Intolerance (1916) - Rotten Tomatoes

Intolerance (1916)



Critic Consensus: A pioneering classic and one of the most influential films ever made, D.W. Griffith's Intolerance stands as the crowning jewel in an incredible filmography.

Movie Info

Sometime during the shooting of the landmark The Birth of a Nation, filmmaker D.W. Griffith probably wondered how he could top himself. In 1916, he showed how, with the awesome Intolerance. The film began humbly enough as a medium-budget feature entitled The Mother and the Law, wherein the lives of a poor but happily married couple are disrupted by the misguided interference of a "social reform" group. A series of unfortunate circumstances culminates in the husband's being sentenced to the gallows, a fate averted by a nick-of-time rescue engineered by his wife. In the wake of the protests attending the racist content of The Birth of a Nation, Griffith wanted to demonstrate the dangers of intolerance. The Mother and the Law filled the bill to some extent, but it just wasn't "big" enough to suit his purposes. Thus, using The Mother and the Law as merely the base of the film, Griffith added three more plotlines and expanded his cinematic thesis to epic proportions. The four separate stories of Intolerance are symbolically linked by Lillian Gish as the Woman Who Rocks the Cradle ("uniter of the here and hereafter"). The "Modern Story" is essentially The Mother and the Law; the "French Story" details the persecution of the Huguenots by Catherine de Medici (Josephine Crowell); the "Biblical Story" relates the last days of Jesus Christ (Howard Gaye); and the "Babylonian Story" concerns the defeat of King Belshazzar (Alfred Paget) by the hordes of Cyrus the Persian (George Siegmann). Rather than being related chronologically, the four stories are told in parallel fashion, slowly at first, and then with increasing rapidity. The action in the film's final two reels leaps back and forth in time between Babylon, Calvary, 15th century France, and contemporary California. Described by one historian as "the only film fugue," Intolerance baffled many filmgoers of 1916 -- and, indeed, it is still an exhausting, overwhelming experience, even for audiences accustomed to the split-second cutting and multilayered montage sequences popularized by Sergei Eisenstein, Orson Welles, Jean-Luc Godard, Joel Schumacher, and MTV. On a pure entertainment level, the Babylonian sequences are the most effective, played out against one of the largest, most elaborate exterior sets ever built for a single film. The most memorable character in this sequence is "The Mountain Girl," played by star on the rise Constance Talmadge; when the Babylonian scenes were re-released as a separate feature in 1919, Talmadge's tragic death scene was altered to accommodate a happily-ever-after denouement. Other superb performances are delivered by Mae Marsh and Robert Harron in the Modern Story, and by Eugene Pallette and Margery Wilson in the French Story. Remarkably sophisticated in some scenes, appallingly na´ve in others, Intolerance is a mixed bag dramatically, but one cannot deny that it is also a work of cinematic genius. The film did poorly upon its first release, not so much because its continuity was difficult to follow as because it preached a gospel of tolerance and pacifism to a nation preparing to enter World War I. Currently available prints of Intolerance run anywhere from 178 to 208 minutes; while it may be rough sledding at times, it remains essential viewing for any serious student of film technique. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovimore
Rating: PG
Genre: Classics
Directed By:
Written By: D.W. Griffith, Tod Browning
In Theaters:
On DVD: Dec 10, 2002
Cohen Media Group


