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The Scarlet Letter - 1934 - 1975 - 1995

Movie: The Scarlet Letter - 1934 - 1975 - 1995

Director: Robert G. Vignola, Wim Wenders, Roland Joffe

Synopsis: Based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1850 novel, the story is set in 17th Century colonial Massachusetts. Hester Pryne is sent ahead while her elderly husband settles some affairs in Europe. When she gives birth to a child she is imprisoned , then made to wear the scarlet letter "A" - the symbol of adultery. She refuses to reveal the name of her lover. As the years pass, shunned by the community, Hester supports her daughter Pearl as a seamstress. Arthur Dimmesdale, a young minister, helps them. He suffers from mysterious ailments that become increasing more serious. Meanwhile, Hester's husband, presumed lost at sea, turns up in the colony and, since no one but Hester knows him, disguises himself as Roger Chillingworth. He comes to suspect that there is some connection between Hester's secret and Dimmesdale's ailments.

Scene: Three movie versions of this story - 1934, 1973, and 1995 - present fascinatingly similar, yet dissimilar versions. In the 1934 version, Hester is played by silent film actress Colleen Moore and Dimesdale by Hardie Albright. In the german-language 1973 version, Hester is played by Senta Berger and Dimmesdale by Lou Castel. In the 1995 version Hester is played by Demi Moore and Dimmesdale by Gary Oldman.

The 1934 and 1973 versions closely follow the original story, and Dimmesdale eventually reveals his own scarlet letter "A" - a scar - just before collapsing and dying. The 1995 version, significantly more bawdy and fashion-driven, is repackaged as a feminist action adventure, with indian attacks. In the end Hester and Arthur inherit her older husband's estate and live happily ever after in the Carolinas. If Gary Oldman's Dimmesdale every had a matching scarlet letter it isn't revealed.

Monogram: Top: (1934) Hester's two-color embroidered A appears to be basted onto her dress. She wears this same letter throughout the film. It occasionally appears on other plain garments, so presumably there was either more than one, or she moved it from garment to garment as required - she was after all a seamstress. Dimmesdale reveals his letter A - large, centered, and caligraphic. Middle: (1973) Hester is lead from the prison to the town scaffold for public humiliation, and wears a simple red A, which appears to have been crudely cut from felt. In a scene from several years later, the A has been redesigned, presumably by Hester herself, and is now a somewhat more sophisticated initial with small white embellishments in places. Dimmesdale's A, by comparison, looks like a crude tatoo applied by a prison inmate to himself, and is above his heart. Bottom: (1995) Departing from the narrative of the first two versions, which have Hester presented to the community already wearing her A, this version creates a scene for the presentation of the A and its application. The letter is a large patch done in satin applique, with a surrounding oval border, and is pinned to Hester. This convenience also allows here to easily swap it from one expensive - looking outfit to another throughout the film. At the end, as Hester unpins the patch and tosses it in the dirt, we can see that she has richly embellished it with additional ornamentation, and a much more complex outline border. Over the years she has transformed the letter to something closer to a Royal symbol.

Contributed by: Marva Cathey

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