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Mädchen in Uniform, Germany 1931

Posted by keith1942 on May 19, 2023

I was able to see this film in a 35mm print at a Festival and then later at the Lincoln Centre in New York. It is a recognized classic: of German film: of gay movies: a predominately women production: and an early sound film. It is set in an oppressive girl’s school, dominated by traditional Prussian values, where female desire produces resistance and rebellion to authoritarian control.

At the start of the film young Manuela von Meinhardis (Hertha Thiele), 14 years old, is enrolled at the a boarding school for the daughters of aristocratic and generally wealthy military families. Apparently all the girl students and all the German teaching staff have surnames preceded by ‘von’ this was the traditional identification for the nobility. We do not learn the surnames of the manual staff but one can assume they do not enjoy the preposition ‘von’. The Headmistress (Emile Unda) is a repressive figure who aims to inculcate a traditional subservient role on the girls, as

‘God willing … mothers of soldiers”.

The repressive regime is symbolized in many ways. For the majority of time the girls have to wear black and white striped dresses rather resembling prison dress, and black pinafores. Hair is short and plaited; the short hair is like the fashion of the 1920s, but any longer hair is pinned back in buns, even for the teachers. Manuela is first seen wearing a hat, but later her hair is shown as tied back in a loose lock; she soon has her hair pinned in a bun.  Clothes from past students are re-used, so Manuela gets an ill-fitting dress. Intriguingly it includes a hidden heart symbol by the previous owner for a teacher, Fräulein von Bernburg. We learn that books bought in by students are banned; the volume that Manuela carries is not identified but an illustration on a page suggests melodrama, even the gothic. The regime is organised on military lines and the food is generally basic, rather as for infantry.

“Prussians are raised on hunger.” [The Headmistress].

The milieu of the film is set in the opening. A bell chimes over a blank screen followed by a series of exterior shots of Prussian architecture, the sound of military bugles and then chiming bells. These types of images recur throughout the film, rather in the manner of the ‘pillow shots’ common in films by Ozu Yasujiro. We then see marching troops and there is a cut to a line of regimented girls, in the striped dresses, filing though a park.

There follows the interior in an office where Manuela’s aunt has bought the young girl. She is seen by a Fräulein von Kestern, who seems to be the assistant to the headmistress; we later see her bringing bills for signature to the head. Manuela stands by the window, possibly watching the line of girls marching by. We learn that her father is an officer whilst her mother died whilst she was young. The aunt stresses her sensitivity and emotionalism; and in an unexpected gesture Manuela offers a handshake to the surprised teacher.

Manuela is shown round by Marga (Ilse Winter), a young pupil who we find is both a teacher’s pet and generally supportive of the values of the school. Manuela finds out about the uniform and regimentation of the school., As the pair visits different areas the school building appears as a labyrinth of corridors, hallways and two stairwells; one reserved for staff and visitors, the other a high square structure frequently presented in a high angle shot looking down the stairwell and with guard rails on its sides. It runs to six levels but we only see two or three of these; dormitories, staff rooms, including that of the head: and the ground floor hall class rooms, dining rooms: with the kitchens seemingly in the basement.

The young women that Manuela meets clearly find the regime repressive; all come from a similar background with the double-barreled surnames including the ‘von’. One particular rebellious girl is Ilse (Ellen Schwanneke); when we first see her in a choir she is singing her invented words to what is likely actually a hymn. In the dormitory she shows Manuela her pin-ups on the back of her cupboard door, including a popular film star with ‘sex appeal’. Two other girls gaze with rapture at a photograph of an almost naked male. And a group the girls all express their admiration for what we discover is the one liberal teacher in the establishment, Fräulein von Bernburg (Dorothea Wieck); ‘The Golden One’.

Manuela is considered fortunate in being allocated to the dormitory under her care, where Ilse also sleeps. It is a sign of Ilse’s rebellious character that her bed is the only one that is not in line with the uniform layout. We see the nightly ritual where Bernburg stops at the bed of each girl and kisses her chastely on the forehead. Ilse, in the next bed to Manuela, grows in excitement as her turn approaches. And when it is Manuela, whose emotionalism is already apparent, the young girl throws her arms around Bernburg who kisses her, not on the forehead, but full on the lips.

It becomes apparent that Manuela develops a serious crush on Bernburg. The teacher tries to discourage this whilst also in other ways encouraging it; for example, by giving Manuela a slip to replace her own tattered garment. We see a class under the tutelage of von Bernburg. She asks Edelgard (Annemarie von Rochhausen), Manuela’s fellow student, to recite a verse from a German hymn;

“Oh, that I had a thousand tongues and a thousand mouths …”

taken from a Passion hymn by a Lutheran theologian Johann Mentzer. Manuela is asked to continue it with the second verse, she becomes tongue-tied. Whilst the hymn is addressed to the deity the passionate words might express Manuela’s emotional desire for Bernburg. This scene includes one of two instances of a lap-dissolve between Bernburg and Manuela.

Meanwhile there is a rebellious spirit among the girls, notably on the part of Ilse. She defies the rules by writing and smuggling a letter home complaining about the inadequate food. The letter comes back undelivered and Ilse is disciplined. At a teacher’s meeting it is apparent that Bernburg is the odd one out,

“I want to be a friend of the girls”;

espousing liberal views frowned on by the head, who is supported obsequiously by the other teachers.

Ilse and Edelgard in line

Matters come to a dramatic head when the school performs Schiller’s play Don Carlos as part of a celebration for the headmistresses’ birthday. Ilse, as punishment for her letter, is removed from her role as Domingo in the cast. Ilse packs to return home but von Bernburg persuades her to stay and watch the play.

Manuela, displaying acting talents, is cast as Don Carlos. The play is selected as a classic of German literature. This rather overlooks the play’s expression of liberal values and opposition to censorship. In fact, during refreshments for visiting guests one woman wonders if Schiller is

‘sometimes rather free’.

We see three short scenes from the play The stand-in as Domingo tells Don Carlos,

“Give us Freedom of thought.”

Then Don Carlos faces the Queen, “your mother”: she is in fact his step-mother for whom he has unrequited love: Faced down he retires without expressing his passion. The performance apparently ends here rather than with the rebellion in Schiller’s original.

The play is a success warmly greeted by the audience of girl students, teachers and guests., including praise for that by Manuela. Von Bernburg tells her that she has the potential to become an actress. Later, Manuela asks Ilse about von Bernburg’s response during the play, to which Ilse responds

“the way she looked at you, you can’t imagine…”

Whilst the guests have tea with the Headmistress the girls are served a punch made in the kitchen. Most of the girls find it unpalatable but Manuela, high on emotion, drinks copious amounts and is soon drunk. She then declaims to the assembled girls, telling of von Bernburg’s present of an undergarment and ending,

“ She loves me.”

followed by

“Long Live our beloved Fräulein von Bernburg.”

The last is heard by Fräulein von Kestern who comes to see what all the noise is about.

This leads to the final reckoning for Manuela and von Bernburg. Manuela’s is not expelled because of an unexpected visit by a Royal princess, [possibly a Grand Duchess], and the headmistresses desire to avoid a scandal. This event sees all the girls change their stripped dresses for long white ones. The girls plan to tell the princess of Manuela’s travails but their nerve fails them.

The headmistress calls von Bernburg to her office where there is a confrontation. Von Bernburg tells the headmistress

“What you call sing, Headmistress, I call the spirit of love.”

The headmistresses response is that there can be

“no more contact between you and her.”

Returning to her room von Bernburg is met by distraught Manuela. Ignoring the headmistresses’ stricture she sends Manuela to her room. There she tells the girl that she is to be segregated in an isolation room and that she, will not be able to see her;

“You’re not allowed to love me in that way.”

Manuela leaves; von Bernburg starts to follow her but is confronted by the Headmistress who tells her that

“I will not permit revolutionary ideas …”

and that von Bernburg will leave the school that day.

The distraught Manuela heads for the stairwell that connects the various floors for girls and staff.

This is a four-sided tower, six floors high, a stone or concrete structure with metal railings all the way up; it has a different and starker looks that the other parts of the building. . As Manuela climbs the stairs she recites the ‘Our Father’. Meanwhile, the other girls realise that she is missing and start to search for her. Soon they are running round the building, in and out of rooms; there is a growing hysteria as if Manuela’s heightened emotional state has affected the whole school. Manuela reaches near the top of the stairs, climbs over the railings and is clearly preparing to jump. A high angle shot down the stairwell shows girls on every landing. Her close friends, including Ilse and Edelgard, climb up and pull her back over the railings.

The headmistress arrives and asks,

“Did everybody go mad?”

To which von Bernburg responds

“The girls have prevented a tragedy.”

Manuela and her friends remain at the stop of the stairwell, the girls crowding down the staircase along with Miss von Bernburg. The headmistress turns and descends the stairs past the shocked girls and then walks slowly down the ground floor corridor in a reverse shot which ends with a fade-out to ‘The End’.  There is an air of defeat in her manner. Yet it is not clear what will happen now to Manuela or whether von Bernburg will remain or leave the school. It seems likely that the hegemony exercised over the school girls will have been severely damaged.

The film presents a critical view of traditional education in Germany: of the Prussian values that remind influential in Weimar Germany, even after the changes following World War I: and celebrates a subversive set of relations between women. Manuela becomes a disruptive force in the authoritarian school: the absence of a mother means that she is more exposed to the dominant Prussian military masculine culture. She arrives in a school where there is already a groundswell of resistance both to the repressive culture and the mean-spirited provisions. The possibilities of resistance are embodied in the character of Ilse; when we first see her she is already, in a guarded manner, expressing rebellion. The girls are involved in half-expressed sensual relationships. This is apparent in the desire expressed over imagery of the absent males in the school. But it is also there visually in the shots of pairs of girls involved in physical contact and in references in their dialogue to ‘crushes’ both on other girl students and on the teacher von Bernburg.

Miss von Bernburg is an ambiguous character; a point made in the first comment that Manuela hears from a fellow student Ilse,

“You never know how to take her. First she throws you a terrible look. Then, all of a sudden, she is awfully nice. She is also a bit creepy.”

