Monday, May 5, 2014

Silent drama for beginners

Turner Classic Movies is spending tomorrow showing a bunch of movies that have the word "Scarlet" in the title, and one could do far worse than to start off with the 1926 version of The Scarlet Letter, at 6:00 AM.

The story is one that should probably be fairly well-known, since it's based on a classic of American litarature. Lillian Gish plays Hester Prynne, a young woman in Puritan colonial Massachusetts who's married to Roger, a physician who goes missing for several years. Alone, Hester tries to do whatever to bring some joy into her life, but simple things like singing on the Sabbath and wearing clothes that aren't austere enough cause many of the other Puritans to go nuts and think Hester is a horrible sinner. The Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale (Lars Hanson) is a bit more forgiving, and when he goes to visit her they fall in love. That love obviously includes sex, because Hester winds up pregnant. Obviously, she must be guilty of adultery! So the evil townsfolk banish her and the daughter to the outskirts of town, and force her to wear a big scarlet A for adultery on her chest. The townsfolk want her to reveal who the father is so they can punish him too, but Hester has no intentions of seeing Rev. Dimmesdale be hurt by this. Of course, being forced to keep this secret is, for Dimmesdale, a punishment in itself....

The reviews on IMDb are overwhelmingly positive, although I have to admit the first time I saw it I was not nearly so overwhelmed, as I found that it didn't hold my attention as well as some other silent movies. With it being in the TCM schedule again, it got me to thinking about introducing people who aren't huge movie fans to sllent cinema. For me, if I wanted to people to learn about what can make silent movies so enjoyable, I'd start off with the comedies, of course. Since they had to resort to physical humor, the stuff holds up relatively well today. It's also a lot easier to have a comic plot in two reels than a drama, so there are a lot of short comedies available for those who don't know if they'd want to spend 90 minutes or more on a silent.

But what to do when the time comes to go from comedy to drama? I don't think that The Scarlet Letter is that bad a place to start off. My judgment of the movie is probably a bit harsh, and with it being based on well-known source material, it's something that's probably easier for a lot of people to get into than other well-known silent dramas. It's also a good 50 minutes shorter than something like Ben-Hur, another silent drama I'd think about recommending. Any other good suggestions for introducing people to silent drama?

I don't think The Scarlet Letter is available on DVD, though, so you'll have to catch the rare TCM showing.


Chuck Sedlacko said...

I thought this week's past Sunday Night Silent movie, Sparrows (which you blogged about earlier) was particularly good silent movie. It did more than hold my attention, I was on the edge of my seat most of the movie. Definitely worth watching on WatchTCM this week if you missed it.

Ted S. (Just a Cineast) said...

That is a good choice.

Another one I thought of after seeing your comment would be the Baby Peggy version of Captain January. Good for kids who are of reading age, and it only runs 60-some minutes.