One error in the presentation of “The Scarlet Letter” is that it was brought into New York while the weather was still too warm. It is not a hot weather picture, and because of that the box office is apt to suffer heavily.
This latest M-G-M starring Lillian Gish is gripping, the story would make it that, but withal it is not a special when ranked with productions like “The Big Parade,” “Ben Hur,” “Don Juan” and others of that ilk.
For the big picture houses, such as the Capitol, it is certain to be a money winner, and then in turn at the other regular houses, for the picture has appeal and woman appeal, but when it comes to figuring on it as being of road show dimensions, that’s out.
Some 10 years ago William Fox made a production of this same story with the witch burning incidents of the days of the Puritans in New England. At that time it was Carl Harbaugh who directed, and the reviewer on Variety who witnessed the picture stated at the time it could have been made into a “big picture” had greater attention been given to the details. That is exactly what seems to have been done by the M-G-M organization.
They have paid attention to the smallest of details and the result is that they have a picture that will rank top with their program productions. Of course, the run can be forced at the Central for possibly four or six months, with the receipts just about getting the producers off the “nut” weekly, but it won’t be a long shot ever arouse such box office interest as to have a line day after day after its second month.
Miss Gish makes of Hester Prynne, the little English Puritan maid, who, although married before coming to America, through the wishes of her father, to a man she did not love and expecting him to follow after, a really sympathetic character.
Hester and the Rev. Dimmesdale receive all the sympathy of the audience, but particularly through the toll that the little heroine is compelled to pay for loving. Lars Hansen, who plays the lead opposite the star, handles the role with a great deal of finesse. He is certain to be a popular favorite with the women after this picture. If ever deciding to screen “Hamlet” here is a boy that certainly looks ideal for the title role and from his performance here the chances are that he could play it to death.
Others standing out are Karl Dane as Giles, and Marceline Corday as Mistress Hibbins, both performances a good piece of character work, although Dane hasn’t anything like his role in “The Big Parade” as far as importance is concerned. Henry B. Walthall plays the husband with a make-up suggestive of Shylock and mannerism much the same, though the reason for this is far from explained.
However, the direction of Victor Seastrom is pretty nearly perfect and the composition in some of the scenes bespeaks the highest art in picture photography.
“The Scarlet Letter” has a strong plea against intolerance, for it makes the laws of the Colonies seem highly ridiculous and laughable, as judged by our present day standards. Still there are fanatics enough in the land who will say that they should still be enforced.
The Central has been redecorated for this engagement. It was freely stated at the opening that the Shuberts were hoping that the M-G-M luck would still hold good and that it would lift the “curse” from the house. Possibly they will to a certain extent, but not in the manner in which most of those who previewed the picture predicted.
Making a comparison with “La Boheme,” in which Miss Gish and John Gilbert are co-starred, “The Scarlet Letter” is a better picture, and with Miss Gish alone it should fare better at the box office than “Boheme.”
VARIETY, Fred., August 11, 1926
For the benefit of historians in our midst, the above is the original contractual billing for this remarkable picture. These credits of course overlook one of the most important contributors to the film – the photographer, Hendrik Sartov. Below we reproduce the full cast and, as a matter of interest, we list in brackets the names of the players in the talkie remake.
When Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter in 1850, he doubted that it would achieve any popular success, and commented at the time: “Some portions of the book are powerfully written, but my writings do not, nor ever will, appeal to the broadest class of sympathies and therefore will not obtain a wide popularity. The main narrative ….. lacks sunshine”. Yet the book was a success, and the first edition (5000 copies) was sold within two weeks. Later the story was adapted to the theatre, and proved a successful vehicle for Richard Mansfield and other stars. No lees than two film versions were made in 1917, one by Fox and the other by Selznick; a talkie was made (by Robert Vignola) for an independent company in the early thirties, and the tale is still frequently dramatised on television. Certainly the best of all the film versions was the one put out by MGM in 1926, a time when literary adaptations for the screen were in full-scale vogue.
The film was made by the noted Swedish director Victor Seastrom, and is perhaps the most un-American film ever put out by Metro (using the term”un-American” in its literal, not political, sense!) Paul Rotha, writing in The Film Till Now, considers it far and away Seastrom’s best American film, dismissing The Tower of Lies, Confession of a Queen and others as “dull”, and commending He Who Gets Slapped only for its magical woodland sequence. (The Wind was superb cinema of course, but this was a much later Seastrom-Gish effort). Rotha comments on The Scarlet Letter: “….. it was a film made in one key, for even the humorous relief of the stocks and the ducking-pool were fitted into the pattern of sorrow. Seastrom’s sweeping sense of landscape, so evident in his earlier Swedish pictures, was expanded and gave an enchanting atmosphere to the first love scene between Miss Gish and Lars Hanson”. Seastrom, Rotha notes, also made “a Griffith-like use of the elements”.
