Snow White (1916)
Director: J. Searle Dawley
Cast: Dorothy Cumming, Creighton Hale, Lionel Braham
Synopsis: Snow White is a motherless princess, who arouses the jealousy and hatred of Mary Jane, her mother’s former lady-in-waiting, who is the ugliest woman in the kingdom, but aspires to the throne.
Silent movies and fairy tales share a dreamlike quality which makes the former an ideal vehicle for the latter, as can be seen in J. Searle Dawley’s Snow White. This film served as the inspiration for what was to be Walt Disney’s first feature-length movie, and there’s no denying the fact that every scene in his cartoon version of the Snow White fairy tale can be traced directly back to a corresponding scene in Dawley’s.
Marguerite Clark, was 33 when the film was made, but petite enough to pass as a youngster, and plays the put-upon princess, whose good looks incur the wrath of her wicked stepmother (Dorothy Cumming). Dawley sticks fairly close to the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale, but expands the role of the huntsman tasked with killing Snow White, played here by Lionel Braham (The Prince and the Pauper) who, at 6’2”, towers over the 4’ 10” Clark. The film also introduces a gnarled old witch (Alice Washburn) who demands the heart of Snow White in return for transforming the stepmother into a beauty.
It’s difficult to understand why writer Winthrop Ames might have chosen to alter the story by introducing the witch other than to set up a creepily effective joke in which she grows pig tails on her bald head after eating the heart of the pig killed by the huntsman in Snow White’s stead. The movie still has considerable charm despite its static camerawork, and boasts an enjoyably eerie atmosphere.
(Reviewed 16th October 2014)