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

The page of the book turns to bring the film forward to the French Story where Catherine conspires to maneuver King Charles IX to order the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre against the Huguenots. "Catherine's audience with the King to secure his signature to the order for the massacre of St. Bartholomew. [Note: Councillors present: Nevers, Tavannes, Retz and Birague.]" After the King reads the document that has been handed to him by Catherine, he vehemently refuses to authorize their slaughter: "I will not consent to this intolerant measure to destroy any of my people." She points at him and finally persuades him to sign, along with other persuasive councillors. "After a long session, the Intolerants sway the King's opinion." - "We must destroy or be destroyed."

The King rises like a raving-mad lunatic having an insane fit - he pounds the table, knocks an advisor down, holds his hands to his head, and foams at the mouth. With a soothing manner, the Queen-mother calms him down and presents the King with the document and a quill pen. After he reluctantly signs the order to destroy the Huguenots, the King points at them and shouts that he has saved the monarchical structure of medieval France: "By God's death, since you wish it, kill them all! Kill them all! Let not one escape to upbraid me." Monsieur La France has a non-chalant reaction to the signing - he plays with a wooden toy in his hand - trying to catch a ball on a string in a hole. The order to authorize the extermination of the Huguenots by the power structure and the villainous Catherine [a parallel figure with Miss Jenkins in the Modern Story] will have personal consequences for a young, innocent couple.

In the next transition, "Prosper and Brown Eyes betrothed. 'The banns- tomorrow, St. Bartholomew's morn.'" In the home of Brown Eyes, the family kneels in prayer on the eve of the wedding. "Candles out - fading lights." The lit candles in the candelabra of the hallway of the home of Brown Eyes are snuffed out for the night. Other candles are blown out before Brown Eyes and her sister retire - in bed, Brown Eyes daydreams wistfully about her beloved Prosper. On a Paris street, Prosper is "puzzled by the ominous activities" as troops of soldiers are gathered together. "St. Bartholomew's eve. Upon the doorways of the Huguenots - the chalk of doom." Every doomed Huguenot or Protestant house is ominously marked by the door with two white crosses drawn in chalk/paint - one of the marked homes is Brown Eyes'. At "Prosper's lodgings across the town," he wonders more about what is to transpire. The Mercenary, at the head of a group of soldiers, sees the marks on Brown Eyes' house, but leads his soldiers on.

Another page of the book turns to the Babylon Story. "In the Temple of Love. The sacred dance in memory of the resurrection of Tammuz." [Tammuz is Ishtar's departed lover, who returns to the goddess from the underworld.] Worshippers in the Temple bow down and wave their arms in front of a statue. The scenes cut back and forth between the Temple and Belshazzar's open court. The camera swoops down into the court where dancers twirl on steps decorated with flowers. In the decadent Temple of Love, temple prostitutes/priestesses lie about in various states of nakedness and are engaged in a lesbian orgy. On the right of the screen, Belshazzar reclines languidly under a canopy with his Princess on the left, where they feast at a table surrounded by adoring subjects. "Beloved - a white rose - from Beloved." The Princess kisses a white rose, places it in a miniature chariot pulled by two white doves, and has it delivered to the Prince. Belshazzar graciously accepts the rose - and holds it out to her.

"The gates manned with their own guards, the priests are guided by the Rhapsode on their mission of treason to the camps of Cyrus." The Mountain Girl embraces the Rhapsode under the gate within the city walls of Babylon, where he has prepared a chariot for the High Priest of Bel's trip to Cyrus to betray the Prince. She watches as the High Priest gives the password to open the outer gate. She summons another charioteer, "in the interests of her prince - A little flirtation," and entices him to allow her to board his chariot. After pushing the charioteer out, she follows the High Priest in the hijacked chariot through the open gate - with the password that allows her access. "Suspicious of the hated priests' journey to Cyrus, she uses the password and follows them."

