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Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Donald Crisp, Edward Peil Sr., Arthur Howard ... see more see more... , George Andre Beranger , Ernest Butterworth Sr. , Kid McCoy , George Nichols , Karla Schramm , Wilbur Higby , Norman Selby

Based on "The Chink and the Child", a story by Thomas Burke, Broken Blossoms is one of D.W. Griffith's most poetic films. Richard Barthelmess plays a young Chinese aristocrat who hopes to spread the g... read more read more...ospel of his Eastern religion to the grimy corners of London's Limehouse district. Rapidly disillusioned, Barthelmess opens a curio shop and takes to smoking opium. One evening, Lillian Gish, the waif-like daughter of drunken prizefighter Donald Crisp, collapses on Barthelmess' doorstep after enduring one more of her father's brutal beatings. Barthelmess shelters the girl, providing her with the love and kindness that she has never known. Crisp, offended that his daughter is living with a "heathen," forces the girl to return home with him. In a terrible drunken rage, Crisp beats Lillian to death. Barthelmess arrives on the scene, kills Crisp, then kneels beside Lillian's body and takes his own life. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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73% liked it

3,683 ratings


95% liked it

20 critics

Unrated, 1 hr. 42 min.

Directed by: D.W. Griffith

Release Date: May 13, 1919

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DVD Release Date: May 11, 1999

Stats: 243 reviews

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Flixster Reviews (243)

  • fb733768972
    December 6, 2011
    New-age films definitely get some of their retrospective ideas from films such as Broken Blossoms. With no dialogue present it has to be a powerful story in order to have such an impact of sheer enjoyment and emotions, and this film goes above and beyond all expectations. As an a... read moresian man comes to London from his hometown for personal reasons, but when he get's caught up in an ugly, father/daughter conflict, he takes in little 12 year-old Lucy to nurture her after the beatings of her raged "Boxing Champion" father. The only feelings he sees is romantic and he tries to come-on to Lucy even though she would have no idea what he is trying to do. This film is beautifully told, easily understandable, it has an amazing orchestra following it, and the conclusion will make your gut spin. Broken Blossoms has true meaning and it is a film that I will remember forever. D.W. Griffith has made a masterpiece and it may just be one of my favourite films of all time!
  • March 29, 2010
    The image of Lillian Gish pushing up the corners of her mouth and forcing a smile is such a powerful and heartbreaking piece of cinema. Broken Blossoms is heartbreaking, bleak, depressing and truly beautiful, a real masterpiece and a must see classic!
  • December 2, 2009
    The attitudes of the film are of course wildly dated but taking that into account, something you really have to do to look at the film objectively, the story is sensitively told and the acting by the leads is touching. Also the use of different colors for different locations was ... read morea striking choice to set the mood of the piece.
  • June 10, 2008
    the story of a chinese man who falls in love with a girl of the london slums played by lillian gish. the chinese character is played by a white man and somewhat emasculated but overall it's a pretty sympathetic portrayal of interracial romance for 1919. some beautiful camerawor... read morek here if u can get past the inherent racist attitudes
  • July 15, 2013
    First film released by United Artists. D.W. is directly credited as the writer on this one. Though the alternative title, many of the title cards, and the fact that the main character is only ever named The Yellow Man is/are definitely insensitive. Richard Barthelmess's performan... read morece is decidedly sensitive and rich. Despite Lillian Gish being a regular muse for Griffith, it is Barthelmess's character who we see first and last. It is a Romeo and Juliet story. Our young Chinese hero, who becomes a shopkeeper in London's Limehouse District, perhaps is named Cheng Huan, since that is what his shop is called, but I could be wrong. The movie opens in China with our hero preparing to travel to London to be a Buddhist missionary. You see all religions teach the Golden Rule and why shouldn't those from other cultures and religions teach westerners to live better lives. With Griffith's racist attitudes, the very ones that keep our hero in the slums and provide restrictions and threats, the idea of a Buddhist missionary having anything to bring to the west may not have been taken seriously. But again, on screen it appears Barthelmess is not forced to make the character a caricature. The story even has him chat with a Catholic priest, whose younger brother is going into the cloth and heading off for China to be a missionary there. Our hero finds this amusing. Is it a situation of give and take? No. It's more like take and take.

    Well, enough of that, this is really a tragic love story. Roughly twenty-six year old Lillian Gish plays fifteen year old Lucy. Of course that was the norm amongst actresses of the silent era. She was abandoned by her mother, who was possibly a prostitute, and left in the care of a brutish father, who didn't really want her. She lives a sort of Cinderella life. Her gorilla of a father, Battling Burrows (Crisp), is a boxer and he beats her. After one incident, she tries to escape and by chance stumbles to Cheng Huan's shop. He is kind and gentle to her. He nurses her back to health. Though he is tempted a couple times to kiss her, he refrains in order to keep the relationship pure. A nosy friend of Battling alerts him to the fact that his daughter is in the upstairs apartment of the dirty foreigner. The tension in the final act is high. The plot is not particularly unique, though it is somewhat satisfying in a tragic way. The actors perform with gusto and the cinematography glows in spite of fairly static pieces of scenery and camera angles.
  • February 18, 2013
    Lillian Gish gives an inspiring and masterful performance in "Broken Blossoms," Griffith's film about an interracial romance during a time when phobia against Asians was at plague-like levels. Though many films of today depend on camera techniques and modern editing to create ten... read moresion in scenes, Gish's acting just about singularly creates the necessary tensions and tones that are carried scene after scene. Her character, along with Barthelmass's pitiful and, ironically, ignorantly named "Yellow Man" character (well, small steps...) serve as glimmers of innocence in the dark and glum Limehouse area the film is set in (it's even said that the dark and gritty environment of Battling's shack, though primitive and stale, is a precursor to noir.)

