Unboxing the Silents: Kino Lorber’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin Three Ways on Bluray (and win your own copy)

This is a very interesting collection and will surely inspire its share of historical research: three-and-a-half versions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Two versions of the Universal super production (1927), the World Film feature (1914) and the Vitagraph two-reeler (1911).

Thanks so much to Kino for providing a review copy!

Before we go further, I am going to state the obvious: Uncle Tom’s Cabin rather famously contains racial stereotypes and racial slurs. These things, up to and including the unredacted n-word, are included in these uncensored films. I agree with making these films available to the public but I recommend showing caution before screening them for young children. In fact, the disc does contain a content warning along these very lines, which is wise.

For context, I also recommend reading Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity by Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, Returning the Gaze: A Genealogy of Black Film Criticism 1909-1949 by Anna Everett, and Slow Fade to Black by Thomas Cripps.

You can purchase a copy of this film presentation on DVD or Bluray.

Finally, this is a review of the contents of the disc. A discussion of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and its complex and controversial history is an article unto itself and not something I will be undertaking at this time. So, let’s dig in.

One of the more interesting items included on this disc is the 1958 re-issue of the 1927 film with its title cards cut and added narration by Raymond Massey. This release was clearly inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s successful re-release of The Gold Rush and will make for an interesting comparison for those of you interested in the presentation of silent films in the mid-century. I should also note that the 1927 film features Margarita Fischer and the 1911 has Mary Fuller, two popular actresses who have relatively few pictures available on home media.

This collection is quite valuable for anyone interested in portrayals of race and slavery in mainstream American films of the silent era. I do also urge anyone watching these films to seek out black voices from the time and appreciate that there were always viewers, critics and academics who pushed for sympathetic and non-stereotyped portrayals in the movies.

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1927 Universal

1914 World

1911 Vitagraph

As you can see, the quality is quite high. The disc also includes an audio commentary by historian Edward J. Blum to accompany the 1927 film and a booklet with an essay by David Pierce.

This collection is extremely valuable for anyone diving into silent film history, especially if you are focusing on matters of race. It would also made an interesting companion to Kino’s earlier release of Pioneers of African-American Cinema because these films showcase the kind of content that black filmmakers were responding to.

Kino is also sponsoring a Bluray giveaway of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Here’s how it works:

  1. Leave a comment stating why you would like to win this disc before October 24, 2019. It can be anything from “this is my field of academic study” to “I just want more silent movies!”
  2. I will randomly draw a winner on October 25, 2019 and inform them. They have five business days to respond with their mailing address before I draw an alternate.
  3. You MUST have a USA mailing address in order to win the disc.

That’s it! Best of success to all of you!

☙❦❧

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40 Replies to “Unboxing the Silents: Kino Lorber’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin Three Ways on Bluray (and win your own copy)”

  1. Great unboxing as usual, Fritzi! You did an admirable job putting the proper context in, as well as discussing the “problematic” aspects in a mature way. I’m interested in getting/winning this release as I plan on watching every film listed on the National Film Registry, and then chronicling my reaction to them. Keep up advocating for silent cinema, and don’t let any naysayers get you down! You’re awesome at keeping our cinematic legacy alive and well!

    1. When I was a kid I saw a still from the Vitagraph version in a coffee table-type book about “old” movies we had in the 70s and have been very curious to see it since. Forty years curious. Delighted to hear Kino has put together a contextualized set, so I will probably buy it if I don’t win the drawing. Thank you for everything you do all the time. Huge fan.

  2. First I would love to have it but also I teach diversity in film and I think it is important that the students show some selections from it!

  3. I am a lifetime student of the American Theater, including plays from Revolutionary times to the present day. “Tom” shows were the most popular form of theater..appearing, it seems, everywhere before and after the Civil War. It would be fascinating to see how much of the novel, and how much of the various versions of these shows wind up in the films. Paranthetically, there is an early Vitaphone short called Topsy and Eva based on a vaudeville act by the Duncan Sisters, wherein the played the characters from “Uncle Tom”. What is forgotten today is that Ms. Stowe’s novel was an anti-slavery tract. Lincoln met her in the White House, and legend is, he said upon their meeting, “Well, this is the little lady that started the Civil War.”