From A.B. Paine’s Life and Lillian Gish, one finds the following statements by Lillian. Gosta Barling was screened for Miss Gish to observe Lars Hanson. “The moment Lars Hanson appeared on the screen, I knew he was the man we wanted. And I knew we must have a Swedish director. The Swedish people are closer to what our Pilgrims were, or what we consider them to have been, than our present day Americans. Irving Thalberg selected Victor Seastrom …. he got the spirit of the story exactly and was himself a fine actor, the finest that ever directed me. I never worked with anyone I liked better than Seastrom. He was a Scandinavian, thorough and prompt”. From this one is led to assume that Lillian’s was the final word on the production end, and that Mr. Seastrom was being singularly honored. In fairness to Messrs. Seastrom and Thalberg, one should remember that Miss Gish’s theories on film technique (and her memory of film history) are often laughable. This same book, Life and Lillian Gish, practically says outright that Griffith made Intolerance mainly so that Lillian could play the role of the woman “endlessly rocking the cradle”! Her latest inane pronunciations about D.W. (his forgetting to pay her for The White Sister, which he didn’t even make, his last films including The Greatest Thing in Life, made well before he hit his biggest production stride in the twenties!) make one suspect the sanity of everything she has ever committed to print. But, seeing The Scarlet Letter, one cannot remain annoyed at Lillian for too long – the shots of her in the stocks, a fluttering eye and a weak smile trying to hide her tears – soon melt the hardest hearts. There is certainly no doubt that Lillian was one of the finest actresses that ever graced the screen, and her remarkable performance in The Scarlet Letter is probably the best of her entire career. As the New York Sun put it, when the film opened at the Central Theatre in August of 1926, “Miss Gish, for the first time in the memory of the oldest inhabitant of the cinema palaces, plays a mature woman, a woman of depth and feeling, of wisdom and noble spirit”.
The conception of the film differs in several ways from that of Hawthorne’s novel. Hawthorne stressed, for example, a distinct mystical element – and too, built an atmosphere of witchcraft and superstition, completely absent from the film. The love story of Hester and Dimmesdale occupies far less prominent a position in the novel, for in fact it is not until near the story’s conclusion that it is revealed that the pastor is the father of Hester’s child. Other major differences include the character of Hester herself, who is described by Hawthorne as “a young woman …. tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale … dark and abundant hair …”. Too, she is essentially a Puritan, not the emotional misfit of the film. Incidentally, it is worth noting that, if Hanson’s overpowering remorse in the film seems a little too sudden, it is because a whole chunk was deleted from the original script before the film went into production. In this sequence, Hester’s little daughter runs semi-nude through the streets on the Sabbath, shocking the townspeople, and bringing forth the accusation “Child of sin – child of the devil” . It is this episode, primarily, which brings on Dimmesdale’s self-punishment. Notes at random: the remake in the thirties differed in several interesting aspects. It brought in the character of the husband much earlier, and unlike the Gish version, which hints that Hester may soon die, it achieved a mildly happy ending by having the townspeople look on Hester and her child with understanding end tolerance.
Gish’s only printed comment on her re-union with Henry B. Walthall, her co-star from The Birth of a Nation, was: “When we played in The Birth of a Nation, I just came to Mr. Walthall’s ear, and now I am actually taller than he is”. (Lillian had grown some seven inches in the eleven years separating the films; she had been only 15 when Birth was made. Or so it is claimed.) Incidentally, Lillian was one of the few stars of her period with sufficient stature to get her own way with cameramen. (Mary Pickford was another). In later days of course, when Davis and Crawford were holding sway at Warners, the star-cameraman combination was an established routine. Not so in the twenties. Gish asked for, and got, Hendrik Sartov, a former professor of physics at the University of Rotterdam, and photographer of Way Down East and many of the other Griffith films. Gish had no use at all for Bitzer, perhaps because he took his orders only from D.W.! In any event, Sartov was one of the top cameramen in the business, and certainly nobody succeeded better in capturing Lillian’s fragile beauty for the screen. While Gish and Hanson naturally hold most of the limelight, the cast of The Scarlet Letter offers some fine supporting cameos. Henry B. Walthall strides in and out of the film as dramatically as one would expect, like a wraith from the past. Another Scandinavian, Karl Dane, provides his usual brand of comedy, and there is some interesting work from Marcelle Corday, previously seen in lesser roles in The Phantom of the Opera and others.
