard who takes her home. Unfortunately his mother is an old hag who just begs for money. She sees that Louise will be good for them since she is pretty and blind more people will pity her and give her money.
Henriette is brought to an aristocratic orgy. When she wakes up all she wants to know is where her sister is. The party goers think she is putting on an act. A young man saves her and falls in love with her. He is the Chevalier de Vaudrey nephew to the young woman, now a countess, who gave up Louise. For a long time Henriette searches for her lost sister. The Count is cruel and will not let de Vaudrey use the police to help find a commoner’s sister. The Count wants de Vaudrey to marry a rich girl to boost the family. The Countess finds Henriette to have a talk with her. Henriette knows that she could never be with de Vaudrey but she loves him. The Countess sees a book with Louise’s name stitched into it. Henriette pulls out her sister’s locket that she has had since she was a baby and the Countess immediately recognizes it. Right outside the window Henriette hears her sister’s singing and calls out to her. Before Henriette can open the door guards come in to arrest her on orders from the Count who does not want de Vaudrey to marry this girl at any cost.
Henriette is sent to a place for fallen women. There she meets a kind man named Danton who says he has met her sister before. Henriette is not in the prison long for the Revolution has commenced and she is set free. De Vaudrey, for being an aristocrat has been sent to a prison far outside of the city.
Louise for months has been tortured by the old hag and her other son. The other son starts to go after Louise one night and Pierre finally has enough, stabs his brother, and runs away with the poor girl.
De Vaudrey gets out of prison. He is warned not to go back to Paris because any aristocrat who wants to enter the city will be killed. De Vaudrey is only worried about Henriette he does not care about himself. The plan goes well for a while until a man named Jacques who has a deep hatred for the aristocracy spots him. The former aristocrat finds his love in her apartment. Jacques’s men find them together and arrest both of them because Henriette was harboring an aristocrat which is punishable by death.
The lovers are sentenced to die but Danton hears that the poor girl he saw in the prison is being sentenced to die when she did nothing wrong in harboring the one she loves. As time runs out he gives a great speech that sways the crowd of people who are the tribunal and the couple is granted a pardon. Danton and his men arrive in the nick time before Henriette can be killed and saves the pair.
In the end Louise’s blindness is cured and reunited with her mother where Henriette and de Vaudrey live as well.
The Gish sisters were very good. Lillian was excellent. She had the most beautiful eyes especially in the scenes where she had them wide in excitement or horror. It is crazy to think that Lillian was twenty-eight when she made this film she looks not a day over sixteen. Dorothy I would like to see more of but it is clear which sister had the most talent and was the most photogenic.
So here is two hours of Orphans of the Storm summed up on two pages. Seriously this is the plot and I saved you two hours and twenty-three minutes of your life. Well I should not say that I still thing you should see Orphans of the Storm because it is an excellent film but as I said it draaaaagggggsssss!!!