Saturday, October 6, 2012

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1903, 1914, 1927)

Silent classics: Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1903, 1914, 1927)


Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1903) Edwin S. Porter

Working for Thomas Edison, Edwin S. Porter was the first American "director," the pioneer who discovered how to use Edison's invention to tell stories and entertain audiences. His Uncle Tom's Cabin (1903) was one of the very earliest "full-length" American movies -- although "full-length" in 1903 meant about 14 minutes. According to a Notice in The New York Times, it premiered on August 3rd at Huber's Fourteenth Street Museum; sharing the program with it were several live acts, including a married team of "colored comedians."

Porter shot the film inside the Edison Company's studio in New York, and made sure there was no doubt whose film it was by including a “Sign” displaying the Thomas A. Edison ® in almost every one of the 14 separate scenes. (Edison had reason to be proprietary; within weeks after this film was made, Sigmund Lubin, his Philadelphia competitor released "a dupe" of it.) The movie's actors, sets, costumes, and much of its stage "business" derive from one of the turn-of-the-century theatrical "Tom Shows." Other than Edison's name, the film contains no credits and which UTC Company Porter employed has never been learned. But although many changes were required to turn a five act drama into a one-reel silent movie, Porter's film is extremely valuable as a partial record of what thousands of live audiences saw when the "Tommers" came to town.

Since most people in the film's original audience would have seen at least one "Tom Show," they already knew not just the larger story (and so could fill in the many gaps created by telling the story of a 500-page novel or a 3-hour play in less than 14 minutes), but the dialogue and "stage business" of the individual scenes. The catalog that the Edison company prepared to help sell the film to exhibitors provides descriptions that help 21st century viewers "see" what is going on ... As the catalogue also notes, Uncle Tom's Cabin was the first American film ever to include titles (called "announcements" here) to identify and introduce each new scene.





Like the typical "Tom show," this performance uses white actors in blackface for the major "black" parts, and black performers only as extras. This version also gives a vivid idea of how the "Tom show" version of Stowe's novel depicted slavery; most of the time, even at a slave auction, the slaves can't help dancing. The movie's subtitle is Slavery Days, which suggests its makers and its viewers believed this re-presentation was faithful to historical reality.

The movie was shot in 14 sequences, each with its own stage set and film title.

Original Score by Brian Pinette






Uncle Tom's Cabin (1914) Sam Lucas

This 1914 version of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic was directed by William Robert Daly. It was adapted Edward McWade from the play adaptation by George L. Aiken. It was the second known film adaptation of the story.

It starred Sam Lucas, Teresa Michelena, Marie Eline (again), Roy Applegate, Irving Cummings and Boots Wall. This was the first "white" film to have an African-American star, Sam Lucas.

Sam Lucas, one of the most respected and celebrated entertainers of his time, is credited with breaking barriers for black actors and becoming the first African American actor to star in a “white” feature film. Lucas is best remembered for his comic and dramatic roles performed on the minstrel circuit and Broadway stages, and by the end of his career, a major motion picture.

Lucas was born Samuel Mildmay in Washington, Ohio in 1840. He began singing and playing the guitar as a teenager and went on to establish a reputation as a performer while working as a barber. After the Civil War when African American performers (in blackface) were allowed to work in minstrel shows, Lucas joined traveling black companies and sang on the Ohio River steamboats. Lucas built a reputation as the best all-around entertainer in the business and was empowered to select his own shows which allowed him to star with the most successful black minstrel companies as a comedian and singer.

Dissatisfied with limited minstrel roles, Lucas attempted to establish himself as a serious actor by appearing in dramatic plays during the mid 1870s. By 1878, he became the first black man to appear as the title character in the serious stage production of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. At the age of 73, the veteran actor capped his career when he recreated the role of Uncle Tom in the 1914 film version released by World Film Corporation as well as two comedy shorts made as Tom. Lucas is believed to be the first African American actor to appear as Uncle Tom during the era. Shortly after completing the film, Lucas died after suffering a long bout of liver disease.
Release Date: 10 August 1914
Production Co: World
Runtime: 54 min


Uncle Tom's Cabin (1927)

Silent film “epic" directed by Harry A. Pollard and released by Universal Pictures. The film is based on the eponymous novel written by Harriett Beecher Stowe and was the last silent film version. It was preserved in a copy at the Library of Congress.

In this version of the film, all of the major slave roles, with the exception of Uncle Tom himself, were portrayed by white actors. Actress Mona Ray played the slave Topsy in blackface, while the slaves Eliza, George, Cassie and Harry were all presented as having very light skin coloring because of mixed-race heritage.



This two-hour movie spent more than a year in production and was the third most expensive picture of the silent era (at a cost of $1.8 million). Black actor Charles Gilpin was originally cast in the title role, but was fired after the studio decided his "portrayal was too aggressive." James B. Lowe then took over the character of Tom. One difference in this film from the novel is that after Tom dies, he returns as a vengeful spirit and confronts Simon Legree before leading the slave owner to his death. Black media outlets of the time praised the film, but the studio—fearful of a backlash from Southern and white film audiences—ended up cutting out controversial scenes, including the film's opening at a slave auction (where a mother is torn away from her baby).

The story was adapted by Pollard, Harvey F. Thew and A.P. Younger, with titles by Walter Anthony. It starred James B. Lowe, Virginia Grey, George Siegmann, Margarita Fischer, Mona Ray and Madame Sul-Te-Wan

Universal, 1927. Directed by Harry A. Pollard. Camera: Jacob Kull, Charles Stumar. 1hour 48min



Harriet Beecher Stowe (June 14, 1811 – July 1, 1896) was an American abolitionist and author. Her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) was a depiction of life for African-Americans under slavery; it reached millions as a novel and play, and became influential in the United States and United Kingdom.

It energized anti-slavery forces in the American North, while provoking widespread anger in the South. She wrote more than 20 books, including novels, three travel memoirs, and collections of articles and letters. She was influential both for her writings and her public stands on social issues of the day.

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