In late 1930, at the request of the New York Evening Post, D. W. Griffith named the fifty films he considered the greatest ever made.
He noted, “Modesty, under ordinary circumstances, would dictate that one should not include his own works in such a list, but I have included those of my own which I think rightfully belong, not because I think they are great, but because the public and the press have generally acclaimed them as such.”
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Avenging Conscience, The (1914)
Beau Geste (1926)
Big Parade, The (1925)
Birth of a Nation, The (1915)
Broken Blossoms (1919)
Covered Wagon, The (1923)
Crowd, The (1928)
Dark Angel, The (1925)
Down to the Sea in Ships (1922)
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The (1921)
Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life (1925)
Hunchback of Notre Dame, The (1923)
Kid, The (1921)
King of Kings, The (1927)
Last Laugh, The (1924)
Little Old New York (1923)
Mark of Zorro, The (1920)
Marriage Circle, The (1924)
Merry Widow, The (1925)
Miracle Man, The (1919)
Monsieur Beaucaire (1924)
Orphans of the Storm (1921)
Patriot, The (1928)
Robin Hood (1922)
Quo Vadis? (1925)
Sea Hawk, The (1924)
Seventh Heaven (1927)
Smilin’ Through (1922)
Stella Dallas (1925)
Stella Maris (1918)
Ten Commandments, The (1923)
Tol’able David (1921)
Valiant, The (1929)
War Brides (1916)
Way Down East (1920)
Way of All Flesh, The (1928)
What Price Glory? (1926)
White Sister, The (1923)
very interesting, i’ve not seen this before- i think now most critics would have a few less by Griffith in the 50, at least one which has a proper international representation, which he doesn’t.
Two glaring omissions from DWG’s list are THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and NOSFERATU, both of which he probably saw since they were given huge international distribution. Some of the later, less overtly Expressionistic German movies are included on his list, though.
The Soviet silent cinema is also absent. What of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, MOTHER, MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA, and other masterpieces of that epoch? The Russians LOVED Griffith’s work and studied it relentlessly in the Kuleshov workshops.
And finally what of Charlie Chaplin, Griffith’s business partner in United Artists? Only THE KID makes it among the top 50 films?
It appears that DWG had ideological and personal blind spots in his selections. If he’d cut 2-3 of his less important movies, there would have been room for some of the other early masterpieces.
seems to me Mr. Griffith was not just a very academic critic but a bit of a narcissist as well!
(true as it is about Birth of a Nation and Intolerance,how can any auteur/artist,whatever add on a personal list films of his/her own???)
seems to me Mr. Griffith was not just a very academic critic
Griffith grew up on a dirt farm and dropped out of school when he was 14. He was as academic as a coal miner. It seems your use of the descriptor “academic” is nothing more than a catch all for “I don’t like that.”
In a Time Out poll Boetticher picked a couple of his own films in his top 10 (that noone else did) and ditto Bryan Forbes in the last Sight and Sound poll. Well, of course Frank is quite right about the failings of Griffith’s list which really should have American or US in the title- and even then yes The Gold Rush is a glaring absentee. Foolish Wives might deserve inclusion, and Buster Keaton now seems very hard done by!
the Soviet dismissal alone is an obvious misfire!!!!
Disraeli over October???
Also where is Cabiria, apparently much admired by Griffith? The film Good Morning Babylon (by Italian directors) from what i know fairly promotes it as a central influence on his great epics
Kenji,do you honestly think any critic similar to Griffith’s assertion would have added Cabiria in a list like the one above?
i hardly doubt The Lodger or Limite would have had a better distinction…
where’s also Dulac’s La Souriante Madame Beudet?
Kenji,do you mean Good Morning Babylon by Taviani Brothers?
Yes the Tavianis, with Charles Dance as DW.
Well there are so many international classics missing, taken with Griffith’s earlier approval of Cabiria, that i can only assume he meant just US films.
@Kenji: At first, I thought it was only a list of U.S. films myself. Then I noticed that DWG had included The Last Laugh (1924) and Variety (1925). That makes the exclusion of all the other great international silent-era films all the more glaring.
BTW, I should have also mentioned A Page of Madness, the Japanese film that was heavily influenced by the early Soviet and German cinemas. Of course, that was one that Griffith may not have been aware of since it was not well distributed in the U.S.
>>Two glaring omissions from DWG’s list are THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and NOSFERATU, both of which he probably saw since they were given huge international distribution.<<
Well, given CALIGARI came to the US on the heels of the end of WWI, it was much protested by crowds outside the theaters that played & showings were often disrupted by audiences who werew baffled by the visual aproach & the outre screenplay. I’m not sure it got all that much play & I’m struggling to recall if Goldwin withdrew it from distribution. NOSFERATU was shown only at one theater in NYC because of Bram Stoker’s widow’s lawsuit that resulted in all known copies being destroyed … but as we know, a few escaped. But as Stoker’s novel had never been copyrighted in the US, that particular errant print (which the theater owned outright) was exhibited.
