[A Small But Highly Significant File of Correspondence Relating to the Film Version of His Novel, THE DEEMSTER]
1916·Heath Brow, Hampstead Heath
by Caine, Hall
Heath Brow, Hampstead Heath, 1916. Comprised of one typed letter, signed (13 pages), two autograph letters, signed (3 and 7 pages), an autograph note, signed, and two related items, three with envelopes. Quarto, octavo, and 12mo, all but one item (a related retained carbon), very good or better. In 1916, the American company, Arrow Film Corporation, undertook an adaptation to the screen of Caine's highly popular 1887 novel, THE DEEMSTER. Of special import is the fact that Caine's son, Derwent Hall Caine, then in the US, was actively involved in the project, and played the lead role of Daniel Mylrea - Derwent appeared in at least seven films prior to embarking on his career as publisher and Labour Party politician. Howell Hansel directed the film, which is formally credited to screenwriters Edfrid A. Bingham and Charles A. Taylor (but was, in large part, by A. D. Levino). The present archive of correspondence records in detail the degree of Hall Caine's own participation in the adaptation, and includes: a) a remarkable typed letter, signed, from Hall Caine, 13 pages, quarto,with extensive manuscripts corrections and additions, to his son Derwent, c/o The Arrow Film Corporation, New York City, dissecting the scenario of THE DEEMSTER, scene by scene, in reference to "General Plotting of the Story," "Motive of the Quarrel," "The Love Interest," and "Minor Suggestions," etc, and offering "suggestions for the consideration of the Company as far as they are still practicable...." This letter is accompanied by a clean carbon of a retyping of the letter, likely intended to circulate within the company; b) an autograph letter, signed, from Caine to A. D. Le Vino, of the Arrow Film Corporation, Hampstead Heath, 28 August 1916, 3pp, octavo, referencing the above letter and congratulating him "...on the Scenario of THE DEEMSTER. It is good indeed. I thought it short. I wrote a long letter making suggestions (addressed to my son care of your Company) & I have since cabled suggesting a few bright, winsome scenes at the beginning to develop Dan's charm & make the people love him before he is plunged in the tragedy. I trust the end as in the book can be followed. But an alternative happy end might be also be taken in case of absolute need..."; c) an autograph letter, signed, from Caine to A. D. Le Vino, of the Arrow Film Corporation, Hampstead Heath, 29 August 1916, 7pp, octavo, dealing extensively with the theme and the details of the story and the production, reading in small part: "It was very good of your President to promise to take again any scene that seemed to require altering. There are a few ... that seem to me to do that, but I feel that some might be added to give depth of emotion to the greater scenes. In my long letter to my son I have indicated these scenes -- the greater scenes, particularly, between Dan & Mona, & Dan & the Bishop. Anything you can do to deepen & heighten the emotion in these scenes will add greatly to the effect of the film. If you can indicate, without offence, that the story of the Deemster is, in effect, the story of the parable of the Prodigal Son, I think it will help the public to follow & sympathise with it. ... I should like you to do all you can to develop the death end & to bring it to a high level of spiritual exaltation. It seems to me a little hurried in the scenario. ... On secondary points -- could you by any mechanical manipulation of cut film convey the sense of the phantom ship in the scenes of Dan's isolation when he passes through the fishing fleet? Could you introduce the collie dog (if he is a good actor) in the scenes of plague. ... Could you have the dog in the last scene expressing its dumb sympathy with Dan? And Dan (who has Mona beside him) touching the dog's head with a grateful hand? ... Pray grant me your indulgence in making these suggestions. I am very anxious that both your company, you yourself & my son should have a great[?] success with this film." Finally by way of a lengthy postscript Caine adds: "... Do you remember Rossetti's poem & picture of the Blessed Damozel, which shews the girl in heaven looking down on her lover on earth? Do you also remember Mr. Belasco's last scene in the Darling of the Gods where the lovers are seen united on their way to heaven? If so, you will grasp my meaning..."; d) an autograph note, signed, one page, 12mo, Hampstead Heath, 17 August 1916, with envelope, from Caine to the war- time Postal censor, asking for rapid clearance of his mail as it "consists of nothing but instructions for the making of a cinema film ..." - the envelopes that are present each bear censor inspection labels; e) a retained carbon typescript letter, 2pp., from Derwent Caine to "Dear Father," 31 July 1916, quarto, on poor pulp paper stock and thus somewhat chipped and delicate, forwarding LeVino's scenario, asking for Caine's specific reactions and advice about details and the overall interest and success of the adaptation, etc. He notes: "However, I must tell you that we are starting work this afternoon, and naturally a great many scenes will be taken before you will have a chance to see it [the scenario]. But Dr. Shallenberger, the president of the company, says that if you suggest a new beginning to the story, which to us seems at present a little weak, he would take whatever number of scenes required fresh, in order to get Dan placed as more of a gentleman coming down a little more gradually to the fisher life than at present is in the scenario." He indicates the scenario ("only finished a couple of days ago") is being rushed by the first steamer, and the pencil postscript notes that he also included some promotional material for the company's last film (not present); and f) an autograph note, 1 1/2pp., octavo, on letterhead, from Mary Hall Caine, evidently to Arrow Films, enclosing a photograph [not present] of Caine to be used for promotional purposes. The correspondence affords a detailed glimpse into the intimate involvement of a novelist in the film adaptation of one of his books, material the nature of which, for this period, is highly uncommon. (Inventory #: WRCLIT77616)
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