Intolerance (1916) (Silent) (B&W)
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After Birth of a Nation, what do you do for an encore, especially after said film has branded you a racist? D.W. Griffith, the silent era's "king of the world," mounted this melodramatic spectacle of "Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages," four stories that illustrate "how hatred and intolerance have battled against love and charity." Critic Heywood Broun, upon the film's release, probably said it best: "Quite the most marvelous thing which has been put on the screen, but as a theory of life it is trite." But what's on the screen is dazzling!
Griffith interweaves the four parallel stories set, respectively, in the modern era (fuddy-duddy reformers and a workers' strike), Jerusalem (Christ's crucifixion), 1572 Paris (a "hotbed" of persecution against the Huguenots), and ancient Babylon. No collection of silent films is complete without this landmark, awe-inspiring epic, which really does boast a cast of thousands (the most memorable of which is Constance Talmadge as the spunky Mountain Girl). The fall of Babylon ranks with one of the great action set pieces, complete with racing chariots, a nifty decapitation (at the hands of Elmo Lincoln, the man who would be Tarzan), and falls from what appear to be incredible heights. The edge-of-your-seat climax to the modern story, a race against time to save an innocent young man from the electric chair, is another bravura sequence. --Donald Liebenson