Picture Play Magazine – November 1926 Vol. XXV No. 3
The Screen in Review
By Norbert Lusk
Salaam (The Scarlet Letter)
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. Lars Hanson, the Swedish actor who makes his first American appearance as Dimmesdale, might easily have stolen the picture from an actress of lesser gifts. His is a magnificent performance—poise, repression, and spirituality being blended into a character as dominating as it is appealing. The slow, gathering intentness of Hanson’s gaze is one of his most potent means of expressing thought and emotion. It is amazing on the screen.
But for that matter the entire cast with a single exception is of the highest order. Henry B. Walthall as Roger Prynne, Hester’s sinister husband, plays with repressed power, and Karl Dane and William H. Tooker offer lifelike characterizations.
The one exception to me was Joyce Coad as Pearl, Hester’s daughter. Here was a hearty, black-eyed child with a length of limb that nearly brought her up to Miss Gish’s shoulder, wholly unlike the frail flower my imagination created as the offspring of Hester and Dimmesdale. When Miss Gish carried her, the full force of a sacrifice to art came to me, and I hoped she wouldn’t break under the muscular strain.
Victor Seastrom’s direction is that of a master, and the Scandinavian’s sympathy with the traditions of our rock-bound New England is strongly manifested in every scene.