Dedicated to "Plain women and their pitiful hours of waiting for love that never comes," while "men are caught by a net of paint and powder and suggestive clothing," D.W. Griffith's TRUE HEART SUSIE is an exceedingly old-fashioned, but quite appealing, silent romance, featuring one of
Lillian Gish's finest performances.
Susie (Lillian Gish), a plain girl who lives in a small, rural village, is in love with a local farmboy named William (Robert Harron). He wants to go to college and become a minister, but his father can't afford to send him. One day in town, William meets a wealthy philanthropist who encourages
him to go to college and promises to help him pay. Weeks go by and William waits for a letter from the stranger, but none arrives, so Susie sells her beloved cow Daisy to raise the tuition for him, and sends him a letter pretending it's from the philanthropist.
William goes off to school, working as a waiter to support himself. Susie patiently waits for William to return, and when he does, he becomes the new town minister. At a church party, William meets a city girl named Bettina (Clarine Seymour), who has just moved to town. Bettina flirts with him and
tells her aunt (Kate Bruce) that she's going to marry him because she's broke. Susie tries to compete with Bettina by donning makeup and sewing a new dress, but William is smitten with Bettina and proposes to her. Susie sees Bettina kissing her old friend Sporty Malone (Raymond Cannon), but
doesn't tell William, and William and Bettina are married.
The marriage quickly disintegrates, as Bettina refuses to cook or keep herself attractive for William. When William is out of town, Sporty comes by with some friends and has a party with Bettina. William returns and catches Bettina dancing with Sporty, but believes her when she denies that they
were kissing. Later, Bettina sneaks out of the house and goes dancing with Sporty again, but loses her house key, and gets stuck in a rainstorm. She goes to Susie's house and stays there, then asks Susie to lie to William and say she was there all night. Susie does, but Bettina catches a cold,
then develops pneumonia and dies. William, believing that Bettina went out in the rain to get a book from a neighbor for him, vows never to love another woman. Susie refuses to tell William the truth about Bettina, but Susie's aunt (Loyola O'Connor) shows William the tuition receipt from the sale
of Susie's cow, and Bettina's friend (Carol Dempster) tells William that Bettina was at a party with Sporty before she got stuck in the rainstorm. William goes to Susie and tells her he has learned the truth and now knows that he has loved her all his life. They embrace and walk away together,
hand in hand.
TRUE HEART SUSIE, which was released right before, and was overshadowed by, BROKEN BLOSSOMS (1919), is a modest little film that shows Griffith at his most Victorian, but he treats the antediluvian plot with absolute sincerity and simplicity, transcending the primitive melodramatic cliches and
creating a kind of elemental emotional truth. Probably no other actress in the world besides Lillian Gish could have pulled off a character as unbelievably sweet and innocent as Susie, able to handle such risible scenes as when she confides her sorrows to her cow Daisy, who's referred to as "Her
Sister," in the intertitles. Similarly, the scenes where she kisses William's love letters and dances around the room have a naivete about them that is both sweet and touching.
Working in a humble bucolic setting, as opposed to his customary historical epics, Griffith's technique is appropriately modest and unadorned, shooting most scenes in simple two-shots, with very little camera movement. There are a few impressive stylistic flourishes, however, such as when William
first marries Bettina and we see his idealized fantasy of married life--dreamy, soft-focus close-ups of the beautiful Bettina kissing him and serving up a feast; contrasted with the harsh reality--Bettina with no makeup and her hair in curlers, serving him a piece of cold, burnt meat and saying "I
hate this damn place." Griffith also inserts some moving flashbacks, showing William reflecting on his youthful romance with Susie, as he looks at a tree where he had carved their initials years before; and Susie has a similar flashback as she destroys William's love letters. Griffith punches up
the finale by utilizing his trademark crosscutting technique, wildy jumping back and forth between Bettina dancing and later getting stuck in the rain, with Susie tucking in her aunt, and William nervously pacing through his house. TRUE HEART SUSIE is a minor film in the Griffith canon, but one
with a good deal of charm and genuine feeling.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Dedicated to "Plain women and their pitiful hours of waiting for love that never comes," while "men are caught by a net of paint and powder and suggestive clothing," D.W. Griffith's TRUE HEART SUSIE is an exceedingly old-fashioned, but quite appealing, sil… (more)