Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1928. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Scenario by Frances Marion, based on the novel by Dorothy Scarborough. Cinematography by John Arnold. Produced by Kevin Brownlow, David Gill. Music by Carl Davis. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons, Edward Withers. Costume Design by Andre-ani. Film Editing by Conrad A. Nervig.
Lillian Gish heads west from her native Virginia to live with a male cousin and his careworn wife, but before long her beauty and instant rapport with their children inspire insecurity in the lady of the house. After the mister starts to give her the glad eye, Gish is ejected and, unwelcome and friendless, marries the more handsome of two men who have been vying for her attention since she arrived in this place where the wind constantly blows and is known to drive people mad. Set up in her miserable new home with a husband who has no patience for the vulnerable situation she finds herself in, Gish endures the perpetual dust and dirt around her but reaches her limit when her cousin shows up and recommences his invasion of her personal space. The range of expression on this magnificent actress’s face makes for a fascinating performance that organically connects to the perpetual elements that director Victor Sjöström subjects her to; the grimy details, such as Gish cleaning her dishes with sand, are as stunning as the poetic dream sequences, like the sight of mad horses galloping across the clouds, for something that is incredibly disturbing and dark. The film is a masterful work of art but its dour nature makes it easy to see why audiences of the time avoided it in droves, a film so unsuccessful that it effectively ended Sjostrom’s career in Hollywood and Gish’s reign as a leading lady. This was also the last fully silent film released by MGM before their switch to synchronized sound.