Her first name is Elizabeth, only used once in the dialogue by the wardrobe mistress explaining a ‘heart’ symbol in the garment given to Manuela. In her official persona she combines an emphasis on discipline with a warmth towards the girls. In Manuela’s case she twice makes the point that their relationships is that between a teacher and a student. However, in her non-verbal responses she suggests something more. Isle describes her response whilst watching Manuela’s performance in the play. And twice in the film there is the use of an overlapping dissolve between a close-up of Manuela and of von Bernburg; a technique that suggests a powerful bond between the two women. Her rejoinder to the headmistress of ‘the spirit of love’ also suggests something of desire. Apparently the play had s similar ambiguous emphasis but that there were some productions which emphasised a maternal rather than a love relationship; clearly an attempt to tone down the subversive quality in the drama.

These characteristics in both the girl students and in the one liberal teacher are counterpointed by the headmistress and the subservient relationship with her by the other teachers. The headmistress emphasises traditional roles for the students and the other teachers appear to support this. There is also clearly a rivalry between von Bernburg and the other teachers which seems to relate to her greater effectiveness as a teacher and in her positive relationship with the students. It is interesting that the manual staff in the school, seamstress, nurse and kitchen maids do not seem to share the values of the teachers. At times their brief comments are caustic and in the case of Isle’s letter to home actually subverting the discipline of the school. There is a 1958 version of the play produced by France and West Germany. It appears to soften the subversion: the play performed is ‘Romeo and Juliet’, a less critical choice in the context of the school: and the plot synopsis suggests that it also softens the ending though including the attempted suicide.

The key influences on the film are the director Leontine Sagan and the writer of both play and film, Christa Winsloe. Sagan was a film actress and this was her first work as director. It seems that she bought a fairly co-operative approach to the production. Winsloe was assisted by another writer, Friedrich Dammann. Her play was titled Gestern und heute (‘Yesterday and Today’) (1930). she was known as a lesbian; and orientation that Sagan may have shared. Both women and Dammann left Germany after the ascent of the Nazi regime. However, the producer, Carl Froelich continued working in Germany right through the war and in the 1950s. Heitha Thiele, who played Manuela, also left in 1937. Dorothea Wieck did make some films abroad but continued living in Germany where she was married to a Baron reckoned to be influential in Nazi circles. All of these key characters contributed very effectively to the screen production.

The sets of the film were chosen by Sagan. Much of the film was shot in an actual boarding school though the impressive stairwell was found in a separate building. The actual geography of the school in the film is not that clear. There is a reception room on the ground floor off the hall where visitors are greeted. The Headmistress’s room is up the wide front staircase, presumably on the first floor. Oddly, in the final shot she does not appear to be going to her office, though it may be that the only access is the mains staircase. The classroom also appear to be on the ground floor. At least one dormitory is on the first floor, the others may be there or on other floors. The wardrobe is on the third floor and the hospital room may also be there. The rooms of the teachers seem to be on the fourth floor. What is on the fifth or sixth floor is not clear though the ‘isolation room’ is possibly up there. The square almost prison-like staircase appears a number of times, including the railings that line and surround it. At least one shot down the stairwell is used more than once, so it is not easy always to decide which floor is in use by the characters in this scene.

The opening credits only include Sagan, Winsloe’s play, Froelich and the lading cast members. The cinematography, by Reimar Kuntze and Franz Weimar. I would reckon that Kuntze was the main cinematographer; he had worked on [among other films] Walter Ruttman’s distinctive Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt / Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. The filming is sharp, using mainly frontal set-ups but also including many large close-ups. There are frequent pans and occasional tracking shots; the latter tending to track in on a character. The camera work also uses shadow very effectively. The dormitory scene where von Bernburg kisses the girls goodnight has a soft, romantic feel. But later we see Manuela visited by the headmistress and the shadow of bars falls across her. And there are the two distinctive lap dissolves of von Bernburg and Manuela.

The film was edited by the Oswald Hafenrichter, who later edited The Third Man (1949). The majority of scenes are brief and the film uses frequent intercutting between parallel settings and characters. Some of this is about plot; so there are cuts between the headmistress and von Kestern stressing economy to THE girls discussing food or the lack of it. Others highlight the operation of the school and its repressive qualities. So we see Ilse rehearsing a scene where her lines involve an intercepted letter which is cut to the scene where the Headmistress and von Kestern discover her secret letter. There is a stark scene when von Kestern confronts the girls after Manuela’s outburst. A close-up of von Kestern makes her look like one of Eisenstein’s villains whilst the reverse show shows the girls huddled against a wall. And there are an interesting selection of exterior shots. There is one shot of the girls outside the building on a Sunday afternoon. And there is the shot at the beginning when a shot of marching troops cuts to a line of marching girls in the school uniform. Preceding this has been a number of insert shots of architecture and statues with a Prussian and militaristic feel. This type of insert occurs twice later in the film, including a shot that precedes the girls being marched to prayers in the hall. These shots emphasise the dominant feel of conservative and militaristic values in the school.

The music is by Hanson Milde-Meissner, who had a long career in film. The music track includes trumpets and bells in the insert shots and both of these are repeated in the music that accompanies much of the action. At the end, as the Headmistress walks slowly down the corridor, w hear again a trumpet; this time with a melancholy air that resemble The Last Post.

All these contributions come together in a powerful and effective movie. It also offers a clear and subversive drama about sexual orientation and authoritarian control. The sexual element was something that occurred frequently in Weimar cinema. As early as 1919 a film entitled Anders al die Andern / Different from the Others dramatised the situation of homosexuals. However, the result was that new censorship laws were passed and the film was only allowed in specialised screenings; the Nazi later banned the film. A reconstructed version was screened as part of the Weimar Programme at the Berlinale. Subversive treatment of heterosexuality managed to pass censorship laws; notably in the 1929 Die Büchse der Pandora / Pandora’s Box.

In one way Mädchen in Uniform is a last example of Weimar’s liberal film output. And it was successful both in Germany and abroad. It did suffer from censorship. In Germany it was at first banned for young people, a revealing restriction. In 1932 there was a shorter cut version, but even this was banned by the Nazi. There was an initial ban when it was released in the USA but this was lifted. I have not found any indication that it was censored in Britain.

The quotations are from the English sub-titles in the BFI version of the 2018 digitised version from Deutsches Filminstitut & FilmmuseumThe original film was in early sound ratio, 1.20:1; not all video versions or stills are in this ratio.

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Oliver Twist at the Kennington Bioscope

Posted by keith1942 on March 16, 2023

This screening on Wednesday March 1st was from a 16mm print which was 40 years old but still in a well preserved state. This version of Dickens’s early novel was released in 1922. Later it was lost and resurfaced in 1973. That print lacked title cards which were replaced with some of the cast providing the text, presumably from memory.

The film was produced by Jackie Coogan Productions headed by the independent producer Sol Lesser. Jackie Coogan had become an overnight star the previous year in the now famed Chaplin film, The Kid. He had previously worked in vaudeville and in small parts in films.  His career lasted into the 1980s including an amount of television work. Coogan’s Oliver is the star part in this version and dominates the film with several scenes designed to display his talents. The accompanying star is Lon Chaney. Chaney had worked in films since the early teens and this was just the point at which he reached stardom. His part is that of the villainous Fagin. Two other notable characters are Bill Sykes, played I thought with real violent menace by Bill Siegman. Gladys Brockwell plays the ill-fated Nancy with a strong screen presence.

The film was directed by Franlk Lloyd; and he wrote the scenario with one Harry Well. . Hailing from Scotland he started out acting in films and then [as was so often the case] moved on to direction. His directing career lasted until the 1950s; his most successful film was the 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty, notable for Clark Gable playing opposite Charles Laughton.

This version is about a full reel shorter than the original. This is not especially noticeable though there are places where the plot moves along at a real pace. The title cards were, apparently, reconstructed with the assistance of Jackie Coogan and Sol Lesser. I suspect that they relied in part on the Dickens’s original as many title cards seem to come straight out of the novel. The cinematography is fine but is predominately in mid-shot and long-shot. The editing is likely affected by the missing footage: the sets and locations are passable but not always completely convincing. The lack of close-ups seems to undermine Chaney’s portrayal which received mixed reviews. It is also likely that the production was tilted in favour of Coogan.

The film is fairly faithful to the book allowing for the need to be condensed.  It includes part of Oliver’s changing cirumstances following a failed robbery missi9ng from some other verions. The film ends, of course, with a Coogan flourish. Fagin rather disappears but Bill Sykes has memorable moment. And Bull’s Eye, who is seriously underwritten in the film, at last has a proper exit.

The programme also included four short films or segments provided by Christopher Bid who also provided introductions. There was a digital version of Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgers (1912) , adapted from a Charles Dickens’s story from 1863. On 35mm we had a fragment of Lon Chaney in an early film Tangled Hearts (1916), Chaney was hardly recognisable in relation to his famous roles: and an incomplete Fred Evans/Pimple version of Oliver Twisted (1918). The production values, as so often, were not great but I thought it definitely funnier than most Pimple outings. And the last title was Hello Hollywood (1927), one of those newsreel type films about Hollywood with [bated breath] a card reference to Lon Chaney.

The whole programme was well attended with over fifty participants and an excellent piano accompaniment from John Sweeney.

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Films screening in Yorkshire in 1921

Posted by keith1942 on August 30, 2022

The Picture House today

The Hebden Bridge Picture House celebrated its centenary recently. It opened on July 8th 1921. Among the records still held is a listing of films screened in the early months of the venue. There are only the titles but in many cases, given the approximate time of release, it is possible to identify and fill out details. In the listing that follows I have been able to do this for almost all the films; a few remained unknown. In a couple of cases there were both British and US releases of the same name; however, US titles tended to arrive in Britain a year after their US release and thus can be distinguished from the British title. Most weeks two feature titles would be screened, likely in succession over the week.

The original release titles in this period were shot on nitrate film stock which was extremely flammable. There were a number of major incidents involving fatalities when the nitrate film stock caught fire. However, thousands of screenings did take place safely. Nowadays there are strict requirements for the screening of surviving nitrate film prints; so there are few opportunities to see such prints. Because of the silver involved in the stock,[which led to the pulping of many prints to extract this material], the prints have a luminous quality not completely reflected in safety print copies and not visible in digitised versions. The usual stock was also orthochromatic which required liberal use of certain colours of make-up. In the 1920s panchromatic film stock was introduced. This required much less use of make-up and a consequent change in appearance of characters. Alongside this was a move from acting which tended to a more apparent natural style, [i.e. less use of dramatic gesture].

