Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Intolerance (1916)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

The cradle scene interrupts the action - superimposed are the words: "Endlessly rocks the cradle uniter of here and hereafter. Chanter of sorrows and joys." The Modern Story is resumed:

Dividends of the Jenkins mills failing to meet the increasing demands of Miss Jenkins' charities, she complains to her brother, which helps decide him to action.

In his large, mostly bare office, Jenkins tells an assistant on the phone that wages must be reduced in order to support his sister's alleged moral crusade and charitable activities: "Order a ten percent cut in all wages." Outside the factory gate, a sign orders the cut. Agitated crowds of workers gather. "A great strike follows." The Boy angrily argues with another striking worker: "They squeeze the money out of us and use it to advertise themselves by reforming us." From a small mound of dirt on a hillside and from the sidewalks outside the bungalows, the frightened, apprehensive families of the workers watch the strike and the ensuing conflict. Groups of unemployed men linger around the factory gate - they are "hungry ones that wait to take their places." The state militia is ordered to suppress them - they lie prone of the ground in the middle of the street with rifles, set up cannons, load and cock their weapons, and are ordered to fire upon the strikers.

"The militia having used blank cartridges, the workmen now fear only the company's guards." Factory guards try to fend off the advance of strikers beyond the factory's fence. After being notified of the serious threat to his factory, Jenkins calmly orders: "Clear the property." The company guards use real ammunition to fire on the strikers, forcing them back. The Boy's father is shot - "the Loom of Fate weaves death for the Boy's father." He kneels over his father's body next to him.

"The exodus after a time of waiting. Forced to seek employment elsewhere, many victims of the Jenkins' aspirations go to the great city nearby - the Boy among them." Sadly, the Boy leaves his bungalow with his suitcase in hand. A young female neighbor (Miriam Cooper) is "a friendless one - alone - as the result of the strike...So too, the Dear One - and her father." They all leave their homes to go to the city. "Fate leads them all to the same district." Outside a restaurant, the hungry Friendless One looks at the posted menu, while feeling the loose skirt around her waist. "The Boy unable to find work - at last -" gravitates to crime and commits petty theft. He steals the watch and wallet from the coat of a fallen drunk on the sidewalk. "Adversity causes the Friendless One to listen to a Musketeer of the slums." A criminal gang leader known as the Musketeer of the Slums (Walter Long) commonly preys (with ulterior motives) on social outcasts - he invites the Friendless One into the restaurant for a meal.

"And again in Babylon." "The marriage market. Money paid for beautiful women given to homely ones, as dowers, so that all may have husbands and be happy." In the marriage market presided over by a bearded Auctioneer (Martin Landry), made-up women wait for their turn to be presented on a raised platform and bid upon by 'buyers'. "Lips brilliant with juice of henna; eyes lined with kohl. [NOTE: - According to Herodotus, women corresponding to our street outcasts, for life the wards of Church and State.]" The tomboyish, impudent, rowdy Mountain Girl is dragged into the market. She is disobedient to her brother's wishes that she remain quiet and not eat onions: "Tish tish! 'tis no place to eat onions."

"The girl's turn - perhaps not so different from the modern way." [The scene draws analogies between ancient auction-block marriage and later in the Modern Story about the way women are compelled to walk enticingly in front of men.] Once the unfeminine, rowdy Mountain Girl's turn arrives, she stands with her feet apart and her hands on her hips on top of the platform. She pouts in contempt at her audience, trying to discourage any potential suitor. With head bowed, the Rhapsode holds a harp in his hands and is in deep sorrow "in distant Nineveh - One who would give his life if he were able to buy the merchandise held so lightly upon Love's market." The auctioneer encourages bids from the crowd, entreating them with a rose in his hand:

Any man will be happy with this sweet wild rose - this gentle dove.

When a potential buyer reaches out to touch the hem of her skirt, she clenches her fist - in closeup. She extends her clawing, scratching nails at him: "But touch my skirt and I'll scratch your eyes out!" The haughty girl begins eating onions again. "The temper and rough language of the 'wild rose' prove her to be not without thorns." To entice reluctant but amused buyers, the auctioneer pulls coins from a box, offering: "With her goes a third of a mina of silver." The girl sulks and then rages at them:

You lice! You rats! You refuse me? There is no gentler dove in all Babylon than I.

As she is stomping around on the platform, yelling and scolding the disinterested buyers, people all around fall on their knees when Prince Belshazzar, "now ruling for his father," enters with his procession. She too bows down and then apologizes - looking up with awe and amazement - and an adoring smile:

Oh, lord of lords! Oh, king of kings! Oh, masu! Oh, scorching sun of the mid-day, these bugs will not buy me for a wife! I dwell in sorrow.

