The Scarlet Letter

  • Film
  • Period and swashbuckler films
One of Gish's great performances as Hester Prynne, a woman branded an adulteress in 17th century Salem, and forced to wear a scarlet 'A' of shame. Necessarily truncated from Hawthorne's novel about the terrors of Puritan intolerance, the film itself stumbles over occasional loose ends and melodramatic coincidences, not least the inopportune reappearance of Hester's husband, presumed dead but brought in from the wilderness for ransom by Indians. More damagingly, the references to witchcraft have gone, and with them Hawthorne's implication that Hester's illigitimate child is something of a changeling, and that her seducer - the parson Dimmesdale (a fine performance from Hanson) - has become satanically tainted over the years by his guilt. Sjöström papers this over quite effectively by turning the errant husband into a sort of Wandering Jew, vengefully hounding the tormented parson into his eventual confession and expiation. But what holds the film together above all is Sjöstrîöm's extraordinary feeling for rural Americana (despite the theme, much of the action takes place in bright sunlight and idyllically pastoral settings), which was to achieve its fullest expression in The Wind the following year.

Release details

Duration: 8 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Victor Sjöström
Screenwriter: Frances Marion
Cast: Lillian Gish
Lars Hanson
Karl Dane
Henry B Walthall
William H Tooker
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