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Uncle Tom's Cabin (1903)

Not Rated | | Short, Drama | September 1903 (USA)
Based on the novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe: Eliza, a slave who has a young child, pleads with Tom, another slave, to escape with her. Tom does not leave, but Eliza flees with her child. ... See full summary »


Edwin S. Porter (uncredited)


Harriet Beecher Stowe (novel)


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Based on the novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe: Eliza, a slave who has a young child, pleads with Tom, another slave, to escape with her. Tom does not leave, but Eliza flees with her child. After getting some help to escape the slave traders who are looking for her, she then must try to cross the icy Ohio River if she wants to be free. Meanwhile, Tom is sold from one master to another, and his fortunes vary widely. Written by Snow Leopard

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Short | Drama


Not Rated






Release Date:

September 1903 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Slavery Days See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs



Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


This film is posted online to the Library of Congress' National Screening Room. See more »

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User Reviews

Stagy Story
5 February 2010 | by CineanalystSee all my reviews

The Edison Company's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" represents an outdated, stagy and tableau style of film-making, which especially suffers in comparison to contemporary and more cinematically innovative story films, such as Edwin S. Porter's "Life of an American Fireman", which he made before this film, and "The Great Train Robbery", which he made later. It's more theatrical than even the fairy films of Georges Méliès, without any deviation from the tableau series of stationary shot-scenes filmed from the proscenium arch (except for maybe the miniature models in the ship race scene). A theatrical troupe was hired to perform this staple of the American stage for the Edison camera, with the resulting carryover of the projection and gesticulation from the actors, which was typical of the theatre back then. The minstrel dancing (which is interestingly comparable to Méliès's use of dancing girls in his films) and employment of white actors in blackface also came from traditions in stage versions of the novel. Additionally, the Edison Company's simple and cheap decors with painted backdrops and occasional props painted on the walls may have made for an exceptionally expensive motion picture for 1903, but it, nevertheless, allows for some poorly-staged scenes and very confined spaces, with no depth or even much lateral spacing.

A title card introduces every shot-scene, which, according to Charles Musser ("Before the Nickelodeon"), was adopted from G.A. Smith's "Dorothy's Dream" (1903). It's one of the earliest films to use title cards. (By the way, some of the titles are illiterate, especially in the use of apostrophes.) Besides the titles, the filmmakers and exhibitors would rely on live lecturers and audiences' preexisting knowledge of "Tom plays" to understand and follow the not-entirely self-contained narrative in this film. The style of storytelling used by Porter and the Edison Company for "Uncle Tom's Cabin" had been used in other early screen adaptations, such as the British films "Scrooge; or Marley's Ghost" (1901) and "Alice in Wonderland" (1903), to name a couple that I've seen. The style of a series of stationary shot-scenes also largely continued as late as in some of the earliest feature-length filmed plays, such as "Queen Elizabeth" (1912).

This film uses superimposed images of Eva and angels, as do later screen adaptations of "Uncle Tom's Cabin", including the 1914 and 1927 films. There are also superimposed images of the Civil War, Lincoln and emancipation of the slaves in the final tableau of Uncle Tom's death, to help place the story within a larger context.

The Lubin Company made an imitative remake of this film shortly after its release, and then Lubin sold his movie for cheaper than the Edison film, thereby stealing part of the market and potential profit from Edison.

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