Frank, I was wondering if you knew of any good DVD sets of his. Kino has one…which is not to my taste in terms of its overall presentation of his work.
@Tom: I happen to own the Kino DVD set of Melies’s work. I have the same reservations that you have but don’t know of an alternative.
Perhaps someone else on this site knows of a better DVD collection of Melies?
@Harry Long: Thanks for providing additional information on the reception history of CALIGARI. Most of the literature I’ve read on the film indicated that it did very well in selected cities in the U.S. and garnered terrific reviews for its artistry (I’ve read some of those original reviews).
For instance, In the May 12, 1921 edition of the Chicago Daily News, Carl Sandburg wrote of the film: “It is a healthy thing for Hollywood, Culver City, Universal City, and all other places where movie film is being produced, that this photoplay has come along at this time. It is sure to have healthy hunches and show new possibilities in style and method to our American Producers.” (Who knew that the famous poet was a movie reviewer too?)
And film historian Lewis Jacobs claims that it was “the most widely discussed film of the time.” (David Cook, A HISTORY OF NARRATIVE FILM, p. 112.)
Although producer Erich Pommer claimed the film was a flop (at least in Germany) in its initial release, Thomas Elsaesser suggests that this isn’t true. In any case the 1925 re-release of CALIGARI was what solidified its stature. Historian Kristin Thompson credits the film with establishing the art-house circuits in France and the U.S. My point was only that D. W. Griffith was no doubt aware of CALIGARI but chose to ignore it.
I have the lovely book of Sandburg’s film reviews & yes, I know he liked it. I believe, too, that in general critics applauded it, but – based on my memory of something I real a looong time ago – the general public disliked it & there were anti-German-fueled demonstrations against it. I’d bet a lot in Hollywood saw it, though, particularly considering how much of it served as a template for later horror films (for starters Cesare abducting the heroine in her negligee & being pursued by a mob, the set design …). It probably was discussed quite a bit amongst intellectuals, but the general public apparently loathed it. (I’ve been trying to find something through Googling with no luck** – I seem to recall that there’s a description of one anti-CALIGARI protest in a novel by Upton Sinclair or Sinclair Lewis.)
Supposedly CALIGARI’s initial failure had to do with it’s having been scored with Beethoven selections. The film was pulled, rescored with original music (I’m blanking on the name of the composer; a CD was released a few years back with what fragments of the score remain augmented by other of his cinematic compositions to create a score for CALIGARI). With the new music it was a success.
>>Project MUSE – Film History: An International Journal – Ernst …“Riot over German Feature Picture; Cabinet of Caligari Egged on Coast”, Variety (13 May 1921): 47. Other reports: “Monster Demonstration Staged by …<<
And the GoogleBooks of David Skal’s excellent THE MONSTER SHOW:
Seems he was a big Lang fan.
Regarding Melies, Flicker Alley has an expensive but comprehensive set available.
>>D. W. Griffith was no doubt aware of CALIGARI but chose to ignore it<<
It may have been so far removed from his ideas of filmmaking that he didn’t consider it any good.
I guess he was not the only movie director displaying some lack of critical taste?
Griffith grew up on a dirt farm and dropped out of school when he was 14. He was as academic as a coal miner.
Whether or not it’s a correct account of his background, in his art he was certainly mostly guided by intuition rather than education or logic. But considering that the cinema was a terra incognita at the time, there was no way to explore it other than intuitively.
Anyway, I’m surprised that Avenging Conscience is on the list. A film consisting almost entirely of a dream sequence. He certainly should’ve changed it for Dr. Caligari, but I think its presence is telling of how he saw his cinema.
This is actually a pretty good list.
Pretty funny list when you think of it now.
Strange that he included both Merry-Go-Round as well as Greed.
a serious lack of tod browning’s THE UNKNOWN
Surprised that he included any sound films after his criticism of “how it spoiled film’s beauty.” I can understand how someone who was so interested in cross cutting would put down Melies and Caligari, which hold shots for a prolonged time and are quite stage bound in presentation. The exclusion of the Soviet films is odd. Politics maybe? He was fairly traditional in upbringing and the message meant a great deal to him.
I can see the exclusion of Nosferatu as well, as would be viewed as a genre picture and horror was pretty poorly viewed at the time. Limiting his colleage Chaplin to one though is pretty weird, to say nothing of ignoring Keaton, who arguably made a better Civil War film in terms of look and feel than he did.
Nosferatu actually did not a theatrical release in North America until 1929, and even then it was very difficult to see. Also remember that the film had been out of circulation for quite sometime after Stoker’s widow sued, so it makes sense that Griffith would not have seen it.
The guy clearly had taste though; the list includes films by Vidor, Murnau and Von Stroheim.
. . . and Borzage and Walsh.
I feel it would’ve been sufficient to put in a random fifty of his own films and left it at that. That’s as accurate a “Greatest Films” list as any.