In the teens and 1920s many film prints originating on black and white film stock were tinted and toned. There were also specialist stencil colouring techniques. And early examples of colour film were in use, notably in Britain was Kinechrome, an additive process where filters were used in the projection of black and white film stock. An earlier additive process Kinemacolor had fallen out of use. The first major subtractive process which actually produced a colour film print was Technicolor which developed from 1922 onwards. Whether a print was tinting or toned is often not recorded but even in 1922 this would have been a common practice.

The history of the Hebden Bridge Picture House includes a description of the opening screening of the new venue. The programme offered two feature length films. This was a change from the teens when the usual programme would have been a feature length film and a number of shorts, including newsreel, travelogues and short comedies. The listing that follows appears to mainly consist of several feature length titles, though the number vary in different weeks. It is not usually clear exactly what was in a particular programme and titles such as serials probably affected this. And in many week which was the ‘A’ feature is not necessarily clear. There would still have been shorter attractions including newsreels and, possibly, the growing number of animations. The genre of the serial very popular in the teens. These were usually screened weekly. The titles in the listing usually only appear once and in a couple of instances not as the overall serial title; presumably these were screened weekly in line with practice.

The opening screening was accompanied by a musical quartet: violin, flute, violin-cello and piano. It is likely that for the regular programmes that the music was usually a solo piano, perhaps with a quartet for special features. Large urban cinemas presenting a major release might occasionally employ an orchestra. But there would also have been screenings in this period when the films were projected silent, though that was less and less common.

British film production in the early 1920s was increasingly suffering from the competition from burgeoning Hollywood studios. The general production values of British films were lower than those of the Hollywood studios and their box office performance was lower. Increasingly British producers had problems with distribution and booking of their titles. Some of the existing studios went into decline; new companies emerged but often only lasted for a few years. It was only in the late 1920s that British production picked up for  a period with the introduction of the 1928 Film Act.

Distribution was carried out by film ‘renting’ companies. Some of these were part of larger integrated companies: some were regional distributers: and some were part of major foreign companies. In the early days the French companies had been important, like Pathé. By the 1920s the growing US companies had British based renting firms; these were able to exert strong pressure on exhibitors because their product was so popular. And early example were the film of Charlie Chaplin in the teens where exhibitors need to sign up a for package of titles in order to screen those by Chaplin: this developed into a regular system known as block bookings. Increasingly in the 1920s British companies had problems getting contracts with rentals; a factor the demise of several studios.

By this date the British Board of Film Censors, set up by the Industry in 1912, was mainly effective in its certification; either U universal or A adults. The actual censorship control rested with local authorities under the acts for licensing entertainment venues. Even in the 1920s there were occasional films that ignored the BBFC certification.

The use of titles had appeared around 1900 and developed into the title card, which conveyed explanation: dialogue: and comment. there were also insert shots with printed information on such items as letters, telegrams, signs and even printed material like books. In the earlier films title cards often proceeded the action  to explain what would be seen. By the 1920s title cards were inserted either side of particular actions. And some cards were ‘art’, often with producers’ logo apparent. The 1920s saw the move to limit the amount of title cards and rely more on visualisation. Britain was, as in  other aspects, slow to realise this.

I have used Rachel Low’s history of this decade in British film, the relevant volumes ‘The History of the British Film 1918 – 1929 (1971) : the British Film Institute’s Collection list of titles:  The American Film Institute Catalogue: IMDB: and Wikipedia. Different sources have provided film length; either in feet or meters for reels, and running times. However one cannot be sure that this is the same as the version screened in Hebden Bridge where the speed or frame rate would have been determined by the projectionist. The production details and synopsis vary with titles and I include as much as I can. Information on tinting and colour vary, though in this period quite a proportion of films would have had either tinting or toning or some of the additive colouring systems; but not all prints available for screening would have had these benefits. None of the films at this period would have had soundtracks so they relied on title cards which would have been in English, even for most foreign language titles. Invariably films had musical accompaniment.

Where the company or people involved in a title are noteworthy, I have included information on them. What emerges is a portrait of what audiences could see in a provincial town in this period; this strikes me as of significant interest. Many of these titles are now lost. Tony Fletcher has advised me –

“I viewed quite a few British films from 1921 which are held by the BFI: The Black Tulip: Jessica’s First Prayer: The Puppet Man: Ships That Pass in the Night ;Laughter and Tears; Tansy; and The Twelve Pound Look.”

I have noted in the text where a surviving print of a title is recorded. The BFI Collections also lists other materials and reviews. However, many of the titles screened do not even appear in this archive record. The problem of lost titles is greater for British film than those from the USA. Generally it is reckoned that about a third of silent film production  is lost but missing titles still re-appear and/or are restored. In the case of missing films it is often possible to elucidate the pilot from surviving distributor and newspaper descriptions. Several examples are found in these listings.

The Picture House interior showing the original balcony

“The Hebden Bridge Picture House is another rare 1920’s survivor. It opened on 12th July 1921 with Mary Odette in “Torn Sails” & Reginald Fox in “The Iron Stair” It had 954 seats in stalls and circle levels.

The cinema is Classical in appearance with two iconic pillars framing a stone recessed entrance, the building has two small shop units on either side of the stepped entrance.

The Picture House was taken over by the Star Cinemas chain in 1947. It was purchased by the local Council in 1972 and was refurbished in 1978. It now has a reduced seating capacity of 527-seats, with 299 in the stalls and 228 in the circle. Unfortunately the cinema has been flooded three times in recent years (2015, 2016 & 2020) as the the River Calder runs at the rear of the building.

The Picture House is a Grade II Listed building.”


The ‘Hebden Bridge Picture House’ by Kate Higham and Roy Barnes (2016) has information regarding the films just before and just following the opening.

“The predecessor of the Picture Picture was the Royal Electric Theatre, an all-wooden building …..

On the 24 June the last film shown was a;

A Kiss For Susie. USA, Pallas Pictures 1917. Black and white 1,500 m (5 reels) 50 minutes.

In “A Kiss for Susie” she is the daughter of a bricklayer, and a very good bricklayer, too. The lad who loves her is a very rich lad, as all lads should be, but, alas are not. In order to win her, he poses as a hod-carrier, certainly unromantic disguise for a wooer.”

Directed by Robert Thornby; Screenplay by  Harvey F. Thew, Paul West. Produced by Julia Crawford Ivers. Starring Vivian Martin,  Tom Forman, John Burton, Jack Nelson, Pauline Perry, Chris Lynton. Cinematography James Van Trees. Production Company, Pallas Pictures, Distributed by Paramount Pictures.

1 July  Notice The New Picture House. Look Out For The Grand Opening 8 July. Picture House – Grand Opening Week

The Iron Stair    Britain 1920 Stoll Picture Productions. 1, 820 metres – six reels

A man poses as his clerical twin to cash a forged cheque but later takes the cleric’s place when he breaks jail.

Director: F. Martin Thornton. Writers: Rita (novel), F. Martin Thornton. Stars: Reginald Fox, Madge Stuart, Frank Petley

Torn Sails   Britain 1920 Ideal Film Company. 1, 500 metres / 5,000 feet – five reels

In Wales a girl loves a manager but weds her employer who dies in a fire lit by a jealous madwoman.

Director: A. V. Bramble. Writer: Eliot Stannard, Allen Raine Novel.

Stars: Milton Rosmer, Mary Odette, Geoffrey Kerr.”

Stoll Picture Productions was registered in May 1920 by theatre owner Sir Oswald Stoll  and was a major company in this period. The company adapted as former aeroplane factory at Cricklewood as a studio. The company also developed a renting arm. It continued though the 1920s and the 1930s, though latter the studio was mainly used by independent productions.

The Ideal Film Company started as a distributor in 1911 and branched into production in 1916. It was a major company in the 1920s. However, due to US competition it stopped production in 1924 and distribution by 1927.

A. V. Bramble worked as an actor and director; the latter between 1913 and 1933. He was co-director with Anthony Asquith Shooting Stars (1927) a fine drama with one of the great endings. Eliot Stannard was a prolific screenwriter with 68 credits. Eight of these were for Alfred Hitchcock and his script work was influential on that director and the Industry.

The BFI has a surviving screenplay and stills.

There are also details of the town’s alternative venue for films,  The Co-op Hall

True Tilda   1920 London Film Production

4,650 feet / 1,428.55 metres – five reels

An injured circus girl helps a boy escape from an orphanage and finds he is a Lord’s lost son.

Director: Harold M. Shaw

Writers: Bannister Merwin, Arthur Quiller-Couch (novel)

Stars: Edna Flugrath, Edward Carrick, Edward O’Neill

The Terror on the Range  1919 Astra Films Pathé Exchange. USA 3 reels – serial with seven episodes

Director: Stuart Paton

Writers: W. A. S. Douglas (story “The Wolf-Faced Man”), Lucien Hubbard (story “The Wolf-Faced Man”)

Stars: George Larkin, Betty Compson, Horace B. Carpenter

The Beloved Cheater USA 1919 [The Pleasant Devil]

Astra Film Corp. Lew Cody Film Corp. 1,500 metres – five reels.

Beautiful young Eulalie Morgan belongs to a strange group called “The Anti-Kiss Cult” and refuses to kiss her fiancée, Kingdon Challoner. At a dinner party one night Kingdon asks his friend…

Directors: Christy Cabanne (as William Christy Cabanne), Louis J. Gasnier

Writers: Jules Furthman (story) (as Steven Fox), Lew Cody

Joseph A. Brady cinematographer

Stars: Lew Cody, Doris Pawn, Eileen Percy.”

The Co-op Hall is no more; a supermarket now stands where it once stood.

The Picture House listing for the year continue:

15 July  

Anna the Adventuress     Britain 1920

Hepworth Pictures 1,915 metres / 6,000 feet- six reels

Twin sisters Anna and Annabel are as different as can be. Anna is a withdrawn art student, while Annabel is a dancer who is the toast of Paris. Annabel’s husband vanishes on their honeymoon…

Director: Cecil M. Hepworth

Writers: Blanche McIntosh, E. Phillips Oppenheim’s novel.

Stars: Alma Taylor, Jean Cadell, James Carew

Taylor played two parts and Hepworth made use of ‘double photography’ for such scenes; running the same spool through the camera twice with masking.

