A great film
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I can't imagine why I have never heard of this film before. It is very well made with tinted scenes, which a French director made famous with his tricolors (red, white, and blue) in "Napoleon Bonaparte." Griffith is concentrated and clear with his focus well honed. Lionel Barrymore is young but you can tell by his eyes who he is - and that is a star already in a silent film; unbelieveable. The film is long, historical, and entertaining. Everyone should see it."
Barbara (Burkowsky) Underwood | 05/31/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"D.W.Griffith was a master, and here is jet another masterpiece. Most people don't realize that films (flickers at they were named at first) were laughed at, and thought of as cheap low grade entertainment, until D.W.Griffith came on the scene with "A Birth of a Nation". That was the beginning of the film industry as we know it today. All his works are original, and many try to show man's inhumanity to man. The uneducated think he is racist because he shows racism, in fact he bares racism for all to see, as well as many other human faults. Don't pass up a D.W.Griffith film. You must see them all to appreciate the man."
Colonial costume drama
Anyechka | Rensselaer, NY United States | 02/08/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Silent costume drama, whichever era and location it's set in, isn't the easiest silent genre to get into. There are usually a lot of different characters to keep track of, the plot tends to take awhile to really be set up, and there are a lot of long intertitles setting all of the characters and situations up. This film in particular, because of those aspects, did seem a bit slow-going to me at first, and took awhile before I really got interested in it. Before the story really got going in earnest, there seemed to be more telling than showing, thanks to all of those lengthy intertitles explaining who a character was or what a certain historical development was all about. A lot of these silents that have so many long intertitles, dialogue or just explanatory, seem like they would have worked better as sound films.
The story is set during the American Revolution, and features at the forefront a Loyalist family, the Montagues, whose lives are turned upside-down when all of this chaos and violence erupts. The Montague daughter, Nancy (Carol Dempster), also has the complication of being romantically pursued by Nathan Holden (Neil Hamilton), who not only is fighting on the other side but who is also much, much below her in station and therefore is risking a lot by even speaking to such a high-class lady. Nancy's father already dislikes Nathan because he's fighting against the King and was caught at Nancy's window at night, but hates him even more when he is wounded by a shot from Nathan's rifle. Another man in the crowd was really the one who pulled the trigger, but Nancy and her father don't want to believe this at first, so now Nancy, who was warming up to Nathan's attentions, shuns him as well. The man of his choice for Nancy becomes the Loyalist Capt. Walter Butler (Lionel Barrymore), a total and complete villain who goes on one murderous rampage and debauch after another. Nathan, however, swore when he first saw Nancy that he would never forget her and would always love her, and continues to pursue her throughout the Revolution, hoping to convince her and her father that he was not the one who pulled the trigger and that he, and not Capt. Butler, is the right husband for Nancy.
Though there are a number of slow spots in the film (particularly the historical expository sections, when there isn't much action or camera movement), there are quite a few faster-moving sections, among them some great battle scenes. Lionel Barrymore also plays the villainous Capt. Butler to the hilt, making him the most interesting character by far. And the overall story is so interesting that I could kind of put aside my disbelief at the implausible subplot of the love story. I don't believe in love at first sight, and a romance, let alone marriage, between two different social classes just wasn't something that was even considered in that era, but at least this less than believable "love story" doesn't dominate the entire film. I didn't extraordinarily mind that the Native Americans were shown as villains fighting on Capt. Butler's side, since such a thing wouldn't have been unheard of in history, but I was very offended at how the intertitles kept referring to them as "savages" instead of at least using the older term "Indian" to identity them. There were also a bunch of the typical urban legends about the American Revolution shown as fact, such as Paul Revere's ride. In real life he was captured by those British Regulars during his ride and had to be replaced by another rider named Israel Bissel. The scene of Gen. Washington praying in the woods in the winter is also pure myth, and as serious students of American history should know, the Declaration of Independence was actually signed August second, and the final signature wasn't even affixed till 18 January 1777. The only noteworthy thing that happened on 4 July 1776 was the approval of the wording of the document. And as a historian, I didn't appreciate the black and white view of the Revolution and its causes. Real history is rarely so simplistic and clear-cut. The causes of the American rebellion were more complex than generations of students have been led to believe by myth-ridden textbooks, and the British, King George III among them, were not these evil unreasonable villains. Still, at least those bits, like the silly love story, didn't dominate the entire film.
This isn't an ideal first silent, but it isn't one of the worst choices either. It's also of obvious interest to those who like historical epics, even if not all of the facts are right and some urban legends are repeated as truth."
A perfect blend of history and melodrama
Barbara (Burkowsky) Underwood | Manly, NSW Australia | 04/27/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"After directing over 500 short silent films from 1908 onwards and earning his title as `The Father of Film' due to his pioneering techniques in cinematography, D.W. Griffith made his most famous mark with some of cinema's first giant epics with historic and moral themes such as "Intolerance" (1916). His love for history led him to direct further historical dramas in the same style, often involving realistic battle scenes and conflicts such as World War I in "Hearts of the World" (1918) and the French Revolution in "Orphans of the Storm" (1921) In each saga the film revolves around a family or several individuals who are trapped and torn apart by the conflict, making the historic events reach the hearts and lives of the audience. This successful formula was applied once more in "America" which begins with the Americans' dissatisfaction with the British, Paul Revere's famous ride and call "the British are coming!", the first bloodshed at Lexington between British forces and American `rebels', to the Declaration of Independence and finally the Treaty of Peace. Intricately woven into these historical landmarks and events are the lives of several people: the Montague family which is caught in the upheaval and whose son defies his father by taking sides with the American rebels, and the messenger who loves the Montague daughter and later becomes an Army captain. Seeing the fight for American independence through various personal lives makes the `history lesson' far more palatable for most viewers, and no doubt makes history come to life far more than reading from a textbook. In nearly 2 ½ hours, Griffith keeps up a good and steady pace with some exciting highlights such as Paul Revere's ride, some battle scenes as well as emotional suspense concerning the personal lives of the individuals who are caught up in it all. The picture quality is very good throughout, and I found the orchestral musical score exceptionally good. It is the original 1924 score made for the film adapted and performed by Eric Beheim, who has made other fine silent film musical accompaniments. This is a fine example of D.W. Griffith's work in this genre, and somewhat more polished than his earlier works. Besides being of interest to lovers of history, the melodrama of the individuals involved makes "America" good entertainment for the general viewer as well.