The Scarlet Letter


1h 30m 1927
The Scarlet Letter

Brief Synopsis

In this silent film version of the classic tale, a single mother in Puritan New England bears her shame alone rather than expose the child's father.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Silent
Period
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jan 8, 1927
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 9 Aug 1926
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (New York, 1850).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Silent
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.33 : 1
Film Length
8,229ft (9 reels)

Synopsis

Hester, a New England maid of Puritan background, to please her father, marries Roger Prynne, whom she does not love. During her husband's long absence she walks the woodland lanes with her pastor, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, and they soon fall in love. When a child is born to her, she is condemned to wear upon her breast the brand of Adulteress and refuses to divulge the name of the child's father. With patient resignation she faces the jeers and insults of the stern Puritan population and fights to retain her child. Hester is punished in the pillory, and when she is led to the public scaffold, Dimmesdale, who has long been eager yet fearful to share in her public shame, confesses and dies of his anguish in her arms.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Silent
Period
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jan 8, 1927
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 9 Aug 1926
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (New York, 1850).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Silent
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.33 : 1
Film Length
8,229ft (9 reels)

Articles

The Scarlet Letter (1926)


Only Lillian Gish could have gotten The Scarlet Letter (1926) past the censors of the late '20s and only she could have made it such an authentic American classic. Ironically, she did it with the help of two Swedes, director Victor Seastrom and leading man Lars Hanson. As she would say in her memoirs, however, "I have always believed that the Scandinavians are closer in feeling to New England Puritans than are present-day Americans."

Gish had long wanted to star in a film version of Hawthorne's classic novel, but when she suggested it to MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer as a follow-up to her popular La Boheme (1926), he warned her that it was currently on the list of books banned for film adaptation. To get past the ban, Gish personally wrote to Will Hayes, the studios' moral watchdog, and heads of women's and church groups around the country, assuring them that she would guarantee the film was made in good taste. As a result, the ban was lifted. In fact, the film was produced with the cooperation of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ.

Having Seastrom direct was Gish's idea. She had been impressed with his work for some time, and he was currently working at MGM on a special loan-out from Svensk Filmindustri. The Swedish studio, where he made his first impact as a director, allowed him to work at MGM in return for the right to distribute their films in Sweden. Gish felt that he had a major impact on her work, introducing her to the Swedish style of acting, which involved repression of emotions so that they only briefly rose to the surface.

For the leading role of the Reverend Dimmesdale, Hester's secret lover, studio production chief Irving G. Thalberg recommended Lars Hanson, another Swede who had scored a hit in the film that introduced Greta Garbo to U.S. audiences, The Saga of Gosta Berling (1924). Although he spoke no English, Hanson had no trouble communicating with his fellow Swede Seastrom.

Rounding out the company were Henry B. Walthall as Hester's long lost husband, whose return triggers a crisis for his wife and her lover, and cinematographer Hendrik Sartov. Both had worked with Gish at the start of her career when she was director D.W. Griffith's biggest star. Walthall was best known as "The Little Colonel" in Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915). From there, he had become a respected character actor. Dutch-born Sartov had trained under Griffith, for whom he filmed Gish in such great pictures as Hearts of the World (1918), Way Down East (1920) and Orphans of the Storm (1921).

For the picture, an entire colonial village was constructed on the MGM back lot, complete with cobbled streets and a dunking pond. Hanson's direction breathed life into these settings, creating an authentic picture of 17th century America. Unlike the novel, which focused on the influence of Puritanism on early American life, Seastrom focused the film on Hester and Dimmesdale's forbidden love, creating a subtle erotic tension between his stars. This was particularly strong when Hester lets down her hair and Dimmesdale steals a chance to touch it, one of the great love scenes in Hollywood history.

During the next-to-last week of filming, Gish learned that her mother had had a stroke in London and was not expected to live much longer. Her sister, Dorothy, urged her to get there on the first available boat. When she informed Seastrom of the need to finish the film quickly, he created a shooting schedule that crammed two weeks worth of shooting into three days of non-stop work. The crew worked without complaint so that she could finish the film early and catch the earliest possible train to New York. Whether it was good luck or her daughter's presence, Gish's mother actually improved and was able to return to the U.S. with her daughter.

Meanwhile, Seastrom finished the film, which so delighted Mayer and Thalberg that instead of the customary $5,000 bonus given to directors for completing a film on time, they gave him $10,000.The picture opened to rave reviews and strong business in New York, where it played at the Central Theatre for five months. It did not do as well in the rest of the country, however, and with the failure of the next Gish-Seastrom collaboration, The Wind (1928), her days as a film star were over. Over time, MGM reedited The Scarlet Letter, and for a while the original version was thought lost. When the Library of Congress restored the lost footage in recent years, fans could once again appreciate one of the greatest performances in film history. There would be three more adaptations of The Scarlet Letter in the U.S. -- a low-budget '30s version starring Colleen Moore, a PBS miniseries in 1979 starring Meg Foster and the ludicrous Demi Moore version of 1995 that tried to improve on Hawthorne with nude scenes and a happy ending -- but none can match the original.

