Volume 2: Filmography

 

UNCLE TOM'S CABIN

 

July 26, 1910 (Tuesday)

Length: 1,000 feet

Character: Drama

Scenario: From the novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Director: Barry O'Neil

Cast: Frank H. Crane (Uncle Tom), Anna Rosemond (Eliza), Marie Eline (Little Eva), Miss Grace Eline (Topsy)

Notes: 1. Several years later, after she had departed from Thanhouser, Marie Eline was again to play the part of Little Eva in Uncle Tom's Cabin, this time for a five-reel World Film Corporation release of August 10, 1914. 2. Although most Thanhouser posters of this era were of one-sheet size, an additional poster of six-sheet format was issued for this film.

 

BACKGROUND OF THE SCENARIO: Uncle Tom's Cabin was the most influential American novel of the 19th century and has sometimes been believed, in part, for precipitating the rift between Northerners and Southerners, which led to the Civil War. In dramatized form, it was a staple of the American stage, and at any given time during the last part of the century a dozen or more touring companies specialized in its presentation.

The author of the novel, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), was the daughter of a famous New England Calvinist clergyman, and in 1836 married another such clergyman. Her travels to the slave-holding states aroused her sympathy for the plight of black people. Herself a poor mother struggling to raise a family, Stowe realized that the circumstances of black mothers were far worse. Her observations and emotions were crystallized into the theme and plot of Uncle Tom's Cabin, which was serialized in The National Era from June 1851 to April 1852. In 1853 it was released as a book, and during the next five years a half-million copies were sold. One of the world's greatest works of morality, Uncle Tom's Cabin was translated into at least 20 languages during the next decade. International fame came to the author, and in the North indignation against slavery.

Just as it was a stage favorite, Uncle Tom's Cabin became a popular film scenario, and over the years many companies produced it. In 1903 Edwin S. Porter's one-reeler for Edison achieved popularity. Vitagraph's version of the same story, produced in three reels, was released at the same time as the Thanhouser product (first Vitagraph reel on July 26th; second and third on the 29th and 30th). The news of this competition prompted Thanhouser to insert the following tag line in an advertisement in The Moving Picture World, July 30, 1910: "Not tedious drawn-out, continued-in-our-next affair, but COMPLETE IN ONE REEL!" Other Uncle Tom's Cabin films of the era include an IMP three-reel version released in August 1913, a 2-reel Kalem release of December 1913, and an ambitious five-reel World Film Corporation feature of August 1914. Related was An "Uncle Tom's Cabin" Troupe, an American Biograph short subject, 679 feet in length, released in April 1913. In later years other versions of Uncle Tom's Cabin were produced by various makers.

 

ARTICLE, The Moving Picture World, August 6, 1910:

"The latest 'Thanhouser Classic' is a one-reel dramatization of Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous story of slavery days. With Uncle Tom portrayed by Frank Crane, Eliza by Miss Rosemond, little Eva by the Thanhouser Kid, and the photography of the best, the release is easily up to the Thanhouser standard and should be an easy winner. Necessarily the producers must have found the condensation of so large a book and play into 1,000 feet of moving picture film no light task. They have done their work well. Despite the strenuous elimination process applied to the original plot, none of the leading threads have been lost. In fact, the picture stands as a perfect example of the cutting-down art as practiced by present-day film men. The picture is released on Tuesday, July 26. The story it tells is too well known to require a description."

Note: Certain terminology in the preceding article, including "the picture stands as a perfect example of the cutting-down art as practiced...." etc., is repeated in following articles and reviews. Often publications would create "reviews" by paraphrasing news releases sent out by the studio.

 

SYNOPSIS, The Moving Picture World, July 30, 1910:

"The story opens in winter when Mr. Shelby has to sell some of his slaves due to business problems. Until this time they have lived all their lives with him, and he has been noted for his kindness to them.... Unfortunately the person to whom he was compelled to sell is the slave owner of the other sort, brutal, heartless, and a hard master - Simon Legree. Legree agrees to buy as many slaves as he desires, provided that Mr. Shelby gives him his choice. The slaves are passed and reviewed, and Legree selects Uncle Tom, one of the oldest and trusted, and the young son of Eliza, also a slave who has been with Shelby for many years. Despite the protestations of Mr. Shelby and the entreaties of the slaves themselves, these two are heartlessly taken from their homes and families. Legree refuses to buy any of the others, and as Shelby needs immediate money, he is forced to sell these two. The small boy is torn from his mother's arms and placed in Uncle Tom's care to be taken with him to Legree's plantation. But Uncle Tom cannot resist a mother's pleading, and when Eliza entreats him to give her back her child he does so and aids her to escape with him.

