The Scarlet Letter

This silent masterpiece features three screen legends-star Lillian Gish, screenwriter Frances Marion, and director Victor Seastrom (Sjöstrom)-at the peak of their powers. Ironically, Gish later wrote, it was the wholesome reputation she established with D. W. Griffith that put censorship groups, concerned about the subject matter of Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, at ease. Surely, Gish would be a most chaste Hester Prynne. Yet from its opening title, establishing Prynne's ordeal as “a story of bigotry uncurbed,” to its tragic finale before the stocks of Puritan Boston, this largely faithful adaptation comes down squarely on the side of ardent sensuality. Seastrom seizes on Gish's vitality as Hester Prynne, binding it powerfully to the natural world through deftly mobile camerawork. Dreamy idylls give way to a foreboding chiaroscuro as the forces of repression react, but the lingering impression of Seastrom's romantic imagery reminds us of love's ultimate victory.

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