HEARTS OF THE WORLD – Iris Barry (1965)


HEARTS OF THE WORLD – Iris Barry (1965)

  • D.W Griffith American Film Master by Iris Barry
  • With an annotated list of films by Eileen Bowser
  • The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Hearts of The World


Opened at the 44th Street Theatre, New York, April 4, 1918. 12 reels.

Directed by D. W. Griffith; scenario by M. Gaston de Tolignac, translated into English by Capt. Victor Marier (both pseudonyms for D. W. Griffith); photographed by G. W. Bitzer; technical supervision by Erich Von Stroheim; music arranged by Carli Elinor and Griffith.


  • The Grandfather – Adolphe Lestina
  • The Mother – Josephine Crowell
  • The Girl, Marie Stephenson – Lillian Gish
  • The Boy, Douglas Gordon Hamilton – Robert Harron
  • The Father of the Boy – Jack Cosgrave
  • The Mother of the Boy – Kate Bruce
  • The Littlest Brother – Ben Alexander
  • The Boy’s Other Brothers – M. Emmons, F. Marion
  • The Little Disturber – Dorothy Gish
  • Monsieur Cuckoo – Robert Anderson
  • The Village Carpenter – George Fawcett
  • Von Strohm – George Siegmann
  • The Innkeeper – Fay Holderness
  • A Deaf and Blind Musician – L. Lowy
  • A Poilu – Eugene Pouyet
  • A French Peasant Girl – Anna Mae Walthall
  • A Refugee Mile. – Yvette Duvoisin of the Comedie Frangaise, Paris
  • A French Major – Herbert Sutch
  • A Poilu – Alphonse Dufort
  • A Poilu – Jean Dumercier
  • Stretcher Bearers – Gaston Riviere, Jules Lemontier
  • A Poilu – Georges Loyer
  • A German Sergeant – George Nicholls
  • A Refugee Mother – Mrs. Mary Gish
  • Woman with Daughter – Mrs. Harron
  • Wounded Girl – Mary Harron
  • Refugee – Jessie Harron
  • Boy with Barrel – Johnny Harron
  • Dancer – Mary Hay

Not credited on the original programs: Erich Von Stroheim as a Hun in several scenes, and Noel Coward as the Man with the Wheelbarrow and as a Villager in the Streets.

Griffith introduced to Queen Alexandra 1918 – The war, the West, and the wilderness

On March 17, 1917, Griffith sailed for London to attend the opening of intolerance and to discuss a British offer to make a propaganda film for the war effort. On the same date he announced his Triangle severance and the signing of a contract with Artcraft, Adolph Zukor’s company that produced for Famous Players-Lasky (or Paramount, as it was to become known) . Zukor, whose firm had already swallowed most of Triangle’s directors and stars, put up some of the money for Hearts of the World in exchange for eventual distribution rights as well as a guarantee of future Griffith films. Thus began a long relationship between Griffith and Zukor.

DW Griffith with war correspondents 1918 – France

Although the latter did not function as Griffith’s boss, his suggestions had the force of coming from the man most interested in the financial success of the film. Nevertheless, Griffith retained ownership of hearts of the world, raising money for it on his own reputation. After it was completed, he supervised its presentation, distribution and the sale of rights in conjunction with Zukor. The financing of HEARTS as even more complicated than Griffith’s previous big films; nevertheless Griffith handled it personally. Hearts of the World has long been neglected as a major Griffith film. A shortage of good prints has probably contributed more to its disappearance than its immediate propagandist purpose and a nearly complete version now made should help to restore admiration for it. Griffith had several motives in making it. He was enormously impressed by the welcome he received in England (he became a confirmed Anglophile and a lifelong friend of Lord Beaverbrook) , and he needed money badly to recover from the debts of the Wark Corporation. But when he had toured the battlefields, slogged through muddy trenches and observed the suffering of soldiers and civilians alike, he was genuinely determined to recreate the scene for the benefit of Americans.

