D.W. Griffith gets biblical (or not, depending on whether you accept the apocrypha) with the story of an Assyrian invasion of Israel and the smokin’ hot widow who decides the best path to victory is to make the enemy general lose his head, literally. Blanche Sweet makes a powerful impression as the titular heroine but the story is Victorianized to minimize her awesomeness. The enemy general is cute and gives her gifts, you see. Sure, he’s looting and pillaging and enslaving but, but, stuff! It seems that sword-wielding patriots still must think with their ovaries. Sigh.
There are two things that will age a film like nothing else. The first is men’s swimwear. The second is the art of the sexy dance. From Leni Riefenstahl’s bizarre lurching in The Holy Mountain to whatever the heck Fern Foster was doing in Brute Island, these performances have no aged well. That’s putting it mildly.
Brute Island was released in 1914 but it doesn’t win the Silly Dance of the Year prize. No, that honor goes to the Assyrian fishy dancers from Judith of Bethulia. As you can see from the GIF at the top of the post, whaaaaaaa?!?!?!
It’s supposed to be a fish dance but is she also a bunny? A fish-bunny? I’m so confused!
For comparison, here is Fern Foster:
(The director’s wife, everybody! Really.)
You can read my full-length review of Judith of Bethulia here and get the skinny on the Assyrian predilection for fish-bunnies. You can also read my review of Brute Island but I don’t recommend it. That nasty pile of wretchedness is sitting at the bottom (top?) of my bottom 5 list for a reason.
Availability: Judith of Bethulia is available on DVD from Alpha with an abysmal print and canned score. Its lone advantage is that it is cheap. I recommend getting the Reelclassicdvd release, which has a decent print and a custom, professional score.
If you must, Brute Island is available on DVD from Alpha as well. It features a really weird New-Agey piano score. Again, cheap. The Grapevine release is almost certainly superior but I have not viewed it myself.
Villainy is afoot in ancient Israel, the Assyrians have laid siege to a little mountain town. All seems to be lost. But the Assyrians didn’t count on a young widow named Judith (Blanche Sweet), who wields a mean saber. Will the charms of the enemy general (Henry B. Walthall) derail her plans? Or will our Assyrian lose his head over the comely widow? This is an early feature film and the start of director D.W. Griffith’s big, Big, BIG! period.
Continue reading “Judith of Bethulia (1914) A Silent Film Review”