Uncle Toms Cabin (1927) Poster

Uncle Toms Cabin (1927)

  • Rate: 7.1/10 total 217 votes 
  • Genre: Drama | History
  • Release Date: 2 September 1928 (USA)
  • Runtime: 144 min | 112 min (Kino Print) | USA:93 min (edited) (1958 re-release)
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Uncle Toms Cabin (1927)

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  • IMDb page: Uncle Toms Cabin (1927)
  • Rate: 7.1/10 total 217 votes 
  • Genre: Drama | History
  • Release Date: 2 September 1928 (USA)
  • Runtime: 144 min | 112 min (Kino Print) | USA:93 min (edited) (1958 re-release)
  • Filming Location: Arkansas, USA
  • Budget: $1,500,000(estimated)
  • Director: Harry A. Pollard
  • Stars: Margarita Fischer, James B. Lowe and Arthur Edmund Carewe
  • Original Music By: Erno Rapee  Hugo Riesenfeld (1928) (uncredited)  
  • Soundtrack: Old Black Joe
  • Sound Mix: Silent | Mono (Movietone) (musical score and sound effects)
  • Plot Keyword: Slavery | Wedding | Kentucky | Lawyer | Jealousy

Writing Credits By:

  • Harriet Beecher Stowe (novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin")
  • Harvey F. Thew (continuity) (as Harvey They) and
  • A.P. Younger (continuity)
  • Walter Anthony (titles)
  • Harry A. Pollard  uncredited

Known Trivia

  • Debut of Virginia Grey.
  • The role of “Uncle Tom” was originally given to Charles Gilpin, but when Universal executives saw the first few days’ dailies, they objected to Gilpin’s “aggressive” performance and demanded that he be replaced. Character actor James B. Lowe auditioned for the part, gave a more “acceptable” reading and was awarded the role.

Plot: Slavery tears apart a black family in the South before the start of the Civil War. |  »

Story: Slavery tears apart a black family in the South before the start of the Civil War.

FullCast & Crew

Produced By:

  • Harry A. Pollard known as producer
  • Carl Laemmle known as executive producer (uncredited)

FullCast & Crew:

  • Margarita Fischer known as Eliza
  • James B. Lowe known as Uncle Tom
  • Arthur Edmund Carewe known as George Harris (as Arthur Edmund Carew)
  • George Siegmann known as Simon Legree
  • Eulalie Jensen known as Cassie
  • Mona Ray known as Topsy
  • Virginia Grey known as Eva St. Clare
  • Lassie Lou Ahern known as Little Harry
  • Lucien Littlefield known as Lawyer Marks
  • Adolph Milar known as Mr. Tom Haley
  • J. Gordon Russell known as Tom Loker (as Gordon Russell)
  • Gertrude Howard known as Aunt Chloe – Uncle Tom's Wife
  • Jack Mower known as Mr. Shelby
  • Vivien Oakland known as Mrs. Shelby
  • John Roche known as Augustine St. Clare
  • Aileen Manning known as Aunt Ophelia (as Aileen Mannin)
  • Mildred Washington
  • Tom Amardares known as Quimbo (uncredited)
  • C.E. Anderson known as Johnson (uncredited)
  • Gertrude Astor known as Mrs. St. Clare (uncredited)
  • Matthew 'Stymie' Beard known as Child (uncredited)
  • Louise Beavers known as Slave at Wedding (uncredited)
  • Grace Carlyle known as Mrs. Fletcher (uncredited)
  • William Dyer known as G.M. Beard – Auctioneer (uncredited)
  • Francis Ford known as Captain (uncredited)
  • Marie Foster known as Mammy in St. Clare Household (uncredited)
  • Martha Franklin known as Landlady (uncredited)
  • Geoffrey Grace known as The Doctor (uncredited)
  • Eugene Jackson known as Child (uncredited)
  • Carla Laemmle known as Auction Spectator (uncredited)
  • Irene Lambert known as Eliza as a Baby (uncredited)
  • Jeanette Loff known as Auction Spectator (uncredited)
  • Nelson McDowell known as Phineas Fletcher (uncredited)
  • Rolfe Sedan known as Adolph (uncredited)
  • Madame Sul-Te-Wan known as Slave at Wedding (uncredited)
  • Dick Sutherland known as Sambo (uncredited)
  • Clarence Wilson known as Bidder at Eliza's Auction (uncredited)
  • Seymour Zeliff known as Edward Harris – Slaveowner (uncredited)

..

