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» » The Eternal Mother (1912)

Short summary

John and Mary divorce their spouses to marry each other. Mary dies after giving birth and the baby is taken in by John's first wife, Martha. She refuses all contact with John until many years later when he becomes ill and she finally forgives him for deserting her.

User reviews


  • comment
    • Author: Gorisar
    This is an interesting experiment in filmmaking. It is just a series of shots illustrating a story told in the title cards. The shots contain very little action. They are almost illustrations or living tableaux. This type of style can be seen in the sequences that connect the different parts of Griffith's "Intolerance".

    For me the most interesting part of the movie is watching 18 year old Mabel Normand play the black haired seductress stealing 16 year old Blanche Sweet's husband (Edwin August) from his blonde-haired child-like wife. Mabel plays it pretty subtly and pretty straight. Her death scene does have an unintentional laugh when she has an almost instantaneous death. One feels Griffith shouting from off-stage, "Okay, that's it, now she dies," and Mabel instantly responding by dropping dead. She remains in the frame for over a minute and one looks to see if she is still breathing, but she seems to be perfectly still. She was a great swimmer, so I assume that Griffith knew that she could hold her breathe for a long time.

    The sexy bad girl role is an interesting contrast to the frenetic comedies that Mable played afterward that year when directed by Mack Sennett.

    Anyway, the movie is interesting and shows a different side of Griffith. He was a master of action films, but also a master of inaction, as this film demonstrates.
  • comment
    • Author: Jake
    D.W. Griffith had many strengths as a director: his ability to visual a story told in pantomime, a strong sense of composition and to command a sense of loyalty in his staff. However, he was by no means perfect. When he decided to write his own story, the clarity of vision he showed in handling others' writing and translating it to a form accessible to his rural audience resulted in a story that was simplistic and mawkish from beginning to end. That's what happened here. This story is so sentimental that it is mildly embarrassing.

    What is good about it is his sense of composition, the way that Billy Bitzer's camera-work indicates the changing relationships by composition and the beauty of the outdoor scenes. The work scenes look like Millais and the performances are fine. However, despite those strengths, this is one D.W. Griffith movie you can afford to skip.
  • comment
    • Author: Questanthr
    A very beautiful and subtle picture dealing with deep things in the human heart. Yet it utilizes a simple story and tells it clearly. What the spectator will get out of it, beyond and above this story will depend upon himself or herself, his experience and knowledge of human life. Perhaps the wisest will go away feeling that he never could find words to tell all that it showed to him. This reviewer has never seen a picture that affected him so much like music. "The Eternal Mother" is the heroine of the story; there are two players who both take her part. The producer has wisely kept the action in lowly places near the ground so that nothing artificial may interfere with his idea. In the early scenes we are introduced to a young farmer and his wife, a mere flaxen-haired girl as carefree as a May morning. But soon, another character appears, a restless, passionate, dark-haired girl with a red rose in her hair. There is later a divorce and a re-marriage. The May morning has given place to the drought of summer. The young woman who had divorced her husband hears that his new wife has become a mother, but is dying. She goes to him and her with forgiveness in her eyes, and when the wife dies, it is she who takes the baby and brings it up. This scene is very praiseworthily made. Perhaps it showed more than the producer really intended and so is to some extent a work of genius. If so, the producer, with the two talented young ladies who played it, was like a composite unity, viz., the mirror in which the face of life was reflected. It is, roughly speaking, a story in three acts. In the last act, it is shown that the foolish man sees, after his wife's death, how blind he had been. He is like a man expelled from his Garden of Eden, He can see the garden from afar, but he is conscious of his unworthiness. His child grows up into womanhood. The May morning has now become snowy winter as she stands white- haired and wrinkled, and a picture of wisdom that conquers tragedy. The man, as he works, can look up and see her passing in the distance, but he must return to his work again. This work among his cabbages and potatoes gives him a sense of service to the world. He doesn't buy comfort or amusement with the money that it brings him. It is purification alone that he seeks. In the end the Eternal Mother recognizes in him, white-haired and bent with age, a time- battered ruin, a companion spirit. He is permitted to come back to Eden. - The Moving Picture World, January 27, 1912
  • Credited cast:
    Edwin August Edwin August - John - the Husband
    Blanche Sweet Blanche Sweet - Martha - the Wife
    Mabel Normand Mabel Normand - Mary - the Woman
    Charles Hill Mailes Charles Hill Mailes - Mary's Father
    Kate Bruce Kate Bruce - The Old Woman
    Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
    Donald Crisp Donald Crisp - In Field
    Guy Hedlund Guy Hedlund - A Friend
    J. Jiquel Lanoe J. Jiquel Lanoe - A Friend
    Jeanie Macpherson Jeanie Macpherson - In Field
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