The cradle rocks as a transition to the Modern Story. "The Musketeer of the Slums seizes an opportune time to visit the little wife" while he thinks his mistress, the Friendless One, is sleeping. (The Boy is in the restaurant across the hall from where the Musketeer lives.) However, she is only pretending to be resting, and she follows him - with a grim expression on her face and a pistol in her handbag. The Musketeer enters the tenement apartment of the Dear One, and after peeping through her door's keyhole with a lustful look, he knocks. When she opens up the door, he tells her:

Musketeer: You go in and get the address where the kid is. (He follows her into her place, and while she looks for the papers, he locks the door behind him and pockets the key.) You know me - I can get your baby for you. (Outside in the hallway, the Musketeer's mistress stands nervously and listens through the door. She bites her lip - making it bloody - with a tortured look on her face as she listens to the Musketeer feign sorrow about the kidnapped baby.)

An informant, who saw the Musketeer enter the apartment building, rushes forward to the Boy outside the restaurant and informs on the Boss: "Just saw the boss go up to see your wife." The man is nervous that the Boy will tell the Boss on him. As the Boy rushes home, the Musketeer places his hand on the Dear One's arm, and the mistress leans against the door with the pistol in her hand. The Musketeer nods toward the bed as he drags her toward it - he grips her tightly and covers her mouth as she attempts to scream. The mistress, with gun aimed out one window toward one of the apartment's windows, hears the Boy coming, looks down the stairs, and climbs out a window onto a fire escape to escape notice.

In the exciting, well-edited sequence, the Boy pounds furiously on the door to be let in - and then kicks the door down. Outside, the mistress climbs from the fire escape onto a narrow ledge, and makes her way to the apartment's window. A fight breaks out in the apartment between the Boy and the Musketeer. Both the Dear One and the Boy fall to the floor unconscious. Just as the Musketeer is picking up a chair to strike another blow, the mistress leans in the window with her pistol and fires two or three shots. The Musketeer staggers from the apartment into the hallway and falls dead. She tosses the gun to the floor, jumps down one story to the ground, and runs off. The Boy picks up the gun and sees the Musketeer face down - dead - he realizes, in horror, that he may be charged for the killing. The police, who have been summoned by the shooting, are directed upstairs where they arrest and drag away the frightened, protesting Boy. The Dear One argues with them about her husband's innocence, but to no avail, and she is also led away. In her room, the mistress stares ahead with a look of agony on her face.

"Near the end of the Boy's trial for murder." In a packed courtroom, a policeman identifies the weapon. In the group of spectators is the Friendless One, the real guilty one. The Boy is sworn in and sits in the witness chair. He is encouraged by the bravely optimistic, loving, tender look of his wife who wears a hooded shawl, in beautiful vignette shots: "Love's brave encouragement." The Boy explains angrily as he rises, after an appropriate fade-out and fade-in flashback, that the gun once belonged to him, but he denies killing the Musketeer, his former employer: "Yes, it was once my gun - but I - I - didn't do it." The Judge of the Court (Lloyd Ingraham) bangs the gavel on his desk to silence the Boy's outburst. The saddened Dear One clasps tightly, twists, and turns her hands together in the folds of her dress - in closeup. "The maiden case of The Boy's attorney." The Attorney for the Boy (Barney Bernard) pleads: "I mean - can we hang - I mean, it's only circumstantial evidence." But "the verdict - guilty. Universal justice, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a murder for a murder." The jury brings in the solemn verdict.

After a page turns, the story returns to a similar verdict in the Judean Story. "Outside the Roman Judgment Hall, after the verdict of Pontius Pilate: 'Let Him Be Crucified.'" Through Jerusalem's streets lined with jeering crowds, the Christ carries his heavy wooden crucifixion cross. Roman soldiers lash him when he stumbles and falls. Another man carries the cross.