 

Company

Production Companies:

  • Universal Pictures

Distributors:

  • Universal Pictures (1927) (USA) (theatrical)
  • Universum Film (UFA) (1928) (Germany) (theatrical)
  • Colorama Features (1958) (USA) (theatrical) (re-release) (edited)
  • Kino Video (1999) (USA) (DVD)
  • Kino Video (????) (USA) (VHS)

..

 

Other Stuff

Release Date:
  • USA 4 November 1927 (New York City, New York)
  • Austria 1928
  • Germany 1928
  • USA 2 September 1928
  • Finland 17 September 1928
  • France 7 December 1928
  • Portugal 12 November 1929
  • USA 1958 (re-release)

..

 
 

Filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database


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Posted on July 17, 2012 by Movies DVD New Releases Blu-ray in Movies | Tags: , , .

10 Comments

  1. rudy-46
    17 Jul 2012, 9:23 pm

    This is perhaps the best film adaption of the classic Harriet BeecherStowenovel. One of the more expensive films for the time, a price tag of $1.8million, it is brimming with brilliant photography and fine performances.Afilm beautifully restored with the original movietone score and one of thefew surviving works of director Harry Pollard, a lesser known name in theannals of cinema history but nonetheless an innovative filmmaker. Mr.Pollard successfully captures the mood of the old pre-war South whileemphasizing the horror and immorality of slavery. James Lowe gives a fineperformance in the title role, obedient yet not lacking integrity. Somecharacterizations may seem degrading to today’s audiences, but this filmwasgroundbreaking for its sympathy for African-Americans of the time. Thisfilmis also important in that it features a great actress of the silent periodand wife of the director, Margarita Fischer. I had seen many strikingphotosof Ms. Fischer in Daniel Blum’s Pictorial History of the Silent Screen andwas delighted to find one of her few surviving films on video. She starsasEliza, a fair skinned servant who eventually falls into the hands of thesinister Simon Legree, played by George Siegmann. Ms. Fischer gives apowerful performance of a young woman defying the evils of a cruel worldandthere is a memorable scene of her flight to freedom across the ice flowswith her son. This was this lovely actresses’ swan song, for she retiredprematurely after this film and lived many more years. An early appearanceof Virginia Grey as Little Eva, Harry Pollard’s mastery of filmmaking, andMargarita Fischer’s beauty and talent all combine to make filmpreservationan important cause.

  2. Pleasehelpmejesus
    17 Jul 2012, 9:23 pm

    While this movie certainly suffers from the prevailing prejudices ofthe times it still carries great emotional weight and manages tohumanize slaves and rightfully demonize the institution of slaveryitself. Turkish actor Arthur Edmund Carewe is a little more believableas a light skinned black person than is Marguerite Fischer in her roleas Eliza but Fischer’s performance is pretty effective. I was a littlesurprised to find that she was once promoted as the "American Beauty".She seemed particularly unattractive to me and even though she hadquite a successful film career prior to this film (her last) I can’thelp but think that being married to the film’s director,co-screenwriter and co-producer helped get her cast. Still, standardsof beauty are mutable and she is not the only actress from earlytwentieth cinema whose physical appeal is a mystery to modern eyes.

    The oddly and somewhat eerily talented Lassie Lou Ahern plays her sonHarry.Even though cross gender casting was not uncommon for childroles(nor for "Lassie’s" either come to think of it) she is not verybelievable as a little boy. The fairly common habit in the years beforeand the early years of the 20th century of dressing up boys in girlishclothing doesn’t help either. Still it is an amazing performance, for a7 year old. Her acrobatic dancing being particularly notable.