Cecil Hepworth was  a pioneer in the development of cinema in Britain. His father was a magic lanternist and the son became involved in early film in the 1890s. He built a studio at Walton-on-Thames in 1899. In his company Hepworth Film Manufacturing Company he both produced and directed films up until 1923 when his company failed. His Rescued by Rover  (1905) was  a key film in developing narrative style. Alma Taylor was a popular film actress, in 1915 she pipped Charlie Chaplin in a ‘Pictures and Picturegoers’ poll. She made a number of films with Hepworth including Helen of Four Gates, actually filmed around Hebden Bridge. This latter title was screened locally at the Co-op Hall rather than the Picture House. Believed lost it was found and restored in 2017. The restored print was screened at the Picture House in 2017.   The BFI has the film press book.

Duke’s Son  Britain 1920

George Clark Productions. 1,800 metres / 6,000 feet – six reels.

The Duke’s heir, exposed as a cardsharp by the millionaire who covets his wife, plans their mutual gassing but goes blind.

Director: Franklin Dyall

Writers: Cosmo Hamilton (novel), Guy Newall

Stars: Guy Newall, Ivy Duke, Hugh Buckler

Guy Newall was an actor and director. His career started in 1915 and carried on into the 1930s. He set up his own production company with George Clark. They first used the Ducal Studio in London and then had a new studio built at Beaconsfield. Fox Farm (1922) is one of his  notable films in which he both acted and directed.  Ivy Duke was his regular partner and they married. But the company failed in the mid-20s.  The BFI has several film prints including one with tinting.

The Knockout Blow  Britain 1917 June

Animated posters for the National Service. 152 metres

This would seem to be a propaganda effort from the war; oresumably celebrating some anniversary..

22 July  

The Admirable Crichton    Britain 1918

2, 382.6 metres – eight reels

When a Lord and family are shipwrecked on an island their butler becomes a king.

Director: G. B. Samuelson

Writers: J. M. Barrie (play), Kenelm Foss

Stars: Basil Gill, Mary Dibley, James Lindsay

This has been a popular play for adaptation with two further versions, [1957 and 1968) and also several television versions.

Into the Cataract

No feature titles but an episode of a French serial does include an episode with this name;.

Two Little Urchins / Le Deux Gamines France 1920 [Gamines translates as ‘girls’]

Gaumont  9.500 metres over 12 episodes

Director and screenwriter Louis Feuillade

Camera  Maurice Champreux, Léon Morizet

Stars Sandra Milovanoff, Olinda Mano, and Violette Jyl

Louis Feuillade was a master of the film serial. His most famous are Fantómas and Les Vampires. The episodes are full of mysterious actions, daring exploits and cliff-hanger endings. And, as with this title, the protagonist are often self-assured and active women characters.

The company Gaumont [Société des Établissements Gaumont] was the first major film company to involve both production and distribution, ‘vertical integration’ . The firm developed from manufacturing photographic equipment in the 1990s. Its first major film-maker was a woman pioneer, Alice Guy-Blaché.

29 July

Her Kingdom of Dreams   USA 1919

1,630 metres in France; original release 2,221 m (7 reels)

Judith Rutledge, after becoming the trusted secretary of New York bank owner James Warren, agrees to Warren’s dying request that she marry his son Fred so that the bank will carry on. ..

Director: Marshall Neilan

Writer: Agnes Louise Provost

Stars: Anita Stewart, Spottiswoode Aitken, Frank Currier

Mrs. Erricker’s Reputation     Britain 1920

1,760 metres / 5,780 feet – six reels

A widow compromises herself to protect her sister-in-law.

Director: Cecil M. Hepworth

Writers: Blanche McIntosh, Thomas Cobb’s novel.

Stars: Alma Taylor, Gerald Ames, James Carew

My Lord Conceit – Britain February 1921

1,839 metres / 6,000 feet – six reels

In India a count frames a runaway wife for killing her husband over the daughter of a blackmailing rajah.

Director  F. Martin Thornton

Writers F. Martin Thornton, Rita’s novel.

Stars Evelyn Boucher, Maresco Marisini, Rowland Myles

Evelyn Boucher was another popular actress; she was married to writer and director Floyd Martin Thornton, Thornton worked as director between 1912 and 1925 including several early films in Kinemacolor; a pioneering two-colour additive process.

5  August 

The Miracle Man   USA  1919  Certified U

Pathé Camera / Mayflower Photoplay Company – 8 reels

A gang consisting of the Frog, who can dislocate his limbs, the Dope, a drug addict, Rose, who poses as the Dope’s brutalized mistress, and Burke, the leader, prey on the sympathies and contributions of Chinatown sightseers, …

Director George Loane Tucker

Writers  George M. Cohan (play), Robert Hobart Davis’ play and novel.

Stars  Thomas Meighan, Betty Compson, Lon Chaney

Lon Chaney was one of the most successful actors in early Hollywood. He was noted for his powerful screen presence and his use of disguise and make-up. Much of his film  output, from 1913 till 1930, is lost. In the 1920s he gave brilliant performances as ‘The Hunchback of the Notre Dame’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’.

Innocent USA  1918

Astra Film, 50 minutes,  1.1445 metres –  ( in France – 5 reels)

Kept in seclusion by her alcoholic father, Peter McCormack, Innocent knows nothing of life beyond her own house in Mukden, China. Following McCormack’s death, Innocent is placed in the care of his close friend, John Wyndham. John promises to protect the girl, …

Director George Fitzmaurice

Writer George Broadhurst (play)

Stars  Fannie Ward, John Miltern, Armand Kaliz

The Flame  Britain 1920

Stoll Picture Productions 1,938 metres / 6,300 feet

In Paris an orphan cartoonist loves a man with a mad wife, who dies in time to prevent her marriage to a jilted Comte.

Director: F. Martin Thornton

Writers: F. Martin Thornton, Olive Wadsley’s novel.

Stars: Evelyn Boucher, Reginald Fox, Dora De Wint…..

12 August

The Lunatic at Large   Britain 1921  Certified U

Hepworth 1.561 metres / 5,800 feet – five reels

A rich madman escapes from an asylum and saves a lady from a Danish baron.

Director Henry Edwards

Writers  George Dewhurst, J. Storer Couston’s novel.

Stars Henry Edwards, Chrissie White, Lyell Johnstone

Henry Edwards was a prolific actor and director who started out in 1916 and continued into the sound era up until 1937 and acting into the 1950s. He was married to Chrissie White whose career ran from 1913 until 1933. The couple were a popular and newsworthy pair.

Madame Peacock  1920 USA

Nazimova Productions / Metro I. V.   six reels

Director Ray C. Smallwood

Writers Alla Nazimova (adaptation), Rita Weiman (story)

Stars Alla Nazimova, George Probert, John Steppling

Nazimova was a major star of the silent era. She was born in Russia and started a stage career there.  She starred on Broadway and then entered films. Her most successful period was in teens and early 1920s. For a time she also wrote and produced her films. These included a version of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé (1923). Her sexuality was a major issue in the media.

Handy Andy  1921 Britain

Ideal Films 1.500 metres / 5,900 feet – five reels

A stable-boy poses as his cousin to foil a kidnapper and is forced to wed his sister.

Director  Bert Wynne

Writers Eliot Stannard, Samuel Lover novel.

Stars Peter Coleman. Kathleen Vaughan, Warwick Ward

19 August

The Four Just Men    1921   U Britain

Stoll Picture Productions 1.517.02 metres / 5,000 feet – five reels

A gang forces rich men to donate to a charity and are betrayed by a Spanish member.

Director George Ridgwell

Writers George Ridgwell, Edgar Wallace novel

Stars Cecil Humphreys, Teddy Arundell, Charles Croker-King

There was another film version in 1939 and a television adaptation in the late 1950s.

Shoulder Arms   USA  1918

Charles Chaplin Productions (36 min – 45 minutes at 17 fps) 958 metres  – 3 reels

Stars Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Syd Chaplin

Chaplin was the most popular comic star of silent cinema and is likely the most famous artist from this period. The film is  a propaganda piece for the US side in the war; it also advertised Liberty Bonds, loans for the war effort. Edna Purviance was a regular co-star with Chaplin in this period. His brother Syd made a career on his own as a comic.

A Gentleman of France Britain 1921 Certified U

Stoll Picture Productions 1.813.86 metres / 5,900 feet – six reels

A guardian imprisons his ward when she uncovers his plot against the king.

Director Maurice Elvey

Writers; William J. Elliott, Stanley J. Weyman novel

Stars Eille Norwood, Madge Stuart. Hugh Buckler

Maurice Elvey was a film director, occasional producer and writer and also acted in his first few films. He worked in British film from 1913 until 1958; making around 200 titles. His 1920s output is likely his best; the later decades saw him working on titles with low production values. The 1918 The Life of David Lloyd George was not released, thought lost; then found and finally released in the 1990s. His 1927 Hindle Wakes is a fine adaptation of a famous play and one of the outstanding British titles of the 1920s.

The House on the Marsh Britain 1920

London Film Production 1,600 metres / 5,250 feet  (5 reels)

Mystery-melodrama about a governess in a house full of secrets, cleared up when it becomes evident that the master of the household and the housekeeper are jewel robbers.

Directed by Fred Paul

Writing  Florence Warden (novel)

Cast; Cecil Humphreys, Peggy Paterson, Harry Welschman

The London Film Company was set up in 1913 by Provincial Cinematograph Theatres and operated the Twickenham Studios. The company folded in 1920 but the studios carried on; finally being used for television in the 1950s and international productions later.

26 Aug 

Treasure Island   USA 1920  Certified U

Maurice Tourneur Productions 1,800 metres –  6 reels at 18 fps, tinted

Lon Chaney, Shirley Mason, Bull Montana, Charles Ogle, and Wilton Tay…

Young Jim Hawkins is caught up with the pirate Long John Silver in search of the buried treasure of the buccaneer Captain Flint, in this adaptation of the classic novel by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Director Maurice Tourneur

Writers Jules Furthman, Robert Louis Stevenson novel

Stars  Shirley Mason, Josie Melville, Al W. Filson

[The] Black Sheep    Britain 1920 Certified  A

Progress 1,519 metres – 5 reels

A vamp tries to lure a penniless heir away from a financier’s daughter.

