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To most people, Hardy's novels didn't make it to the cinema until 1967, when John Schlesinger's film of Far from the Madding Crowd was released.  However, during the silent era, many motion pictures based on Hardy's fiction were made, and Hardy's works continued to attract the interest of filmmakers after the introduction of sound--though only one English-language film based on a Hardy source appeared between 1929 and 1967.  Unfortunately, none of the films made from 1913 to 1953 are available to be viewed today.  Two silent films from the 1920s are thought to have survived in a fragmentary state; records are unavailable on the two sound productions; while the two earliest adaptations of Hardy's novels are probably gone forever.  While it is always possible that a lost film treasure could be found gathering dust in a vault or buried in someone's attic, the highly unstable nature of early film stock makes such discoveries highly unlikely.  Any information on the films listed here would be welcome and appreciated.  Please contact the Films page director at if you have any leads.1





Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Production Company:  Famous Players Film Co. (US)  Director:  J. Searle Dawley.  Presenter:  Daniel Frohman.  Length:  Five reels.  Premiere:  1 September 1913.

Cast: Minnie Maddern Fiske (Tess Durbeyfield), David Torrence (Alec D'Urberville), Raymond Bond (Angel Clare), John Steppling (John Durbeyfield), Mary E. Barker (Mrs. Durbeyfield), Kate Griffith (Mrs. D’Urberville), Franklin Hall (Parson Clare), Camille Dalberg (Mrs. Clare), J. Liston (Parson Tringham), James Gordon (Crick), Maggie Weston (Mrs. Crick), Irma La Pierce (Marian), Boots Wall (Reta), Caroline Darling (Izz), Justina Huff (Liza Lou), John Troughton (Jonathan).


Left:  A publicity still for the 1913 film of Tess of the D'Urbervilles shows Alec (David Torrence) pleading with Tess (Minnie Maddern Fiske) in the family tomb.

NOTES:  The Famous Players Film Company was established in America by Adolph Zukor in 1912, with a specific goal to bring to the screen the performances of the best actors of the day.  A natural choice for Zukor's new company would have been Minnie Maddern Fiske (usually billed simply as "Mrs. Fiske"), who had first played Tess Durbeyfield on the stage in 1895.  The film was shot in New England, and Zukor recorded in his autobiography that some of the movie was shot at Mrs. Fiske's own home.  The resulting film was an apparent success, but Hardy himself--who saw Tess at a specially arranged screening in his publisher's office--was put off by the "Americanized" look of the film.  His reaction to the film's ending, in which Tess is not hanged but sentenced to life in prison, "a martyr to man's wrong," is not recorded,  Famous Players would eventually change its name to Paramount, which remains one of the premier movie studios in America.  No prints of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, one of its earliest productions, are known to survive.



Far from the Madding Crowd


Production Company: Turner Films, Ltd. (UK).  UK Distributor: Ideal; US Distributor:  Mutual.  Director, Producer, Screenplay: Larry Trimble.  Cinematography: Tom White.  Length: Five reels.  London Premiere: 16 November 1915.  General Release: 28 February 1916.

Cast: Florence Turner (Bathsheba Everdene), Henry Edwards (Gabriel Oak), Malcolm Cherry (Farmer Boldwood), Campbell Gullan (Sergeant Troy), Marion Grey (Fanny Robin), Dorothy Rowan (Lyddie), John MacAndrews (Farmhand), Johnny Butt (Farmhand), “Jean” (Gabriel’s dog).



Right:  Florence Turner, the "Vitagraph Girl," was a producer and writer as well as one of the first "movie stars."



NOTES:  The Vitagraph company of the US, one of the first film studios in the world, was also--not surprisingly--responsible for creating the first motion picture celebrities, Florence Turner, the "Vitagraph Girl," and "Jean, the Vitagraph Dog."  Turner became the first performer signed to a studio contract, but she eventually found Vitagraph too confining.  With Jean and her exclusive director, Larry Trimble, in tow, she relocated to Britain in order to create films independent of the American studio system.  Turner and Trimble founded Turner Films, Ltd., and one of their first productions was an adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd.  It seems likely that the Turner company picked up the option on a film project that had been started by Hardy's friend and the illustrator of some of his novels, Herbert Herkomer, who died before he could begin to shoot.  Turner's Crowd was filmed in authentic Dorset locales, which pleased Hardy (who otherwise doesn't seem to have seen the film), and a few existing reviews indicate it was well-received.  Only a few stills from the film remain.  Turner Films closed shop at the onset of the Great War and the principals of the company returned to America and to lessened film careers.