    James B. Lowe, the only actual African-American actor in one of thelead roles is outstanding as Uncle Tom. What is even more outstandingis the dignity and lack of minstrelsy in the way he is allowed to playhim. Not at all typical of even the few films with sympathies towardthe plight of black Americans and slaves from the start of Americancinema to the late 1950’s, this treatment and characterization of UncleTom goes a long way toward negating the ridiculous portrayal of theslaves of the kindly Shelby’s as happy and content, even thankful (Tomand his wife proclaim how the Lord has blessed them with their life onthe plantation)to be in bondage. For a slave, happiness was relative. Iwish I could remember who said it but I have heard it said that ‘theslave with a cruel master wishes for a kind one-the slave with a kindmaster wishes for freedom’. The myth of the contented slave grew out ofthe necessity for self-preservation and the fact that protests fell ondeaf ears anyway. Certainly some slave owners were otherwise decentpeople who were also victims of the pseudo-science that proclaimedblacks as simple naive and in need of white guidance at one end of thephilosophical spectrum and as sub-human and even evil at the other. Theprevailing attitude was probably somewhere in-between. Certainlycontact with slaves served to humanize them for some whites and theirvalue as property and investment and laborers called for some humanetreatment if only to protect them as such. The saintly Eva is a bitunrealistic but there certainly were many Southern whites who wererightly disgusted with slavery and the treatment of black people ingeneral. Eva’s declaration of love (and Aunt Ophelia’s declaration ofsame after Eva’s death) for Topsy is a major statement socially andcinematically. Affection on a non-patronizing level between blacks andwhites on screen was almost never displayed and even more rarely statedoutright. The physical contact between Uncle Tom and Eliza’s motherCassie was also exceptional. Even though the characters are both"black" the actress playing Cassie was not and the hand holding withand affectionate nursing of Lowe’s Uncle Tom was the kind of actionthat would normally raise howls of protest from certain audiences. Thisavoidance of physical contact between especially a white female and ablack male was still occurring even into the 1970’s when some TVstations banned a special featuring a prominent white British femalesinger and a famous black actor/singer holding hands during a duet.

    One of the first multi-million dollar productions, this film is notquite faithful to the book but still catches the viewer up in theplight of George and Eliza in particular and manages to indict the evilinstitution of slavery despite its concession to certain"sensibilities". A scene showing Uncle Tom rescuing Eva from the riverwas cut-probably so as not to give a black character too much heroicprominence but Eliza’s escape over the ice floes is as realistic (eventhough it was done, or rather re-done on a studio backlot after havingsome footage shot on location originally) as anything of the times oreven later. Actors and stunt people blend seamlessly and there is areal sense of danger conveyed.

    Cinematically and dramatically the film more than justifies its hugebudget and if a modern viewer can stomach some of the cliché portrayalof blacks and slaves and the cartoon-ish portrayal of some of the whitecharacters they might find themselves understanding why Abraham Lincolnupon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe was supposed to have remarked "Soyou are the little woman who wrote the book that started this greatwar!" Only a true Simon Legree could look at even this stylizedportrayal of slavery and still support the "peculiar institution".

    Added December 12 2005:

    Wanted to mention to Joseph Ulibas that while he is right that thisfilm marks an innovative use of a racially mixed cast thecharacters ofthe slaves George, Eliza and Topsy were all played by white actors.

  3. gina-77 from united states
    17 Jul 2012, 9:23 pm

    Harry Pollard is my great uncle, and Margarita Fisher is my great aunt,Iloved the movie and i couldnt belive that they had this on video.Irememberas a kid all the stories and pictures about my aunt and uncle that mygrandmother Katherine Havens would tell me and to see all this on theinternet just blew me away. I had no idea that anyone really knew whotheywere or cared.

    Thanks gina

  4. drednm
    17 Jul 2012, 9:23 pm

    Well I didn't think I'd like this one but it turned out to be prettygood and with a few terrific performances. Based on the 1852 novel byHarriet Beecher Stowe, this silent film is a grand melodrama with allthe trimmings and includes some of the most famous characters andscenes in American literature. Oddly there has never been an Americantalkie version of this classic.

    Released by Universal with a "no-star" cast, the film captures most ofthe highlights from the novel, including Eliza's flight across thefrozen river pursued by bloodhounds (very well done), the death ofLittle Eva, and the villainous Simon Legree. The film gets better as itgoes along building to the death of the villain.

    Notable perhaps as one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to casta Black actor in a major role (James B. Lowe as Uncle Tom), most of theother parts are also played by Black actors (but I suspect a few werewhites in black face).

    Margarita Fisher (in her final film) stars as Eliza, 10-year-oldVirginia Grey in her film debut plays Little Eva, George Siegmann is aterrific Simon, Lucien Littlefield is the lawyer, Aileen Manning isAunt Ophelia, Mona Ray is Topsy, and Eulalie Jensen is wonderful asCassy. I spotted Clarence Wilson among the auction bidders; LouiseBeavers is an extra.