Lillian Gish
as Cradle Rocker
Constance Talmadge
as Mountain Girl
Bessie Love
as Bride of Cana
Seena Owen
as Princess Love
Alfred Paget
as Belshazzar
Miriam Cooper
as Friendless One
Mary Alden
as "Uplifter" and Refor...
Elmer Clifton
as Rhapsode
Fred Turner
as The Girl's Father
Edmund Burns
as The 2nd Charioteer o...
Vera Lewis
as Mary Jenkins
Eleanor Washington
as `Uplifter'/Reformer
Pearl Elmore
as `Uplifter'/Reformer
Lucille Brown
as `Uplifter'/Reformer
Max Davidson
as The Kindly Neighbor
Mrs. Arthus Mackley
as `Uplifter'/Reformer
Luray Huntley
as `Uplifter'/Reformer
Walter Long
as The Musketeer of the...
Tom Wilson
as The Kindly Policeman
Eagle Eye Cherry
as Barbarian Chieftain
Ralph Lewis
as The Governor
Lloyd Ingraham
as The Judge
Ruth Handforth
as Brown Eyes' Mother
A. W. McClure
as Father Farley
J. P. McCarthy
as Prison Guard
Dore Davidson
as The Friendly Neighbo...
Monte Blue
as Strike Leader
William E. Lawrence
as Henry of Navarre
Tod Browning
as A Crook
Jennifer Lee
as Woman at Jenkins' Em...
Billy Quirk
as Bartender
Tully Marshall
as A Friend of the Musk...
Marguerite Marsh
as A Debutante Guest at...
Barney Bernard
as Attorney for the Boy
Jennie Lee
as Woman at Dance of Je...
Clyde Hopkins
as Jenkins's Secretary
Loyola O'Connor
as Attareo's Slave
William Brown
as The Warden/The Bride...
Alberta Lee
as The Wife of the Frie...
Howard Gaye
as The Nazarene/Cardina...
Howard Scott
as A Babylonian Dandy
Olga Grey
as Mary Magdalene
A.D. Sears
as The Mercenary
Gunther von Ritzau
as First Pharisee
Erich von Stroheim
as Second Pharisee
George Walsh
as Bridegroom
W.S. Van Dyke
as A Wedding Guest
Margery Wilson
as Brown Eyes
Winifred Westover
as The Favorite of Egib...
Ruth Handford
as Her Mother
A. D. Sears
as The Mercenary
Frank Bennett
as Charles IX
Mildred Harris
as Harem Girl
Maxfield Stanley
as Duc d'Anjou
Josephine Crowell
as Catherine de Medici
W. E. Lawrence
as Henry of Navarre
Joseph Henaberry
as Admiral Coligny
Morris S. Levy
as Duc de Guise
Louis Romaine
as A Catholic Priest
Carl Stockdale
as King Nabonidus
George Siegmann
as Cyrus the Persian
Elmo Lincoln
as The Mighty Man of Va...
Gino Corrado
as The Runner
Pauline Starke
as Harem Girl
Wallace Reid
as A Boy Killed in the ...
Ted Duncan
as Captain of the Gate/...
Felix Modjeska
as Bodyguard to the Pri...
Kate Bruce
as Old Babylonian Woman
Spottiswood Aitken
as Brown Eyes' Father
Ruth St. Denis
as Solo Dancer
Jack Cosgrove
as Chief Eunuch
Eagle Eye
as Barbarian Chieftain
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Intolerance

Critic Reviews for Intolerance

All Critics (32) | Top Critics (6)

All at once the Moloch of cineastical good intentions, the first great juggernaut of auteur ambition, and the largest experimental film ever made.

Full Review… | May 9, 2014
Village Voice
Top Critic

Griffith's trademark closeups lend a quivering lip or a trembling hand the tragic grandeur of historical cataclysm.

Full Review… | May 5, 2014
New Yorker
Top Critic

Intolerance looks both backward and forward. The strong exploit the weak, it cries, and all governments throughout history are evil.

Full Review… | July 30, 2013
Village Voice
Top Critic

Intolerance reflects much credit to the wizard director, for it required no small amount of genuine art to consistently blend actors, horses, monkeys, geese, doves, acrobats and ballets into a composite presentation of a film classic.

Full Review… | February 6, 2008
Top Critic

The verdict Intolerance renders in the controversy concerning its maker is that he is a real wizard of lens and screen.

Full Review… | April 8, 2006
New York Times
Top Critic

One of the great breakthroughs -- the Ulysses of the cinema -- and a powerful, moving experience in its own right.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Intolerance

Project 2 (Epic films)

Directed by D. W. Griffith and staring Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh and Robert Harron.

Unlike D. W. Griffith Racists town for his blockbuster the Birth of a Nation and the charging that it had overt racist content, characterizing racism as people's intolerance of other people's views. So he takes us throw 4 Eras were peoples intolerance to each other has lead to the failure of them and the people in general that are affected.