"For this deed he is beaten by Legree and forced to join the bloodhounds in which Legree institutes to recover the slave. Eliza, with her boy in her arms, escapes over the Kentucky border to Ohio, a free state, making a perilous crossing on one block of ice to another on the Ohio River. Terribly overcome by the cold and faint from exposure, Eliza is carried unconscious to the home of Senator Bird of Ohio. Tracked down by the purchaser, Simon Legree, to Bird's home, Mr. Bird out of goodness buys the boy and, giving him his freedom, gives him to his mother. Uncle Tom is not fortunate enough to find another purchaser and is taken by Legree to the plantation in Mississippi, finding on the trip that the new owner has taken a dislike to him and treats him with great brutality. During his journey, while waiting for a Mississippi steamboat, Uncle Tom first meets little Eva, who with her father is also taking the boat south.

"Tom is at once attracted to the beautiful little girl, and she in turn talks to the kindly old darkey. While looking at the boats, the little one accidentally falls into the swiftly flowing river and escapes drowning only through the bravery of Uncle Tom. He of all the crowd has the courage to jump in and rescue the little girl. Eva's father to reward Tom for his bravery, buys him from Legree, and once more Tom knows what it is to be treated kindly. He lives happily as little Eva's special bodyguard until the little one is seized with a sudden sickness and dies. She had become greatly attached to Uncle Tom, and the last act of her life was to present him with a little locket containing her picture. Once more Uncle Tom is sold and again falls into the hands of Simon Legree. He is taken to Legree's plantation in Mississippi, where he is overworked and ill treated to the point of death. Just before he dies he presses to his lips the locket with the picture of his beloved little girl and in a vision sees her in the clouds holding out her arms to him that he, too, may enter with her the pearly gates, inside of which all souls are equal, and all free. The comedy of the story is furnished by little Eva's Aunt Ophelia, a queer old lawyer named Marx, and his stubborn donkey, to say nothing of Topsy, a wicked little colored girl, who Aunt Ophelia tries hard to convert."

 

REVIEW, The Morning Telegraph, July 31, 1910:

"This film did not impress the writer favorably. One would expect something excellent in its entirety when a film manufacturer assumes to 'filmitize' a classic act of this sort. The settings were not as good as they might be, and the acting could have been better."

 

REVIEW, The Moving Picture News, July 23, 1910:

"The latest 'Thanhouser Classic' is a one-reel dramatization of Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous story of slavery days. With Uncle Tom portrayed by Frank Crane, Eliza by Miss Rosemond, and Little Eva by the Thanhouser Kid, and the photography of the best, the release is easily up to the Thanhouser standard and should be an easy winner. Necessarily the producers must have found the condensation of so large a book and play into 1,000 feet of moving picture film no light task. They have done their work well. Despite the strenuous elimination process applied to the original plot, none of the leading threads have been lost. In fact, the picture stands as a perfect example of the cutting-down art as practiced by present-day film men...."

 

REVIEW, The Moving Picture World, August 6, 1910:

"An attempt to reproduce in one film a reasonably accurate condensation of this novel. It is needless to go over the story; everyone knows it either by reading or by hearing about it from others, and as one scene after another passes before one on the screen the memory reverts to those other days when all this was true, and now, happily, gone forever.... They will know what the Civil War meant and will realize why it was necessary to shed so much blood and spend so much money to save the Union."