    The themes are at a minimum but still conspicuous enough to be amusing. Cheng the "Yellow Man" precociously, and naively, aspired to spread Buddha's message of peace to the West while a western missionary intended to spread the message of Christ to the East with packets on the subject of hell. Subtle social commentary on the peaceful methods of the East, abstractly seen as innocence embodied by Cheng, being stifled by the intimidation methods of the West (the recurring motif of bells is also a welcomed feature.) Battling, the antagonist, and his brute, xenophobic conduct serves as a great opposite to Cheng's timid, oppressed nature.

    The iris shots, tinting, and general nebulous look of many silent films, meshed with a tranquil score, lend a visually and rhythmically dreamy quality that is very present in "Broken Blossoms;" this was really a joy to watch and just a delightful piece of oneiric escapism. But, what really makes this film is, again, Lillian Gish. Her cradling a baby doll in an allusion to the Madonna or hysterically sobbing before being beaten by her draconian, amoral father makes this film sensational. The way she plays with her eyes, her facial features, and her body language is all fantastic, especially during a time when flat, stationary camera angles and prolonged, uncut shots demanded innovative and immaculate performances from actors and actresses.
  • January 11, 2011
    It was ok, but mostly meh. I was distracted by how stupid the "Asian" dude looked, because he was always squinting and looking 'derp'. It made it hard for me to take it seriously.
  • February 19, 2010
    Beautiful and poetic, but a little depressing.
  • April 14, 2008
    A nice little film with some groundbreaking themes. (Interracial love, child abuse, and losing religious faith.) I would have liked a little more build up to the love story but the film does look great.
  • January 26, 2008
    One of those silent classics I?ve been meaning to cross off the list. D.W. Griffin?s second post-Birth of a Nation project, and a continuation of his reformed view of race relations. Still racially offensive when viewed with modern standards, but rather progressive in the conte... read morext of its times. Not a technical triumph the way other silent classics like Metropolis is, the real triumph here is its unusually mature storyline. This probably wouldn?t be as impressive if it had come out in the later 20s, but in 1919 it was a real step forward.

Critic Reviews

Variety Staff
March 5, 2009
Variety Staff, Variety

Although the picture consumes only 90 minutes, it somehow seems draggy, for the reason that everything other than the scenes with the three principals seems extraneous and tends to clog the progressio... Full Review

Tom Milne
June 24, 2006
Tom Milne, Time Out

Very much on the credit side, though, are stretches of pure Griffith poetry, marvellous use of light and shadow in cameraman Billy Bitzer's evocation of foggy Limehouse, and a truly unforgettable perf... Full Review

March 25, 2006
New York Times

There is so much that is unusually excellent and excellently unusual in Broken Blossoms that one is compelled by enthusiasm to write about it. Full Review

Don Druker
May 14, 2005
Don Druker, Chicago Reader

One of D.W. Griffith's most beautiful films. Full Review

Roger Ebert
January 1, 2000
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Films like this, naive as they seem today, helped nudge a xenophobic nation toward racial tolerance. Full Review

August 8, 2011
TV Guide's Movie Guide

The most elemental and uncluttered of D.W. Griffith's major melodramas. Full Review

David Parkinson
August 8, 2011
David Parkinson, Empire Magazine

Definitely a silent drama fighting against the traditional limitations of the form and the strict social mores of the day. One of Lillian Gish's most moving performances. Full Review

Michael W. Phillips, Jr.
August 4, 2008
Michael W. Phillips, Jr., Goatdog's Movies

One of the screen's greatest symbioses of performance and photography. Full Review

Dennis Schwartz
May 28, 2007
Dennis Schwartz, Ozus' World Movie Reviews

This mawkish Victorian melodrama rises above its faults with a stylishly beautiful film that also brings real tragedy to the screen. Full Review

Ken Hanke
May 2, 2007
Ken Hanke, Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

It's an important film that should be seen, but it's hardly the flawless masterpiece it's often hailed as. Full Review

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    • London Policeman: We may believe there are no Battling Burrows, striking the helpless with brutal whip - but do we not ourselves use the whip of unkind words and deeds? So, perhaps, Battling may even carry the message of warning.

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Broken Blossoms Trivia

  • Which of the following movies was directed by an American director?  Answer »
  • Name the film in which: Lillian Gish eats leftover food off of plates she's cleaning.   Answer »
  • Who directed the famous silent classic Broken Blossoms (1919)?  Answer »

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