The Prince holds out his hand toward his assistant, gesturing that his royal seal be rolled out on a small tablet. She is presented with the clay tablet and told: "This seal gives you freedom to marry or not to marry - to be consecrated to the goddess of love or not as thou choosest." After the procession moves on, the girl looks toward the buyers, scoffing saucily at them, and pointing to her tablet of freedom which liberates her from marriage obligations.

"The Rhapsode, working in the tenements, to convert backsliders to the true worship of Bel." In the tenements and marketplace, the Rhapsode (as an agent of the Priests of Bel) preaches to the people to admonish them to follow the High Priest of Bel, and give up on following Ishtar. When the Mountain Girl enters the scene and demands a drink of water at the well, he approaches her with persistence, but she motions for him to back away: "Put away thy perfumes, they garments of Assinnu, the female man. I shall love none but a soldier." In her hovel of a house, the superstitious Mountain Girl shovels coal into her stove and then leans on her shovel - "the love smitten Mountain Girl vows eternal allegiance to Belshazzar."

In a new scene, "in the Love Temple, Virgins of the sacred fires of life." A fire burns in a sacred smoke pot - a metaphor for passionate fire worship. Scantily-clad virgins in the Love Temple - temple prostitutes - are consecrated to the cult of Ishtar, the goddess of love and fertility. The naked and half-naked women gaze at themselves in mirrors, rest on couches, sway back and forth, or dance and frolic in the water of a fountain. Belshazzar enters into his Princess' apartment - behind him, dancing girls are seen through an open door. She kneels before him and they embrace. "He promises to build her a city, beautiful as the memory of her own in a foreign land."

In the erotic atmosphere, he tells his consort: "The fragrant mystery of your body is greater than the mystery of life." Beyond the doors in the background, a bored eunuch yawns. After a dissolve, one of the girls there plays the strings of a harp, and a half-naked woman veiled in gauze (with backlighting) dances. "Belshazzar the king, The very young king, of Babylon - And his Princess Beloved, Clearest and rarest of all his pearls, The very dearest one of his dancing girls." The Prince proudly shows his Princess Beloved his kingdom stretching out into the distance from the tower above the great wall.

"Belshazzar, shepherd of the mighty nation, purified by the sacred baths and a Sabbath of rest, visits the temple of the moon god." With his entourage, Belshazzar walks through the archway of the temple to Bel-Marduk, where the Mountain Girl murmurs and sighs lovingly at him: "My masu, my hero-love." Next to her in the crowd, "another agent of the High Priest of Bel" is "agitating against Belshazzar," still fearing the loss of his religious power. To defend her loved one, the Mountain Girl grabs the High Priest by the throat and cries out: "Lies! Lies! Lies!" For her angry assault and affrontery on a priest (and the Priesthood itself), she is dragged off by soldiers: "...The High Priest orders that she be beaten to death with a rod of iron." In the temple court, she kneels before Belshazzar and pleads that she speaks the truth:

Mountain Girl: I swear, oh Sar, this priest spoke evil of thee.
Belshazzar: Since when has the High Priest of Bel the power of death over my subjects?

After Belshazzar intervenes on the girl's behalf - a second time, the High Priest bows and apologizes to Belshazzar, who "again gives the girl her freedom."

The cradle scene is followed by a return to the Modern Story. The story recounts what has happened to the three main protagonists: the Dear One (and her father), the Friendless One, and the Boy.

"The Dear One in her new environment forced upon her by the Jenkins strike. The same old love and dreams." In her slum dwelling, the Dear One mends her father's clothes. She mourns the almost-dead, sagging and wilting geranium plant that she tends by her window, and then finds it "hopeful" that a new shoot grows from the dying stem - she believes life may be renewed. Outside she watches a fancily-dressed, admired woman sashaying around in front of men, and thinks to herself as she practices the same walk: "I'll walk like her and maybe everybody will like me too." Her father returns from work, tired, dirty, and with a heart pain in his chest.

"In the same neighborhood, the friendless one again." Wearing a fancy gown, the Friendless One drinks wine at a restaurant table while seated with her legs apart. "Across the hall, The Musketeer of the Slums." In the Musketeer's office/living quarters, the camera pans up past a nude female statue, a book on the shelf ("The Love of Lucile") and two other nude paintings. The Friendless One has become the Musketeer's mistress. "The Boy, now a barbarian of the streets, a member of The Musketeer's band." The Boy brings the Musketeer a stolen ring in his office, and is told to quit flirting with the Friendless One. After the Boy departs, the Musketeer angrily scolds her. She slaps him, but then they roughly kiss each other.

