Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Perhaps it's just as well that Topsy and Eva is available only for archival showings. The film was based on a popular play by Catherine Chisholm Cushing, itself "inspired" by characters and events in Harriet Beecher Stowe's controversial Uncle Tom's Cabin. The venerable vaudeville duo of Rosetta and Vivian Duncan are starred as Topsy (in blackface) and Eva. None of Stowe's scathing social commentary remains in the film; even Uncle Tom (Noble Johnson) is relegated to a bit role. For the most part, the film concentrates on "black imp" Topsy's efforts to be as virtuous as "white saint" Eva, who bought Topsy at a slave auction for a nickel. Most of the "jokes" are predicated on the notion that to be black is to be unhygienic (there's a sight gag involving a dog that must be seen to be disbelieved). At one point, Topsy prays to God to be transformed into a Caucasian! Worthless as entertainment, Topsy and Eva is nonetheless an invaluable record of the sorry state of race relations in the 1920s (PS: Although two-reel comedy expert Del Lord was credited with the direction, the great D. W. Griffith reportedly worked on the film's retakes).