Intolerance was a colossal undertaking filled with monumental sets, lavish period costumes, and more than 3,000 extras. The film consisted of four distinct but parallel stories that demonstrated mankind's intolerance during four different ages in world history.
The timeline covered approximately 2,500 years of our intolerances and ages.

The story themselves are together not just straight forward chronological order...No, Each scene is like it affects somewhere else in a different Era starting with the cruserfiction of Jesus Christ and how religion is affecting us in the modern Era.

The Babylonian period tells the story of the fall of there nation witch resulted in nothing but intolerances between them and the gods. And the massive War machines they plan to build to destroy there Enemies.

The Judean Era is only a short one but it is the Era that will affect most people with the cruserfiction of Jesus Christ, which the intolerance of Romans and Jews lead to that.
The French Renaissance Era in tells the story of Edict of Tolerances' which will lead to the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre.
The modern Era tells that of the intolerances between Man and his brother and the way life is being affected by Crime and corporal punishment in where an innocent man will be hang at the gallows.

The story themselves will really speak to you throughout the movie not just focusing on massive sets. I admit this is very old but just the story telling is what I love about the movie it's better then what I wrote. It's the editing and the way scenes are put in place to move you as a viewer. And the films' ending is like the 4 different Eras are still alive even though it's past that.

The reason for all this mountains of amazing footage and sets and costumes and locations is that intolerances cost just over $2 million American dollars. Now that is a stunning amount for its time this only happened because of the Birth of a Nation in which that made millions for its investors and associates. But by all accounts this movie was a massive failure at the box office only making 2 hundred thousand back of its 2 million budget. I am stunned that more people didn't see this movie it's like the avatar of the 1910s.


Such fantastic sets for the Babylon era just left me stunned, that camera that moves in from the top to the bottom was just amazing and for it's time of course. Not just that but the massive wall during the invasion scene were they fire arrows down onto the massive war machines just left me thinking how he did it? I mean did he build those walls? Or are they moving miniatures? I don't know the special effects are just that believable. That whole invasion scene in general will go in my favorite film scenes list.

The editing well...It's very hard to do by Griffith it's not the one near liner but more of the Close ups and Long tracking shot's for more of that Era feel to it so you see everything. And the camera moving down into the city was just amazing. The only thing I didn't like about this movie was its assonating length of 3 hours or even over. It's not that the move is boring No I just felt that certain things could have been shortened during the French and Modern American Eras came around in scenes.

The acting is extremely good just the emotions they put into scenes to capture that real silent feel to it. And with a cast of thousands you will see things that will impresses you a lot. I think the music and costume designs were extremely good I just loved how they captured that staggering aspect to the film.

But overall it's nothing short of an assonating masterpiece of the silent Era. With some of the best story telling and special effects I have seen. With such a blend of different editing techniques and even the story themselves.

Keiko's score 97-100

Keiko A. --Samurai--
Keiko Aya

Super Reviewer

Whatever you think of D.W. Griffith's opinions on race -- I think they're despicable -- you cannot deny that he was a brilliant and innovative filmmaker. I had been wanting to see this film for ages, and I was not disappointed...well, not much, anyway,

This film --partially as apology for Birth of a Nation I'm sure -- attempts to demonstrate the evils of intolerance through four interwoven stories set throughout history. In reality only two of the stories are really covered in full, while the other two are just sketched over. As the film progresses, the stories get more and more intertwined as their plots begin to meld and mime each other, until their climaxes (climaces?) where the same things appear to be happening in each storyline. Therein lies a bit of a problem, in that the film begins to get confusing. I had heard that was the issue when the film was first released, so I was prepared, but it didn't help much.

While the story wasn't as clear as I would have liked, the technical aspects of the film and the details Griffith put in were unbelievable. Anyone else would have built the massive city of Babylon as a miniature. Griffith built it full-scale, and it is stupendous. To film in this city, he even developed new ways of mounting and moving the camera so as to get shots no one had gotten until that time.

Griffith's racist attitudes are disgusting. His talents as a filmmaker are breathtaking. Do the ends justify the means?

Cindy I

Super Reviewer


D.W. Griffith's "Intolerance" is my pick for the most influential film ever made. Try looking at any film that came after it and you will find direct connections. Lofty, gaudy and epic.

Steven Carrier

Super Reviewer

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