Home Sweet Home

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Home Sweet Home has been referred to by its leading lady Lillian Gish as "the first all-star film." Indeed, virtually every member of director D.W.Griffith's celebrated stock company appears in this three-part, five-reel biographical drama. Based on the life of John Howard Payne, composer of the "world-famous" title song, the film stars Henry B. Walthall as Payne, herein depicted as a brilliant but unstable artist who never found the happiness embodied in his songs. As incidents in Payne's life are enacted on the screen -- his early failures, his success as a playwright in England and as a composer in France, and his lonely, embittered final years in Africa -- these scenes are counterpointed with three "sub-stories," in which the song Home Sweet Home is shown to have a profound effect on several different people. In Episode One, a western miner (Robert Harron) nearly leaves his waitress sweetheart Mae Marsh), but they are reunited to the strains of the Payne song. In Episode Two, the song causes a faithless wife (Blanche Sweet) to renounce her lover (Owen Moore) and return to her husband (Courtenay Foote). And in the final episode, two quarrelling brothers (Donald Crisp and James Kirkwood) kill each other, leaving their grieving mother to find solace in the familiar strains of Home Sweet Home. Though Lillian Gish also spoke respectfully of her artistic collaborations with D.W. Griffith, even she found the film's final scene -- in which, dressed as Heavenly angel, she rescues John Howard Payne from the bowels of Hell -- a bit difficult to watch with a straight face. This silly denouement aside, Home Sweet Home, a joint effort of the Reliance and Mutual film companies, was quite wonderful entertainment, and one of the most successful of Griffith's pre-Birth of a Nation endeavors. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi


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