The Escape (1914 film)

The Escape was a 1914 American silent drama film written and directed by D. W. Griffith and starred Donald Crisp. The film is based on the play of the same name by Paul Armstrong who also wrote the screenplay. It is now considered lost.[1]

The Escape
Still of D. W. Griffith directing is variously attributed to both The Avenging Conscience or this film.
Directed byD. W. Griffith
Written byD. W. Griffith (uncredited)
Screenplay byPaul Armstrong
Based onThe Escape
by Paul Armstrong
StarringDonald Crisp
Edna Foster
CinematographyG. W. Bitzer
Edited byRose Smith
James Smith (uncredited)
Distributed byMutual Film
Release date
  • June 1, 1914 (1914-06-01)
Running time
7 reels
CountryUnited States



The film begins with a short prologue explaining the science of Eugenics; contrasting the careful selection observed in the animal world with the less predictable breeding habits of humans. This is illustrated by the story of the Joyce family, headed by Jim Joyce (Turner), a cruel and senseless man. Joyce's son Larry (Harron) is by nature a sensitive kid, but Jim Joyce turns him into a heartless monster, strangling a cat as a sort of coming of age ritual.

Larry Joyce contracts a case of syphilis, and seeks out treatment from Doctor Von Eiden (Moore), who also takes a keen interest in Larry's sister May (Sweet). Von Eiden encourages May to make a break with her family, and she succeeds. However she is unable to find employment and enters into a relationship with a wealthy senator (Lewis) as a kept woman. While May will not marry the Senator, her sister Jennie (Marsh) does marry a man named "Bull" McGee (Crisp), an abusive lout just like her father.

Their infant child is killed when McGee trips over its cradle in a drunken stupor, and Jennie becomes delusional, endlessly rocking the cradle with a doll inside. McGee is repulsed by her condition and puts Jennie away quietly through selling her into prostitution. May manages to wrest Jennie away from this peril, but Jennie expires soon after. Von Eiden, however, has managed to restore Larry's original sensitivity through a surgical procedure; May has broken off the relationship with the Senator and agrees to marry Von Eiden.

Historical background and legacy

The Escape was based on a play by Paul Armstrong, a prolific playwright best known for his properties Alias Jimmy Valentine (1910) and Salomy Jane (1907). Griffith's film version was begun first, finished second, but released third among the cycle of five films he made at Reliance-Majestic Studios between his ouster at Biograph Company and the advent of The Birth of a Nation (1915). Filming of The Escape began in New York City, but was completed in Los Angeles partly due to an illness in the cast.[1][2] There was a long delay in getting it out; although Mutual Film finally released it on June 1, 1914, response to The Escape was of a mixed character and the film was dumped on the States' Rights market by the end of the year.[3]

Lillian Gish recalled The Escape as one of the finest films Griffith ever made,[4] whereas Griffith himself regarded its failure as a momentary distraction during the planning stages of The Birth of a Nation.[5]


Iris Barry first reported The Escape as a lost film in 1940[6] and despite an international search for Griffith's film output lasting the decades since, The Escape remains one among a small handful of Griffith features that have never been located.[7]

See also


  1. "Silent Era: The Escape". silentera. Retrieved June 21, 2008.
  2. Slide, Anthony, ed. (2012). D.W. Griffith: Interviews. Univ. Press of Mississippi. pp. XVIII–XIX. ISBN 1-617-03298-0.
  3. The Escape at
  4. Lillian Gish with Ann Prentice -- The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliff, N.J. 1969
  5. D.W. Griffith, edited by James Hart -- The Man who Invented Hollywood; the Autobiography of D. W. Griffith. Touchstone Publishing Company, Louisville, KY. 1972
  6. Iris Barry -- D. W. Griffith, American Film Master. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1940
  7. Everson, William K. (2009). American Silent Film. Da Capo Press. p. 76. ISBN 0-786-75094-4.
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