One of the stories put out by MGM’s publicity department at the time was that Seastrom borrowed a church choir from Los Angeles to sing during the shooting, feeling that his players would not be in an appropriate mood without it …… story that Cecil B. DeMille still utilises, with variations, on his Biblican endeavors!
The film is a surprisingly spectacular one, considering its intimate theme. Many of the crowd scenes are staged on an enormous scale. These exterior scenes were lit with an artificial sun, which generated a candlepower of 325,000,000.
The Scarlet Letter was Gish’s second vehicle for Metro, having been preceded by King Vidor’s La Boheme. The third was the financially disastrous Annie Laurie. In his book A Tree is a Tree, Vidor has some interesting comments to make on his battles with Gish, and her own ideas on direction, Quite incidentally, Lillian did direct a film herself – the now-forgotten Remodelling her Husband, starring sister Dorothy.
Seastrom, who was acting in end directing Swedish file in 1912, still makes an occasional film, although only in an acting capacity. Following his big American star-vehicles in the late twenties (including Divine Woman with Garbo and Hanson) his directorial activity slackened. His it film as a director was in England in the mid-thirties – the odd, stylized but quite interesting Under the Red Robe. His later Swedish acting chores included a remake of The Tower of Lies, in which he essayed the Chaney role. Under one of those curious arrangements that seem to exist only in the movie business, MGM, who owned the rights to the Selma Lagerlof story, permitted it to be remade so long as distribution was limited solely to the Scandinavian territories. Later (this information from Charles Turner, who met him at the time) he was awarded the title “Artistic Leader” and placed in a studio supervisory capacity, a status he no longer holds.
Lars Hanson, who made his American debut in The Scarlet Letter, is still active in Swedish films. Older now, yet still possessed of striking features and those incredibly piercing eyes, he sometimes appears in films with Seastrom. One of Hanson’s most interesting recent films (vintage, late forties) was the brilliant Ride Tonight, directed by Gustav Molander, and unfortunately never released in the U.S.
WILLIAM K. EVERSON, July 6, 1954
When Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter in 1850, he doubted it would achieve any popular success, and commented at the time: “Some portions of the book are powerfully written, but my writings do not, nor ever will, appeal to the broadest class of sympathies and therefore will not obtain a wide popularity. The main narrative…lacks sunshine.” Yet the book was a success, and the first edition (5000 copies) was sold within two weeks. Later the story was adapted for the theatre, and proved a successful vehicle for Richard Mansfield and other stars. It was filmed quite early, by Edison. No less than two film versions were made in 1917, one by Fox and one by Selznick; a talkie was made (by Robert Vignola) for an independent company in the early 30’s, and the story is still frequently dramatised on television. Certainly the best of all the film versions was this film of MGM’s in 1926 — a period when literary adaptations were in full-scale vogue.
Made by the noted Swedish director Victor Seastrom, it is perhaps the most un-American film ever put out by Metro, especially under the Mayer regime. The word “un-American” is of course used in its literal, not its current political sense. The austere theme and backgrounds, the fanaticism, the intermingling of beauty and sensitivity with bigotry and stark tragedy, these were all elements that were second-nature to the Scandinavian directors. Even the photography was affected by this Scandinavian approach. Sartov’s camerawork is magnificent throughout, but it has the cold, organised beauty of Seastrom and Molander, and not the lush, spontaneous beauty that Sartov (and other cameramen) produced under Griffith. This is no criticism of either approach, merely a recognition of how much a cameraman’s style is controlled by his director. One of the effects that Seastrom and Sartov obtain is still a powerful and lovely little vignette – a visual symbol of Hester Prynne’s pregnancy, conveyed by the shadow of a wheel.