In the film director's comment on modern courtship, the Dear One is "imitating the walk of the girl on the street" after coming down the stairs of her tenement building - she ties a sash around her skirt below the knees to help make her hips twist and attract attention. "The Boy's news stand, a blind for his real operations. Their first meeting." After practicing her imitative walk for the Boy on the sidwalk in front of the newsstand (although they are pushed apart by a blind man), the "new walk seems to bring results." Inside her apartment building, the Boy firmly grabs her - she reacts with hesitation and fright, biting her fingers. He tells her: "Say kid, you're going to be my chicken." She flails her arms behind his back as he kisses her, making her dizzy. Her father comes downstairs and defends her, and then takes his daughter upstairs and forces her on her knees: "Pray to be forgiven!" The Dear One prays toward a statue of the Madonna and child, and cradles her father's head.

"Inability to meet new conditions brings untimely death to The Dear One's father." In limp grief, she stands over his coffin in her apartment. The Boy enters behind her and sheds a big tear. After standing frozen, she suddenly falls on the coffin, sobbing. In a long shot, Jenkins sits at his desk in the middle of his bare, vast factory office.

"Out of the cradle, endlessly rocking - The Comforter, out of Nazareth." The film returns to the Judean Story with an episode from the gospels - the wedding feast at Cana: "There was a marriage in Cana of Galilee, John ii-1. [NOTE: - The ceremony according to Sayce, Hastings, Brown and Tissot.]" After her veil has been removed, the Bride (Bessie Love) smiles at her Bridegroom (George Walsh). "The first sop to the bride." Bread is dipped into mashed grapes, and then fed to the bride: "Be ye as harmless as doves." The Nazarene (Howard Gaye), dressed in a white robe, comes forward with a group of disciples through an archway outside the home in Cana. A closeup captures a dozen white doves under a stone bench. The two self-righteous Pharisees approach cautiously. The Nazarene is "scorned and rejected of men." In the home, Mary, the Mother (Lillian Langdon) comes to her son and embraces him. The Pharisees watch the Cana wedding feast disapprovingly through the window: "Meddlers then as now. 'There is too much revelry and pleasure-seeking among the people." [The Pharisees are directly paralleled to the Uplifters of reform in the Modern Story.]

When "the poor bride and groom suffer great humiliation," because "the wine has given out," the Nazarene performs "the first miracle. The turning of water into wine. [NOTE: - Wine was deemed a fit offering to God; the drinking of it a part of the Jewish religion.]" With a shadow of a cross cast over him, the Nazarene holds out his hand over the wine jug - he performs a miracle by turning the water into wine for the celebrants. The astonished onlookers carry the heavy wine-filled jug back to the party. The bride and groom drink from a cup of wine and the jubilation continues.

"Now for a time the little love god works his small but mighty way, in other days the same as now." In the French Story, the common people are unaware of the intolerance and suffering being perpetuated around them by the powerful elite: "Brown Eyes and her family happily ignorant of the web intolerance is weaving around them." In her home (with Prosper at her side) with her mother (Ruth Handford) and her family, Brown Eyes' oblivious father (Spottiswoode Aitken) reads to everyone from a book. "Love's silent mystery." The love between Brown Eyes and Prosper, who exchange glances, is threatened by "the mercenary made bold by passion." After saying goodbye to her sweetheart, Brown Eyes picks up a dropped handkerchief at her doorstep. The Mercenary, who has watched her from afar on the street, advances and grabs her but she spurns him and fights him off.

The cradle rocking scene transitions the film to the Modern Story, paralleling the story of the young couple in the French segment with the two young people in the modern day segment. "In the good old summertime. For the little Dear One, passing days and youth have healed the wound" of her father's death. The Boy and little Dear One, now close friends, walk by the riverfront docks and boats. At "the end of a 'Coney Island' day," the Boy walks her to her apartment room's door for a prolonged good-night scene:

Dear One: [Good night.]
Boy: Nothing doing on the good night stuff, I always go inside to see my girls. (He pulls out a cigarette from a pack. She turns, hurries inside her apartment, and shuts the door. He playfully pushes on the door from the outside.)
Dear One: [No.] Help me to be a strong-jawed jane. (She pushes her chin up. She firmly pushes the door shut and locks it.) I told you before - I promised Our Lady and I promised father that no man would ever come in this room.
Boy: (angrily) Just for that I'll never see you again! (He heads for the staircase.)
Dear One: (She sorrowfully leans her head against the door. He hears her crying, softens, smiles, and comes back to the door. He knocks.) [Who is it?]
Boy: I was thinking -- suppose we get married, then I can come in.
Dear One: (puzzled) [Married?] (She rolls her eyes.) [Do you really mean that you want to marry me?] (She bites her finger and giggles.)
Boy: That's me. Kiss me good night and we'll call it settled. (She unlocks the door. He sticks his head in.) [Come on, kiss me darling.] (They almost kiss but she pulls back. She reacts shyly. He pleads and they kiss. He moves back and she quickly shuts the door. She giggles with her hand over her mouth. The boy smiles and exults excitedly as he leaves. She sighs deliriously.)

