Director: Victor Sjöström
Production: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; black and white: 35mm, silent; running time: 73 minutes; length: 6721 feet. Released 23 Novemuber 1928.
Screenplay: Francis Marion, from the novel by Dorothy Scarborough; titles: John Colton; photography: John Arnold; editor: Conrad Nevrig; production designers: Cedric Gibbons and Edward Withers; costume designer: Andre-ani; assistant director: Harold S. Bucquet.
Cast: Lillian Gish (Letty); Lars Hanson (Lige); Montagu Love (Roddy); Dorothy Cummings (Cora); Edward Earle (Beverly); William Orlamond (Sourdough); Laon Ramon (Leon Janney); Carmencita Johnson and Billy Kent Schaefer (Cora's children).
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* * *
The Wind represents a turning point in two of the most important careers in film history, those of Victor Seastrom (the anglicized version of Sjöström that appeared in the credits of his American films) and Lillian Gish. The Wind was the last silent film either of them made, and it virtually marked the end of their star status in Hollywood. Seastrom directed one talkie before returning to Sweden; Gish's first leading lady vehicle of the sound era, One Romantic Night, was also her last.
The Wind belongs to that moment of precious finality when the stylistics and the techniques of cinema, developed to serve narrative without speech, were being discarded because of the exigencies of sound recording. After the success of Warner Brothers, in the late 1920s the major studios rushed to integrate the new technology. The Wind suffered the fate of many of the most important non-sound films made during the period of transition. It was released without the care required by a film of such unusual qualities. It is perhaps a miracle that the film survives at all when we remember that two other MGM films made by Gish at this period and the single film directed by Seastrom, The Divine Woman, are lost.
Gish and Seastrom had already collaborated with success on The Scarlet Letter. The Wind is another story of a woman at odds with the community in which she lives. Letty, the genteel Easterner, is alien to the rough manners of a prairie village and a prairie husband. The film expresses this directly, in the dramatization of her disgust when her sister-in-law butchers a side of beef, when her husband tries to kiss her, and when she tries in vain, to prettify their cabin. The Wind also depicts the disintegration of Letty's mind and spirit in this hostile world. Letty not only acts; she is acted upon by the elements, in particular the sand incessantly blown in the wind. It comes in through the cracks in the door, and she is as helpless to stop its invasion of the physical space as she is helpless to prevent it from driving her mad. The Wind repeatedly tests the body of the actress against the presence of nature. Even in the tacked-on happy ending mandated by the studio—Gish stretching in the doorway, defying the wind and embracing her husband—the cinematic body becomes a measure of nature.
Left alone during a particularly severe storm, Letty's anxiety mounts. She is raped by a travelling man and then manages to shoot him. After burying him, she stares through the window, in mounting hysteria, as the sand uncovers his body. This sequence is suggestive of the degree to which director and actress conspire in the creation of images that contain both the exterior world and the interpretation of those images. The camera records nature (abetted, it must be admitted, by wind machines). It also frames Gish and her eyes in the window, an interior frame. These framings, without and within, hold characters and place in precise narrative equilibrium.