A Short History of the Movies (III) By Gerald Mast – University of Chicago (1971)

  • A short history of the movies
  • Gerald Mast, deceased
  • Formerly of the University of Chicago
  • © 1971, 1976, and 1981 by the Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc.;
  • FIFTH EDITION REVISED BY Bruce F. Kawin
  • University of Colorado at Boulder
  • 1992 Macmillan Publishing Company New York
  • Maxwell Macmillan Canada Toronto

Photo Gallery – “The Scarlet Letter”

As a producer reporting to, but given a free hand by, (Irving) Thalberg at MGM, Lillian Gish took on the challenge of filming Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, a project that had been opposed by every women’s club in the country because its plot concerns adultery with a capital A, not to mention with a clergyman. (When MGM told her “it wasn’t allowed,” she said, “What do you mean it’s not allowed? It’s an American classic, and I’m an American and I want to make it!”) When Gish visited the women’s clubs and told them she would be in charge of the project, their respect for her good taste and judgment led them to drop all opposition. To direct The Scarlet Letter (1926), she brought Victor Sjostrom (who signed his American pictures Seastrom) to Hollywood from Sweden.

Photo Gallery – “La Boheme”

The picture was a great success—as were Gish’s other productions, including the 1926 La Boheme, a silent version of Puccini’s opera. But her greatest production, and the second film Sjostrom directed for her, was The Wind (1928), based closely on the 1925 novel by Dorothy Scarborough and shot in the Mojave Desert. In this film Gish gives one of her very finest performances—her best since Way Down East and until The Night of the Hunter (1955)—as a woman driven mad by the relentless, demonic, almost sexually charged wind that drives the sand across the Texas plains and through every crack in the shack she shares with her husband. Originally ending with the same powerful scene as the novel, in which the heroine—after killing and burying the man who assaulted her—walks into the oblivion of madness and blowing sand, The Wind was given a happy ending (in which she and her husband stand together at the open door, powerfully facing the wind) at the insistence of exhibitors.

Photo Gallery – “The Wind”

One of the greatest films of the 1950s was a study of values, a literary adaptation, and a compelling story realized in purely cinematic terms: The Night of the Hunter (1955). Scripted by James Agee from the novel by Davis Grubb, it was the only movie ever directed by actor Charles Laughton. This hauntingly photographed, lyrically evocative film tells of two children, on the run from a killer (Robert Mitchum), who find sanctuary in the home of a tough, practical, loving woman (Lillian Gish in her best sound-film performance). In place of money and horror, the film finds value in the enduring power of love, and it does so without the least trace of sentimentality.

Photo Gallery – “The Night of the Hunter”

Note: Illustrations used are not part of Mr. Mast’s book.

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