The film debut of the famed Duncan Sisters (Rosetta and Vivian), the film is an amalgam of their musical stage hit and the play by Catherine Chisholm Cushing, which was based on the novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The Duncan sisters rely very much on their musical version, obviously minus the banter and hit songs. Into this stew came director Lois Weber, who bailed early on. In came Del Lord, a Keystone Kop and director of shorts (an odd choice indeed). Finally, D.W. Griffith was brought in during the last week or so in an attempt to bring some narrative sense to what the sisters and director had wrought.
The end product probably matches the Duncan Sisters' view more than Lord's (assuming he had one) with Rosetta as Topsy and very much the star. Even Vivian as Eva is shunted into a supporting role (with no songs to sing), although she looks quite fetching with her masses of blonde hair. Others in the cast include Nils Asther as Shelby, Gibson Gowland excellent as Simon Legree, Myrtle Ferguson as Ophelia, Noble Johnson as Uncle Tom, Marjorie Daw as Marietta, and Henry Victor as St. Claire. Carla Laemmle plays the angel. Also in the crowds are Lionel Belmore, Dot Farley, and Mary Nolan.
Released thru United Artists and produced by Joseph Schenck (the closing logo is an oval with "MP" prominent and with "PDA" beneath), the film has the reputation of being a flop but may not have been as big a dud as rumor has it. During the initial big-city run, the Duncan Sisters toured with the film and performed a pre-show act with their hit songs from the stage production. This portion of the film's release did big business, but after the sisters left and the film played smaller cities and towns, it died. Still, it seems to have about broken even.
The Sisters then had cameos in the W.C. Fields film TWO FLAMING YOUTHS (now lost). MGM wanted them for THE Broadway MELODY, but they were tied up with a stage tour. But they did star in the underrated IT'S A GREAT LIFE in 1929, which was a modest hit. They were signed for the aborted THE MARCH OF TIME and appeared in a short (SURPRISE!) in 1935, yet again recycling Topsy and Eva with Clarence Nordstrom as the male lead.
The racially insensitive elements in the film along with the major character in black face doom this one from ever being seen by a wide audience. The pity is that Rosetta Duncan's great comic performance, which compares favorably on many levels to all those spunky/bratty Mary Pickford girls, is pretty much lost to the ages.
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