Considering that religious puritans (and their politically correct cohorts) continue to plague the world at the beginning of the third millennium, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter remains as relevant today as when it was first published in 1850. This evening, Turner Classic Movies is presenting MGM’s 1926 film version of Hawthorne’s story about sex, love, and the evils of religious fanaticism and social intolerance. It’s a must.
One of the best silent films I’ve ever seen, The Scarlet Letter has Prestige written all over it. However, unlike so many prestige motion pictures that turn out to be monumental bores, this Scarlet Letter offers on screen everything most prestige movies only offer in their marketing campaigns: sensitive direction by Swedish import Victor Sjöström (a.k.a. Victor Seastrom); flawless characterizations by Lillian Gish (as Hester Prynne) and another Swedish import, Lars Hanson; a concise adaptation by Frances Marion; and superb cinematography by Hendrik Sartov.
Following The Scarlet Letter, TCM will show Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, a 1957 drama starring Victor Sjöström as an aging physician who reflects about life and death while en route to receive an award. I’ve watched Wild Strawberries twice: although the film has obvious qualities – e.g., the recently deceased Gunnar Fischer’s multi-hued black-and-white cinematography – I haven’t been able to warm up to either the story itself or to Sjöström’s medical professor.
Having said that, Wild Strawberries is as much a “must” as The Scarlet Letter, and not only because it’s considered by many to be Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece and one of the greatest movies ever made. The film’s last sequence – let’s call it “paradise revisited” – remains one of the most beautiful, most moving, and most indelible I’ve ever seen.
Schedule (ET) and synopses from the TCM website:
12:00 AM THE SCARLET LETTER (1926) In this silent film version of the classic tale, a single mother in Puritan New England bears her shame alone rather than expose the child’s father. Director: Victor Seastrom Cast: Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson, Henry B. Walthall. Black and white. 98 mins
2:00 AM WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957) On his way to an awards ceremony, a distinguished professor thinks back on his loveless life. Director: Ingmar Bergman Cast: Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Björnstrand. Black and white. 91 mins