Tol'able David

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Tol'able David
Tol'able David-Poster.JPG
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Henry King
Produced by Henry King
Written by Edmund Goulding
Henry King
Based on "Tol'able David" 
by Joseph Hergesheimer
Starring Richard Barthelmess
Gladys Hulette
Walter P. Lewis
Ernest Torrence
Cinematography Henry Cronjager
Edited by W. Duncan Mansfield
Inspiration Pictures
Release dates
  • December 31, 1921 (1921-12-31) (U.S.)
Running time
99 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent (English intertitles)

Tol'able David is a 1921 American silent film based on the Joseph Hergesheimer short story. It was adapted to the screen by Edmund Goulding and directed by Henry King for Inspiration Pictures.

A major box office success, the acclaimed film was voted a Photoplay Magazine 1921 "medal of honor" and is seen by critics and viewers as one of the classics of silent film.

In 2007, Tol'able David was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".



Young David Kinemon, son of West Virginia tenant farmers, longs to be treated like a man by his family and neighbors, especially Esther Hatburn, the pretty girl who lives with her grandfather on a nearby farm. However, he is continually reminded that he is still a boy, "tol'able" enough, but no man.

He eventually gets a chance to prove himself when outlaw Iscah Hatburn and his sons Luke and "Little Buzzard," distant cousins of the Kinemon's Hatburn neighbors, move into the Hatburn farm, against the will of Esther and her grandfather. Esther initially tells David not to interfere, saying he's no match for her cousins. Later, the cousins kill David's pet dog and cripple his older brother while the latter is delivering mail and taking passengers to town in his "hack" wagon. David's father sets out to administer vigilante justice on the Hatburn cousins (the sheriff doesn't have the means to deal with the outlaws himself), but has a heart attack. David is determined to go after the Hatburns in his father's place, but his mother talks him out of it, arguing that with his father dead and brother crippled, the household, including his brother's wife and infant son, depends on him. The family is then turned out of the farm and are forced to move into a small house in town. David asks for his brother's old job of driving the hack but is told he is too young. He does find work at the general store though. Later, when the hack's regular driver is fired for drunkenness, David finally has a chance to drive the hack. He loses the mailbag near the Hatburn farm, where it is found by Luke. David goes to the Hatburn farm to demand the mailbag. He is refused and gets into an argument with the cousins, during which he is shot in the arm. David then shoots Iscah and the younger son and later, after a prolonged fight with the older brother (meant to recall the story of David and Goliath), emerges victorious. Esther flees for help and makes it to the village, telling that David has been killed. As a crowd prepares to go look for David, he, although injured, arrives in the hack with the bag of mail. It is clear to all that David, no longer merely "tol'able," is a real man and a hero.


A reviewer from Photoplay called the film a masterpiece. "This is no light, frothy little comedy. It is strong meat, but it is so masterfully served it cannot possibly be offensive. It was taken in the actual locale. It is as true to life as fiction can be. Griffith might have directed some of the scenes; certainly he could not have made Barthelmess give a greater performance. This boy is as great an actor as the films have ever had. In this picture he touches tragic heights. If you can see his scenes with his film mother—a fine player, by the way—without feeling a lump in your throat, there's something wrong with you. Don't miss this. It is a classic. Barthelmess forgets he is the idol of every girl in America and portrays the awkward mountain youth with exquisite pathos and whimsicality."[1]

"When I first saw this picture I felt I was not looking at a photoplay but was really witnessing the tragedy of a family I had known all my life," Mary Pickford said. It was one of her favorite films.[2]

Other adaptations[edit]

Additional info[edit]

Some of the climactic scenes in the 1959 horror movie The Tingler take place in a specialty theater during a showing of Tol'able David.


  1. ^ "The Shadow Stage". Photoplay (New York: Photoplay Publishing Company). February 1922. Retrieved September 3, 2015. 
  2. ^ Howe, Herbert (January 1924). "Mary Pickford's Favorite Stars and Films". Photoplay (New York: Photoplay Publishing Company). Retrieved September 4, 2015. 
  3. ^ Tol'able David (1930) at IMDB

External links[edit]