This film is the story of a family caught up in the American Revolutionary War. The story begins in the village of Lexington in Massachusetts prior to the Revolutionary War. Nathan Holden, a poor Patriot farmer and express rider, played by Neil Hamilton, is in love with Nancy Montague, played by Carol Dempster, a Tory aristocrat from Virginia living on a mountain estate on the James River. Nancy’s father, Justice Montague, played by Erville Alderson, and brother, Justice Charles Montague, played by Charles Emmett Mack, both disapprove of her relationship with a Patriot. Complications ensue when during a fight on the streets of Lexington, someone pushes Nathan’s arm causing him to discharge his gun and accidentally wound Nancy’s father, Justice Montague. When Captain Walter Butler, a deputy for the king’s superintendent, played by Lionel Barrymore, takes an interest in Nancy, her father is delighted much to Nancy’s disappointment. Will Nathan and Nancy break up due to them being on opposite sides of the war?
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Aside from Lionel Barrymore, Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon on the 60s Batman TV series) and Louis Wolheim (Kat in the original All Quiet on the Western Front) the cast are mostly forgotten, as is the film itself, but it's surprisingly enjoyable. The plot almost seems a template for The Patriot, with the unscrupulous British Captain William Butler (Barrymore) out to use the war to start a private empire of his own with the aid of the local tribes and a rather grafted on across-the-divide love story between Carol Dempster's loyalist and Hamilton's rebel (their chances aren't exactly helped when he accidentally shoots her father!). There might be some added poignancy to be found in the knowledge that Dempster was Griffith's own unrequited love, but the onscreen romance doesn't exactly burn up the screen. Griffith seems more interested in the epic canvas in front of him as the film goes through many of the cornerstones of the war - the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Paul Revere's midnight rides, the Battle of Bunker Hill, Valley Forge - with some skill. The battle scenes are good but do feel like rehashes of the ones from Birth of a Nation and it shares that film's unfortunate convention of the day in using whites in blackface, which in many ways looks more ridiculous than insulting these days. It may have helped tumble Griffith from his position as the world's leading film director, but overall it's an entertaining silent epic that stands up far better than its reputation would imply.
Although still missing at least half an hour from its original version, Image's DVD is a good transfer. No extras.