Judith of Bethulia (1913-14)

Rated NR 70 minutes

Conservative Biograph Studios, having galloped to prominence on the coattails of their star director D.W. Griffith, refused to allow Griffith to make any film longer than two reels. Ignoring this edict, Griffith permitted his Biblical epic Judith of Bethulia to stretch to four reels; Biograph's reprimands were so blistering that the director quit the studio, setting up his own independent operation. While of great historical value, Judith of Bethulia is, truth to tell, not one of Griffith's best efforts. Among other things, the film is hampered by uninteresting exterior locations and a storyline that switched dramatic gears far too often. The basic story of young widow Judith (Blanche Sweet) offering herself to Assyrian leader Holofernes (Henry B. Walthall) in order to kill the man and thus avenge the subjugation and slaughter of her countrymen was strong enough on its own to carry the day. It was hardly necessary for Griffith to concoct a last-minute-rescue subplot involving Bethulian warrior Robert Harron and damsel in distress Mae Marsh. Historians have suggested that Griffith, impressed by the recently released Italian spectacular Quo Vadis, may have conceived Judith as an American answer to that film--an ill-advised decision, since the plotlines of the two properties bear precious little resemblance to each other. Still, it is fascinating to watch Griffith experiment with many of the story elements and techniques that he'd later hone to perfection in such films as Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance (1916) and Orphans of the Storm (1916); it's also an enjoyable film-buff exercise to spot such Griffith regulars as Lillian and Dorothy Gish and Harry Carey in minor roles. Biograph--whose fortunes diminished after Griffith's departure--reissued Judith of Bethulia in 1917 in an expanded version titled Her Condoned Sin, using outtakes that Griffith had wisely jettisoned back in 1914.~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Film Credits

Director: D.W. Griffith

Writer: Thomas Bailey Aldrich and D.W. Griffith

Cast: Blanche Sweet, Henry B. Walthall, Robert Harron, Kate Bruce and Lillian Gish

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