    The film was not a great success and Universal lost money but itremains as an interesting film version of the biggest-selling book ofthe 19th century. I taped this from TCM's May series on Blacks infilms……

  5. Rigor from Chicago, USA
    17 Jul 2012, 9:23 pm

    Very hard to take, but, historically important and interesting. Thereare some wonderful scenes- Eliza and little Harry’s escape from theplantation in the wintry night, their flight across the ice coveredriver, the surreal death of little Eva, the turning of the tables(first by Eliza and later by Cassie) that have enslaved women usingwhips to beat off white men! Margarita Fischer is quite good as Eliza.She has an interesting appearance that is quite right for this kind ofmelodrama. Virginia Grey as the impossibly saintly Little Eva isweirdly intense- sort of like those unsettling early performance byJodie Foster. It works to make this character strange enough to bebelievable. Most of the actors playing Black slaves (some of themplayed by unnaturally painted white actors) have a more difficult timeof it- James B. Lowe does his best and does bring some quiet dignity tothe central role of Uncle Tom- but the script and conception defeat himat times. Arthur Edmund Carewe (an actor whom IMDb fascinatingly claimsis of Native American descent- Chickasaw- and yet is said to have beenborn in Tebiziond Turkey?) is quite good as George Harris the lightskinned husband of Eliza and father of Harry- although he barelyappears in the film since much of George’s story has been edited out.The most painfully offensive scenes belong to Mona Ray who plays theridiculous caricature of the happy little mischievous slave Topsy.Interestingly the DVD has deleted scenes that push Topsy furthertowards a psychological study in self hatred- check them out of yourent this one- I am not sure if they were deleted in 1927 or at a laterre-release date (Topsy uses the N word to refer to herself in thedeleted scenes and in one fascinating scene ritualistically powdersherself white in an attempt to become "good" like Ms. Eva. Of course,the film is a ridiculous and utterly offensive view of the history ofslavery- that shamelessly panders to racist notions of Europeansuperiority. In this it does not depart from novel as much as make thenarrative mo

  6. bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
    17 Jul 2012, 9:23 pm

    In these days Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel of Uncle Tom's Cabin isknown more by historians as a contributing cause of the Civil War thanas an actual literary work. I would happily include myself in thatnumber. The only exposure I had to the story at all was in watching TheKing And I where Tuptim puts on the play for the king recognizing thestory as an indictment of slavery. So sadly did the king, but that'sanother story.

    What you're seeing in this 1927 version is not Harriet Beecher Stowe'sstory, it couldn't be because there are references in the film to theDred Scott decision, the firing on Fort Sumter and the EmancipationProclamation all in the future because her story was published in 1852.

    What slaves, free blacks, and sympathetic northerners like the Quakerfamily you see who rescue Eliza and her baby are afraid of the newstrict fugitive slave law. The law was part of the Compromise of 1850which almost mandated help for slave catchers who found runaway slavesin the north. It was a stench in the nostrils of folks like the Quakerswho were prominent in the anti-slavery movement.

    We're not seeing Stowe's story, but we are seeing her vision of thecruelty of slavery as an institution. Even the idea that black peoplewere to be thought of as equal was radical in too many eyes back in theday.

    Stowe used a lot of what would later be labeled stereotypes, mostimportantly the phrase 'Uncle Tom'. That which denotes a person willingto accept inequality in all its forms. The criticism has certainvalidity, but I think for the wrong reasons.

    As seen her old Uncle Tom is the elder head of the plantation blacks ona Kentucky estate who the master even trusts to go to free state Ohioon business for him. No one can believe that Uncle Tom actuallyreturns, the criticism is that his pride is so broken he accepts whatthe slave owners give him.

    Tom returns, not because he accepts, but because in that cabin are hiswife and children, even in slavery he's a family man. This is the mosthorrible thing of all for Stowe, the human beings are property. Eventhe kindly masters shown here like the Shelbys, Tom's owners accumulatedebts and have to sell Tom and break up that family. Families beingdestroyed is the cardinal sin for Stowe.

    Except for young Virginia Grey playing little Eliza the innocent whohasn't learned to regard certain people as beneath treating as human,most people today won't know the cast members. Some might know LucienLittlefield who has a small role as a bottom feeding slave dealer. Thiswas not a profession that attracted the best in society. James B. Loweas Uncle Tom you will not forget, he invests great dignity in theoriginal Uncle Tom role of them all.

