I think I see your problem. You have this list. It’s a list of people you need/want to buy a Christmas gift for. The trouble is that they’re into home theatre, and you don’t know Star Trek from Star Wars. You couldn’t tell a Wolf Man from a Wolverine. And you always thought that Paranormal Activity was something too kinky to talk about. Fortunately, Upcomingdiscs has come to the rescue every Christmas with our Gift Guide Spotlights. Keep checking back to see more recommendations for your holiday shopping. These gift guides ARE NOT paid advertisements. We take no money to publish them. With conditions as they are, shopping won’t be easy this season. The nice thing about discs is that they’re so easy to get from places like Amazon that you can give a great gift and stay perfectly safe while you do it.
“This is more than the history of a woman–it is a portrait of the Puritan period in American life. Though to us, the customs seem grim and the punishments hard, they were a necessity of the times and helped shape the destiny of a nation.”
1850 was a banner year in the United States. The compromise that bears the year’s name brought California into the nation as a state and caused even more confusion and animosity upon slavery in the country even as it was intended to help alleviate these concerns. 1850 was also the year that Nathanial Hawthorne wrote his famed The Scarlet Letter. The novel was a look at mid-17th-century strict morals and the consequences of their violation. By 1934 there had already been a stage play and several motion picture adaptations of the material, most notably 1909, 1917 and 1926. But the 1934 film version would be the story’s first appearance in a “talkie” or sound film. The production even involved some of the same staff and a pivotal actor from the more recent and widely released 1926 production. There’s a lot of history on display in this film, and it’s an important film not only because of its source or subject, but because it marks a change in the industry of Hollywood as a whole. It was a dramatic shakeup in how films were made and consumed. So it’s not really a surprise that Film Masters would restore the classic and include the cooperation of Sam Sherman, the man who acquired the rights for the film over 60 years ago. The result is a release on Blu-ray that will bring an old classic to life. Can you image a film fan on your list who wouldn’t want a piece of cinematic history on their shelves?
It’s 1643, and Hester (Moore) stands before a hostile community of Puritans with a baby in her arms. The problem for her is that she is not married, and she refuses to reveal who the baby’s father is so that he can share her scorn. This is a time where punishment often included public humiliation, as we see early in the film with others punished in stockades and other “stages” of shame. Because of her refusal, she is sentenced to wear a large bright red letter A on her chest for the rest of her life. Of course, this film is black & white, so we can’t see the vibrance of her ridicule. But we certainly feel it as Hester goes about her life looked upon with condemnation by the other members of her community. We learn through his visit that the father of the child is Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, played by Hardie Albright. He tries to convince her to pretty much rat him out.
Hester was to move here with her husband. She went along ahead, but he was thought lost in an accident and believed dead. What none of them know is that he has arrived, and when he hears of his wife’s shame takes another name as a Dr. Roger Chillingworth, played by Henry B. Walthall, who also played the same role in the 1926 silent version of the film. When he learns Arthur is the father, he sets about to mentally torture the man along with his wife. Meanwhile she is being questioned for her fitness to even be a mother. Arthur uses his influence to help Hester keep her baby and is even court-assigned to check in with the child from time to time and to be sure he is taught his religious studies. When Hester can’t take it any longe,r she tells Arthur who Chillingworth really is, and they attempt to flee on a ship. But Chillingworth overhears the plans and books passage on the same ship. The final push has Arthur finally proclaim his guilt, displaying physical symptoms of his conscience battle.
This would be the final film for actress Coleen Moore, who plays the starring role of Hester. She had a great run since 1917 in silent films, but wasn’t so comfortable when sound came about. But unlike many actors who couldn’t make the transition, she had a prosperous life as, of all things, a financial advisor. She ended up authoring two well-received books on investing. That’s a long way for the girl who was the original film Little Orphan Annie.
Alan Hale plays the part of a local Bartholomew Hockings, but it’s not so much his own acting that Alan Hale is known today. He was a prolific inventor. The next time you go to your local cinema, you might encounter his most iconic invention: the flip-up theater seat. He also had a son who would follow him in acting. Alan Hale, Jr. was the skipper of a certain three-hour tour that became a three-year television series known as Gilligan’s Island.
You may also recognize the cameo of a Native American in the film. That part was played by Iron Eyes Cody, who made quite a career off his heritage. If you were alive in the 70’s, you can’t forget the television public service ad that showed a Native American in a looking at the pollution around him. He would shed a silent tear, and it captured the hearts of the entire country. Later it was revealed that Cody wasn’t American Indian at all. Turns out he was Italian. Both of his parents were Italian immigrants in 1924. I bet he had some mixed emotions on Columbus Day. He was exposed by a newspaper in his birth-state of Louisiana in 1996, a year after he was awarded for his contributions to film for Native Americans. To his death he denied his Italian ancestry. Who would do that?
The film had to change quite a bit from the novel. This was a time of the reinstatement of what was known as the Hollywood Code, and it set the kinds of standards that prohibited some of the language of the book from making its way into the film. The ironic thing about it all is that a film about puritanical rules was itself limited by a modern version of the same kinds of restrictions, and sexual themes were high up on both lists. Today it’s an historical look both on 17th Century New England and that moment in Hollywood when everything changed and the movies talked. Everything changed. “It would take but a moment.”