Film: The Wind

Lillian Gish has had enough.

The Wind (1928), based on a novel by Dorothy Scarborough, was one of the great masterpieces of the late silent era. Lillian Gish plays Letty Mason, a sheltered, naive young woman from Virginia who goes off to live with her (male) cousin Beverly and Beverly's wife Cora on their farm in Sweet Water, in the flatlands of West Texas. On the train, Letty meets and is attracted to a handsome but lecherous man named Wirt Roddy (Montagu Love). Letty does not particularly like Sweet Water: Cora is jealous of her husband's interest in Letty, Letty is not interested in either of the two locals who want to marry her, and worst of all, Sweet Water is in the middle of a desert that is struck with almost unending, constantly blowing wind that Letty finds extremely unsettling.

After a particularly bad cyclone blows through town, and after Cora demands that Letty leave her house, Letty accepts Wirt's proposal—except that Wirt is already married and simply wants her to run away with him. She marries Lige Hightower (Lars Hanson), one of her two local suitors, because she has no other choice. Lige is a good man and desperately in love with Letty but she has no interest in him, and eventually tells him so. Crushed, Lige agrees to send her away. But Letty hasn't seen the last of the wind, nor of Wirt, who won't take no for an answer...

The Wind was Lillian Gish's last silent film and one of her last starring roles. It was inducted into the National Film Registry in 1993.


Tropes:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Mr. Sourdough, Letty's other suitor.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Letty is clearly drawn to the roguish, charming Wirt, instead of the gentle, kind Lige. She winds up accepting Wirt's proposal, only to find out that he's already married and wasn't asking her what she thought he was.
  • Asshole Victim: Wirt richly deserves his fate.
  • Break the Cutie: Poor, poor Letty.
  • Dances and Balls: Sweet water has a square dance. This is where Letty is forced to pick a suitor.
  • Determined Homesteader: Lige, Beverly. Have to be determined to make a go of cattle ranching out there.
  • Discreet Drink Disposal: Lige, who is trying to make his new wife comfortable, makes coffee. Letty pours hers in an urn. Lige's feelings are hurt further when he finds the coffee in the urn after their confrontation.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Although the ending rings false; see Revised Ending below.
  • The Film of the Book
  • Fish out of Water: Sweet, sheltered Letty is completely unprepared for life out on the plains.
  • Foreshadowing: Wirt telling Letty on the train that the never-ending wind drives women mad.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Being cooped up in the cabin with only the wind for company affects Letty so badly that she begs to accompany Lige to another homestead even after telling him she doesn't love him. After she winds up getting left alone there with Wirt, she gets even worse.
  • Ironic Name: What would you name a town in the middle of a bone-dry desert that is afflicted by neverending, punishing winds? "Sweet Water", of course.
  • Kissing Cousins: This doesn't happen but Cora is petrified that it will, and Beverly does indeed seem a little too happy about his lovely cousin coming to live with them.
  • Rape as Drama: We don't actually see Wirt rape Letty, but it is very strongly implied.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: It was 1928. We see Wirt threatening Letty, and we cut to the next morning where Letty is near-catatonic while a smug Wirt assumes that now she must go away with him.
  • Rape Leads to Insanity: Letty has a breakdown after seeing Wirt's corpse being exposed by the wind.
  • Revised Ending: A Happy Ending imposed by Executive Meddling. The original ending called for Letty to go completely mad and wander out into the wind to die.
  • Sanity Slippage: Just as Wirt predicted, the wind drives Letty around the bend.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Letty.
  • Thirsty Desert: And really, really windy. Shot on location in the Mojave Desert, with aircraft propellers providing the eponymous wind.
  • Title Drop: Lots of talk about the wind.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Whoops! Guess again, Wirt.