Orphans of the Storm is a 1921 silent film, directed by D. W. Griffith and starring real-life sisters Lillian Gish and Dorothy Gish. It was based on the French novel Les deux orphelines by Adolphe d'Ennery. It is also a remake of a 1915 lost film called The Two Orphans. It was the last Griffith film featurning his regular heroine, Lillian Gish; his career went into decline after his most popular star struck out on her own.
In 18th century France, Henriette and Louise are orphan sisters who struggle to survive in extreme poverty. Louise goes blind from an illness that also killed their parents (presumably smallpox). Henriette (Lillian Gish) takes Louise (Dorothy Gish) to Paris in hopes of finding a doctor who will restore her sight, but almost as soon as they arrive Henriette is abducted by a lustful aristocrat, the Marquis de Praille. She is saved from an impending rape by the Chevalier de Vaudrey (Joseph Schildkraut), seeming the only French nobleman with a conscience. For her part Louise, blind and helpless on the streets of Paris, falls into the clutches of Mother Frochard, a con artist who decides to set Louise to begging for change.
Oh, and Louise isn't really Henriette's sister, but a doorstop baby of noble birth.
Meanwhile, unrest rises, and climaxes into the violent turmoil of The French Revolution, which is depicted from the perspective of both sisters.
This film is in the public domain and may be viewed in its entirety at YouTube.
This film provides examples of:
- Adaptation Expansion: The original story was not set in the French Revolution.
- An Aesop: Griffith was never subtle when it came to his Aesops, and he wasn't here, baldly stating in the opening titles the parallels between the French Revolution and the then-recent Russian Revolution, and the dangers of falling into anarchy and Bolshevism as the French Revolution had fallen into anarchy and radicalism.
- All Part of the Show: The Chevalier, who is not as debauched as the other partygoers but does have two women both sitting in his lap, is slow to react to Henriette's cries for help because he thinks she's playacting.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Cripes. Running over little kids in the street, kidnapping women in order to rape them—they really did have the French Revolution coming.
- Arranged Marriage: The Chevalier's uncle, the Count de Linières, arranges a marriage between the Chevalier and a princess. He is not at all pleased when he finds out that the Chevalier wants to marry Henriette the commoner instead.
- Big Damn Heroes: Danton and Co., who come charging in to the Place de la Révolution and save Henriette from the guillotine.
- Contrived Coincidence: Who rescues Henriette from being raped at an aristocratic party? The Chevalier de Vaudrey, who also happens to be Louise's cousin.
- Doorstop Baby: Played with. Henriette's father goes to leave his infant daughter on the steps of the church because he can't afford to care for her. When he gets there, he finds a second baby, Louise. Louise is the daughter of a noblewoman who married a commoner, only to have her family murder her husband and force her to abandon Louise. Henriette's father takes both babies home and they grow up together.
- Fanservice Extra: Yep, that's a topless lady bathing in a fountain of wine.
- Fainting: The countess, who has gone to Henriette to explain that marriage to the Chevalier is impossible, has just found out that Louise is her long-lost daughter. Henriette for her part has just found Louise begging in the streets, and is about to go get her when she's arrested by royal police. With Henriette being hauled away, the countess could rescue Louise from the clutches of Mother Frochard, but that would short-circuit the plot. So she faints.
- Food Porn: One sequence shows the table at the Marquis's party piled high with ornate foods. While hungry peasants mill around outside the walls.
- Historical-Domain Character: Several, from cameos (Thomas Jefferson shows up), to major players such as Danton and Robespierre.
- Just in Time: This was one of D.W. Griffith's favorite tropes, which he used in The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Way Down East, and here. Danton and his rescue squad show up just in the nick of time to save Henriette.
- A Minor Kidroduction: The film opens with Henriette and Louise as babies, cuts to them as children, then cuts to them as adults after the deaths of their parents.
- Orphan's Plot Trinket: Louise's identity is confirmed by the locket, which Henriette still has.
- A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: Although censorship was a lot more lax when this film was made than it would be 15 years later with The Hays Code, they still couldn't actually show sex in movies. But they do show a lot of cavorting and embracing, they do show naked ladies in the wine fountain, and they do show some nobleman putting a glass of wine between a noblewoman's feet before drinking it. And the Marquis is getting revved up to rape Henriette in public when the Chevalier rescues her. So it seems pretty plain that the Marquis's party does in fact devolve into an orgy.
- A Storm Is Coming: The French Revolution, alluded to in the title, is also referred to in a title card as "The Storm".
- Swing Low, Sweet Harriet: One of the partygoers at the Marquis' bacchanalia is a woman on a swing.
- Trauma Conga Line: Let's see—kidnapped, nearly raped, arrested and imprisoned, arrested and imprisoned again, nearly executed, held prisoner in a dank cellar, forced to beg on the streets. Henriette and Louise really go through some stuff.
- Truth in Television: The movie includes several real life events and has commentary about different social classes.
- While Rome Burns: The Chevalier, being the Only Sane Man in the French aristocracy, is well aware of what's coming."But enjoy our privileges while we can—there is but a short time left."
- Would Hurt a Child: The Marquis de Praille's carriage runs over and kills a peasant girl. He tosses a few coins at the mother and drives on.