Only one copy of this Biograph comedy is known to survive, on explosive silver nitrate stock in the archives of the New York Museum of Modern Art. That may someday be digitized, but for now the only way we can "see" the movie is by means of the frames preserved on "paper print fragments" at the Moving Image Section of the Library of Congress. Paper prints provided early film studios with a means of securing copyright: frames from the film could be pasted onto heavy paper and sent to the Library. For An Uncle Tom's Cabin Troupe Biograph Films seem to have followed the practice Charles Grimm describes for other films from the same studio: filing a "registration cop[y] by submitting five [in this case, 4] frame segments of each scene change."* The frames seem to come from the start of each new scene, which is unfortunate -- it means, for example, that all we see of "THE STUPENDOUS STREET PAGEANT" (the troupe's parade through
town, an advertising idea that Tom Shows borrowed from the circus and the minstrel show) is the drum major and the first of the "Silver Cornets." But the frames we have do give us a good sense of two phenomena: the kind of "Tom Show" that was still playing small towns in the first decades of the 20th century, and the habit early movies had of making fun of small-time thespians, with whom filmmakers were competing for American audiences' attention and money.
To secure their copyright, in addition to the "paper prints," Biograph supplied the Library of Congress with a SYNOPSIS of the movie's plot. As you can see from it, the story focuses on the comic mishaps of a local "Hotel Owner" who is swept away by the idea of theatrical stardom and becomes the owner of the troupe when it moves to the next one-night stand. In an interesting twist, when he takes the stage as Simon Legree, it is the audience that gets to punish the villain -- with rotten eggs. Most of that story is visible in the frames available below. What has largely been lost, however, is the show this particular troupe of "Tommers" puts on. We can see how unconvincing Eliza's "ice" is, but not what the "MARVELOUS TRANSFORMATION" looked like. What we can see isn't easy to follow. For example, it seems that Legree buys Eliza at the start of the show, and is the man with the dogs she is escaping from as she crosses the ice. It's clear that the filmmakers aren't interested in making the play look anything but tawdry, though not clear why so much of the movie focuses on the audience and their reactions to the villainous Legree, the dying Eva, and so on. While movie makers might feel they can tell a story more impressively than a small troupe of ham actors, they nonetheless presumably needed the patronage of the same audience their film seems to deride.
The paper prints are of two kinds: the captions or subtitles (CAPITALIZED on the list below), and filmed scenes. The 17 strips of titles (4 frames per strip) are pasted onto heavier paper than the 40 strips (again, 4 frames at a time) of scenes. As you can see from the examples of complete strips below, left, the image strips have been numbered, from 1 - 40, so the order in which they appear on the menu below is certain. The title strips, however, are not numbered, so there is some conjecture involved in the determining their places in the sequence. Along the left and right edges of the scenic strips is another kind of proprietary assertion: "LEASED FOR USE ONLY ON MACHINES LICENSED BY MOTION PICTURE PATENTS COMPANY" and "PROPERTY OF BIOGRAPH COMPANY NEW YORK CITY."
The film was written and directed for Biograph by Dell Henderson. The Internet Movie Database provides the following CAST list:
Gus Pixley . . . . . . . Uncle Tom