Likewise, "the Boy's sentence" of capital punishment is presented in the Modern Story - his sentence is read by the Judge, as the Boy bravely stands and hopes for the best. The Dear One tears off bits of her handkerchief in her mouth and begs: "Please - Mister Judge - " The sentence is harsh, and the word 'dead' is emphasized by the Judge's hand gestures: "To be hanged by the neck until dead, dead, dead!" Both the Dear One and the Boy are staggered and stunned by the finality of the sentence. She faints despairingly in her chair.

"The Kindly Officer (Tom Wilson) on the beat learns of the sentence." A civilian-clothed policeman tries to comfort the Dear One as she enters her apartment room. Her dazed face shows evidence of worry, exhaustion, and sorrow. (The camera moves in for an extreme closeup of her out-of-focus face - and then fades out.) As an ironic statement to provide a stark contrast, a tea party in the Jenkins library (where Jenkins sits with his sister) celebrates their successful reform movement: "The people everywhere are singing your praises." With an "irresistible impulse" - unable to stay away, the mistress nervously enters the Dear One's apartment building - guiltily chewing gum. She nonchalantly powders her nose when the Kindly Officer comes down the stairs, and then promptly leaves.

After the rocking cradle image, the Babylon Story is re-visited. "In his distant camp, Cyrus awaits the priests." The Mountain Girl, driving her own chariot, boldly pursues the High Priest and his entourage of chariots and horsemen. The rocking cradle image again. In the Modern Story, on "the day before the Boy's execution," the kindly policeman examines the Dear One's room, suddenly realizing that the shots may have come through the window from someone standing on the ledge. He points to the headlines of a newspaper about the Governor: "Feeling the Boy wrongly convicted by some mischance of fate, the Kindly Heart sees a ray of hope in the visit of the governor to the city." The Dear One puts her handkerchief over her mouth with some hope. The Boy is led from his cell in his striped uniform, to pace up and down in a prison corridor. The guilty mistress, while playing solitaire, is plagued by remorse and regret - she massages her temples with her fingers.

The kindly officer pleads his case to the Governor (Ralph Lewis) in his office. The Boy, and other doomed prisoners in striped uniforms, are walking back and forth for exercise, contemplating their fates:

And wondered if each one of us
Would end the self-same way,
For none can tell to what red Hell
His sightless soul may stray.

But "the governor (is) unable to give any hope." He turns back to his papers on the desk.

In the Babylon Story, "at the tents of Cyrus, The Mountain Girl from a distance watches the priests' arrival." The messengers, the Rhapsode, and the High Priest are admitted to Cyrus' tent for "the great conspiracy," where they prostrate themselves and kneel before the great king. He orders his men into action. The cradle rocks.

In the Modern Story, official-looking guards march up the steps of the wooden gallows built in an open court to test the rope. "The Boy's last dawn. The hangman's test." Three guards approach a table on the gallows platform and pick up sharp knives - they hold them above three strings until a signal is given for the test. The Boy is roused from sleep in his cell. The guards cut the three cords (filmed in closeup) and three weights fall - the trap door of the gallows releases, and a dummy weight dangles through the opening. The test is deemed successful. The Boy is given his black death suit to wear for the hanging. The policeman brings sad news back to the Dear One.

Wracked with guilt, the agonized guilty woman returns to the Dear One's apartment building and rushes upstairs, but loses her resolve by the doorway when she hears the Dear One pleading with the kindly policeman. "Desperate, the little wife herself goes to the governor." The Dear One pulls the policeman after her - he rushes off to find an automobile for their trip to see the governor. From upstairs, the repentant guilty one (with tears in her eyes) hesitates, looks down and listens to the Dear One exclaiming: "Oh God, don't let them do it!" After they drive off, the guilty one commissions a taxi and follows after them.