  7. j r from United States
    17 Jul 2012, 9:23 pm

    This movie is the origin of the stereotypical "Uncle Tom" not Stowe'snovel. The three dimensionality of the characters in the novel isvirtually stripped away in this movie version. The awkward "smiles" andinappropriate laughter of the black characters caters to thepost-Reconstruction mentality of the re-claimed South. Stowe's novelhas a much more realistic treatment of characters from both regions.The poignant scene between Topsy and Eva is rendered cartoons in themovie. The faith connection between Tom and Eva is completely absentfrom the movie, yet one cannot appreciate the true nobility of theircharacters without seeing this bond between them brought about by ashared love of the world beyond. This movie does not properly capturethe traditional paternalistic objectification of the slaves that theMaster Shelby takes for granted and haunts Mrs. Shelby nor does itcapture the "enlightened" position of Augustine St. Clare, who still isnot moved to actually free his slaves until it is too late. George andEliza's "priveliges" are virtually ignored in the movie, hence thecontrast with these and the definitive reinforcement of their slavestatus at critical moments is lost. Legree is more of a Grimm-like ogrethan the unbelievably inhumane monster of a man he is in the novel.This is a Jim Crow movie, Stowe's is not a Jim Crow novel. The Southlost the war, but it won with this movie. It is a distant cousin toGriffith's "Birth of a Nation."

  8. Cineanalyst
    17 Jul 2012, 9:23 pm

    This is a beautifully photographed film and a lavish production.Recently, I've mostly viewed pre-1920s films, and it's pleasantlyrevealing to then return to the late 1920s cinema and witness howgorgeous silent films became. Camera movements are fluid and plenty, asare the glossy close-ups, and sometimes the camera moves duringclose-ups. Even the backgrounds in close-ups are glossed over ormanipulated in a way to affect emotions. This production in particularfeatures top-notch production values, including expensive sets andstaging. The negative cost alone was nearly $1.8 million; moreover,historian David Pierce says only "Ben-Hur" (1925) and "Old Ironsides"(1926) had cost more. It shows from the start to finish, opening on anornate antebellum Southern plantation, complete with period costumes,the in-studio created snowstorm and ice flow getaway, the use of a realriverboat and in Legree's rundown home.

    As it turned out, the film was a box-office flop, despite the immenseand decades lasting popularity of Stowe's novel and its stageadaptations. Updating the story to America's Civil War and bringing theUnion army into the South was a mistake in all regards, but it'sdoubtful the film would have done well in the South anyhow. Reportedly,the stage plays tended to be more faithful to the anti-slavery themeand sympathetic racial views of the novel in Northern US states, whilethey transformed the story into minstrel shows in Southern states. Withthe Jazz Age, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, segregation and widespreadracism, screen adaptations of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" went out of favor.According to Pierce, this film fell over a half million short ofbreakeven. Nevertheless, it doesn't seem surprising to me that CarlLaemmle would approve of this production. After all, it had proved apopular source for decades.

    Additionally, the last time a Southerner (director Harry Pollard camefrom Kansas) made an epic concerning slavery and the Civil War—D.W.Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" (1915)—it was one of the biggesthits ever. Of course, those are about the only similarities between thetwo films, as an abolitionist wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin", and "The Birthof a Nation" was based on a novel by a notorious white supremacist whowrote his book as a racist reaction to "Uncle Tom's Cabin". One otherconnection, however, is the casting of George Siegmann. He portrayedone of the more appalling racist characters in "The Birth of a Nation",as Silas Lynch, the mulatto made lieutenant governor who leads a blackmob to seize control from white Southerners, deny their rights and rapetheir women. In "Uncle Tom's Cabin", he's the villain again, but as theslave trader and owner Simon Legree. Siegmann also gives the bestperformance in this one.

    This film's narrative is also interesting and engaging, but flawed.This adaptation reworks Stowe's novel to focus less on Uncle Tom andmore on Eliza, who, surely not coincidently, is played by thedirector's wife. To me at least, those playing Eliza and her family aretoo clearly Caucasians, making the nature of their continuedenslavement despite attempts of escape rather unbelievable. In thenovel, Eliza and her family escape to Canada shortly after the chase onice, which was followed by a shootout not included in this adaptation,so there wasn't this problem. In reality, it could be relatively easyfor mulattoes this light of skin color to become free or pass asappearing Caucasian. Instead, in this film, we get rather absurd imagesof whites auctioned and enslaved among blacks in the South. (There wereslaves who appeared white, by the way; I'm merely suggesting that theplot is unconvincing in this respect and rather offensive for featuringCaucasian actors in the parts.) Caucasians in these parts weren'tunusual, however, and, for romantic roles especially, it would haveprobably been controversial then to have them appear darker skinned.The 1914 film version, which I've recently viewed, also featuredCaucasians as mulattoes, although it was more faithful to thenovel—thankfully in this respect. (Also, a girl plays, for no apparentreason, Eliza's child, who in the story is a boy.)