Paul Rotha, whose pompous generalisations can be a little grating, was properly impressed by The Scarlet Letter, and, writing in The Film Till Now, considers it far and away Seastrom’s best American film. The Tower of Lies, Confessions of a Queen, and others he dismisses as “dull,” and he commends He Who Gets Slapped only for its magical woodland sequence. (The Wind was quite superb of course, but this was a later Seastrom-Gish film). Of The Scarlet Letter he writes: “…it was a film made in one key, for even the humorous relief of the stocks and the ducking-pool were fitted into the pattern of sorrow. Seastrom’s sweeping sense of landscape, so evident in his earlier Swedish pictures, was expanded and gave an enchanting atmosphere to the first love scene between Miss Gish and Lars Hanson.” Seastrom, Rotha notes, also made “a Griffith-like use of the elements.”
On the selection of Victor Seastrom to direct, Miss Gish has remarked: “The Swedish people are closer to what our Pilgrims were, or what we consider them to have been, than our present day Americans. Irving Thalberg selected Victor Seastrom…he got the spirit of the story exactly, and was himself a fine actor…he was a Scandinavian, thorough and prompt.”
The conception of the film differs in several ways from that of the original novel. Hawthorne stressed, for example, a distinct mystical element – and too, built an atmosphere of witchcraft and superstitious fear completely absent from the film. The love story of Hester and Dimmesdale occupies a far less prominent position in the novel, for in fact it is not until near the story’s conclusion that it is revealed that the pastor is the father of the child. Other major differences include the character of Hester herself, who is described by Hawthorne as “a young woman…tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale…dark and abundant hair.” Too, she is essentially a Puritan, and not the emotional misfit of the film. Incidentally, it is worth noting that if Hanson’s overpowering remorse in the film seems a trifle too sudden, it is because a whole chunk was deleted from the script before the film went into production. In this sequence Hester’s little daughter runs semi-nude through the streets on the sabbath, shocking the townspeople, and bringing for the accusation “Child of sin – child of the devil!” It is this episode, primarily, which brings on Dimmesdale’s self-punishment.
The Majestic remake in the early ’30s differed in several aspects. It started with the arrival of Hester’s husband to the village, just in time to witness her humiliation on the pillory. (This pillory sequence actually occurs about a third of the way through the MGM version — and the husband’s appearance is still later). Everything that happened prior to that is only referred to briefly in conversation. And unlike the Gish version, which hints that Hester may soon die, the later version achieves a mildly happy ending by having the townspeople at last look on Hester with tolerance and understanding. Although a large-scale film (comparatively speaking) for an independent film, it was generally quite poor, and very slowly paced. The comedy content was increased to no great advantage, and repartee of the “Says Thee!” calibre didn’t help either. Henry B. Walthall however, with much more footage than in the original, was really quite fine. Colleen Moore tried hard as Hester, but either because she looked too sturdy, or because one remembered her too well as the self-reliant gal of the jazz-age, she just didn’t convince. It was quite obvious that she had studied the Gish performance — and that her cameraman had studied Sartov! Incidentally, judging from a print of the Colleen Moore version that I screened just the other day, it seems that its original negative is fast on the way to decomposition. The Moore version, by the way, starts off with a strange foreword that almost apologises for the Puritan era, but adds that it was a very necessary phase in the development of the American way of life as it is today. Somehow, it’s rather difficult to know just HOW to take that!
On her re-union with Henry B. Walthall, opposite whom she had played in Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation and The Great Love, Miss Gish remarked: “When we played in The Birth of a Nation, I just came to Mr. Walthall’s ear, and now I am actually taller than he is.” (She had grown some seven inches in the interim). Incidentally, like Mary Pickford and other really top stars of the ’20’s, Miss Gish was in a position (at MGM) to insist on the cameraman she wanted. She asked for – and got – Hendrik Sartov, a former professor of physics at the University of Rotterdam, and cameraman on many of the Griffith films. Sartov was one of the finest cameramen in the business, and certainly nobody succeeded better than he in capturing Lillian’s fragile beauty for the screen.
While Gish and Hanson naturally hold most of the limelight, Henry B. Walthall, in his few scenes, strides in and out of the film as dramatically as one would expect, like a wraith from the past.
Perhaps because of its stern austerity in a year (1926) when most of the really big hits were frankly escapist, The Scarlet Letter was not markedly popular either with the critics or the public. Polling over 200 critics (encompassing trade as well as fan reviewers, highbrows as well as lowbrows), The Film Daily came up with this “Best Ten” list. The German Variety was rated the best film of the year, followed by, in order, Ben Hur, The Big Parade, The Black Pirate, Beau Geste, Stella Dallas, The Volga Boatman, What Price Glory, The Sea Beast, and La Boheme.
