Photoplay Magazine – March 1928
A Librarian Speaks
I work in a branch library and, for two years, I have made a note of every film that was taken from a worthwhile book, and of the increase in requests for that book, as soon as the film was released. It seemed to me that practically no one ever read “The Scarlet Letter,” but when Lillian Gish starred in it, all the volumes immediately disappeared. And there were four fat volumes of “Resurrection” that I said “hello” to every morning, until the picture came out, when they all temporarily vanished. I am afraid that you will refuse to believe the number of people who had never heard’ of Barrie until “Peter Pan” was produced. But from “Peter,” it was only a step to introduce them to “Tommy,” and when “A Kiss for Cinderella” appeared, they all clamored for Barrie’s plays. (Ruth Gordon)
Lillian Gish’s performance in “The Scarlet Letter” recaptures all the praise ever bestowed on her, and by the same token should erase all memory of the shortcomings charged against her. For her Hester Prynne is shimmering perfection, and is completely her own. The scenario of “The Scarlet Letter” is not wholly, however, the story of Hawthorne’s novel, though the liberties taken with it could scarcely offend the most captious. As you see this beautiful picture on the screen it occurs to you that there was no need to have followed the letter of the book at all. What has come from it is fine and true.
The spirit of Puritan days has been preserved with reverence and, at times, humor, while Frances Marion’s story is a model of screen technique and skillful compromise with the censors. Behind the story of the ill-starred lovers is a sharply etched study of the habits, customs, and psychology of our forefathers, yet it is never merely a presentation of detail but takes its proper place in unfolding the story of the seamstress who loved the Reverend Dimmesdale and who sacrificed herself that the towns people might never lose their ideal of his goodness.
Out of the sin and the suffering of these characters—whether they actually lived or were only figments of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s imagination — has been woven one of the greatest novels which the genius of America has ever produced.
She had recommended and won for the project the acclaimed Swedish director Victor Sjostrom (or “Seastrom” as he called himself while under contract at MGM in the 1920s). It was a good choice. Seastrom’s talent for creating an environmental mise en scene that underscored character emotion and psychology was evident in his pastoral rendering of a 17th-century New England landscape. Together Gish and Seastrom turned The Scarlet Letter into a critical and popular triumph for MGM.”