The Mayor of Casterbridge

Production Company: Progress Film Company (UK).  Director, Screenplay: Sidney Morgan.  Producer: Frank Spring.  Cinematography: S. J. Mumford.  Distributor: Butcher.  Length: 65 minutes (approx).  Premiere: November 1921.

Cast: Fred Groves (Michael Henchard), Pauline Peters (Susan Henchard), Mavis Clare (Elizabeth-Jane), Warwick Ward (Newson), Nell Emerald (The Furmity Woman).

Left:  Shoreham Beach Studios, an all-glass structure to take advantage of natural daylight, was built in 1915 and acquired by the new Progress Film Company in 1919 or 1920.  It was destroyed by fire in 1922.

NOTES:  The Progress Film Company of Shoreham-by-the-Sea, Sussex, was one of the first British film studios, and it entered a brief period of prosperity after it was purchased by impresario Sidney Morgan in 1921.  One of Morgan's first projects was an adaptation of The Mayor of Casterbridge, and the degree to which he sought Hardy's blessings on--even participation in--the film is remarkable.  Hardy was given approval of the screenplay, and the elderly novelist even agreed to "see to the dialect in the titles."  The majority of the film was shot in Steyning, near Shoreham, but Morgan filmed for a day in Dorchester and brought Hardy himself to the set.  Though Hardy was always insistent upon motion pictures not "distorting" his novels, he seems to have made an exception in the case of The Mayor of Casterbridge.  Morgan's approved script apparently changed a great deal in the novel, making the "second" Elizabeth-Jane the real daughter of Henchard, eliminating the characters of Farfrae and Lucetta from the story, and largely focusing on a father-daughter love story.  Morgan went on to make three more films at Progress--including an adaptation of Little Dorrit (some sources claim 1920 as the year Dorrit was filmed)--but when the studio burned to the ground in 1922 the company was not revived.  The Mayor of Casterbridge itself seemed to have vanished; but in 1995, Dennis L. Bird reported that 15 minutes from the film had been salvaged and screened.2  Accordingly, the owner of the footage was anxious to make the footage available on home video, but there has been no further word on this project.  A sense of how the Progress Mayor was handled can be glimpsed in the one minute of footage from Little Dorrit that has been made available online on the Screen Archive South East website (requires Windows Media Player or Quicktime to view).


Tess of the D'Urbervilles


Production Company/Distributor:  Metro-Goldwyn Pictures (US).  Director: Marshall Neilan.  Presenter: Louis B. Mayer.  Screenplay: Dorothy Farnum.  Cinematography (black and white with “Kinekrom” coloring): David Kesson.  Length: 88 minutes.  New York Premiere: 27 July 1924; General Release: 11 August 1924.

Cast: Blanche Sweet (Tess Durbeyfield), Conrad Nagel (Angel Clare), Stuart Holmes (Alec D’Urberville), George Fawcett (John Durbeyfield), Victory Bateman (Joan Durbeyfield), Courtenay Foote (Dick), Joseph J. Dowling (The Priest), Babe London.

Right:  Blanche Sweet, the second Tess of the screen.

