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The Scarlet Letter (1934)

In the seventeenth century, in Massachusetts, a young woman is forced to wear a scarlet "A" on her dress for bearing a child out of wedlock.

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
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Bartholomew Hockings
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Abigail Crakstone
William Kent ...
Sampson Goodfellow (as William T. Kent)
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Innkeeper
Al O. Henderson ...
Master Wilson (as Al C. Henderson)
Jules Cowles ...
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Digerie Crakstone
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Humility Crakstone
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Faith Bartle, the Gossip
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Storyline

At the end of the 17th century a impetuous woman of noble birth but poor arrives in Boston when it was just a village rather than a city. As she is married to an old doctor she tries to change her life. Written by Volker Boehm

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Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic tale of sin & redemption!

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Drama | History | Romance

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18 September 1934 (USA)  »

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1.37 : 1
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The earliest documented telecast of this film occurred Monday 10 January 1944 on New York City's pioneer television station WNBT (Channel 1). See more »

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Version of The Scarlet Letter (1917) See more »

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User Reviews

Immortal Hawthorne novel gets poverty row treatment
30 June 2001 | by (Kissimmee, Florida) – See all my reviews

"The Scarlet Letter" (Majestic, 1934), directed by Robert G. Vignola, is the first sound screen adaptation to the immortal novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, set in 18th century Massachusetts, starring former silent movie comedienne Colleen Moore in what was to become her final screen appearance.

Filmed eight years after the silent MGM 1926 success that starred Lillian Gish and Lars Hanson, this sound adaptation differs from the earlier film in both continuity as well as production values. In the silent version, Hester Prynne (Gish), a seamstress whose husband is away at sea, meets the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale (Hanson), who falls in love with her unaware that she is married. However, she becomes pregnant with his child and after the baby's birth, she keeps Dimmesdale's secret that he is the father in spite of the punishment she must face. In the sound version, set in 1642, the story starts off almost immediately in which the viewer finds Hester Prynne (Moore), already a mother, holding her infant daughter, Pearl, in her arms, standing in front of the congregation. She is on trial for having the child out of wedlock and because she refuses to name the father of her baby, for her humiliation and punishment she must wear the scarlet letter "A" over her bosom for the rest of her natural life. Henry B. Walthall, who plays Roger Prynne, Hester's middle-aged husband in both 1926 and 1934 versions, appears in the near beginning of the story while in the silent version, his character makes his appearance almost an hour from the start of the film. In the two versions, his character returns home from his long sea journey to find his young wife has beared forth a child that is obviously not his, thus, and to save face, decides to be known through the community as Doctor Roger Dillingwell. Hester, in turn keeps her husband's identity a secret, knowing that his avenge is to learn the father's identity. Moving forward to 1647, Hester's daughter, Pearl (Cora Sue Collins), now five, must face her own humiliation by being an outcast to the neighborhood children, who refuse to play with her, and being insulted by their mothers, unaware as to why she is being treated just as cruelly as her mother, who steps in on Pearl's behalf after one scene finding Pearl getting mud thrown at her by the other children. As for the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale (Hardie Albright), he silently suffers for being worshiped by his congregation, unable to confess to all, through a promise he had made to Hester to keep silent, that he is the one responsible for Hester's guilt, and continues to suffer until the climax.

While "The Scarlet Letter" in 1926 was intelligently made and still holds up surprisingly well today, the 1934 adaptation might have equaled the earlier had it not been for its low production values and very slow pacing. Some of the dialog spoken has good intentions and meaning, but then sinks with some unnecessary comedy scenes (mostly by Alan Hale and William Kent) and poorly spoken dialog that unbalances the continuity to the story. At times I wonder what it would have been like had MGM itself remade "The Scarlet Letter" with Lillian Gish reprising her earlier role, with possibly Fredric March or Franchot Tone playing Dimmesdale. Would it have been a failure or would it have been in the class of MGM's other literary works of that period, which include the 1935 releases of "David Copperfield," "Anna Karenina" and "A Tale of Two Cities?"

Personally, after seeing "The Scarlet Letter" of 1934 several times, which is currently a public domain title available through numerous video sources, I find it's real fault is its slow pacing, and sometimes the performance of Hardie Albright, whose character plays weak, but fails to bring forth the strong points to his character. Aside from the actors mentioned, the movie includes screen veterans William Farnum, Virginia Howell and Jules Cowles (who can also be seen in the 1926 version). Film buffs will delight into watching this rarely seen find, which did enjoy some frequent revivals during the early years of Cable TV in the 1980s, but others will find themselves falling asleep long before the movie is over. But steer clear of the Demi Moore 1995 "free adaptation.". To learn more about the Hawthorne literary classic, just read the novel. (**)


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