The Wind is a masterful Western melodrama- via Sweden. Lillian Gish plays Letty- the protagonist. Gish also used her considerable clout getting the production made and picked Swedish auteur Victor Sjöström as director. The film also stars Swedish actor Lars Hanson as Lige.
Sjöström brilliantly incorporates the vastness of nature (a phrase in the title text here) into his previous works like A Man There Was (1917) and The Outlaw and His Wife (1918) so he is a perfect fit here for the material.
Shot in the Mojave Desert- aircraft propellers were used for the wind effect
Letty moves from Virginia to the western town of Sweetwater. The wind (from the title of course) is unbearable in the west- and Sjöström uses effective cutaways to accentuate the window panes filled with sand and the whipping winds all while Gish (and this is some of her best work- a major coup for her) slowly, but surely, loses her mind.
Gish is 35 years old here and looks 14- that is just how she looked. She still has that sort of baby face in 1955’s The Night of the Hunter. The point is she makes for a great victim even if she did not have her considerable acting talents- she was the victim in 1915’s The Birth of a Nation as well. Shortcut casting helps- even when Letty is not prey to the men here- Dorothy Cumming as Cora towers over Gish (and Gish is 5’5 so this is casting) and you, as the audience, immediately side with the pint-sized Gish.
A sublime dissolve blending the lone lamp in the frame and Gish’s Letty.
At the dance, Gish’s Letty and Roddy (Montagu Love) are in the doorway. Hanson’s Lige is flanking and spying on them in a strong composition.
The weather the most important character in the film along with Letty—it gives the film an apocalyptic/epic feel- and we are talking about a 95 minute melodrama with really 4-6 characters in total.
The deranged evil eyes of the Roddy character in closeup as he looks at a viewfinder picture of Gish just before the 60-minute mark—the next cut is to Letty washing plates with sand.
Sjöström puts together one of the greatest silent montages this side of Eisenstein for the big storm as the lanterns blow in the wind and items come alive in the house- windows break, furniture is flying around and Letty is breaking down with the pending rape and pounding at the door. Sjöström drops in some symbolism with the wild mustang kicking- a sensational scene.
The camera tracks in on Gish the morning after—and then in on Love’s Roddy after he gets shot.
Gish is in every scene (as opposed to say The Birth of a Nation or certainly Intolerance).
Sjöström’s final American film, and this is Gish’s last film for MGM
The final, satisfying composition is of Lige and Letty in the wind holding each other as a close up dissolves into a medium shot of the same pose with the open door (and wind) on the right.
Awesome, I was waiting for this ever since you did the rest of that Sjöström in July. Can’t wait for Wild Strawberries.