Nathaniel Hawthorne Film Adaptations 🎥

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic inspired a new enjoyable way for book enthusiasts to learn about an important aspect of American history, and the wealth of imagination in the same work sparked creativity from directors and producers who – over the years – have attempted to replicate the author’s genius work on television.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

(1804-1864), American

Many creative artists – such as Hollywood’s own Rolland Joffé – of television have all had a go at one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s several works – with the author’s most popular novel, ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ receiving greater interest in terms of the successful amount of adaptations delivered. This article aims to analyze the successes and failures of the various book-to-screen adaptations of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works. 

The Scarlet Letter Film Adaptations 

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’ has, across two generations, inspired many television and onscreen projects for its historical relevance, timeless creativity, and story richness.

With such a record, it is no wonder the book has had several titular remakings of the book and inspired a collection of modern Hollywood movies. Let’s take a look at some of the notable adaptations of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter.’

Sidney Olcott’s Version of The Scarlet Letter

One of the earliest versions of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s original work in ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ directed by Sidney Olcott and produced by the Kamen Company. 

Screen-written by Gene Gauntier – who also doubles as the frontal character Hester Prynne,  Olcott’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’ follows a short version of the original book’s plot and is delivered in soundless, moving pictures as was the technology level of the time. Still, this version is praised for at least capturing the primary storyline of the book. 

Before 1926, four more silent versions of the film would be remade in the United States and The UK – with each having a different director and cast and following the same narrative as Hawthorne’s original work.

A Victor Seastrom Version 

Though a silent adaptation of ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ Victor Seastrom’s version has been widely praised as the all-time best book-to-screen adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s masterpiece. 

Based on the eponymous book, ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ the film was directed by Victor Seastrom and written by Frances Marion. The film runs an extended period of one hour, and fifty-five minutes – and presents a more detailed, onscreen account of the book. 

In terms of cast, Seastrom’s version goes far and beyond all the previous – even most future – versions, allowing for the representation of all the vital characters of the book – starting from the most prominent characters like Hester Prynne – starred by Lillian Gish, to the less prominent but equally fundamental characters such as Fred Herzog, the jailer. 

The story captures the vital nitty gritty of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s original work – as it follows the tale of Hester Prynne through her public punishment for the sin of adultery committed by the hypocritical Arthur Dimmesdale, a so-called pastor of a small, puritan-heavy Boston village. 

In terms of market performance, the film did outstandingly well – grossing nearly $300,000 in sales profit.

Easy A 

‘Easy A’ is another film that gets its inspiration from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s original work in ‘The Scarlet Letter’ – although it takes a slightly perky mood, unlike the mostly somber book. 

Directed by Will Gluck and with the script written by Bert Royal, the film takes an interesting high school angle with 17-year-old Olive Penderghast playing the preeminent roles as the narrator and the protagonist of the film. 

Olive lies about breaking her virginity to her friend, and soon the news spreads like wide fire – resulting in her being judged and canceled by the whole school even when she tells the truth no one cares about. Olive becomes popular for the wrong reason, but Olive being a strong and smart girl, must find a way to make the most of her newfound fame while it lasts. 

For the cast, ‘Easy A’ features a whole new level of creative characters independent of Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’ characters, and this is because the film wasn’t tailored to fully portray Hawthorne’s work but merely for the said work to serve as an inspiration for ‘Easy A.’

For the market, the film was a smash hit, turning in more than $75,000,000 in worldwide sales against an $8,000,000 capital budget.

The House of the Seven Garbles: A Film by Joe May 

Joe May brought his rich directorial background to this film which was a remake of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s original work in ‘The House of the Seven Gables,’ a book published in 1851.

Lester Cole wrote an impressive screenplay, with Margaret Lindsay playing the role of Hepzibah Pyncheon, and George Sanders and Vincent Price as Jaffery and Clifford Pyncheon respectively. 

Like Hawthorne’s original work – albeit with a few filmical adjustments, ‘The House of the Seven Garbles’ narrates the cursed story of the Pyncheon family through several generations as willing and resilient Hepzibah champions the quest to restore the glory of her family name. 

The film hit the Chicago cinema in late February and was released officially in April 1940. Public reception of it was remarkable – as reviews were mostly positive and critics filled with laudable comments, with the only criticisms being that the screenplay was sentimental and aggressively political.

The impressions made by the technical crew as well as by key actors like Margaret, Sanders, and Price were so good that their careers received tremendous boosts after their stellar performances – which even saw the film bagging an Oscar nomination. 

The film’s running time was one hour, twenty-nine minutes, and for a meager capital budget invested in the film, it made a box office sale of over $160,000.


Does ‘The Scarlet Letter’ have a film version?

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’ has undergone some adaptations over the last two or three generations, and although Seastrom’s version of 1926 is more widely acclaimed, there exist several other versions of the same work. 

How many books by Nathaniel Hawthorne have been made into films?

Several of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works have been made into films over the years. However, the most popular onscreen works from his books have been those done on his masterpiece ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and ‘The House of the Seven Garbles.’ 

Which version of ‘The Scarlet Letter’ film adaptation is considered the best? 

Although shot in black and white silent pictures, Victor Seastrom’s adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s original work in ‘The Scarlet Letter’ is widely regarded as the best version of the book on screen.

Victor Onuorah
About Victor Onuorah
Victor is as much a prolific writer as he is an avid reader. With a degree in Journalism, he goes around scouring literary storehouses and archives; picking up, dusting the dirt off, and leaving clean even the most crooked pieces of literature all with the skill of analysis.
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