by Robert K. Klepper

Intolerance [1916]
Wark Producing Company
Directed and Written by D.W. Griffith
Assistant Directors: Allan Dwan, Erich Von Stroheim, William Christy Cabanne, Tod Browning,
Jack Conway, W.S. Van Dyke, Elmer Clifton, Monte Blue, Mike Siebert, George Siegmann
Photography by G.W. Bitzer and Karl Brown
Film Editors: James and Rose Smith
Titles by D.W. Griffith, Anita Loos, and Frank E. Woods
Set design by Frank Wortman and Walter L. Hall
Research assistants: R. Ellis Wales, Joseph Henabery, Lillian Gish
Choreography of dances by Ruth St. Denis
Costumes by Western Costume Company
Original Running Time: Approximately 8 hours
Running Time of Most Complete Existing Print: 210 minutes
Running Time of Most Complete Video Version: 177 minutes
Running Time of Most Video Versions: 170 minutes
Star Rating: 1/2
[As greatest film of all time, deserves more than 4 stars]

CAST: THE WOMAN WHO ROCKS THE CRADLE: Lillian Gish (1893-1993);
THE MODERN STORY: The dear one, Mae Marsh (1895-1968); The boy, Robert Harron (1893-1920); The dear one's father, Fred Turner (1858-1923); Jenkins, Sam De Grasse (18751953); Mary T. Jenkins, Vera Lewis (1873-1956); The friendless one, Miriam Cooper (1894-1976); Musketeer of the slums, Walter Long (1879-1952); The kindly police officer, Tom Wilson (1880-1965); The governor, Ralph Lewis (1872-1937); Attorney for the boy, Barney Bernard (1877-1924); The judge, Lloyd Ingraham (1874-1956); A woman at the employees' ball, Jennie Lee (1850-1925); The priest, Reverend A.W. McClure; Prison guard, J.P. McCarthy (1865-1962); The debutante, Marguerite Marsh [a.k.a. Marguerite Loveridge] (1892-1925); Owner of car, Tod Browning (1882-1962); Chief detective, Edward Dillon (1879-1933); Bartender, Billy Quirk (1873-1926); Jenkins' secretary, Clyde Hopkins (1893-1958); The warden,William A. Brown; Wife of the neighbour, Alberta Lee; The vestal virgins of uplift, Mary Alden (1883-1946); Eleanor Washington; Pearl Elmore (1879-??); Lucille Brown; Luray Huntley; Mrs. Arthur Mackley THE JUDEAN STORY: Jesus Christ, Howard Gaye (died 1955); Mary (mother of Jesus), Lillian Langdon (1861-1943); Mary Magdalene, Olga Grey (1897-1973); Taller pharisee, Gunther Von Ritzau; Shorter pharisee, Erich Von Stroheim (1885-7957); Bride of Cana, Bessie Love (1898-1986); Bridegroom, George Walsh (1889-1981); The bride's father, William H. Brown; A wedding guest, W.S. Van Dyke (1890-1943) THE FRENCH STORY: Brown Eyes, Margery Wilson (1897-1986); Prosper Latour, Eugene Pallette (18891954); Brown Eyes' Father, Spottiswoode Aitken (1868-1933); Brown Eyes' Mother, Ruth Handforth (1883-1965); The mercenary, A.D. Sears (1887-1942); King Charles IX, Frank Bennett (1890-1957); Duc d'Angou (effeminate heir), Maxfield Stanley; Catherine de Medici, Josephine Crowell (died 1932); Henry of Navarre, W.E. Lawrence (1896-1947); Marguerite of Valois, Georgia Pearce [alias used by Constance Talmadge] (1900-1973); Admiral Coligny, Joseph Henabery (1887-1976); A page, Chandler House (1904-1982); Catholic priest, Louis Romaine; Duc de Guise, Morris Levy; Cardinal Lorraine, Howard Gaye (died 1955) THE BABYLON STORY: The mountain girl, Constance Talmadge (1900-1973); The Rhapsode, Elmer Clifton (1890-1949); Belshazzar, Alfred Paget (died 1925);  Princess Beloved [Attarea], Seena Owen (1894-1966); Nabonidus, Carl Stockdale (1874-1953); High Priest of Bel, Tully Marshall (1864-1943); Cyrus the Persian, George Siegmann (1882-1928); Mighty Man of Valour, Elmo Lincoln (1889-1952); The runner, Gino Corrado [a.k.a. Eugene Corey] (1893-1982); A boy killed in the fighting, Wallace Reid (1891-1923); Captain of the gate, Ted Duncan; Bodyguard to the Princess, Felix Modjeska (1887-1940); Judges, Lawrence Lawlore; George Fawcett (18601939); Old woman, Kate Bruce (1858-1946); Solo dancer, Ruth St. Denis (1878-1968); Slave, Loyola O'Connor (1880-??); Charioteer, James Curley; Babylonian dandy, Howard Scott; Auctioneer, Martin Landry; Brother of the mountain girl, Arthur Mayer; Gobryas (Lieutenant of Cyrus), Charles Van Cortland; Chief Eunuch, Tack Cosgrave (1875-1925); Girls of the marriage market, Alma Rubens (1897-1931), Madame Sul-TeWan (7873-1959), Ruth Darling (died 1918), Margaret Mooney; Girls in the orgy sequence, Mildred Harris (1902-1944), Pauline Starke (1900-1977), Carmel Myers (1901-1980), Winifred Westover (1899-1978), Jewel Carmen (1897-??), Eve Sothern, Natalie Talmadge (1899-1969), Carol Dempster (1901-1991), Ethel Grey Terry (1891-1931), Daisy Robinson, Anna Mae Walthall (1894-1950), Grace Wilson, Lotta Clifton; First Priest of Nergel, Ah Singh; Second Priest of Nergel, Ranji Singh; Charioteer of the Priest of Bel, Ed Burns; Second Charioteer of the Priest of Bel, James Burns (died 1975); Barbarian Chieftain, Charles Eagle Eye; Ethiopian Chieftain, William Dark Cloud; The Dancers, The Denishawn Dancers; NOTEWORTHY EXTRAS: Donald Crisp (1882-1974), Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (1883-1939), Frank Campeau (1864-1943), Nigel De Brulier (1877-1948), Owen Moore (1886-1939), Wilfred Lucas (1871-1940), Tammany Young (1887-1936), Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1853-1917), DeWolfe Hopper (1858-1935) THE EPILOGUE: The two children, Francis Carpenter and Virginia Lee Corbin (1910-1942).

