Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916)

Intolerance is a 1916 epic silent film directed by D. W. Griffith. Subtitles include Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages and A Sun-Play of the Ages.

Regarded as one of the most influential films of the silent era (though it received mixed reviews at the time), the three-and-a-half-hour epic intercuts four parallel storylines, each separated by several centuries: first, a contemporary melodrama of crime and redemption; second, a Judean story: Christ’s mission and death; third, a French story: the events surrounding the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572; and fourth, a Babylonian story: the fall of the Babylonian Empire to Persia in 539 BC. The scenes are linked by shots of a figure representing Eternal Motherhood, rocking a cradle.

Griffith chose to explore the theme of intolerance partly in response to his previous film The Birth of a Nation (1915) being criticized by the NAACP and other groups for perpetuating racial stereotypes and glorifying the Ku Klux Klan. Intolerance was not, however, an apology, as Griffith felt he had nothing to apologize for; in numerous interviews, Griffith made clear that the film was a rebuttal to his critics and he felt that they were, in fact, the intolerant ones. In the years following its release, Intolerance strongly influenced European film movements. In 1958, the film was voted number 7 on the prestigious Brussels 12 list at the 1958 World Expo. In 1989, it was one of the first films to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

STORYLINES

The film consists of four distinct, but parallel, stories—intercut with increasing frequency as the film builds to a climax—that demonstrate humankind’s persistent intolerance throughout the ages. The timeline covers approximately 2,500 years.

  1. The ancient “Babylonian” story (539 BC) depicts the conflict between Prince Belshazzar of Babylon and Cyrus the Great of Persia. The fall of Babylon is a result of intolerance arising from a conflict between devotees of two rival Babylonian gods—Bel-Marduk and Ishtar.
  2. The Biblical “Judean” story (c. AD 27) recounts how—after the Wedding at Cana and the Woman Taken in Adultery—intolerance led to the Crucifixion of Jesus. This sequence is the shortest of the four.
  3. The Renaissance “French” story (1572) tells of the religious intolerance that led to the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of Protestant Huguenots fomented by the Catholic Royal House of Valois.
  4. The American “Modern” story (c. 1914)demonstrates how crime, moral puritanism, and conflicts between ruthless capitalists and striking workers help ruin the lives of marginalized Americans. To get more money for his spinster sister’s charities, a mill owner orders a 10% pay cut to his workers’ wages. An ensuing workers’ strike is crushed and The Boy and The Dear One make their way to another city; she lives in poverty and he turns to crime. After they marry, he tries to break free of crime but is framed for theft by his ex-boss. While he is in prison, his wife must endure their child being taken away by the same “moral uplift society” that instigated the strike. Upon his release from prison, he discovers his ex-boss attempting to rape his wife. A struggle begins and in the confusion the girlfriend of the boss shoots and kills the boss. She escapes and The Boy is convicted and sentenced to the gallows. A kindly policeman helps The Dear One find the real killer and together they try to reach the Governor in time so her reformed husband will not be hanged.

Breaks between differing time periods are marked by the symbolic image of a mother rocking a cradle, representing the passing of generations. The film simultaneously cross-cuts back and forth and interweaves the segments over great gaps of space and time, with over 50 transitions between the segments. One of the unusual characteristics of the film is that many of the characters do not have names. Griffith wished them to be emblematic of human types. Thus, the central female character in the modern story is called The Dear One, her young husband is called The Boy, and the leader of the local Mafia is called The Musketeer of the Slums. Critics and film theorists maintain that these names reveal Griffith’s sentimentalism, which was already hinted at in The Birth of a Nation, with names such as The Little Colonel.

CREATORS

Directed by D. W. Griffith
Written by D. W. Griffith, Hettie Gray Baker, Tod Browning, Anita Loos, Mary H. O’Connor, and Frank E. Woods
Produced by D. W. Griffith
Restored and Upscaled by moonflix, LLC

CAST

Lillian Gish as The Eternal Motherhood

▸ The American “Modern” story ▸
Mae Marsh fights against the Uplifters
Mae Marsh as The Dear One
Robert Harron as The Boy, a worker at Jenkins Mill
Fred Turner as The Dear One’s father, a worker at the Jenkins Mill
Miriam Cooper as The Friendless One, former neighbor of the Boy and Dear One
Walter Long as Musketeer of the Slums
Tom Wilson as The Kindly Officer/Heart
Vera Lewis as Miss Mary T. Jenkins
Sam De Grasse as Mr. Arthur Jenkins, mill boss
Lloyd Ingraham as The Judge
Ralph Lewis as The Governor
A. W. McClure as Prison Father Fathley
Max Davidson as tenement neighbor of Dear One

▸ Renaissance “French” story (1572) ▸
The Mercenary Soldier (Allan Sears) kills Brown Eyes (Margery Wilson)
Margery Wilson as Brown Eyes
Eugene Pallette as Prosper Latour
Spottiswoode Aitken as Brown Eyes’ father
Ruth Handforth as Brown Eyes’ mother
Allan Sears as The Mercenary Soldier
Josephine Crowell as Catherine de Medici, the Queen-mother
Frank Bennett as Charles IX of France
Maxfield Stanley as Prince Henry of France
Joseph Henabery as Admiral Coligny
Constance Talmadge as Princess Marguerite of Valois (first role in film)
W. E. Lawrence as Henry of Navarre

▸ Ancient “Babylonian” story ▸
Alfred Paget as Prince Belshazzar
Constance Talmadge as The Mountain Girl (second role in film)
Elmer Clifton as The Rhapsode, a warrior-singer
Alfred Paget as Prince Belshazzar
Seena Owen as The Princess Beloved, favorite of Belshazzar
Tully Marshall as High Priest of Bel-Marduk
George Siegmann as Cyrus the Great
Carl Stockdale as King Nabonidus, father of Belshazzar
Elmo Lincoln as The Mighty Man of Valor, guard to Belshazzar
Frank Brownlee as The Mountain Girl’s brother
The Ruth St. Denis Dancers as Dancing girls

▸ The Biblical “Judean” story ▸
Howard Gaye as the Nazarene: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
Howard Gaye as The Nazarene
Lillian Langdon as Mary, the Mother
Bessie Love as The Bride
George Walsh as The Bridegroom

▸ Cameo appearances/small roles ▸
Mary Alden
Frank Borzage
Tod Browning (Crook)
Frank Campeau
Jewel Carmen
Constance Collier
Donald Crisp
Carol Dempster
Douglas Fairbanks (Drunken Soldier with monkey)
Mildred Harris (Favorite of the harem)
Dell Henderson
Harold Lockwood
Wilfred Lucas
Francis McDonald
Owen Moore
Carmel Myers
Wallace Reid
Eve Southern
Pauline Starke
Erich von Stroheim (Second Pharisee)
Madame Sul-Te-Wan
Natalie Talmadge
Ethel Grey Terry
Herbert Beerbohm Tree
King Vidor
John P. McCarthy (Prison Guard)

Original release date:
September 5, 1916

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Genres: New Arrivals, Movies, 1910's, Silent Films, Drama, Silent Films, American Classics, Drama Movies, ALL Movies

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