In the French Story, "St. Bartholomew's morn. The bell of St. Germain." In a room in the French castle on the morn of the massacre, Catherine gestures with her hands to the sides and momentarily cries out - no, no, no. A bell rings in a gothic bell tower, signalling the start of the new day. With their hands clapsed together, she is calmed by Monsieur La France. In another room, the King remains distressed. The father of Brown Eyes hears soldiers marching forward for "the beginning of the massacre of St. Bartholomew." In the streets, unsuspecting Huguenots are beginning to be massacred. "For Brown Eyes, a terrible awakening." She awakens with her sister to the sounds of frightened Protestants seeking shelter and fleeing for their lives. Her father bars the door of their house to the street.

The cradle rocks. The Modern Story resumes. The automobile carrying the Dear One and the policeman pull up at the Governor's house. The taxi with the guilty one stops nearby. "The Dear One's appeal to the Governor fruitless." An aide doesn't allow them to see the Governor - the Dear One sits with a disconsolate and exhausted look on her face at the foot of the Governor's steps. The policeman notices the guilty one following them and pursues her as she returns to her taxi. At that moment, "the governor leaves" the house with his wife to walk down the steps to the street for a waiting vehicle - they pass the Dear One. She pleads with the Governor, but is held back by an aide as the entourage climbs in the car. As the Governor's car pulls away, the policeman is given a painful confession by the guilty mistress:

I killed him! I did it, I did it!

After the murderess repeats the confession to the Dear One, they race after the Governor's car in the taxi - "the attempt to overtake the governor before he reaches the train." The cradle rocks. The pace of the film quickens as all four stories are beginning to reach a frenzied climax - each segment includes a 'chase,' race, a conflict or death scene, or struggle against time.

In the Babylon Story, after getting water from a water wheel, the Mountain Girl leaps into her chariot to warn her Prince of the impending invasion by Cyrus: "Her long wait rewarded, she goes to warn Belshazzar of the new advance on Babylon." She turns her chariot around and furiously drives it forward.

A page turns, with a return to the Modern Story. "The last Sacrament." The Boy is administered his last rites by a priest. The governor's group arrives at the train station. The Boy falls down to his cot in his cell - he gives his last confession to the priest. After porters load luggage, the train pulls away from the station as the taxi speeds forward - they miss the train's departure. A roadster car is borrowed to try to catch the locomotive carrying the governor: "No. 8, after the train, leaps with a new impulse." The cradle rocks.

The four segments begin to rapidly intermingle with each other. As the Babylonian city appears doomed, so does the fate of the Boy, the French Huguenots, and the Nazarene. In Babylon: The Persians surge toward Babylon. The Mountain Girl drives her chariot along a river bank - she pulls tightly on the reins. Horsemen and chariots in the Persian army advance. In the Modern Story: The Boy repeats the prayer uttered by the priest. The racing car roars down the road next to the tracks. The train follows a bend in the tracks, and the roadster rounds a corner. The train speeds ahead, as the car rapidly moves down a hill.

The cradle rocks, with the words superimposed over the image: "Intolerance, burning and slaying." In the French Story, soldiers sweep through the city and slaughter the French Protestants. A sword stabs the torso of a fallen man. People are dragged from the doorways of their homes. A young girl falls at the feet of a priest, and pleads for her life - he hides her under his cloak.

In the Babylon Story, "in the doomed city. 'Our marriage will be announced tomorrow.'" Prince Belshazzar, believing himself invincible, intends to marry the Princess the next day - blind to the imminence of his defeat the next day. Love is being proclaimed between many couples: "This bud will blossom - tomorrow." A woman wearing a semi-transparent veil top reclines in the love temple. The Prince promises his bride with a whisper: "Beloved, I will begin building your city - tomorrow." Cyrus is driven in his chariot - "Cyrus sweeps on to Babylon's destruction." In the streets of Babylon, however, people are still celebrating their earlier victory, oblivious to the threat of further destruction. The Mountain Girl urges her horses to pick up their speed. Hundreds of Persian footsoldiers with spears and shields suddenly run forward.

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