D.W. Griffith in the trenches on the western front

Publicity men created myths about the production of Hearts of the World, claiming that it consisted largely of on-the-spot recording of events. For the most part, Griffith recreated scenes which he witnessed or learned about first hand—Lillian Gish trying to guide her confused grandfather to safety as the village is bombarded; the orphaned children burying their mother’s body in the cellar. The only Americans who joined Griffith for filming in France and England were the two Gish girls and their mother, Robert Harron, George Fawcett, George Seigmann, Ben Alexander and his mother, and Bitzer with several assistants; even Von Stroheim was not hired until the company returned to California. The scenes in which other members of the Griffith company appeared must have been shot on the West Coast, and, though Griffith and Bitzer toured the front lines photographing action scenes, Griffith added stock footage later. When the war began a Captain Kleinschmidt, who had been lecturing here on his explorations and travels, filmed the German armies on the battlefield and showed them in New York. After the United States entered the war on the side of the Allies, Captain Kleinschmidt (an Austrian) was arrested as a spy, and Griffith paid him $16,000 for his films. An exchange of telegrams between Griffith in California and his New York office reveals Griffith’s use of the Kleinschmidt battle footage in hearts of the world. The question of how much of hearts of the world was shot by Griffith on the battlefields of France may never be solved. The audited accounts report that the Los Angeles charges against negative costs were more than twice those incurred abroad. The original purpose of the film was to convince Americans to enter the war, but before Griffith could begin work, America had entered. The S.S. Baltic, on which Bitzer, Robert Harron and Dorothy Gish sailed for England on May 28, 1917, carried as another passenger General Pershing.

Griffith 50 yards from German trenches – The war, the West, and the wilderness

America was unprepared, however, and it was almost a year before her armies were well enough organized to help turn the tide. The propaganda aim became our transformation into an angry, fighting people. It was a short war for America, and Hearts of the World had not been released long before the Armistice was in sight. The picture made a lot of money quickly—its profit by the end of 1918 was more than $500,000 —before being drastically cut and altered to fit the peace. Zukor wanted a shorter film for Artcraft distribution, and while Griffith fought him for the major showings under his own supervision, wiring his New York office … if picture is big enough twelve reels is short enough . . .,” he consented to a shorter version for general distribution. The peacetime alterations naturally included eliminating scenes that would arouse hatred of the Germans. The film which had begun in twelve reels ended up in eight. Fortunately for archivists, complete shot lists exist for the original and subsequent versions, made up for the use of Griffith’s cutters when the heavy demand for prints prevented Griffith from supervising all of them.

Griffith – gas alarm 1918 – The war, the West, and the wilderness

“Viewed as drama,” Griffith said, “the war is disappointing.” Wisely, he chose to portray the awesome holocaust in terms of a few individuals in a small village that changes hands as the fortunes of war sweep over it. The organization of his film was discursive in the manner of the rambling nineteenth-century novels on which he grew up. In the abbreviated versions it was incredibly jumpy, but in the restored film there is time to elaborate the elements of the story.

Griffith discarded forever the brilliant pyrotechnics of Intolerance, settling down to an assured style in which technical means do riot often call attention to themselves. The spectator is moved by, though scarcely aware of, the beautiful slow camera movement that discloses Lillian Gish to the eyes of Robert Harron as he falls in love with her. The next few years might be called the “Gish period” in Griffith’s career, with Lillian Gish playing the lead in one film after another, continually growing in stature as an actress. But Dorothy Gish all but steals this film away from her. Without any really funny material to work with except her own elastic face and jaunty movements, she used her role to launch a magnificent career as star of a long series of comedies.

Picture-Play Magazine (Mar 1918) Griffith and the Great War 4

Griffith used long explanatory titles to avoid interrupting the flow of action with dialogue titles, the more popular method with other film-makers. As time went on he was much criticized for his titles even by critics who admired his films. Titling was a problem never completely solved in the silent period, and certainly not by Griffith.

