In the pre-Civil War South, a sadistic plantation-owner brutalizes his slaves to the point of them heaving no other choice but to rebel. Always obedient, peaceful and honest old slave Tom plays a central role in this tragedy.
Géza von Radványi
Based on the novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe: Eliza, a slave who has a young child, pleads with Tom, another slave, to escape with her. Tom does not leave, but Eliza flees with her child. ... See full summary »
Stowe's novel, which predated America's Civil War, was immensely popular, at least in America and Britain, where it was an inspiration to abolitionists. It had a very real influence in changing people's attitudes on slavery and race. Today, it's difficult to appreciate the historical importance of this story; we're further removed from this 1914 film than that film was from Stowe's novel, not just in years, but also in accessibility. As widely published as the novel was, it may have reached even more people through the stage. "Tom shows" were still common in the early 20th Century. "Uncle Tom's Cabin", probably especially for some of the stage versions, may be best remembered today for the racial stereotypes it fostered, including the title role.
As indication of the novel and plays' lasting popularity, one only need look at the several film adaptations, mostly from the 1910s. IMDb lists six versions from that decade, which still isn't all of them. Two of the more accessible silent screen adaptations are the 1903 tableau style Edison Company short film by Edwin S. Porter and Universal's 1927 epic production. Another notable adaptation was one of the 1910 versions, made by Vitagraph; at three reels length, it was longer than most films at that time. Additionally, one from 1918 served as a vehicle for silent film star Marguerite Clark; like Mary Pickford, she often played young girls, including the Eva St. Clair character in "Uncle Tom's Cabin".
This 1914 film remains obscure today, but I think it's actually a rather good adaptation. I might not be as offended by the genre as other modern eyes are, since I've seen a good number of such old pictures, but this adaptation doesn't seem overly sentimental or melodramatic, surprisingly, given its source, although it does maintain the novel's puritanical sermon. The Christian message is only dominant in two deathbed scenes, however, which, albeit, are prominent to the photoplay. These involve superimposed spirits to create heavenly imagery. Furthermore, although the photography and visual film-making here are nothing exceptional, this film is not stagy, either. The pacing and editing, although choppy in the print available to me, is well paced and with decent continuity for its era, although nothing especially remarkable. There are few close-ups (which would've helped given the effect of age on the reduction print, which I'll mention more on).
The best decision here was probably to cast Sam Lucas, a real African-American and former slave, in the title role. He demonstrates commendable restraint in a role that could have too easily served for some stereotypes or over-the-top hams. Nothing that nice can be said about most of the rest of the cast. Although the print I saw was dark, unclear and rather blurry, so much to the point where it was difficult to see faces or make out skin color, it appears that some of the black and mulatto slaves are played by white actors. A Boots Wall in blackface as Topsy is notably rather offensiveproviding a generic pickaninny stereotype. Regardless, plot-wise, this is a clear and concise adaptation of an old tale.
(Note: I saw the old Grapevine video, which is a very poor quality reduction print/analog transfer.)
4 of 4 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?