"The enormous sums supplied by Jenkins to be distributed as the meddlers see fit - in 'charity' - now make the Uplifters the most influential power in the coummunity." Glass office doors are painted with the words: "MARY T. JENKINS FOUNDATION FUND, GENERAL OFFICES." After an iris closes and opens, there is a double-exposure shot: the office is first empty, and then filled with bustling women. Miss Jenkins arrives with her entourage.

As there are hypocritical reformers in the Modern Story, there are "equally intolerant hypocrites of another age" in the Judean Story. The Pharisees speak to men in the streets of Jerusalem - denouncing the Nazarene for his hypocrisy for congregating with publicans and for saving an adulteress:

And the Pharisee said: 'Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.' St. Matthew XI-19.

To prove their point, the Nazarene is pictured sitting in the midst of a group of publicans and sinners who are wining and dining. Another instance is "the woman taken in adultery." In an open air court, the Nazarene sits and watches as the accused adulterous woman is dragged there and mocked. A Pharisee holds a stone high in the air, affirming Moses' law to punish her by stoning: "Now Moses in the law commanded us that such should be stoned; but what sayest thou?" - John VIII. The Nazarene saves the sinning woman and delivers a pointed lesson (written with his finger in the sand on the stone step) to the morally self-righteous religious leaders: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." They nervously drop their stones. With her face covered, the woman is ashamed and wants to flee:

Nazarene: Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?
Adulteress: No man, Lord. (She falls on her knees and stretches her arms out to him as he forgives her. She rises, with arms up in the air.)

The Modern Story: "Now, how shall we find this Christly example followed in our story of today? The Committee of Seventeen report they have cleaned up the city."

In the Jenkins Foundation offices, three of the reformers enthusiastically report about their activities to legislate morality to their stern leader, in the areas of drinking in saloons, dancing in public places, and prostitution:

It is peaceful in the -- [an image of a beer hall/saloon which has been vacated and closed - chairs are piled up in a corner]
No more dancing in -- [a shot of a former dance hall which has been transformed into a restaurant]
You yourself were with us when we raided -- [women are herded down two sets of steps from a building by police - it is a house of ill repute - and led to a patrol wagon, while reformers watch smugly from a balcony. The brothels are to be closed. "When women cease to attract men they often turn to Reform as a second choice."]

"But these results they do not report:" The underworld activities of the Musketeer of the Slums and others are able to still flourish and prosper. In a back room, a man pulls out two bottles of smuggled booze from his pants pockets. Police enter the scene through a window shade, grab the bottles, and warn the men. "Each one his own distiller. Instead of mild wines and beers -" a home-made distillery apparatus uses ears of corn to brew whiskey mash. And men still flirt and procure young ladies on slum streets and back alleys.

After their marriage, "the Boy, strongly braced in the Dear One's sweet human faith, sets his steps with hers on the straight road." Life is difficult - they live in a slum apartment, but the Dear One teaches the Boy to pray and follow the 'straight and narrow' life. She is overjoyed by the Boy's conversion and renouncement of his criminal pursuits. "The Boy tells the boss he won't need the 'cannon' any more; he is through with the old life." At the Boss' place, the Boy tosses his pistol at the Musketeer of the Slums, vowing that he is giving up his life of crime for a more honest and upright life. After a short fight that leaves the underworld czar on the floor, the Boy leaves - the Boss vows revenge because he fears that the Boy may prosecute him.

"As an example to others of the band, The Musketeer, with the help of men higher up, arranges the old familiar frame-up." To crush the Boy, hired thugs beat him up, and when he goes unconscious, they plant a pistol and wallet on him, and throw him on the sidewalk. The victimized Boy is found by police - with the incriminating evidence - and unjustly imprisoned.

The next scene opens with a long exterior shot of "the sometimes House of Intolerance" - a large prison. The Boy is led up the steps past a guard with a rifle. The prison door snaps shut with a finality - the bar latch comes down and a little peep-hole window closes. "Stolen goods, planted on the Boy, and his bad reputation, intolerate him away for a term." The Dear One is devastated by the Boy's incarceration: "The broken love nest - The Dear One - alone - " In her apartment, she sadly and listlessly sweeps the floor to keep her mind off what has happened. She picks up her husband's cap on the table, "while at the Jenkins home the Uplifters celebrate their success in righting the world that was all wrong." Another reception is held in the large ballroom of the Jenkins household to celebrate their reform efforts. The ones ultimately responsible for the rise of oppressive underworld figures and corruption in society are those who encourage intolerance under the guise of social reform.

Previous Page Next Page