“However light or frivolous we may be all of us rebel at the thought that our high dreams, hopes and loves shall only end in the bitter dust of death.”
The Greatest Question begins with the main character Nellie as a little girl. Her family are peddlers and have stopped in a small town. As Nellie is out walking she sees a man and a woman murder a young woman and then bury her. She runs to her mother and father but they just calm her down and then leave.
Ten years later Nellie (Lillian Gish) is returning to the small town with her mother who is very sick. She has to pull the wagon over because the jolts from the wagon bother her mother. Down the road lives the Hilton family. They are poor farmers but they all love each other. The youngest son Jimmie was on his way to give bread to those who are less fortunate then they are when Nellie sees him walking down the road. She calls to him to get a doctor for her mother. Nellie sits in the wagon holding her lifeless mother. The doctor tells the bereft girl that her mother will never wake up.
Nellie stays with the Hiltons for a while. When she goes to leave Mrs. Hilton has her stay and live with them. Jimmie is very that Nellie is staying. They go everywhere together. One day he even tries to kiss her but she does not like that. Jimmie’s older brother Johnny goes off to the Great War and now there is no one to help with an extra income. Nellie offers to get a job to lessen their burden. Mrs. Hilton protests but despite the pleas she goes looking.
The Hilton’s neighbors, the Cains, have been looking for help so Nellie goes to them. When Nellie comes into their house and speaks to the couple she feels uneasiness and apprehension. She does not want to take the job but news has come that Johnny has died fighting and now feels she must take the position at the House of Shadows as the Cain’s house is referred to. On the day Nellie leaves Jimmie walks her to the border of the property. They do not want to let each other go.
The Cains are no good. Mrs. Cain is cruel and punishing while Mr. Cain is never far away from her with lust in his thoughts. Mrs. Hilton gets a feeling that Nellie is in some sort of trouble and sends Jimmie to go check on the girl. Mrs. Cain is furious with Nellie for breaking a plate and yells and beats her. Mr. Hilton sees Jimmie running and stops his son. Jimmie tells him he has to go see Nellie because of his mother and his father makes him stay to help him on the farm. Nellie manages to get out of the house. She runs down the path where she once did when she was younger and saw the murder. She has “vague memories” of something she witnessed when she was young but it does not fully come to her. She gets back to the house and stands outside the window. Looking in Nellie sees the family has gotten the ten dollars she sent them and how happy they are. Nellie decides to go back to the Cain’s house.
Mr. Hilton has had enough of not being able to keep up with his farm he wants to give it all up and go work in the poor house. That night Mrs. Hilton goes to their memorial for Johnny in the garden and prays to him for help. His apparition comes to them and lets them know that everything will soon be fine and that he loves them. At the same moment Mrs. Cain was about to kill Nellie with a gun out of jealousy but she stopped herself.
The next day the Hilton’s find oil on their property. All their problems are solved. Jimmie wants to go tell Nellie and runs to the Cain’s house. At the same time Mr. Cain is chasing after Nellie he can no longer resist. He chases her all the way up to the attic. Nellie calls for help out of the attic window and Jimmie hears her. Mrs. Cain joins in on chasing Nellie she can no longer hold her jealousy at bay. The couple takes her downstairs. Jimmie comes just in time to beat Mr. Cain and take Nellie away. Sometime later the Cain’s are taken away to jail.
The Greatest Question was alright. It was sweet and happy and I am going to uplifting. I liked how the mother kept her faith because she knew something good would come to them. Lillian Gish was wonderful. She was beautiful. For once she was not a damsel in distress, well to a certain extent she was but she did not over act. D.W. Griffith directed this film. I am not too crazy about his directing. Like most of his films there was a small side story that definitely did not need to be added. The Greatest Question I will suggest seeing if you like silent films and like Lillian Gish otherwise it is not necessary viewing.