    An African-American plays Uncle Tom, which was also the case in the1914 film. James Lowe was too young for the part, though, and spendsthe film not seemingly to know whether to appear older or more vigorousand his own age. Topsy is played by a Caucasian in blackface and assomewhat of a pickaninny stereotype—this role seems to tend to be oneof the more offensive. The two deleted scenes included on the Kino DVDfeature Topsy and are more racist than anything in the rest of thepicture.

    As aforementioned, however, I did find the narrative engaging, as wellas somewhat emotionally involving, and the film retains enough ofStowe's anti-slavery standpoint to be politically pleasing. Moreimportant, I think, it's visually engrossing. Sure, there arepictorially more amazing films from the late 20s, but this is still oneof the better ones. The chase across breaking, flowing ice isreminiscent of the climax in "Way Down East" (1920). It also reminds meof the climax in "Our Hospitality" (1923), especially the waterfallsuspense. The sequence in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" isn't as good as the onesin those two films, but it's impressive, nonetheless. Some shots of therest of the blizzard are even, perhaps, more beautifully composed. Somecompositions that especially struck me were those through windows andarchways of characters looking at other characters. For the beauty ofthe image alone, this film is worth seeing.

    (Note: The print does have constant speckling and some scratches due toage, but is, nevertheless, a very good restoration and transfer.)

  9. tavm from Baton Rouge, La.
    17 Jul 2012, 9:23 pm

    When I discovered that a filmed version of the novel "Uncle Tom'sCabin" was available at the East Baton Rouge Parish Library, I had tocheck it out. This particular version was from 1927 with synchronizedmusic, sound effects, some singing, and one word of dialogue. It wasalso 112 minutes on Kino Video DVD. Now while there were plenty ofexciting scenes of attempted escapes-like Eliza (Margarita Fischer) onice floes in the dark with her son on her arms or a later sequence ofher trying to recover that son as she runs after a horse wagon-and sometense scenes with the bullying Simon Legree (George Siegmann) when hegets his comeuppance, there were also some noticeably missing ones thatmade me wonder why some things happened the way they did. And while thetitle character is played by African-American James B. Lowe withdignity, the stereotyped pickaninny Topsy is obviously played by awhite female named Mona Ray with all the embarrassing histrionics,including the eye bugging and-in deleted DVD extras-her referringherself as the N-word and trying to be white by powdering her face.That character and performance is the only really awful thing aboutthis movie which, despite the many cuts, is mostly a compellinglyfilmed version of a famous novel, even with the setting changed to whenthe Civil War was going on. So on that note, this version of HarrietBeecher Stowe's classic work is well worth a look for any filmenthusiast interested in this era of film-making. P.S. I wasamazingly-and appallingly-stunned when a friendly slaveowner referredto little Harry as "Jim Crow". Also, though I didn't recognize them,Louise Beavers and Matthew "Stymie" Beard have cameos here.

  10. Fisher L. Forrest (fisherforrest@jeffnet.org) from Jacksonville, Oregon, USA
    17 Jul 2012, 9:23 pm

    If there is anyone who doesn't know where the sobriquet "Uncle Tom", todescribe a complaisant Negro, came from, this is the place. The bookthat some say started the U. S. Civil War gets fairly good silent eratreatment. Filmed just as the "dawn of sound" was beginning, there aresound effects and a brief semi-synchronised segment. The emphasis inthe film is more on "Eliza", a very light complexioned slave (probablyan octoroon), than on "Uncle Tom", who is almost a background layfigure. There is justification for this, for "Eliza", though virtuallyhelpless as a female slave, is much more the rebel than "Uncle Tom". Inthe novel, Harriet Beecher Stowe gave him much more "presence".

    Some characters are portrayed realistically, but the more villainousthey are, the more they are limned as caricatures. For example, take"Simon Legree" and especially "lawyer Marks". The white actors seeminclined to employ the more irritating silent era acting mannerisms,much more than the black actors. But the two slaves of "Simon Legree"who specialise in flogging, behave more as clowns than actors. They arethe exception, though. Take note of very young Virginia Grey as doomed"Little Eva", and the scene of "Eliza" crossing the ice. These are highpoints, and the river scene is very impressively filmed. Shades ofLillian Gish on the ice floes! I am not going to take up more spaceabout the plot elements for such a well known story. My suggestion isseek out the novel and read it.

    So how are we to regard this film and the source novel. Ms. Stowecertainly intended it as an anti-slavery tract, and it was veryeffective following publication circa 1856. This film tones theanti-slavery sentiment down quite a bit, but only someone obsessed with"political correctness" could call it racist in a malicious sense.

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