  4. So excited to see this on Blu-Ray. I’m a huge Arthur Edmund Carewe fan and can’t wait to watch as well as hear the commentary. Thanks for covering this!!!

  5. Count me in! I used to have the Kino VHS of the 1927 version and think it would be great to compare it to the earlier versions of UNCLE TOM’S CABIN.

  6. I read the novel in high school and thought it was fascinating so I would love to see all different silent film adaptations and what each version adds to (or takes away from) the source material.

  7. Excited about this release. It would be lovely to win but if that doesn’t happen I’ll be buying it for sure. Thanks for the opportunity and your continued championing of the genre.
    —cw

  8. The 1927 version is one of my favorite silents. I’ve shown, first the Kino VHS & then the Kino DVD, to small groups over the years, always prompting lively & valuable discussions both of the high merit of the film & the issues posed by the subject.

    I don’t usually care for reissues with narration–I had a VHS of Griffith’s “America” in that format & don’t care for “The Gold Rush” voice-over version either. But I enjoy this film so much that I would be interested in seeing it, & of course the audio commentary as well. So please include me in the drawing.

  9. I would love to get this for my 16yo son. We adopted him when he was 10. He is biracial and is extremely dedicated in learning all he can about how AAs were portrayed in art and media. He has completed quite a few studies on the subject for school reports. This would add to hi arsenal of learning tools. He actually read UTC when he was 12.

  10. Thanks for the review! What an important release this is. I’d love to have a copy — when I teach film criticism and history, one of the major assignments is linking silent versions to Golden Age versions to contemporary versions of the same story. This would be a perfect addtion!

  11. I treasure silent movie preservation in every form, especially when it’s brought to us in a wonderfully complete restoration, such as Kino and other reissue houses provide.I look forward to adding this film set to my wish list, and as always, love what you’ve had to say about historical cinema.

  12. Please enter me into the contest. This is an historically important release and the restorations look nothing short of magnificent. I am also interested in the audio commentary and the accompanying booklet. Great “unboxing”, Fritzi!

  13. I want this because the movie sounds interesting and I would like to see it. I like watching these types of movies because often you can see the views (good and bad) of different issues during these earlier times.

  14. As a huge fan of silent films, it would be cool to own important silent films and the image restorations on these films look superb for films that are almost or are over 100 years old.

  15. Thanks for the links to relevant books, Fritzi.

    I own the Grapevine release of the 1914 and 1903 versions, but would love to have this Kino release of the 1927, 1914 and 1911 films. It is wonderful that Kino-Lorber is offering another “fully loaded” DVD/Blu-ray of a lesser known silent film.

    Kanopy, available for free through many local libraries, currently offers the 1927 film for viewing.

    I miss FilmStruck. *sigh*

  16. I just rewatched my Kino DVD, feature & bonuses, & while I still love the film, I don’t really need this latest disc, excellent as I’m sure it is, so kindly remove my name from the drawing. Others would value it more.

  17. I do study silent film history but to be honest I just hope I win so that I can watch a movie I haven’t seen yet. Basically I just love silent movies!

  18. I teach a class on race melodramas—we often start with excerpts from Stowe’s novel and it would be great to have a film to go along with it! Either way, great information here; thanks!

  19. I would like to win this because it would appeal to me in so many different ways historical, cinematic, cultural. It would be interesting and entertaining all around.

  20. I love silent films–and also participate in the sometimes painful ‘spectator sport’ of comparing the film(s) to the source book!

  21. As a film archivist, silent film enthusiast, and as a distant relative of Ms. Stowe, I would like to win this fascinating collection of silent films.

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