One year, one film: 1926
The Scarlet Letter, dir. Victor Sjostrom (credited as Victor Seastrom)
starring Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson, Henry B. Walthall, Karl Dane
Recommended | Highly Recommended | MUST-SEE
A wonderful contribution to the Gish Sisters Blogathon, which I co-hosted back in 2013, gave us insight into one reason why this is such a remarkable film: Lillian Gish’s efforts to have it made. Prior to Lillian’s campaigning, the book from which the film’s story is sourced had been banned from production in a good ol’ case of 20th century censorship.
I must applaud Lillian, not only for her efforts in getting the film into production in the first place, but also for so skillfully selecting a director (Sjostrom) and co-star (Hanson) to work with. The result of their talents (as well as a very well-adapted script, by Frances Marion) is undoubtedly one of the best films of 1926, and one of the most well-remembered films of the silent era on the whole.
The year of 1926 was a pretty good one in Hollywood, and an even better one for Gish. She had not one, but two films listed among the forty best by the National Board of Review. Both The Scarlet Letter and La Boheme can be found in the list, printed in the January 7, 1927 edition of Motion Picture News.
Our ol’ Unholy Three-loving pal Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times, whose name you my remember from the 1925 “One year, one film” post, gives a positive review to The Scarlet Letter as well. In particular, he praises the efforts of director Sjostrom, describing the man as “painstaking in studying his characters.” Gish is described as “charming,” her performance “excellent.” (August 10, 1926)
Variety also gave the film a very good review, saying that Hanson “handles [his] role with a great deal of finesse” and that the film overall is “gripping.”
Whether you’ve read the Hawthorne source material or not, The Scarlet Letter is one I definitely consider a “must-see.” Those who have read The Scarlet Letter will appreciate the film as a solid adaptation, and those who have not will still enjoy it as a wonderful silent drama, packed with talent.