Director: Victor Seastrom
Screenplay: Frances Marion
Based on the Novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Cinematography: Hendrik Sartov
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Sidney Ullman
Music: Lisa Anne Miller, Mark Northam
Principal Cast: Lillian Gish (Hester Prynne), Lars Hanson (The Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale), Henry B. Walthall (Roger Prynne), Karl Dane (Giles), Joyce Coad (Pearl), Polly Moran (Townswoman).
BW-99m.

by Frank Miller
The Scarlet Letter (1926)

The Scarlet Letter (1926)

Only Lillian Gish could have gotten The Scarlet Letter (1926) past the censors of the late '20s and only she could have made it such an authentic American classic. Ironically, she did it with the help of two Swedes, director Victor Seastrom and leading man Lars Hanson. As she would say in her memoirs, however, "I have always believed that the Scandinavians are closer in feeling to New England Puritans than are present-day Americans." Gish had long wanted to star in a film version of Hawthorne's classic novel, but when she suggested it to MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer as a follow-up to her popular La Boheme (1926), he warned her that it was currently on the list of books banned for film adaptation. To get past the ban, Gish personally wrote to Will Hayes, the studios' moral watchdog, and heads of women's and church groups around the country, assuring them that she would guarantee the film was made in good taste. As a result, the ban was lifted. In fact, the film was produced with the cooperation of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ. Having Seastrom direct was Gish's idea. She had been impressed with his work for some time, and he was currently working at MGM on a special loan-out from Svensk Filmindustri. The Swedish studio, where he made his first impact as a director, allowed him to work at MGM in return for the right to distribute their films in Sweden. Gish felt that he had a major impact on her work, introducing her to the Swedish style of acting, which involved repression of emotions so that they only briefly rose to the surface. For the leading role of the Reverend Dimmesdale, Hester's secret lover, studio production chief Irving G. Thalberg recommended Lars Hanson, another Swede who had scored a hit in the film that introduced Greta Garbo to U.S. audiences, The Saga of Gosta Berling (1924). Although he spoke no English, Hanson had no trouble communicating with his fellow Swede Seastrom. Rounding out the company were Henry B. Walthall as Hester's long lost husband, whose return triggers a crisis for his wife and her lover, and cinematographer Hendrik Sartov. Both had worked with Gish at the start of her career when she was director D.W. Griffith's biggest star. Walthall was best known as "The Little Colonel" in Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915). From there, he had become a respected character actor. Dutch-born Sartov had trained under Griffith, for whom he filmed Gish in such great pictures as Hearts of the World (1918), Way Down East (1920) and Orphans of the Storm (1921). For the picture, an entire colonial village was constructed on the MGM back lot, complete with cobbled streets and a dunking pond. Hanson's direction breathed life into these settings, creating an authentic picture of 17th century America. Unlike the novel, which focused on the influence of Puritanism on early American life, Seastrom focused the film on Hester and Dimmesdale's forbidden love, creating a subtle erotic tension between his stars. This was particularly strong when Hester lets down her hair and Dimmesdale steals a chance to touch it, one of the great love scenes in Hollywood history. During the next-to-last week of filming, Gish learned that her mother had had a stroke in London and was not expected to live much longer. Her sister, Dorothy, urged her to get there on the first available boat. When she informed Seastrom of the need to finish the film quickly, he created a shooting schedule that crammed two weeks worth of shooting into three days of non-stop work. The crew worked without complaint so that she could finish the film early and catch the earliest possible train to New York. Whether it was good luck or her daughter's presence, Gish's mother actually improved and was able to return to the U.S. with her daughter. Meanwhile, Seastrom finished the film, which so delighted Mayer and Thalberg that instead of the customary $5,000 bonus given to directors for completing a film on time, they gave him $10,000.The picture opened to rave reviews and strong business in New York, where it played at the Central Theatre for five months. It did not do as well in the rest of the country, however, and with the failure of the next Gish-Seastrom collaboration, The Wind (1928), her days as a film star were over. Over time, MGM reedited The Scarlet Letter, and for a while the original version was thought lost. When the Library of Congress restored the lost footage in recent years, fans could once again appreciate one of the greatest performances in film history. There would be three more adaptations of The Scarlet Letter in the U.S. -- a low-budget '30s version starring Colleen Moore, a PBS miniseries in 1979 starring Meg Foster and the ludicrous Demi Moore version of 1995 that tried to improve on Hawthorne with nude scenes and a happy ending -- but none can match the original. Director: Victor Seastrom Screenplay: Frances Marion Based on the Novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne Cinematography: Hendrik Sartov Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Sidney Ullman Music: Lisa Anne Miller, Mark Northam Principal Cast: Lillian Gish (Hester Prynne), Lars Hanson (The Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale), Henry B. Walthall (Roger Prynne), Karl Dane (Giles), Joyce Coad (Pearl), Polly Moran (Townswoman). BW-99m. by Frank Miller

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1926

Released in United States March 1976

Released in United States 1926

Released in United States March 1976 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Special Programs - The Americas: A National Portrait) March 18-31, 1976.)