After the widespread controversy surrounding his racist film The Birth of a Nation (1915), Griffith attempted to answer, defensively, his critics by taking a smaller feature film that he was working on about the contemporary, ‘Progressive Era’ struggle between capital and labour [titled “The Mother and the Law”] and the theme of social injustice, and combining it with three new stories to create a more dramatic epic. All four widely separate stories, spanning several hundreds of years, ages and cultures, are held together by themes of intolerance, man’s inhumanity to man, hypocrisy, bigotry, religious hatred, persecution, discrimination and injustice achieved in all eras by entrenched political, social and religious systems. In the original print, each story was tinted with a different color.
* THE ‘MODERN’ STORY (A.D. 1914): (Amber Tint) In early 20th century America during a time of labour unrest, strikes, and social change in California and ruthless employers and reformers – a young Irish Catholic boy, an exploited worker, is wrongly imprisoned for murder and sentenced to be hung on a gallows. The boy is saved from execution in a last-minute rescue by his wife’s arrival with the governor’s pardon.
* THE JUDAEAN STORY (A.D. 27): (Blue Tint) The Nazarene’s (Christ’s) Judaea at the time of his struggles with the Pharisees, his betrayal and crucifixion (told as a Passion Play in his last days) – it is the shortest of the four stories.
* THE FRENCH STORY (A.D. 1572): (Sepia Tint) Renaissance, 16th century medieval France at the time of the persecution and slaughter of the Huguenots during the regime of Catholic Catherine de Medici and her son King Charles IX of France, and the notorious atrocities of St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (including its effects upon the planned wedding of a young innocent Huguenot couple – Brown Eyes and Prosper Latour).
* THE BABYLONIAN STORY (539 B.C.): (Gray-Green Tint) peace-loving Prince Belshazzar’s Babylon at the time of its Siege and Fall by King Cyrus the Persian, due to the treacherous High Priests – and the Mountain Girl’s vain efforts to avert the tragedy. The outdoor set for the Babylonian sequences was the largest ever created for a Hollywood film up to its time, and its crowd shots with 16,000 extras were also some of the greatest in cinematic history.