Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Intolerance (1916)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

In the French Story, the streets of Paris witness the massacre of St. Bartholomew. A friend (who has a badge of safety on his arm) informs an alarmed Prosper of Queen Catherine's evil slaughter: "Medici, the old cat, is scratching out the lives of all your people." "At the house of Brown Eyes. The mercenary's opportunity." French soldiers pour through the streets and chase across rooftops, killing and wounding Protestants. The Mercenary stops at the house of Brown Eyes where the soldiers use a battering ram to knock down the door. "Prosper, with the badges of safety, goes to rescue his loved ones." The pretty heroine, Brown Eyes, loads a musket with a ramrod. Her father fires at soldiers who have broken down and forced open their front door. The family barricades itself in an inner room. One barbaric soldier holds a small baby girl up by her feet - infanticide. The Mercenary and other soldiers knock down the inner door and attack Brown Eyes' family.

"Even with the password, Prosper's way beset with danger." Prosper is held back and detained by two soldiers - he pleads with them. Brown Eyes defends herself - she breaks a vase over a soldier's head. As her mother (with a baby in her arms) flees, she is grabbed and thrown to the floor to be stabbed. Brown Eyes' little sister is picked up and thrown out the front door to the side. The cradle rocks.

Back in the Judean Story, the Christ is still being paraded through the streets of Jersualem toward his crucifixion. A woman stretches out her hand - some people pray, others jeer.

Unaware of the impending attack in the Babylon Story, "Babylon's last Bacchanal" - celebrants in the massive open court dance wildly. The Prince looks lovingly toward his Princess, as Cyrus' army approaches.

The Modern Story: The pistons on the wheels on the train's locomotive pound forward - the camera angle is from the front looking back to the cars following in the distance. The Boy collapses in the priests arms after accepting a sacramental wafer. The roadster frantically races behind the train. The cradle rocks.

In the French Story, the Mercenary corners Brown Eyes with his sword. Instead of killing her, he pulls her toward himself and embraces her. Prosper is again stopped by soldiers in the streets in his desperate attempt to rescue his fiancee before it's too late. The Mercenary bars the door to the inner room, and turns toward his victim with savage lust: "Brown eyes - ah me, ah me!" She cowers before him with her hands on her throat. She screams as he advances toward her. Prosper breaks away. The Mercenary grabs Brown Eyes, unties her nightgown, and as she faints and sinks down, he carries her to the bed in the room. The cradle rocks.

The railroad train carrying the governor in the Modern Story continues to chug down the tracks. A closeup of a foot stepping on the accelerator of the roadster illustrates the speed of the chase. The race car, after it has passed the train, splashes through a muddy puddle, stops in the middle of the tracks, and attempts to block the oncoming locomotive. They successfully signal the train to stop. The cradle rocks.

Back in the French Story, the Mercenary soldier holds the resistant Brown Eyes' hands out in front of her, and runs her through with his sword. She collapses onto the floor. Dead bodies litter the streets, as Prosper dashes forward, and Catherine surveys the scene with an evil smile behind her fan. Prosper finds his loved one dead on the floor - he sees her mortal wound and tenderly embraces her. He carries her out into the street in his arms and orders royalist soldiers to kill him, so that he can join her in death. A volley of rifle shots are fired from a group of soldiers - Prosper is shot and falls dead beside his betrothed. Revelers in the streets rush by - one carries a pole with a decapitated head on top. [Prosper was unable to save his beloved fiancee. Likewise, the Mountain Girl's warnings in the Babylon Story are ineffective in saving Belshazzar. Only the Dear One's intercession on the Boy's behalf in the Modern Story proves to be successful.]

In the Babylon Story, the outer gates are opened to the heroic Mountain Girl's chariot. "Cyrus unites forces with his lieutenant, Gobryas." "The Mountain Girl's warning delayed by the revelers." Inside the city's gates, revelers halt her chariot. As the Persian enemy arrives at the city walls, the Mountain Girl breaks away. The cradle rocks.

In the Modern Story, there is "a new appeal." The policeman, the Dear One, and the guilty one approach the governor in the train car. The guilty one confesses, and the Dear One frantically pleads with the governor for a pardon for her condemned husband. With the priest, the Boy looks heavenward in prayer. The governor orders his aide to leave, and comforts the Dear One. The cradle rocks.

In the Babylon Story, the priests are allowed to enter the city's gates. The Mountain Girl drives her chariot into the great court, jumps off her chariot into a group of feasters, and falls on her knees next to her Prince. She warns the disbelievers of the Persian threat - but her effort turns futile. "While Belshazzar doubts, the army of Cyrus enters through the gates left open by the priests." The enemy enters the city, and the battle begins as the Persian footsoldiers rush through the massive gate. The enemy horsemen ride through, slaying many of the Babylonians. "Belshazzar at last convinced by his own servants." The Prince rises and asks for his shield. The Persians fight their way into the open court, into the love temple, and into other feasting areas. Belshazzar waves his sword, and is joined by the Mighty Man of Valor. The Princess is horrified and dumbfounded by the attack.

"Belshazzar finds only twelve guards to defend his palace gates against the hordes of Cyrus." Outnumbered, and protected by only a few guards, Belshazzar fights hopelessly in hand-to-hand combat. The Princess makes a "vain appeal" to urge others around her to fight - she falls on the ground and helplessly calls on the statue of Ishtar to save her. The Mountain Girl joins the fighting with her bow and arrow. Belshazzar is forced to retreat to a safer area: "To save Belshazzar the disgrace of captivity, they send him back to his throne." Knowing that he will defend his Prince to the death, the devoted Mighty Man of Valor kisses his ruler's hand in a final farewell. Belshazzar returns to his throne area and embraces the Princess. She picks up a sword and gestures that the Prince should kill her. The Mountain Girl's chest is fatally pierced by an arrow - she holds her chest in pain, grabs the arrow, and then drops down.