Director Sidney Morgan

Writer Sidney Morgan, from Ruby M. Ayres serial in the ‘Daily Mirror’

Stars; Marguerite Blanche, George Keene, Eve Balfour

The Progress Film Company was a regional studio at Shoreham-by-Sea. Built before the war it burnt down in 1922.

Slaves of Pride        1920     USA

Vitagraph Company of America 1,634 metres 5 reels

Patricia Leeds is placed on the auction block of marriage by her extravagant, selfish mother and sold to the highest bidder, Brewster Howard, a wealthy man obsessed with his own importance. Howard browbeats his wife to such an extent that for revenge she elopes with his secretary, John Reynolds. The humiliated husband pursues his wife and her lover,

Director George Terwilliger

Writer William B. Courtney scenario

Stars  Alice Joyce, Percy Marmont, Templar Saxe

The Manchester Man 1920 Britain

Ideal Films 1,500 metres / 5,000 feet 5 reels

A clerk loves a merchant’s daughter who elopes with a crook.

Director Bert Wynne

Writers; Eliot Stannard,  Mrs. Linnaeus Banks novel

Stars;  Hayford Hobbs, Aileen Bagot, Joan Hestor

2  September   

Lady Tetley’s Decree      Britain 1920 Certificate A

London Film Productions 1,462.15 metres / 4,8000 feet 5 reels

A Foreign Office man hires a bohemian to compromise his rival’s separated wife.

Director Fred Paul

Writers; Sybil Downing  play; W. F. Downing play; Fred Paul

Stars; Marjorie Hume, Hamilton Stewart, Philip Hewland

Fred Paul [originally Fred Paul Luard, born in Switzerland] was an actor and director in British film in the 1920s.

The Devil’s Foot            British 1920

Stoll Picture Productions 766.25 metres  3 reels

A family is at their dining room table, sitting upright and dressed for dinner–except they’re all dead. Sherlock Holmes must figure out how – and, more importantly, why – they were murdered.

Director Maurice Elvey

Writer; W. J. Elliott from Arthur Conan Doyle story

Stars; Eille Norwood, Hubert Willis, Harvey Braban

This was one of a series of two-reel titles numbering fifteen. Eille Norwood started acting in silent films in 1916. From 1921 he starred in a series of films as Sherlock Holmes. The majority were feature length productions, many directed [as here] by Maurice Elvey.

The Broken Road     Britain    1921 Certificate U

Britain Stoll Picture Productions 1,592.28 metres / 5,000 feet 5 reels

In India three generations of a British family try to build a road despite an educated Prince.

Director René Plaissetty – cinematographer J. J. Cox

Writers; Daisy Martin from the novel by A. E. W. Mason

Stars; Harry Ham, Mary Massart, Tony Fraser

Actually shot in Algiers which proved too expensive and curtailed foreign locations for Stoll productions. René Plaisetty worked in the USA, Britain and then the French Industry from 1914 until 1932. Jack Cox was one of the really skilled cinematographers in British film. He started out as an assistant in 1913. From 1921 to 1925 he worked at the Stoll studios with frequent use of actual locations. He was skilled in the use of shadow and in inventive camera tricks. He worked on a number of Hitchcock productions including Blackmail (1929) and carried on working until the 1950s.

Ernest Maltravers  Britain 1920

Ideal Films 1,524 metres 5 reels

A girl saves a rich man from his murderous father and meets him again after escaping a forced marriage and having a baby.

Director Jack Denton

Writers Edward George Bulwer-Lytton – novel, Eliot Stannard

Stars  Cowley Wright, Lillian Hall-Davis, Gordon Hopkirk

Lillian Hall-Davis was an important actress in the 1920s who started out as a beauty queen. She was in an early version of The Admiral Crichton in 1918 and later was in two of the films directed by Alfred Hitchcock, The Ring (1927) and The Farmer’s Wife (1927).

9  September  

The Heart of a Child    USA 1920

Metro Picture Corporation – Nazimova Productions 1,783 metres  – 7 reels

A poverty-stricken Cockney girl rises through incredible adventures to become the wife of a nobleman.

Director Ray C. Smallwood

Writers Charles Bryant – scenario, Frank Danby – novel

Stars Alla Nazimova, Charles Bryant, Ray Thompson

This popular novel has been adapted several times including an earlier British version in 1915.

The Tavern Knight        Britain      1920  Certificate A

Stoll Picture Productions 2,053 metres / 6,659 feet –  7 reels

A Royalist and his unknown son seek vengeance on his murdered wife’s brothers.

Director  Maurice Elvey

Writers Sinclair Hill, Rafael Sabatini  – novel “The Tavern Knight”

Stars  Eille Norwood, Madge Stuart’ Cecil Humphreys

Paris Green          USA 1920 Certificate U

Thomas H. Ince Corporation 1,500 metres –  5 reels

Luther Green goes to war in France in 1917. When he comes back to his family home in New Jersey, he has a surprise following him: a beautiful French girl named Nina.

Director Jerome Storm

Writer Julien Josephson – story

Stars Charles Ray, Ann May, Bert Woodruff

Thomas Ince was an important US pioneer. He built one of the earliest studios in Hollywood and introduced a production process that became the model for the later Hollywood studio system.

16 September  

John Forrest Finds Himself   Britain     1920 Certificate A

Hepworth 1,481 metres / 5,035 feet – 5 reels

An amnesiac loves the poor squire’s daughter who is engaged to a rich man he thought he killed.

Director Henry Edwards

Writers Donovan Bayley – story, H. Fowler Mear

Stars Henry Edwards, Chrissie White, Gerald Ames

Great Heart / Greatheart  Britain       1921 Certificate A

Stoll Picture Productions 1,691.94 metres / 5,000 feet –  6 reels

In Switzerland an invalid saves a girl from suicide after she has broken her engagement to a his rich brother.

Director George Ridgwell

Writers Sidney Broome, Ethel M. Dell – novel

Stars:  Cecil Humphreys, Madge Stuart, Ernest Benham

Back to God’s Country     Canada            1919  unrated

Production companies Canadian Photoplays Ltd. Shipman-Curwood Company

6 reels – 1 hour 13 min at  18 fps

A woman finds herself all alone in a remote harbour with the man responsible for the murder of her father. With seemingly nobody around to protect her, she has to be resourceful.

Director David Hartford

Writers James Oliver Curwood,  Nell Shipman scenario

Stars: Nell Shipman, Charles Arling, Wheeler Oakman

Nell Shipman was an early and resourceful woman film pioneer. She worked as writer, producer, actress and director in a number of films from mid-teens to the late 1920s. This is reckoned her most important title in a series of adventure films. it features an early nude scene which likely explains why the British Board of Film Censors did not provide a certificate. In the early 1920s the Boards certification were sometimes just ignored.

23 September

Humouresque   USA 1920 1 hour

Production companies Cosmopolitan Productions Paramount Pictures 1,829 metres –  6 reels

Young Leon Kanter dreams of being a great violinist. His parents scrape up the money for a violin and for lessons, and Leon rewards them by becoming a great player. But as an adult, Leon finds that people want more from him than just music.

Director Frank Borzage

Writers Fannie Hurst story, William LeBaron (uncredited) Frances Marion scenario

Stars Gaston Glass Vera Gordon Alma Rubens

There is a 1946 version with Joan Crawford and John Garfield. Frances Marion worked as a screen writer from 1912 to 1940. She was one of the most accomplished writers in Hollywood; one of the few areas where women workers could shine. She also directed some titles, working [amongst others] with Mary Pickford. Fannie Hurst was a popular and frequently adapted writer including Imitation of Life (1934 and 1959). Frank Borsage was an accomplished director who also worked in the sound era; he was noted for the emotional power of many of his film, including 7th Heaven (1927) which won an award at the first Academy Award ceremony.

Carnival       Britain     1921  Certificate A

Alliance Film Corporation 2,255.02 metres / 6,500 feet

An actor playing Othello in a stage production of Shakespeare’s play becomes jealous of his wife’s supposed infidelity and seems bound to kill her in the scene in which she, enacting Othello’s falsely accused wife Desdemona, is murdered by her jealous husband.

Director Harley Knoles – cinematography Philip Hatkin

Writers; H. C. M. Hardinge play “Sirocco”, Rosina Henley, Adrian Johnson

Stars; Matheson Lang, Ivor Novello, Hilda Bayley

There is a 1931 sound version directed by Herbert Wilcox. As one might guess there are several titles playing with this plot device.

Hepworth and Knoles took the film to the USA in an attempt to break into that market Such mobility was common in this period. Alliance itself was wound up in 1922. Ivor Novello was already a matinee idol and popular composer by the 1920s. He was a major star in British films and his titles include The Rat (1925, with sequels) and Hitchcock’s The Lodger (1927). His career continued into the sound era.

The Narrow Valley Britain 1921 Certificate U

Hepworth 1,645 metres / 5,000 feet

A draper’s maid weds a poacher’s son when the village watch committee tries to expel her.

Director Cecil M. Hepworth

Writer George Dewhurst

Stars;  Alma Taylor, George Dewhurst, James Carew

30 September

On With The Dance   USA 1920  Certificate A

Paramount Pictures 1,976 metres – 7 reels

Sonia, a Russian dancer, comes to New York seeking her fortune. She marries Peter Derwynt, a young architect, but their marriage is not a good one. Sonia falls under the spell of a rich Broadway mogul, Jimmy Sutherland, whose wife is in love with Peter. The mix of relationships comes crashing apart when Sutherland ends up murdered.

Director George Fitzmaurice

Writers Ouida Bergère scenario, Michael Morton based on his play

Stars Mae Murray, David Powell, Alma Tell

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde     USA 1920 Certificate A

Paramount Pictures 1,937 metres –  7 reels

Dr. Henry Jekyll experiments with scientific means of revealing the hidden, dark side of man and releases a murderer from within himself.

Director John S. Robertson

Writers; Robert Louis Stevenson,  Clara Beranger scenario, Thomas Russell Sullivan play

Stars; John Barrymore, Martha Mansfield, Brandon Hurst

There are many versions of this famous story. John Barrymore was a member of the famous theatrical family. He worked in Hollywood from the teens until 1940 and was especially memorable in larger-than-life characterisation here and as Sherlock Holmes in Moriarty (1922) or impresario Oscar Jaffe in the sound title  Twentieth Century (1934).