NOTES:  The second film adaptation of Tess was a prestigious affair.  Although the Metro-Goldwyn company was fairly new (Louis B. Mayer, the "presenter," or executive producer, of this film, would soon have his name added to the company banner), it spared no expense in dramatizing Hardy's novel.  Though an American production with an American cast, Mayer chose to shoot much of the film in Dorset, even going so far as staging Tess's arrest at the actual Stonehenge.  The location shoot and the early use of color for some sequences made the 1924 Tess of the D'Urbervilles one of the most expensive films of the time, but its costs resulted in popular and critical acclaim.  By all accounts, this Tess followed the novel fairly carefully, though it took one major liberty--the setting is updated to the 1920s--and Hardy's tragic ending was made one of two endings the theatrical exhibitor could show.  In one version, Tess dies; in the other, she is saved from the gallows.  This film was also the last adaptation of a Hardy novel made during the novelist's own lifetime; beyond signing a contract with Metro, Hardy was not involved with the production and apparently never saw it.  Like many other silent films, Tess of the D'Urbervilles  was consigned to the MGM vaults after the advent of sound, where it deteriorated to nothingness.  There are, however, unconfirmed reports that portions of the film survived.


Under the Greenwood Tree

("The Greenwood Tree" in U.S.)


Production Company: British International Pictures.  UK Distributor: Wardour; US Distributor:  British International.  Director: Harry Lachman.  Screenplay: Sidney Gilliat, Monckton Hoffe, Harry Lachman, Frank Launder, and Rex Taylor.  Cinematography: Claude Friese-Greene.  Editor: Emile de Ruelle.  Art Director: C. W. Arnold. Length: 101 minutes.  Premiere: September 1929; US Premiere: 30 December 1930.

Cast: Marguerite Allan (Fancy Day), John Batten (Dick Dewey), Nigel Barrie (Shinar), Maud Gill (Old Maid), Wilfred Shine (Parson Maybold), Roberta Abel (Penny), Antonia Brough (Maid), Tom Coventry (Tranter Dewey), Robison Page (Grandfather Dewey), Tubby Phillips (Tubby), Bill Shine (Leaf).  Uncredited cast members: Syd Ellery, Queenie Leighton, Harry Stafford, The Gotham Singers.


NOTES:  The first all-talking motion picture made in the United Kingdom, Under the Greenwood Tree would also be the last English-language film adaptation of a Hardy novel for nearly forty years.  Perhaps as a way of exhibiting the new sound medium, the film was filled with country songs and musical numbers--enough to cause some reviewers at the time to complain the film's plot was lost among the singing.  Apparently the new "talkie" format was also too much for Marguerite Allan, who played Fancy Day; her lines were spoken by Peggie Robb-Smith, who probably stood off-camera as Allan mouthed the dialogue.  The film received poor reviews in Britain; while in America its run time was cut to one hour (and the title was similarly shortened), and audiences allegedly howled with laughter over the costumes and fake mustaches.  (Interestingly, the film's director, Harry Lachman, would go on to a profitable career directing Laurel and Hardy.)  Under the Greenwood Tree actually may not be a lost film; however, it has apparently not been screened in years and there is no information available on existing prints.  Hardy's novel was filmed a second time, as a 2006 television movie.


The Secret Cave

Production Companies: Merton Park Studios, Ltd.; Children’s Film Foundation (UK).  Distributor:  Associated British Films.  Director: John Durst.  Producer: Frank Hoare.  Screenplay: Joe Mendoza, based on Hardy’s novella “Our Exploits at West Poley.” Cinematography: Martin Curtis. Length: 62 minutes.  Premiere: 1953.

Cast: David Coote (Steve Draycott), Susan Ford (Margaret Merriman), Nicholas Emdett (Lennie Hawkins), Lewis Gedge (Miller Griffin), Johnny Morris (Charlie  Bassett), Trevor Hill (Job Tray).


NOTES:  Like Under the Greenwood Tree, The Secret Cave may not actually be lost; however, information on the film's availability is scarce.  A children's film, The Secret Cave has the distinction of being the only English-language motion picture based on a Hardy source between 1929's Under the Greenwood Tree and 1967's Far from the Madding Crowd.  Few reviews of the film have been published, but those that exist indicate that the plot, involving the consequences of diverting a river, did not make for exciting viewing--especially for children.  The same story would be filmed again in 1985 under the name of the source material, Our Exploits at West Poley.

Except where indicated, the information on this page was derived from my book, Seeing Hardy.

2  Bird, "The First Hardy Film," p. 44.


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