   Intolerance is D.W. Griffith's answer to those who were offended by and criticized The Birth of a Nation. It has been regarded by many respected film historians as one of the greatest American films of all time -- if not the greatest.  The grandeur of this spectacle has never been topped.  The cost of rebuilding the Babylon sets alone would make the cost of doing so prohibitive. Few films can come even close to being worthy of comparison.

   Intolerance consists of four separate but parallel stories portraying intolerance throughout four different ages of human history spanning approximately 2,500 years the image of Lillian Gish rocking the cradle (in a blue tint in the colour tinted versions) serves to link the stories. Some skeptics state that Griffith was unclear in defining the meaning of the interlinking image, but William M. Drew lays these arguments to rest quite easily in his 1986 book, D.W. Griffith's Intolerance: Its Genesis and Vision. The four periods of history covered in Intolerance are the Babylonian (539 B.C.), the Judean (about A.D. 27), the Renaissance (1572 France), and the Modern (1914 America). The audience is shown how intolerance has reared its ugly head in such destructive events as the greatest treason in history which resulted in the fall of Babylon due to intolerance of a newly introduced religion, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and the mass murder of many Huguenots in St. Bartholomew. The Modern Story portrays an example of how intolerance directly and indirectly ruined the lives of Americans in the early part of this century.