Frankly, the value of ANY “Best Ten” list that includes The Volga Boatman – an insufferable mediocrity – is open to question. However, there’s no denying that the bulk of the films on that list do represent a satisfying blend of good movie-making with good boxoffice. Certainly, one would have expected the Vidor-Gish La Boheme to be a little higher on the list. Or perhaps one wouldn’t. Let’s look at the runners-up. No. 11 is James Cruze’s Old Ironsides, a big, lop-sided bore — except for the climactic battle. No. 12 is Behind the Front, a weak and obvious comedy, the fantastic success of which has always been a real mystery. Now however, as we go down the list, we gradually come across the really good pictures. Nos. 15, 16, and 17 respectively are The Grand Duchess and the Waiter, Mare Nostrum, and The Waltz Dream. No. 19 is Langdon’s wonderful The Strong Man, followed in order by Murnau’s Faust, The Scarlet Letter (at last!), Flaherty’s Moana, Ford’s Three Bad Men, Vidor’s Bardelys the Magnificent. As we go down we come across such films as Kiki, The Merry Widow, Potemkin, Sparrows, Son of the Sheik, So This Is Paris, Dorothy Gish’s Nell Gwynn, The Phantom of the Opera and – in 44th place – what was unquestionably the finest comedy of that year, Harry Langdon’s Tramp Tramp Tramp.
MGM apparently anticipated critical and public apathy, and tried to sell the film as an “art” rather than a popular attraction. Instead of putting it in their big showcase in New York, the Capitol (where La Boheme took in around 104 thousand dollars in a two week-run in July), MGM opened it at the Central Theatre instead. Here it ran for 19 consecutive weeks, with, it’s worth noting, remarkably sustained receipts. The film built a little, so that the fifth week of the run was the most successful, with a gross of over $16,000. (The theatre seated only 922, with prices ranging from $1.10 to $2.20). Thereafter the grosses fluctuated between $15,000 per week and $11,000. The only real big drop came in December, when receipts dropped to around $8,500 per week. After three weeks of this, it was presumably conceded that The Scarlet Letter was not quite the film to divert the Christmas shoppers, so MGM hurriedly rushed in The Fire Brigade.
One of the stories put out by MGM’s publicity department at the time was that Seastrom borrowed a church choir from Los Angeles to sing during the shooting, feeling that his players would not be in an appropriate mood without it…a story that Cecil B. DeMille has always found useful too, in publicising his Biblical endeavors!
Victor Seastrom, who was acting in and directing Swedish films in 1912, was still acting until fairly recently. Following his big American star vehicles in the late 20s (including The Divine Woman with Garbo and Hanson), his directorial activity slackened. His last film as a director was in England in the mid-30’s – the odd, stylised, but quite interesting Under the Red Robe. His later Swedish acting assignments included a remake of The Tower of Lies, in which he assumed the Lon Chaney role. Under a singularly curious arrangement, MGM, who owned the rights to the Selma Lagerlof story, permitted it to be remade so long as distribution was limited to the Scandinavian countries. Lars Hanson, who made his American debut in The Scarlet Letter (on the strength of his performance in The Saga of Gosta Berling), is still active in Sweden, and recently played the lead there in a stage version of Caine Mutiny. Few of his later Swedish films appear to have been released here, and it is especially unfortunate that his Ride Tonight (mid-forties), a brilliant film directed by Gustav Molander, never reached these shores.
To conclude, The Scarlet Letter is a surprisingly lavish film, considering its slight and intimate theme. Some of the crowd scenes are staged on a really large scale. Lit with an artificial sum generating a 325,000,000 candle-power, the crowd scenes seem almost to provide a welcome congestion (even when the action is heavy or tragic) because of their very contrast with the claustrophobic atmosphere of the whole, and the feeling of individuals hemmed in by convention, by the fear of others, and even by rigidity of thought.
But when all is said and done, The Scarlet Letter has to stand by the performance of its star — and even with Way Down East and a Boheme taken into consideration, it is almost certainly her finest performance in any film. The usual Gish fragility and charm is well in evidence; how could anyone remain unmoved by the shot of Lillian in the stocks, a fluttering eye and a weak smile trying to hide the tears? But there is much more to her performance than such purely visual appeal. As the critic of The New York Sun put it in August of 1926, “Miss Gish, for the first time in the memory of the oldest inhabitant of the cinema palaces, plays a mature woman, a woman of depth and feeling, of wisdom and noble spirit.” Perhaps that is a generalisation that is a trifle unfair to earlier Gish roles, but in essence it isn’t too far off the mark. It gives Miss Gish her best role — and she gives it her best performance.
