Silent Susie In A Silent Film: “True Heart Susie”

The title character in the D.W. Griffith film, True Heart Susie (1919), is a gentle country girl who is supposedly plain, except that Lillian Gish, who plays her, is not at all plain.  In love with a boy named William (Robert Harron), she sacrifices a great deal for him without his knowing it, but it is not Susie who receives William’s devotion.  It is a flighty, self-seeking girl, Bettina (Clarine Seymour), whom William marries. . . Although obvious in its moral meaning, the film is terrific, especially if its story (as claimed) is thoroughly true.

Marian Fremont purveyed a sensitive, un-sanctimonious script, wisely directed by Griffith.  Susie is a movie not a novel, but, with its rural setting, it is a purely American piece on the order of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Little Women (save for the motorcars in the film) and something like Edith Wharton’s 1917 book, Summer.  It partakes of a tradition.  And it pleases to see the subtle and touching performance of Gish and the trenchant acting of Seymour, who sadly died many, many years ago, at age 21, in 1920.

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