“The Mother And The Law” (1919)–The Little-Seen Film That Became “Intolerance”

“Good, or even inspired in many of its aspects, it was simply not the sort of picture everyone had come to expect of Griffith,” was the prevailing sentiment over D.W. Griffith’s drama The Mother and the Law. Starring Bobby Harron and Mae Marsh, it told the tragic tale of a young couple whose lives are torn apart by circumstance and unjust authority. With its low budget and intimate storyline it had more in common with Griffith’s one- to three-reel Biograph “potboilers” than the “prestige pictures” that were now associated with his name. Originally filmed in 1914, after The Birth of a Nation‘s success it was shelved, eventually taken out again and tinkered with, used as a humble kickoff point for Griffith’s mega-epic Intolerance (1916), and finally tinkered with some more before being released in 1919 as a standalone film.

Amazon.com: The Mother and the Law (1919) : Mae Marsh, Robert Harron, D.W.  Griffith: Movies & TV
Its most famous poster, which was based on either a cut scene or a publicity still.

Bobby and Mae’s scenes are some of my favorite parts of Intolerance, so I was excited to finally watch The Mother and the Law recently. Most of it was familiar footage, but I found myself unprepared for some of Marsh’s scenes that didn’t make it into Intolerance (or perhaps they were added later). Lillian Gish once said of Marsh that “she was the only actress of whom I was ever jealous.” I always thought that was nice and gracious of her–Marsh was very good. But after seeing The Mother and the Law, boy oh boy, now I understand exactly what Gish meant.

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