The Princess urges her servants to join them in suicidal death and a sojourn in the underworld: "Honor commands that you go with your king to the death halls of Allat. Come!" One resistant female servant refuses and grovels on the ground - the Princess picks her up and holds her in front of a warrior to be stabbed. The Mighty Man of Valor cannot defend the gate from the Persians - although he swings his sword valiantly. Both Belshazzar and the Princess hold daggers in the air. She is the first to stab herself in the breast. At the gate, the Mighty Man is stabbed in the side by a large spear. The Persians cannot be held off any longer - they invade and swarm into the inner court, sending the Babylonians into retreat. Two Persians enter the throne room where they step over bodies and find the royal pair. The Prince lies dead on his throne, a victim of his own suicide, with his consort the Beloved Princess crumpled at his side. Cyrus is told that the Prince has been vanquished.

The traitorous priest of Bel shouts fiercely, in close-up: "To God the glory! Long live Cyrus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords!" The former Babylonian feasters bow down to their new master in the open court. Before dying, the Mountain Girl has crawled toward the Prince, her hero, to be next to him. In a prolonged death scene, she dies at the base of a statue near the throne. The iris opens, revealing the toy chariot pulled by two white doves next to her. The enemy is triumphant. The Babylonian civilization falls by treacherous conquest. The cradle rocks.

In the Modern Story, the train arrives at the station after the governor has signed a pardon for the Boy and given it to his aide. The others rush to an automobile, as the Boy (with drooping shoulders) is slowly marched by the priest and other officials to the gallows and scaffold. The priest momentarily faints and drops his prayer book. An analogy between the execution in the Modern Story and Christ's crucifixion in the Judean Story is reflected in the close juxtaposition of the two stories. A tableau of the night-time crucifixion scene presents three crosses on a distant hillside, with crowds gathered in the foreground - the sky is illuminated by flashes of fire and smoke.

Modern Story: The automobile races to the prison, as the Boy is led to the top platform of the gallows. The Governor's aide telephones the prison from a phone booth. The Boy, with sheer terror on his face, is positioned over the trap door, and straps are placed around his ankles and waist. A guard at the prison casually answers the phone - as the aide frantically gestures that the execution must not take place. The guard reacts excitedly, races to the gallows outside, holds his hand out to the chief executioner on the gallows platform, and rushes up the steps to stop the hanging. The executioner blithely ignores the guard, looks at his watch, and gives the signal to proceed with the hanging, as the automobile holding the Dear One and others pulls up at the entrance to the prison. Guards place a black hood over the Boy's head, and the noose is placed around his neck - and tightened.

To dramatize the scene and develop even more suspense, the three guards hold their knives poised over the three cords, ready to cut them after a signal. The group is admitted into the prison and rushes over to the gallows - waving their hands furiously. The executioner pauses the procedure, the priest looks down hopefully, and the policeman bounds up the steps. He gives a copy of the pardon to the executioner, as the three guards still wait breathlessly for a signal to cut the cords. Horrified and in panic, the Dear One covers her eyes. The executioner finally orders the execution to be halted - the noose and black hood are removed, and the Boy falls dizzily backwards into the arms of the guards. He is congratulated and led back down the steps of the gallows. At the bottom of the scaffold, he can hardly believe that he has been saved from certain death in the last-minute rescue. Overcome emotionally with tears of joy and laughter, the Boy and the Dear One grab onto each other's shoulders - she kisses him, playfully musses up his hair, and embraces him. "Justice and restoration." Later in her apartment, the Dear One is presented with her baby. [The Modern Story is the only segment with a happy ending.]

The Judean Story finishes with brilliant light streaming from the top of the hillside where the crucifixion has taken place.

In a moralistic, preachy epilogue, director D. W. Griffith ends the film with an idealistic vision of a day: "when cannon and prison bars wrought in the fires of intolerance -" will no longer prevail. Storm clouds move above a modern battlefield scene, where guns are fired, lines of battle between soldiers are enjoined, and flashes of lightning spark. Hand-to-hand fighting between two men is centered in an iris and mortar fire blasts from giant guns. A military tank moves behind the battle lines. Prisoners in striped uniforms in a long corridor shake their fists up toward a prison wall. In the cloudy sky above the modern-day battlefield, white robed, pacifistic, angelic figurines appear, as one of the hand-to-hand combatants holds his rifle in mid-air before bayoneting his fallen opponent. "And perfect love shall bring peace forevermore." All the soldiers on the battlefield look up and drop their rifles.

An open vehicle with passengers waving happily from its sides flies through (superimposed) clouds. "Instead of prison walls -- Bloom flowery fields." Brilliant light descends from above toward the exterior of a prison. The prisoners who are gesturing toward the wall suddenly move through it (again superimposed trick photography) - the prison walls disappear. The exterior of the prison dissolves into an open country scene with a flowering field in the foreground, and mountains in the background. The field is filled with black workers. The soldiers on the battlefield extend their arms to the sky as clouds (with the angelic figurines) descend toward them. In a May Day type celebration, people happily dance on a grassy field, and two children sit on a unused cannon which has sprouted weeds and flowers. Two other children, a little boy and girl, are in the foreground playing happily together - he puts flowers in her hair, she blows him a kiss, and they both hug each other. From the battlefield, the soldiers look up and cheer toward the angelic figurines. A brilliant white cross appears over the scene. There is a final medium-close shot of the woman rocking the cradle.


The detailed credits are given for each story, followed by this explanation: "and, linking the stories, the woman who rocks the cradle, Lillian Gish."

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