As for hearts of the world’s effectiveness as propaganda, the young Kenneth MacGowan, writing in The New Republic of July 1918, while deploring the lack of restraint in bloody scenes of violence, said:

“Here we have an art of pure emotion which can go beneath thought, beneath belief, beneath ideals, down to the brute fact of emotional psychology, and make a man or a woman who has hated war, all war, even this war, feel the surge of group emotion, group loyalty and group hate.”

Griffith made several contributions to the war effort along with other Hollywood notables. He made personal appear ances to sell war bonds, and produced a one-reel film for the Liberty Loan Appeal starring Lillian Gish, and with Carol Dempster and Kate Bruce. The film was completed in September 1918. In it, Lillian’s mother urges her to buy bonds but she prefers to buy clothes until she has a dream of German atrocities which stirs her to patriotism when she awakes. No prints are known to exist today. Long before hearts of the world was ready for release Griffith set in motion a number of programmers for his Artcraft contract, and in December 1917 leased his old Fine Arts studio from Triangle. His first such Artcraft project, The Hun Within, was one with which his name was not formally associated. He wrote the script (with assistance from S. E. V. Taylor) under his old pseudonym Granville Warwick, and the film was directed by Chet Withey. Griffith probably made use in it of footage left over from Hearts of the World (which was to supply scenes for several of his next pictures) and he cast it with Dorothy Gish, George Fawcett, Erich Von Stroheim and other members of the stock company. He invested his own money in The Hun Within, and once again a separate organization, the F-4 Company, was formed to finance it. The completed film was later sold to Famous Players-Lasky at a profit of over $25,000.

Griffith Studios – Picture-Play Magazine (Aug 1920)

When Griffith returned to Los Angeles from the opening of hearts of the world he began directing his own Artcraft films. While he retained ownership of Hearts, the other films he made went to Paramount under the separation agreement at the end of the contract with Zukor. Because of the deterioration of the original negatives that were placed in Paramount’s vaults, only two of these films are known to exist today. At the same time that Griffith directed the Artcraft films he contracted with Artcraft to produce a series of comedies starring Dorothy Gish (wearing the same black wig she had worn in Hearts of the World) and work was begun on the series after the star completed a sensational personal-appearance tour with hearts of the world. Griffith spent more money on these comedies than he did on the films he was directing, but he declined to have his name attached to the series. The directors included Elmer Clifton, Chet Withey, F. Richard Jones, and Dorothy Gish’s sister Lillian, who directed remodeling her husband all by herself at the half-completed Mamaroneck studios while Griffith was off getting lost in southern waters. The co-star in the later films of the series was James Rennie, who became Dorothy Gish’s husband. Zukor advanced production costs in exchange for distribution rights, and the comedies provided a steady income for Griffith.

Hearts of the World (Paramount, 1918) – Herald

The results of fame : HEARTS OF THE WORLD and the films made for Artcraft Pictures

By now Griffith was at the height of his fame, and it is interesting to speculate on the effect the acclaim that greeted him everywhere may have had on his personality. Brought up in poverty and without adequate education, Griffith had aspirations to be a great writer, in particular a great playwright . Now he was hailed as the Shakespeare of the screen and he walked with the great of his time, the wealthy and the socially prominent. Although he knew he had poured his heart into the birth of a nation and intolerance, he must have been a bit bewildered to have achieved such success in the medium he had originally despised. He was an intuitive genius, and fame made him self-conscious. His deliberate striving for artistic excellence or for popularity in his later films led him at times to descend into mannerism.

The financial failure of intolerance made him painfully aware of the need to cater more to popular taste, yet he was never sure of what popular taste was. No amount of success quite gave him full confidence in his powers, and failure, when it did arrive, was what he had been half-expecting all the time. His written and spoken words at times became pompous, at times cynical. As the failures grew more frequent toward the end of his career, the cynicism predominated. (Iris Barry)

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