Lets Be Fashionable       USA  1920

Thomas H. Ince Productions 1,406.65 metres – 5 reels

A nice young couple moves to a community where the bonds of matrimony are not held in much respect and where it is fashionable to carry on with one not one’s spouse.

Director Lloyd Ingraham

Writers; Mildred Considine story, Luther Reed scenario

Stars; Douglas MacLean, Doris May, Wade Boteler

7  October

The Amazing Partnership  Britain     1921  Certificate  A

Stoll Picture Productions 1,571 metres / 5,153 feet –  5 reels

A girl detective and a reporter recover stolen gems hidden in a Chinese idol.

Director George Ridgwell

Writers; Charles Barnett, E. Phillips Oppenheim  novel

Stars; Milton Rosmer, Gladys Mason, Arthur Walcott

Impéria       France    1920

Production company    Société des Cinéromans – A series of twelve instalments

Director Jean Durand

Writer Arthur Bernède

Stars; Jacqueline Forzane, Jacqueline Arly, Armand Boiville

If I Were King     USA        1920 Certificate passed

Fox Film Corporation 2,316 metres –  8 reels

The famed poet and vagabond rogue François Villon is by odd circumstances given the opportunity to rule France for a week. Adventure and intrigue ensue.

Director J. Gordon Edwards

Writers; Justin Huntly McCarthy play “If I Were King”, E. Lloyd Sheldon scenario

Stars; William Farnum, Betty Ross Clarke, Fritz Leiber

The Broken Butterfly                USA 1919

Production companies Maurice Tourneur Productions Agence Générale Cinématographique Robertson-Cole Pictures Corporation 1,500 metres –  5 reels

Before she parts from him for a while, a woman falls in love with a composer, working on a symphony, who she encounters in the forests of Canada.

Director Maurice Tourneur

Writers; Penelope Knapp novel “Marcene”, H. Tipton Steck scenario, Maurice Tourneur

Stars; Lew Cody, Mary Alden, Pauline Starke

14 October 

The Curse of Greed  / Le roman d’un mousse  France 1914 Certificate U

Gaumont, running 1 hour 36 minutes but only 40 minutes in |Britain

A moneylender kidnaps the young son of a rich widow as part of a plot to cheat her of her fortune. The boy is sent away on a fishing boat with the intention of drowning him, but a kindly old fisherman intervenes.

Director Léonce Perret

Stars; Adrien Petit, Maurice Luguet, Louis Leubas

Léonce Perret was a talented film-maker in the teens and early 1920s. he worked briefly in Hollywood but his best work was in France. His early teen comedies are delightful and the longer melodramas very well done.

Enchantment            USA 1921 Certificate U

Cosmopolitan Productions 2,130 metres –  7 reels

The frothy experiences of a vain little flapper. Her father induces an actor friend to become a gentlemanly cave man and the film becomes another variation of the ‘Taming of the Shrew’ theme.

Director Robert G. Vignola

Writers; Frank R. Adams story “Manhandling Ethel”, Luther Reed

Stars; Marion Davies, Forrest Stanley, Edith Shayne

Marion Davies was an important comedienne on stage and then in film. She was recruited to the film industry by magnate William Randolph Hearst and Cosmopolitan Productions was his company. Davies’ later career suffered from alcoholism. Among her fine performances is Show People from 1928.

In Search of a Sinner  USA   1920

Constance Talmadge Film Company 1,672 metres –  5 reels

Living a life of boredom with her angelic first husband, young widow Georgiana Chadbourne begins her “search for a sinner” once her period of mourning ends. While staying at her brother-in-law Jeffrey’s apartment, she meets Jack Garrison in Central Park and, hoping to arouse the devil in him, poses as Jeffrey’s wife. Jack, an old friend of Jeffrey’s, is shocked …

Director David Kirkland

Writers; Charlotte Thompson story, John Emerson scenario, Anita Loos scenario

Stars; Constance Talmadge, Rockliffe Fellowes, Corliss Giles

Constance was one of the three Talmadge sisters, the others being Norma and Natalie. All were successful stars in the period. Anita Loos was another talented women screenwriter. She started out with D. W. Griffith and later worked with Douglas Fairbanks. One of her most famous titles was Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928), remade in 1953 in colour and sound with, famously, Marilyn Monroe.

21 October 

Hound of the Baskervilles             Britain 1921

Stoll Picture Productions 1,676.4 metres / 5,000 feet

Sherlock Holmes comes to the aid of his friend Henry Baskerville, who is under a family curse and menaced by a demonic dog that prowls the bogs near his estate and murders people.

Director Maurice Elvey, cinematographer Germaine Burger, Art Walter Murton

Writers; Arthur Conan Doyle novel “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, William J. Elliott, Dorothy Westlake

Cast: Eille Norwood, Hubert Willis, Catina Campbell, Rex McDougall, Lewis Gilbert

Germaine Burger, along with brother Paul, was from Belgium. Walter Murton was an art director, a craft position that developed in the 1920s. The title was remade in sound versions in 1939 and 1959 and later, including television adaptations.

The National Film Archive has two 35mm prints.

The Sword of Damocles    Britain      1920

British & Colonial Kinematograph Company 1,500 metres / 5,000 feet – 5 reels

A barrister’s letter proves his bride shot her aged husband on learning he was already married.

Director  George Ridgwell

Writer; H. V. Esmond – play “Leonie”, George Ridgwell

Stars; Jose Collins, H. V. Esmond, Claude Fleming

The Love Expert  USA  1920

Constance Talmadge Film Company 1,795 metres – 6 reels

A self-appointed “love expert” tries to play cupid with uneven results.

Director David Kirkland

Writers; John Emerson, Anita Loos

Stars; Constance Talmadge, John Halliday, Arnold Lucy

28 October 

Two Little Wooden Shoes        Britain 1920

Progress 1,623 metres / 3,525 – 6 reels

In France an orphan walks to Paris to visit a sick artist and finds him carousing with a model.

Director Sidney Morgan, cinematographer S. J. Mumford

Writers; Sidney Morgan from novel by Ouida

Stars; Joan Morgan, Langhorn Burton, J. Denton-Thompson

Sydney Morgan ran a small studio at Shoreham. His daughter Joan was his regular leading lady. Stanley Mumford was his regular cameraman; he later worked for the F.H.C. Company.

Garryowen      Britain 1920

Welsh-Pearson 1,798 metres / 5.900 feet – 6 reels

In Ireland, a widower wins the Derby and his daughter’s American governess.

Director;  George Pearson, cinematographer Emile Lauste

Writers  George Pearson from the novel by  Henry De Vere Stacpoole

Stars; Fred Groves, Hugh E. Wright, Moyna MacGill

George Pearson founded Welsh-Pearson with T. A. Welsh during the war and the studio survived until the arrival of sound. Lauste was the cameraman and laboratory technician until 1923.  The first film produced at a new studio at Craven Park. It used art titles including a drawing or photograph.

The Old Country   Britain 1921

Ideal Films 1,524.02 metres / 5,000 feet –  5 reels

A Yankee planter buys a squire’s hall, installs his exiled mother, and learns he is the squire’s son.

Director  A. V. Bramble

Writers; Eliot Stannard from the play by Dion Calthrop

Stars; Gerald McCarthy, Kathleen Vaughan, Haidee Wright

4  November  

The Tidal Wave  Britain 1920

Stoll Picture Productions 1,898 metres –  6 reels

A fisherman saves a girl artist from the sea and falls in love with her.

Director  Sinclair Hill

Writers; Sinclair Hill from the novel by Ethel M. Dell

Stars; Poppy Wyndham, Sydney Seaward, Pardoe Woodman

Why Change Your Wife?    USA 1920 Certification approved

Paramount Pictures 2,186.95 metres –  7 reels

Robert and Beth Gordon are married but share little. He runs into Sally at a cabaret and the Gordons are soon divorced. Just as he gets bored with Sally’s superficiality, Beth strives to improve her looks. The original couple falls in love again at a summer resort.

Director Cecil B. DeMille

Writers; William C. de Mille story,  Olga Printzlau scenario, Sada Cowan scenario

Stars; Thomas Meighan, Gloria Swanson, Bebe Daniels

Cecil B. DeMille was one of the founding fathers of Hollywood studios with The Squaw Man (1914). In the teens he was an important innovator and in the 1920s one of the really popular Hollywood film-makers. This title is a risqué comedy of which he made a series. His epics with strong conservative values were a change of style in his later career.

Scrap Iron       USA   1921

Charles Ray Productions 2,056.5 metres – 7 reels

John Steel is a poor boy with a gentle spirit, but he has a natural gift for fighting. His mother is a strict pacifist, so although he has opportunities to make a career as a boxer, he refuses – until hard times force him to enter the ring despite his mother’s pleas.

Director Charles Ray

Writers; Charles E. van Loan story,  Finis Fox adaptation, Charles Ray scenario

Stars; Charles Ray, Lydia Knott, Vera Steadman

11 November 

The Courage of Marge O’Doone    USA 1920

Vitagraph Company of America 1965 metres – 7 reels

Michael O’Doone, his wife Margaret and daughter Marge are settlers living in the Northwest. One winter day, while on a journey, Michael meets with an accident and fails to return home. Believing that he is dead, Margaret goes into a state of delirium which enables Buck Tavish, a long-time admirer, to carry her away to his cabin. When she finally comes to her senses she flees in search of Michael, leaving Marge behind. Years later, David Raine discovers the photo of a girl and determines to find her. Soon after, he meets Rolland, a man who, because of his unhappy earlier life, is dedicated to helping others. While searching in the wilds, David finally discovers the girl in the picture, Marge O’Doone. He brings her to Rolland’s cabin and it is then that they discover that Rolland is Marge’s father. Miraculously, Margaret is found and the family is reunited. —AFI

Directed by David Smith

Writers; James Oliver Curwood novel, Robert N. Bradbury

Stars; Pauline Starke, Niles Welch,  George Stanley. Jack Curtis

The Woman Who Told

Title not found but there are two contemporary features with similar titles?

