Richard Schickel (D.W. Griffith - An
American Life, Simon and Schuster, 1984)
"Because there was no role in Orphans of the Storm for Barthelmess, he formed his own company, bought the rights to Tol'able David from Griffith for $7500, and with Henry King directing his first important film, from a scenario by Edmund Goulding, he would enjoy an enormous success with it (when he screened the picture for his mentor, Griffith embraced and kissed Barthelmess at the end).
David Robinson (Hollywood in the Twenties,
A.S. Barnes and Company, 1968)
"It is a model of classical film technique, and is quoted at length by Pudovkin as exemplifying the use of the plastic materials of the cinema. It is a masterpiece both of post-Griffith ideas of montage (for which the Soviet directors most valued it) and for the mise en scéne: the awkward adolescent love affair, for instance, is captured in a few, brief, vivid, exactly placed scenes."
William K. Everson (American Silent Film,
De Capo Press, 1998)
"Tol'able David is a simple tale, told with unspectacular but solid technique and real style. Well scripted (by Edmund Goulding), leisurely without being slow, unfolding against quietly lovely rural backgrounds and with fine photography (by Henry Cronjager) of sweeping panoramic and pastoral scenes, it is not only King's best picture but also Barthelmess's."
Lewis Jacobs (The Rise of the American
Film, Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1939)
"Tol'able David, shown to an unsuspecting audience with a minimum of advance publicity, made its mark immediately as a small-town masterpiece. During a year when the industry was undergoing its first major depression, when people were staying away from the 'scandalizing' Hollywood products, when panicky producers were making more and more lurid 'sexy' pictures to attract customers, the public flocked to see this simple, unextravagant, sincere, and moving tale of Southern life.
"Tol'able David was what is known as a smash hit. Its subject matter - the tale of a poor mountain boy - was fresh and unstereotyped; its setting was real; its characterizations were honest and rounded; the narrative was simple and unmelodramatic; the whole picture was frank and pungent rather than sentimental."
James Card (Seductive Cinema, Alfred
A. Knopf, 1994)
"'Subtitles,' as they were called, were always an aesthetic weakness of the medium. Worst were the titles that gave away what was about to happen. Second worst were the editorial titles that told us what to think about what we were seeing. One of the saddest examples of the latter is Henry King's otherwise fabulous movie Tol'able David, with its memorable tour de force performance of Richard Barthelmess. Despite fantastic and magnificently filmed action in the fight between David and a Goliath of a murderous monster hillbilly, played by Ernest Torrence in his film debut, the utterly dispensable titles insist on informing the viewer over and over how tremendously heroic David is being."
John Baxter (Sixty Years of Hollywood,
A.S. Barnes & Co., Inc., 1973)
"Melodrama is neutralized by unspoiled locations (King was brought up in the same area) and by Barthelmess's restrained playing as the cheerful, simple David. Whether losing his pants to a playful dog in the opening scene and then encountering the curious Esther with horrified embarrassment, dreaming of being the mail driver, only to have his dream shattered when the fence on which he is leaning collapses, or being driven by a steely spirit to recapture the mail bag from the sadistic Hatburns in a bloodily violent sequence, he conveys accurately the innocence of strength of rural life."
Kevin Brownlow (Hollywood: The Pioneers,
Alfred A. Knopf, 1979)
"Tol'able David is one of the enduring classics of the American screen. . . (it) had all the strengths of a Griffith film without the drawbacks of exaggerated melodrama."
Joe Franklin (Classics of the Silent
Screen, The Citadel Press, 1959)
"Tol'able David is one of those timeless pictures that seems every bit as great today as when it was made. A piece of Americana as authentic as the best of Mark Twain, it will doubtless till be shown a hundred years from now as an example of part of the changing American scene.
"The highest praise one can bestow on Tol'able David is that even had Griffith made it as he planned, it probably wouldn't have been a better picture than the one Henry King made in 1921 with Richard Barthelmess and little Gladys Hulette."
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