Lillian Gish first suggested D.W. Griffith film the enormously popular play "The Two Orphans," which had been translated into 40 languages, thinking of her sister Dorothy Gish in the role of Henriette. Interestingly, Griffith cast Dorothy as Louise, the passive blind victim, when it was Lillian who was best known for playing helpless heroines. Most who knew her would attest that Dorothy was the more vivacious and strong willed of the two sisters. Lillian had written of her sister in 1927 "She is laughter, even on the cloudy days of life; nothing bothers her or saddens her or concerns her lastingly."
D.W. Griffith decided to enlarge the scope of the melodrama by weaving in historical details from the French Revolution including the historical figures Danton and Robespierre. He made every effort to be true to real events and took additional inspiration from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and History of the French Revolution by Thomas Carlyle, which Lillian Gish noted every major player in the film studied. Carlyle's book was, in fact, also a major influence on Dickens, who took the incident of an aristocrat's carriage running over a small child from Carlyle's book
D.W. Griffith used this movie as a means of commenting, obliquely, on contemporary politics of his time. He drew parallels between the anarchist mobs that overthrew the French aristocrats, and what he says in opening titles to the film are the present American dangers of succumbing to the kind of "anarchy and Bolshevism" he perceived in the recent Russian Revolution. It is a great historical irony that those Bolsheviks Griffith railed against were quite smitten with the director's incomparable ways of generating film tension in crosscutting as well as his cinematic means of conveying good and evil via sophisticated editing and framing techniques. As the father of film syntax Griffith was an enormous influence on the Soviet filmmakers Sergei M. Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin, who were inspired by many of his films including the anti-Bolshevik Orphans of the Storm.
William J. Walsh, a bit player, was killed on set when a prop gun went off by accident.
Included among the '1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die', edited by Steven Jay Schneider.
Lifelong Republican Lillian Gish was thrilled to be invited to the White House by President Warren G. Harding following the premiere of Orphans of the Storm.