The Perfect Woman  USA 1920

Joseph M. Schenk Productions, Distributed by First National Pictures 1800 metres – 6 reels

When Mary Blake applies for the position of personal secretary to misogynist James Stanhope, she is judged too attractive to accomplish the job. Mary returns home, makes herself unattractive and is promptly hired. Stanhope is assisting the government in the arrest of Bolshevists, and one night three revolutionaries enter the house, bind and gag Stanhope and put a time bomb under his chair. Discarding her unattractive disguise, Mary vamps the three into submission, clouts each on the head with a brass statue and saves her boss’s life. Mary’s resourcefulness forces Stanhope to give up his disdain for pretty women, and he proposes to his attractive secretary.—AFI

Directed by David Kirkland

Written by John Emerson, Anita Loos

Produced by Joseph M. Schenck

Stars; Constance Talmadge, Charles Meredith, Elizabeth Garrison

Cinematography Oliver T. Marsh

18 November   

Kipps  The Story of a Simile Soul  Britain 1921

Stoll Pictures 1,887.95 metres / 6,139 feet – 6 reels

A sacked clerk inherits £3,000 a year, tries society, and returns to his working-class sweetheart.

Directed by Harold M. Shaw

Camera Silvano Balboni

Writers; H. G. Wells novel,

Stars; George K. Arthur, Edna Flugrath and Christine Rayner.

One of the few titles of which a print survives in the National Film Archive. The novel was adapted again in 1941, directed by Carol Reed.

Money   Britain 1921

Ideal Film Company 1,371.6 metres / 5.400 feet –  5 reels

A poor bart’s daughter weds a rich secretary but leaves him when he pretends to lose money on the horses.

Directed by Duncan McRae

Writers; Edward ? Bulwer-Lytton play, Eliot Stannard

Stars; Henry Ainley, Faith Bevan and Margot Drake.

Laddie Britain 1920

Famous Pictures Film 1,500 metres / 5,000 feet – 5 reels

A society doctor makes his widowed mother pose as his old nurse.

Directed by Bannister Merwin

Stars; Sydney Fairbrother, C. Jervis Walter, Dorothy Moody

25 November  

A Bachelor Husband   Britain 1920

Astra Films  1.500 metres – 5 reels

Directed by Kenelm Foss

Writers; Ruby M. Ayres, Kenelm Foss

Produced by    H. W. Thompson, Frank E. Spring

Stars; Lyn Harding, Renee Mayer, Hayford Hobbs

It was based on a story by Ruby M. Ayres, originally published in the Daily Mirror.

An inheritor weds stepsister who elopes with cad.

A Diamond Necklace  Britain 1921

Ideal Films 1,798 metres – 6 reels

Directed by Denison Clift

Writers; Guy de Maupassant’s short story ‘La Paurue’,

Stars; Milton Rosmer, Jessie Winter, Sara Sample

A cashier and his wife suffer ten years of poverty to replace a lost necklace before learning it was fake.

The Prince Cap / USA 1920

Famous players Lasky, Distributed by Paramount Pictures 1,800 metres –  6 reels

Directed by William C. de Mille

Writers; Edward Peple play, Olga Printzlau scenario

Stars; Thomas Meighan, Charles Ogle, Kathlyn Williams

An artist in England is torn between an old flame and the now grown up little girl he has adopted.

Director William C. de Mille

Writers; Edward Peple play, Olga Printzlau scenario

2  December  

The Prey of the Dragon        Britain   September 1921

Stoll Pictures  1,718 metres  five reels

Directed by Floyd Martin Thornton

Written by Ethel M. Dell novel, Leslie Howard Gordon

Stars; Harvey Braban, Gladys Jennings, Hal Martin, Victor McLaglen

In Australia a drunkard hires a gang to kill his ex-fiancée’s husband.

Victor McLaglen was a British boxer turned film actor in 1920. In 1925 he was recruited to Hollywood and among his famous titles were a number directed by John Ford.

Lifting Shadows   USA 1920

Léonce Perret productions, Distributed by Pathé Exchange  1,672 metres – 6 reels

Vania, the daughter of Russian revolutionary Serge Ostowski, escapes to America when her father is blown up by one of his own bombs. There she marries Clifford Howard, a drug-ridden man whom she comes to despise. One night while in a drunken rage, Howard attacks her, and Vania shoots and kills him. Her attorney, Hugh Mason, believing her innocent, falls in love with his client. Vania does not tell him the truth for fear of losing his love. Meanwhile, revolutionaries have pursued Vania to America to obtain her father’s papers. In defence, Hugh hires detectives to protect her. One night, a revolutionary breaks into her house and is shot by the detective. Before dying, he confesses that it was he who fired the shot that killed Vania’s husband, thus freeing her to accept Hugh’s love.—AFI

Directed by Léonce Perret, cinematography Alfred Ortlieb

Writers; Henri Ardel, Léonce Perret

Starring Emmy Wehlen, Stuart Holmes, Wyndham Standing

Anti-Bolshevik films were a Hollywood staple after the Revolution. They rarely made any mention  of the US/British invasion which attempted to suppress the revolution. Reactionaries émigrés like Ayn Rand fed into the ant-left hysteria which was helped in the rise of J. Edgar Hoover in the 1920s. The hysteria continued on and off into the period of the blacklist and beyond.

What’s Your Hurry? USA 1920

Distributed by Paramount Pictures for Famous Players Lasky Corp. 5 reels 5,040 feet / 1,536 metres

To win the favour of his sweetheart’s father “Old Pat” MacMurran, race car driver Dusty Rhoades  forsakes the speedway in determination to put over effective publicity for the father’s product, Pakro motor trucks.

Directed by Sam Wood, cinematography Alfred Gilks

Writers; Byron Morgan (scenario), based on ‘The Hippoptamus Parade’ by Byron Morgan

Stars; Wallace Reid, Lois Wilson

9  December    

The Headmaster      Britain  1921

Astra Films 1,675 metres 6 reels

A  clergyman working as the headmaster of a school tries to persuade his daughter to marry the idiotic son of an influential figure in the hope of being promoted to bishop.

Directed by Kenelm Foss

Written by Kenelm Foss Based on ‘The Headmaster’ by Edward Knoblock and Wilfred Coleby

Produced by H. W. Thompson

Stars; Cyril Maude, Margot Drake, Miles Malleson

My Lady’s Garter   USA 1920

Maurice Tourneur Productions, Distributed by Famous Players Lasky Corp. 1.470 metres – 5 reels

A jewelled garter with an interesting history disappears under mysterious circumstances from the British Museum. The Hawk, a criminal who has never been apprehended even though he obligingly leaves many clues for the police to follow, is suspected.

Directed by Maurice Tourneur

Written by Lloyd Lonergan (scenario), Based on My Lady’s Garter by Jacques Futrelle

Produced by Maurice Tourneur, cinematography René Guissart

Stars; Wyndham Standing,  Sylvia Breamer, Holmes Herbert, Warner Richmond

The Jailbird USA 1920

Thomas H. Ince Corporation, Distributed by Paramount Pictures 1,520 metres 5 reels

Shakespeare Clancy, adroit in the art of opening safes, escapes from prison when his term still has six months to run and returns with ‘Skeeter’ Burns (Morrison), a friend who has just finished his sentence, to Dodson, Kansas, where Shakespeare has inherited a run-down newspaper and some worthless real estate.

Directed by Lloyd Ingraham, camera Bert Cann, editor Harry Marker

Screenplay by  Julien Josephson

Stars; Douglas MacLean, Doris May, Louis Morrison, William Courtright, Wilbur Higby, Otto Hoffman

16 December   

A Yankee at the Court of King  Arthur. / A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court USA 1921

Fox Film Corporation 2,527.1 metres  – 8 reels

In 1921, a young man, having read Mark Twain’s classic novel of the same title, dreams that he himself travels to King Arthur’s court, where he has similar adventures and outwits his foes by means of very modern inventions including motorcycles and nitro-glycerine.

There have been a number of film adaptation, a lost silent, sound versions, some with colour and television versions.

Director Emmett J. Flynn

Writers; Mark Twain novel,  Bernard McConville adaptation

Stars Harry Myers, Pauline Starke, Rosemary Theby

All The Winners Britain 1920

  1. B. Samuelson Productions 1,800 metres 6 reels

A woman tries to blackmail a rich trainer into forcing his daughter to marry a thief.

Director Geoffrey Malins

Writer Arthur Applin (novel “Wicked”)

Stars; Owen Nares, Maudie Dunham, Sam Livesey

Malins is most famous for the World War I documentary film The Battle of the Somme, 1916. In 1919 he founded the Garrick Film Company and made a number of features and short films in the 1920s.

The Woman God Changed USA 1921 70 minutes

Cosmopolitan Productions; Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 1,981.8 metres 7 reels

Dancer Anna Janssen, common-law wife of Alastair De Vries, shoots him in a cafe for dallying with a chorus girl. The story opens with Anna’s trial 5 years later, and detective Thomas McCarthy narrates his version of the case.

Directed by Robert G. Vignola, cinematographer Al Liguori

Writers; by Brian Oswald Donn-Byrne, Screenplay by Doty Hobart

Stars; Seena Owen, E. K. Lincoln, Henry Sedley, Lillian Walker, H. Cooper Cliffe, Paul Nicholson

23 December   

Behold My Wife   USA 1920

Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 7 reels

Frank Armour , scion of British aristocracy and of the Hudson’s Bay Company, hears from his former sweetheart of her marriage to a rival. In revenge and to ridicule his family, he marries an Indian princess Lali. Sending her to his family home in England, he then plunges into the Canadian wilderness and into a life of dissolution.

Directed by George Melford, cinematographer Paul P. Perry

Written by Frank Condon (scenario), Based on ‘The Translation of a Savage’ by Sir Gilbert Parker

Stars; Mabel Julienne Scott, Milton Sills

In 1934, the story was filmed again by Paramount as Behold My Wife, directed by Mitchell Leisen and starring Sylvia Sidney and Gene Raymond.

The Turning Point    USA 1920      50 minutes

Katherine MacDonald Pictures Corporation; Distributed by First National Exhibitors Circuit.   6 reels

Upon finding themselves in financial difficulties because of the failure of the Edgerton-Tennant Company, New York socialites Diana and Silvette Tennant decide to work as society hostesses. Also affected by the business failure is James Edgerton, who is in love with Diana. Employed by wealthy E. H. Rivett to stage a fashionable party, Diana encounters Colonel Carew who harasses her with questions about a murder in Reno which has clouded her name. Driven from the party by his questioning, Diana is pursued by Carew to her apartment, followed by Mrs. Wemyss, a widow jealous of Carew’s attentions to the girl. Diana’s good name, her love and honour are at stake until Edgerton comes to her rescue, forcing a full revelation of the Reno affair and thus clearing the path for a union between Diana and her benefactor.—AFI

Directed by J. A. Barry, cinematographer Joseph Brotherton

Based on The Turning Point by Robert W. Chambers

Stars; Katherine MacDonald, Leota Lorraine, Nigel Barrie, William V. Mong, Bartine Burkett,

William Clifford

The Rotters Britain 1921

Ideal Films 1.524 metres / 5,000 feet – 5 reels

Directed by A. V. Bramble

Based on  a play by H. E. Maltby

Stars; Joe Nightingale, Sydney Fairbrother and Sidney Paxton.