   Originally shot for the unprecedented sum of $1,900,000 (estimates vary in accordance to which book one is reading), Intolerance would probably cost upwards of $500,000,000 to re-shoot today if shot exactly as it was in 1916 -- with the massive sets, lavish costumes, and thousands of extras. D.W. Griffith financed the film himself, after buying out his skeptical financial backers with long term notes, and using his profits from The Birth of a Nation to do so. Richard Schickel asserts in his book, D.W. Griffith: An American Life, that the production costs of Intolerance came to only about $386,000. This author would find it hard to believe, with the 3,000+ extras, the elaborate costumes, and the Babylon sets that Griffith could have possibly produced the film for less than $1,000,000 even in 1916 dollars. This leads to the hypothesis that possibly there were some undocumented expenses that were not included in the $386,000 figure. If Schickel's figure is indeed correct, then Griffith was an even greater genius than he has been acclaimed as to produce such an extravagant film for such an economical price. Griffith was a man who truly produced films for the sake of art, without the greedy profiteering attitude prevalent among most of the larger motion picture studios. At the box office, Intolerance lost a great deal of money, and the debts it incurred reportedly took years to pay off. Part of the reason for the financial failure was the timing of its release. In its initial few months, Intolerance was grossing more than The Birth of a Nation had in its first few months of release. Unfortunately, by mid1917, America was ready to enter World War I, and the box office receipts for this pacifist film plummeted. While Griffith needed high box office receipts for a few years (as The Birth of a Nation had) to recoup his costs, he only benefited from a few months of such. Intolerance grossed millions in Russia, but Griffith never saw a dime of the money it made in the Russian market.  The battle scenes and sets in the Babylon story are the most elaborate and historically realistic to date. The instruments of war used are burning oil, bows and arrows, stones, and the large moving towers which were necessary for the offensive armies to climb up and over the 300 foot high walls of Babylon (of which replicas were constructed). Decapitations, stabbings, and the other horrors of ancient war are graphically portrayed and grimly realistic.

   The backdrop sets for the Babylon banquet hall are still the largest in Hollywood history to date, only possibly equaled by the castle set in Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.'s 1922 production of Robin Hood. Neither set has been topped since. The size of the backdrop for the Feast of Belshazzar necessitated the invention of the modern day "crane shot". Another invention that is directly attributable to Intolerance is the first false eyelashes, which were created for the part of Princess Beloved. These first eyelashes were so cumbersome that Owen could only wear them a few hours at a time, as otherwise her eyes would swell shut.

   With the possible exception of The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance was the greatest single advance in the motion picture medium, being to Hollywood what the 1969 moon voyage was to NASA. The original running time of the director's cut of Intolerance was 8 hours. Lillian Gish stated that the full 8-hour version should have been released as was, as valuable footage was lost forever in the editing process. The running time of the original theatrical release print was approximately 3 hours, 30 minutes. A restored print in The Museum of Modern Art comes close to this original length, but is held hostage and inaccessible to the public.  The most complete print that is widely available is one of 2 hours, 57 minutes, which was the version used for Kino's video release of Intolerance. Most available prints run at 2 hours, 50 minutes. There were several different edit cuts of Intolerance. For example, there are three different ways in which the baby of the Modern Story's fate is presented. In one print, the baby just disappears and is never mentioned again after he is initially taken away from his mother, played by Mae Marsh. In another print, the baby dies. In the print used for the Kino Video version, the baby is reunited with his mother.  Kevin Brownlow produced in 1989 a version of Intolerance which had orchestral accompaniment by the great musician Carl Davis.  This version was distributed on video in the United States by HBO Video, but has since gone out of print. This is a shame, as Intolerance is a film that really must be seen with full orchestral accompaniment to be fully appreciated.  The video versions with organ and piano scores simply do not do the film justice, and cannot be recommended. Hopefully, some company at one point will re-issue Brownlow's production of the film.



Reviewed by Robert K. Klepper

Click here to view photos from Intolerance.

Copyright © 1997 by Robert K. Klepper.  All rights reserved.
Article uploaded December 8, 1997 by Gilda Tabarez at
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