 

REVIEW (additional, in the "On the Screen" column), The Moving Picture World, August 6, 1910:

"Of all the means at hand for lowering the temperature during the recent torridity - splendid word, torridity, is it not? - none has been more efficacious to me than a visit to two or three moving picture theatres. Duty has taken me to Keith & Proctor's, on 23rd Street, more than once, and I would like to compliment the manager of that house upon the admirable way in which the temperature is controlled, if controlled it is. A visit to this well-administered theatre has proven a panacea for the almost intolerable heat outside. Part of one of the pictures that I saw was also so realistic that it still further operated to keep me cool and comfy. I allude to that phase of Uncle Tom's Cabin, released on Tuesday, July 26, which shows the escape of Eliza and the child across the ice. This part of the picture seems to have been conceived and carried out with extraordinary realism. You see the snow falling, the ice floes cracking and moving, you felt the danger that the woman and child were running as they made their escape across the ice, pursued by their remorseless enemy through the blinding snowstorm. This is one of the finest effects I have seen on the moving picture screen, and the whole story, so far as I have seen it, is worked out with wonderful realism, effect and verisimilitude. It's as good a rendering of the subject as I have ever seen, and I have seen Uncle Tom's Cabin played several times.

"I was inquiring whether the subject of Uncle Tom's Cabin would go well in the South, and I was assured that it would. There are, then, evidently some aspects of Negro life which do not excite racial antipathy. Uncle Tom's Cabin is apparently one of them. I suppose this is in virtue of the fact that after all it is a very human story. It has a sentiment. There is no sentiment in a black man whacking a white man. [This is a reference to the Johnson-Jeffries boxing match, held in Reno, Nevada, July 4, 1910, which inflamed America at the time, when Jack Johnson, son of a slave, thoroughly trounced former champion Jim Jeffries. - Ed.]. But there is unquestionable sentiment, and much of it, in the display of the primal virtue which is one of the features of the story of Uncle Tom's Cabin, namely, a protest against oppression.... Everybody understands the sentiment of Uncle Tom's Cabin; we feel we are with the characters. We do not like Legree; we commiserate with Eliza and the old Negro, we sniffle at the death of little Eva, we are amused by Topsy. The sentiment of the whole picture is simple and convincing."

 

ADDITIONAL REVIEW, The Moving Picture World, August 6, 1910:

"The photography is the best, the release is easily up to the Thanhouser standard and should be an easy winner. Necessarily the producers must have found the condensation of such a larger book and planned 1,000 feet of moving picture film no light task. They have done their work well. Despite the strenuous elimination process applied to the original plot, none of the leading threads have been lost. In fact, the picture stands as a perfect example of the cutting-down art as practiced by the present-day film men."

 

REVIEW, The New York Dramatic Mirror, August 6, 1910:

"This is a creditable production of the famous old play, being cleverly adapted to tell the story clearly. The acting is natural and expressive and the settings are generally good, although Eliza on the ice might have been improved upon. Following her escape we see Uncle Tom taken south, Eva rescued from the river by Tom, Eva's death, Tom's return to the ownership of Legree, and finally his death and the transformation scene, showing Eva in heaven welcoming Uncle Tom. One of the colored boys on the plantation is seen working in a white shirt with a fine turn-down collar and neat necktie, and some of the colored girls show conspicuously that they are wearing corsets. Otherwise the costuming appears to be correct and the scenes quite convincing."

Concerning the Vitagraph dramatization of the same story, The New York Dramatic Mirror noted, in part: "The idea of presenting this ever-popular drama in motion pictures is not new, but the idea of dividing it into three parts of one reel each is a decided innovation. In fact, it is the first time an American company has attempted anything of the kind in drama, and in this respect the production must be considered as something of an experiment. Pathé used two reels to produce Drink, from Zola's novel, and we may conclude that the result was not any too favorable, for we have had no other double reels from that company. The Vitagraph took two reels to give us the life of Napoleon, two for Washington, and five for Moses, but these were not dramas. At any rate, the result will be watched with interest, although it will not be safe for producers to argue if three reels of Uncle Tom prove popular that the same thing can be done with other plays. Uncle Tom was always an exception on the stage and may prove so in motion pictures.... As a whole the film must prove notable, but there is one suggestion that occurs with respect to its issue on three separate days. There should be a caption at the end of reel one and two stating that there would be a continuation of the drama on other reels."

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Copyright © 1995 Q. David Bowers. All Rights Reserved.