WILLIAM K. EVERSON, May 20, 1958
THE SCARLET LETTER, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story; adaptation scenario and titles by Frances Marion, directed by Victor Seastrom; presentation and music score arranged by Major Edward Bowes, David Mendoza and William Axt.
The prudery of the ignoble bigots in Puritanical days is adroitly put forth in the picturization of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story, “The Scarlet Letter,” which was presented at the Central Theatre last night. No attempt, has been made to render this a movie, for it is as faithful a transcription of the narrative as one could well imagine. The producer has not sparred for a happy ending, and in portraying the conduct of the scandalmongers he has found a way to include a little comedy here and there without exaggerating the characters.
“The Scarlet Letter” was directed by Victor Seastrom, an earnest Swedish director who gained no little fame through his production “The Stroke of Midnight,” a picture which has never been exhibited publicly in this country. Mr. Seastrom also made the film version of “He Who Gets Slapped.” The adaptation of Hawthorne’s classic was entrusted to Frances Marion, whose clever script for “The Dramatic Life of Abraham Lincoln” assisted materially in the production of that masterful study of the martyred President.
Louis B. Mayer, head of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio, could not have chosen a better director than Seastrom for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s narrative. He is painstaking in studying his characters, and it was to his advantage to have Lillian Gish in the principal role, that of Hester Prynne. Miss Gish has a strong inclination for such parts, and in this vehicle she gives an excellent conception of the courage of a young woman in the face of sneering, scorn and tittle-tattle. It causes one to contrast those days with the present time; the fashions of the past with the feminine creations of our generation. She is charming. She falls from grace, and after the perfunctory trial she is condemned to bear the letter “A,” to tell the world that she has sinned.
After the preliminary scenes near Boston, the director loses no time in depicting the shameless bigotry of the people, by first showing Hester Prynne’s canary escaping from its cage and then having the young woman locked in the stocks for unseemly merriment and prancing through the lanes on the Sabbath. Actually she had only run after her bird, and this caused her to be late for the church service. A splendid idea of the little it took to start wagging tongues is obtained through the glimpse one has of the congregation, who look at Hester with the eyes of Pharisees eager to be present at her punishment.
In those good old days it was the law that no engaged couples should be permitted to kiss until they were married. Hence they are pictured talking through a long tube. No feminine underwear was permitted to be hung on a clothesline, where it might meet the eyes of the men, and through this edict Mr. Seastrom displays a touch of comedy.
It was with not a little pleasure that one perceived Mistress Hibbins rudely delivered into the hands of the mighty by the cunning of the loquacious Giles. He enters the gossiper’s home, puts on her bonnet while she is asleep, and, while standing near an open window, delivers a nasty opinion of the Governor and the Beadle, just as those serious-minded gentlemen are passing. Mistress Hibbins’ protestations of innocence fall on deaf ears, and she is sentenced to be ducked by means of a primitive implement which causes the punishment to be quite an excellent entertainment to others, especially to those who had suffered by the good lady’s constant babble. And the hefty Giles decides that he is unusually fortunate because he has to officiate at the ceremony of ducking the scandal-monger.
The Rev. Dimmesdale strikes one as being a peculiarly spineless person, wavering between a confession of his sin and clinging to his position as minister. He is the father of Hester’s child, and he punishes himself one night by branding ht letter “A” on his own chest. This role is acted by Lars Hanson, who, while he is indubitably sincere in his performance, occasionally appears to be too optimistic in his expression.
Henry B. Walthall figures as Roger Prynne, who is supposed to have been a prisoner of the Indians for seven years, which accounts for a beard and expression mindful of Svengali. There is a stirring scene when he appears, for he is a physician who had deserted Hester soon after they were wed. He knows that her sick child is not his, but he finally concocts medicine that saves the little girl, hoping for a later vengeance on the father of the child and Hester. Here one thinks that he has little to say in the matter, considering his treatment of Hester.
Karl Dane, who won his screen spurs by his performance as Slim in “The Big Parade,” officiates in this new picture as Giles. He does exceedingly well with the role.
There are some cleverly pictured scenes in the church and the sights of crowds betray imaginative direction, both in the handling of the players and in their arrangement according to the shades of their costumes.
NEW YORK TIMES, by Mordaunt Hall, August 10, 1926