Orphans of the Storm

Orphans of the Storm
Orphans of the Storm

theatrical poster
Directed by D.W. Griffith
Produced by D.W. Griffith
Written by D.W. Griffith
Starring Lillian Gish
Dorothy Gish
Joseph Schildkraut
Frank Losee
Katherine Emmett
Music by Louis F. Gottschalk
William F. Peters
John Lanchbery
William P. Perry original piano score played by the composer
Cinematography Billy Bitzer
Hendrik Sartov
Editing by James Smith
Rose Smith
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) December 28, 1921 (1921-12-28)
Running time 150 min.
Country United States
Language Silent
(English intertitles)

Orphans of the Storm (1921) is a drama film by D. W. Griffith set in late 18th century France, before and during the French Revolution.

This was the last Griffith film to feature Lillian and Dorothy Gish, and is often considered Griffith's last major commercial success, after boxoffice hits such as Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, and Broken Blossoms.

Like his earlier films, Griffith used historical events to comment on contemporary events, in this case the French Revolution and the rise of Bolshevism. The film is about class conflict and a plea for inter-class understanding and against destructive hatred. At one point in front of the Committee of Public Safety a main character pleas, "Yes I am an aristocrat, but a friend of the people."

The film is a remake of the lost Theda Bara film The Two Orphans (1915).



Just before the French Revolution, Henriette takes her close stepsister Louise to Paris in the hope of finding a cure for her blindness. Lustful aristocrat de Praille (whose carriage kills a child, enraging peasant father, Forget-not) meets the two outside Paris. Taken by the virginal Henriette's beauty, he has her abducted and brought to his estate where a lavish party is being held, leaving Louise helpless in the big city. An honorable aristocrat, the Chevalier de Vaudrey helps Henriette to escape de Praille and his guests by successfully fighting a duel with him. The scoundrel Mother Frochard, seeing an opportunity to make money, tricks Louise into her underground house to be kept prisoner. Unable to find Louise with the help of the Chevalier, Henriette rents a room, but before leaving her de Vaudrey comforts and kisses the distressed woman. Later, Henriette gives shelter to admirable politician Danton, who after an attack by Royalist spies following a public speech falls for her. As a result, she runs foul of the radical revolutionary Robespierre, a friend of Danton.

Mother Forchard forces Louise into begging. Meanwhile, de Vaudrey visits Henriette with a proposal of marriage, and she refuses him. After expressing love for each other, he promises Henriette that Louise will be found. King Louis XVI orders Henriette to be arrested, due to his disapproval of de Vaudrey's choice of wife, and the Chevalier is also sent away, while his Aunt visits Henriette. During the meeting, Louise is heard singing outside, where Frochard has told her to walk blindly and sing. Henriette calls out from her upstairs balcony, but the panicked Louise is dragged off by Frochard and Henriette is arrested and sent to a women's prison.

Louise and Frochard's begging continues with the other two Frochards, and before long the Revolution begins. A battle between the Royalist soldiers and the people allied with the police, who are successful, results in aristocrats being killed and the prisoners of the "Tyrants" (including Henriette) being freed. A people's 'rag-tag' government is formed, and Forget-not takes his revenge against de Praille.

Robespierre and Forget-not send Henriette and her lover, the Chevalier de Vaudrey, to the guillotine, for hiding de Vaudrey, an aristocrat, who returned to Paris to find her. However, Danton manages to obtain a pardon for them. After a race through the streets of Paris he just manages to save Henriette and offers her to the Chevalier, when the two orphans unite. A doctor restores Louise's sight and a better organized Republic forms in France.

Visual effects

The movie uses several visual effects throughout to capture the emotion of its story, using monochromic filters of red, blue, green, yellow and sepia to show feeling with the silent action which is acompanied by music; the movie also uses fade-ins to achieve this effect, expressing the distinct class divide and captivating the attention of viewers for a two-and-a-half-hour film.


As mentioned, The Two Orphans, the play upon which the movie is based, had been filmed before in the silent era, at least twice by 1920. The play had been a staple of the actress Kate Claxton, who owned the rights to the play and had performed it hundreds of times since the 1870s.

Griffith in securing the film rights to make his movie had to wrangle with Miss Claxton, who for unknown reasons seems to have been reluctant to allow the story to be filmed a third time. When Griffith completed his film for release, a rival German version of the story had been made (Claxton owned foreign film rights as well) and was being prepared for release in the US at the same time as Griffith's version. Griffith bought out the US distribution rights to the German version so that it could not conflict with the earning potential of his own film.



  • Stanley Appelbaum, Great Actors and Actresses of the American Stage in Historic Photographs: 332 Portraits From 1850-1950 (1983)

External links

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