Los Angeles Times - 07/06/1990
"...There has never been a movie quite like INTOLERANCE, and few, if any, have been so influential..."
Sight and Sound - 08/01/2002
"...Here Griffith's remarkable editing scheme takes the film into virtually abstract realms, making it also a large-scale meditation on the nature of cinematic space and narrative construction..."
Entertainment Weekly - 01/11/2002
"...[With] miraculous cinematography, and charismatic performances..."
Description by OLDIES.com:
D. W. Griffith had a vision of the movies as the greatest spiritual force the world had ever known. Just one year after the huge success of Birth of a Nation, he was emboldened to prove his faith in the new medium with the superproduction Intolerance.
Four separate stories are interwoven: the fall of Babylon, the death of Christ, the massacre of the Huguenots, and a contemporary (early 20th Century) drama -- all crosscut and building with enormous energy to a thrilling chase and finale. Through the juxtaposition of these well-known sagas, Griffith joyously makes clear his markedly deterministic view of history, namely that the suffering of innocents makes possible the salvation of the current generation, symbolized by the boy in the modern love story.
Griffith's concept and execution of Intolerance are awesome, but audiences of 1916 were generally bewildered by his lofty intentions. He aimed too high and spent the rest of his career paying off the large debts that his vision had incurred.
Silent film director D.W. Griffith's biggest, most ambitious spectacle uses stories from different times and places to illustrate humanity's intolerance of religious differences throughout the ages. The most visually impressive of these chronicles is the fall of Babylon, for which Griffith built the largest sets in Hollywood and filled them with thousands of extras; there's also Christ's crucifixion and the massacre of the Heugenots in 15th century France. The most emotionally involving tale is the "modern" one, about a poor girl (Mae Marsh) whose life is repeatedly ruined by the zealotry of social reformers. The image of a mother (Lillian Gish) rocking her child in a cradle ("the uniter of the here and hereafter") links the stories. At one point, angels reach down from heaven to stop soldiers in midbattle, making it clear that Griffith intended this follow-up to THE BIRTH OF A NATION as a message of global peace and love (and an answer to his critics' accusations of racism). For a nation poised to enter World War I, this was perhaps the wrong message, and INTOLERANCE opened to mixed reviews and poor attendance. It is now rightly recognized as a unique work of cinematic art. The restored version includes color-tinted scenes.
D.W. Griffith's large-scale epic spans several centuries and cultures. The film is made up of four distinct stories linked solely by a single common thread: intolerance. Three of the stories are based on historical fact: France during the reign of Charles IX; the birth and crucifixion of Christ; and the fall of Babylonia. The fourth tale is a "modern" story of greed, cruelty and betrayal.
INTOLERANCE was an original selection to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1989.
INTOLERANCE was released two years after THE BIRTH OF A NATION, and is widely regarded as director D.W. Griffith's protest and self-defense against the charges of racism leveled at him for BIRTH's glorification of the Ku Klux Klan.
Among the dancers in the Babylonian sequence was the young Martha Graham, performing at the time with modern dance choreographer Ruth St. Denis's company.
As was the case with THE BIRTH OF A NATION, Griffith continued to tinker with the finished product during the following years, cutting out scenes and re-editing. But in 1989, Gillian B. Anderson and Peter Williamson created a reconstructed version using all available footage as well as still photographs to substitute for missing sequences; this restoration gave a better sense of what the original print might have been like. This version was shown at the New York Film Festival on October 29, 1989.
The film was very costly and not terribly successful at the time; Griffith chose to reedit the individual stories into shorts and also release them separately.