This month's silent movie is Broken Blossoms (1919) (or The Yellow Man and the Girl), running time 90 minutes. It is a silent drama, or perhaps I should say melodrama, directed by famed early movie pioneer D. W. Griffith. The screenplay was adapted from the story "The Chink and the Child" by British author Thomas Burke, which is in the book Limehouse Nights.
Broken Blossoms contains child abuse, an inter-racial relationship, drug use, and racism. Yet despite the serious subjects, there is a poetic quality to this film.
The setting is poverty-stricken east London. Prizefighter Battling Burrows abuses his illegitimate daughter Lucy. He goes out drinking and carousing. Poor Lucy doesn't have enough money, or enough tin foil, to even buy the flower she wants. Lucy is so downtrodden that to she has to push up the corners of her mouth with her fingers to smile.
The gentle but disillusioned "Yellow Man", Cheng Huan, has noticed sad Lucy on the streets. After Lucy falls into his shop, injured from a beating by her father, he nurses her back to health. The Chinaman shows Lucy only kindness, and nothing untoward happens, unless you count longing gazes. Yet Batttling Burrows can not accept that his daughter was with "the Chink".
Lillian Gish is heart-rending in the emotionally demanding role of the girl Lucy Burrows. Twenty-three year old Gish plays a fifteen year old. Donald Crisp is convincing as her brutish father Battling Burrows. Richard Barthelmess, interestingly a Caucasian actor, ably plays the gentle Chinese man.
Broken Blossoms ends tragically. It doesn't have a happy Hollywood ending, far from it. The movie was successful, both critically and financially. I would recommend this memorable, but sad, silent movie.