Enoch Arden (1911)    2 Stars
Enoch Arden (1911)
Enoch Arden (1911)

Director: D. W. Griffith

Cast:  Wilfred Lucas, Linda Arvidson, Francis J. Grandon

Synopsis: A fisherman returns home after being shipwrecked for years.






Although it would be 1914 before D W Griffith ushered the cinema industry into the era of the feature movie with Judith of Bethulia (quickly followed by his notorious The Birth of a Nation), the signs of his growing impatience with the single reel format were evident as early as 1911 when he made Enoch Arden, an adaptation of a story by Alfred Lord Tennyson which ran to 17 minutes. Biograph were unconvinced that audiences were capable of sitting for such a staggering length of time and instructed exhibitors to play the reels on successive days. However, the audiences complained about a movie which ended so abruptly, and called upon the exhibitors to film both reels as one uninterrupted movie.

Griffith’s own development as a filmmaker is also evident in the use of more elaborate sets than on his earlier films, and in the way he directs his actors, encouraging them to adopt a much more naturalistic technique than in previous films. For once, these actors don’t appear to be performing for those in the back seats, but resemble real people.

Enoch Arden is the story of a fisherman (Wilfred Lucas – His Trust) with a young family who decides to sign up for duties on a ship which sinks during a violent thunderstorm. Arden and a couple of shipmates make it to a desert island, but his two companions soon die, leaving him to survive alone for years. Meanwhile, at home his devoted wife (Linda Arvidsen – The Unchanging Sea, His Trust) finds her resistance to the marriage proposal of a persistent suitor (Francis J. Grandon – The House with Closed Shutters, The Lonedale Operator) beginning to weaken.

Although it lacks Griffith’s trademark cross-cutting, Enoch Arden still manages to generate a fair amount of suspense when the title character is finally rescued and returns home with the hope of resuming his old life (even though, judging by the ages of his two children, at least fifteen years have passed), and boasts a poignant ending which retains much of its power in a way that early silent movies rarely do. This is largely thanks to Griffith’s decision to tone down his actors’ performances, thereby allowing a modern audience to concentrate on the plot without the continuing distraction of flailing arms and facial contortions.

(Reviewed 17th March 2015)

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