Topsy & Eva: The Movie

  The Duncan Sisters in "Topsy and Eva," Based on the Stage Play by Catherine Chisholm Cushing. Directed by Del Lord. United Artists Picture. Copyright 1927 by Feature Productions, Inc.
  Supervisor, Myron Selznick. Settings by William Cameron Menzies. Photography, John N. Boyle. Continuity, Scott Darling.
  Comedy Constructor, Clarence Hennecke. Titles, Dudley Early. Technical Direction, Ned Herbert Mann. Interior Decorations, Casey Roberts. Wardrobe Management, Frank Donnellano. Costumes, Madame K. Keeler. Assistant Director, Bruce Humberstone. Film Editor, Hal C. Kern. Running time: 80 minutes.
  The Players: Topsy, Rosetta Duncan. Eva, Vivian Duncan. George Shelby, Nils Asther. Mariette, Marjorie Daw. Simon Legree, Gibson Gowland. Aunt Ophelia, Myrtle Ferguson. St. Clare, Henry Victor. Uncle Tom, Noble Johnston.
    This silent film was more an attempt to translate the Duncan Sisters' vaudeville popularity to movies than an engagement with Uncle Tom's Cabin. Del Lord was credited as director, but he was at least the second to try to impose order on the film's structure and the Sisters' behavior. Near the end of the shooting, the famed D. W. Griffith also worked on some of the scenes.
    You can see clips from the movie by using the first link on the menu below. The Variety review listed there offers the fullest account of the film's story. Although the silent movie makes no attempt to reproduce the play's emphasis on singing and dancing, its basic structure — especially the way Topsy and Eva meet, become inseparable, and save each other — derives pretty directly from Cushing's play. Major changes are made in the narrative, or what passes for one. Cushing's plot revolves around Mrs. Shelby and Augustine St. Clare as one-time lovers estranged by a misunderstanding (that will be cleared up in the end). The film's plot is equally trite, but it revolves around an orphan, a missing will (that will be found in the end) and a villain (who will at last be foiled). Both plots, such as they are, depend upon introducing a new character into Stowe's story — Mariette, who onstage is St. Clare's ward, and in the film Legree's.

Detail from Publicity Photo
    The romantic subplot involving Mariette and George Shelby reminds us of the anomalous fact that Uncle Tom's Cabin has no marriage plot. The fact that the only character whose freedom is at issue is a white heiress whom Legree holds hostage reminds us how far the film is from the anti-slavery novel. Although it contains scenes of slaves being sold and Legree whipping Tom, it was advertised as a "travesty"; although it includes sentimental and melodramatic moments, it seems mainly designed to show off Rosetta Duncan's comedic talents in the role of Topsy. (Her sister Vivian played Eva, as in the stage play.)
    A full-scale production number introduced the film at its West Coast premiere. As the film toured other cities around the country during 1927, the Duncans accompanied it with smaller-scale live performances. Universal Pictures worried that the release of another "Tom" film would hurt their big-budget Super Jewel production, but once the Duncans left the film to make its own way, it quickly disappeared from theaters.
    There is more on the play version of Topsy and Eva in the ONSTAGE SECTION of the archive. For more on the Duncan Sisters, see JOHN SULLIVAN'S INTERPRETIVE EXHIBIT in the site's INTERPRET MODE.

Cover of promotional flyer
Images this page courtesy John Sullivan
  • 21 Movie Clips

  • The "Soundtrack"

  • Gallery of Images

  • "Topsy and Eva" Under Way (Los Angeles Examiner, 9 March 1927)

  • Premiere Review (Los Angeles Examiner, 17 June 1927)
  • Premiere Review (Los Angeles Times, 18 June 1927)
  • Review (Variety, 22 June 1927)
  • Rivoli Theater Review (New York Times, 8 August 1927)
  • Rivoli Theater Review (NY Herald Tribune, 9 August 1927)
  • Rivoli Theater Review (Billboard, 20 August 1927)
  • Chicago Theater Review (Chicago Tribune, 20 September 1927)

  • Return to sitemap. Return to homepage for this section. Search this section or the whole site.