The acting is particularly good. One reviewer here said to watch it for the stars, and that is certainly a good reason to watch it. Bobby Harron, does a wonderful job of playing a sincere and naive young man who is fooled by a week and superficial woman. He has an extremely sensitive face and when you look at him you seem to be able to see into his very soul.
Lillian Gish plays the shy, plain and simple girl who loves him. In her scenes with Harron, they had a chemistry which fills the screen. She starts out as plain girl, but about half way through the film she starts to look pretty. It is a gradual transformation and she pulls it off remarkably well, gradually accenting her better features and holding her body more gracefully. She also seems to grow as a person in the film. She starts out as an awkward child living in a fantasy world where she imagines that she is loved more than she actually is. As the film progresses, she learns to face reality, to learn how to look pretty and act gracefully without changing who she is. None of this is accomplished in any great dramatic way. It is accomplished the way these things are often done in real life, quietly, by small incidents which are important to the person but not that important to anyone else. But when these incidents occur, you see a slight physical change on the surface, but somehow she also shows you a dramatic change deep inside her whole being. How she accomplishes this is a mystery to me and one of the miracles of acting.
At one time Lillian remarked that "Virgins are the hardest roles to play. those dear little girls - to make them interesting takes great vitality, but a fallen woman or a vamp!-75 per cent of your work is already done." Lilian played all three, virgins, vamps and fallen women - and played them well. Here she plays perhaps her most difficult virgin. A girl who has nothing extraordinary to distinguish her except her quiet love for Robert. Well, remarkably enough, she makes the role interesting and sympathetic. I don't know an actress today who could do it.
As good a Lilian is, she nearly has the film stolen from her by Clarine Seymour who plays the the "vamp" in this film. Well, perhaps 75% of her work is already done, but she supplies the other 25% with great enthusiasm. She never makes the mistake of making her character hateful. That would make the character too one dimensional. She shows us, instead, a charming woman who is too week to resist temptation and too cowardly to tell the truth. Thus, she ruins her own life and nearly all the lives around her. You hate her for her weakness but you love her for her charm and beauty. She walks that tightrope between charm and evil perfectly.
Aside from the acting there are other things to like about this forgotten gem. The camera work by Bitzer is almost beyond belief, when you consider when it was done. He could create moods with the camera that make you think he was inside the actors thoughts.
Let us also remember the director. Griffith was a director that worked in concepts. In a film like this, where he was using his best actors and crew, he would not tell them how to play it. He would give them the concept he wanted and let them create it. If he didn't like what they did, he would go over it again and they would try again. By doing this he filled the set with the atmosphere of the film and everyone was attune to it. This shows in the film and the way the tension builds between characters as their lives play out. A palpable universe is created here.
If what Lillian said about virgins is true, the same can be said about a film that tries to portray simple, honest values. The film succeeds in doing this very well. If you enjoy this kind of film then I would seek this one out, it is really remarkable.
When I first wrote this comment, there were no commercially available copies of this film on DVD. Since then it has been issued in an excellent version. Highly recommended for film buffs and people who appreciate real things.