A headmistress recognises a married JP as her ex-lover and stops him from sentencing the Mayor’s son. Stanley Holloway’s first film

30 December    

The God of Luck  / Le Dieu du Hazard France 1919

Société Générale des Cinématographes Éclipse, listed as running around 90 minutes

A husband asks his wife to persuade a wealthy young man to invest in a declining company.

Director Henri Pouctal

Writer Fernand Nozière

Stars; Gaby Deslys, Félix Oudart, Georges Tréville

Eclipse was founded in 1906 and produced [among other titles] popular serials. It suffered decline at the end of the First World War along with other French companies.

Ruth of the Rockies   USA 1920

Ruth Roland Serials; Distributed by Pathé Exchange. 9,000 metres 30 reels

In New York City breezy Bab Murphy comes into possession of a trunk with the insignia of the Inner Circle, a gang of crooks, who have their headquarters in Dusty Bend along the Mexican border but also operate in New York. The gang trails the trunk to ownership by Bab and, for it and a jade ring that is mysteriously sent to her, a series of adventures begin as she heads for the Bend.

Directed by George Marshall

Written by Frances Guihan, Based on “Broadway Bab” by Johnston McCulley

Produced by Ruth Roland, camera Al Cawood

Stars; Ruth Roland, Herbert Heyes

15 episodes of which only two survive, Chapter titles: The Mysterious Trunk: The Inner Circle: The Tower of Danger:  Between Two Fires: Double Crossed: The Eagle’s Nest: Troubled Waters: Danger Trails: The Perilous Path: Outlawed: The Fatal Diamond: The Secret Order: The Surprise Attack: The Secret of Regina Island: The Hidden Treasure

Shore Acres   USA 1920

Screen Classics inc. Distributed by Metro Pictures Corporation. 1,823 metres 6 reels

Apparently lost, a period newspaper gives the following description: “Shore Acres is a story of plain New England folk on the rock ribbed coast of Maine. Martin Berry, a stern old lighthouse keeper, forbids his spirited daughter Helen to speak to the man she loves! It is Martin’s fondest hope that Helen will marry Josiah Blake, the village banker. Helen refuses to obey her father, and elopes with her sweetheart on the “Liddy Ann,” a vessel bound down the coast. Her father learns of her departure, and insane with rage, he prevents his brother, Nathaniel, from lighting the beacon that will guide the vessel safely out through the rocks of the harbour. Desperately the two men battle together in the lighthouse—one to save the vessel, the other to destroy her. A sou’easter is raging, and during their struggle the “Liddy Ann” goes on the rocks and the passengers are left to the mercy of the storm. The scene fairly makes the nerves tingle with excitement. What befalls thereafter is thrillingly unfolded in this picturization of the greatest American play of the century. Shore Acres is a big human drama of thrills and heart throbs, replete with delicious humour and tender pathos.”

Directed by Rex Ingram, Maxwell Karger, cinematographer John F. Seitz, editor Grant Whytock

Writers; by Arthur J. Zellner scenario, based on ‘Shore Acres’ by James A. Herne

Star; Alice Lake, Alice Terry uncredited

Director Rex Ingram and Alice Terry first met during the making of the film in 1920. They would eventually marry over a weekend during filming of The Prisoner of Zenda in 1922.[5]

The Audacious Double Event   – There is a British release of a similar title without the ‘audacious’ .

Given this was the New Year period this may have been some sort of special event. There are a couple of earlier films of the same title. The 1914 version was produced by Hepworth and there is a slight overlap in the plot?

The Double Event  Britain 1921

Astra Films five reels

After her father, a country clergyman, loses large sums of money his daughter recoups his losses by becoming the partner of a bookie.

Produced by    H.W. Thompson

Directed by Kenelm Foss

Written by Kenelm Foss, play Sidney Blow and Douglas Hoare

Starring Mary Odette Roy Travers Lionelle Howard

There was a sound version of the play in 1934.

There is also a US title with ‘audacious’.

Always Audacious  USA  1920

Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, Lasky Corp.

Comedy of the mistaken identity of a rich young man and a layabout.

Director: James Cruze

Currently the Picture House retains a single 35mm projector alongside a modern digital projector. They are able ocassionally to screen 35mm prints though the limitations on accessing this format from archives is a restriction .



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Hells Heroes or ‘The Three Godfathers’

Posted by keith1942 on February 27, 2022

The original version of this tale was a short story, “Broncho Billy and the Baby”,  which appeared in The Saturday Evening Post in 1910 and was the basis for an Essanay short film of the same name. The short story  is credited as the basis for Kyne’s later novel ‘The Three Godfathers’ in 1913; an online version is dated 1916 and would seem no longer than the original story. Set in Arizona, the basic plot has a gang of bank robbers stumble on a covered wagon where a dying woman entrusts her baby to their care; thus they become the ‘godfathers’ of the title.

” The Youngest Bad Man had just been the recipient of a serious thought. He hastened to get it off his mind. Boylike he interrupted and rose to a question of information.

“What’s a godfather, Bill? What job does he hold down?”

“You’re an awful ignorant young man, Bob,” replied The Wounded Bad Man reproachfully. “You been raised out in the woods somewheres? A godfather, Bob, is a sort of reserve parent. When a kid is baptized there’s a godfather an’ a godmother present, an’ for an’ on behalf o’ the kid they promise the preacher, just the same as the kid would if he could only talk, to renounce the devil with all his works an’ pomps——”

“What’s his works and pumps?” demanded The Youngest Bad Man.”

“Well—robbin’ banks an’ shootin’ up deputy sheriffs, et cetry, et cetry.”

The drama then follows as the men battle the Colorado Desert and a lack of water to carry the baby to safety. Their destination is the mining town of New Jerusalem. One item the men carry is a bible, found in the wagon. The story is full of religious symbolism from the New Testament and the passion sequences. A burro stands in for the donkey of Palm Sunday and there are several references to the ‘good thief’ of the crucifixion.

The novel has proved a popular source for film adaptations;

Three Godfathers, a 1916 film with Harry Carey

Marked Men,  a 1919 remake of the 1916 film, also starring Harry Carey, considered a lost film

Action, a lost 1921 film

Hell’s Heroes, a 1929 film directed by William Wyler

Hells Heels, a 1930 ‘Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’ animated short directed by Walter Lantz

Three Godfathers, a 1936 film featuring Chester Morris

3 Godfathers, a 1948 film starring John Wayne [Three Godfathers in Britain].

Ice Age, 2002, where a mammoth, a  tiger and sloth rescue a child; but neither the novel nor the earlier films are credited.

Tokyo Godfathers, a 2003 Japanese animated film loosely based on the novel.

I had the pleasure of viewing the 1929 version on 35mm at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in 1994. This was my second visit to the Festival, then still presented in the old 1930s Verdi Theatre. The film appeared in both silent and Movietone sound versions. We viewed the silent version in a 35mm print with English title cards from the George Eastman House. The film had some inspired additions to the novel. Neil Brand provided the piano accompaniment. The climax of the film had additional music in one of the finest cinema experiences that I have enjoyed. In this film version the surviving  Bob [Charles Bickford] staggers into New Jerusalem, carrying the baby; it is Christmas Morning rather than the night of Christmas Eve in the original story. He  collapses in front of the town’s people gathered in the wooden framed church. This sequence was accompanied by a burst from a choir out of the darkness singing ‘Silent Night’.  In the darkness they had gathered in the two small musician’s balconies either side of the proscenium. There was not a dry eye in the theatre. Unfortunately the old Verdi is no more. However Universal Pictures together with The Film Foundation is working on a restoration of the film.

The film notes in the Catalogue comment:

“Poignant camerawork and naive yet effective  symbolism shouldn’t make you overlook the director’s early evidence of Jansenist obsession with falling from grace and the struggle for forgiveness.”

This is based on a article  by Andre Bazin and Bert Cardullo.  Jansenism  rose in the C17th and 18th; it was condemned as heretical by the Roman Catholic Church. The perceived error was an emphasis on ‘justification by faith alone’ rather than the  embracing of God’s grace through free well. In ‘Three Godfathers’ the reader senses that the three bad men are forced, by their encounter with mother and baby, to reveal an innate goodness that overcomes their evil ways. One could see a similar personal development in Wyler’s later masterpiece, The Best Years of their Lives (1946). But the scriptwriters presumably were also responsible in translating the themes of the novel to  film.  Tom Reed and C. Gardner Sullivan were both experienced dramatists for popular film including work for the western genre. The cinematography is fine. It is by George Robinson, a long-time professional with Universal. He started as an actor in 1912 and soon moved behind the camera. He was prolific but mainly worked on comnventional studio productions. He also directed several short films.

The 1948 version, directed by John Ford, is not of the same calibre. The Technicolor cinematography of Winston C Hoch is very fine. The screenplays, by Laurence Stallings and Frank S. Nugent, credits the Kyne novel. However, there are quite few changes from that and they also differ from those in the Wyler version. In particular the ending completely lacks the drama and tragic overtones of the 1929 version. This is partly down to the writing but also to the way that the Wayne persona differs from that of the young Bickford. And whilst the music presents Ford’s particular favourite melodies and songs it does not offer the impact of the live choir of 1994.

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Pandora’s Box / Die Büchse der Pandora, 1929

Posted by keith1942 on January 8, 2022

This is a film classic from Weimar cinema and I was able to revisit it in its original 35mm format as part of the Centenary Celebrations of the Hebden Bridge Picture House.  The film has become memorable for a number of reasons. One is the star, Louise Brooks, who worked in the burgeoning Hollywood studio system but also in Europe; and here film-makers bought out a luminous quality to her screen presence. Brooks was an attractive and vivacious and smart actress; her ‘Lulu in Hollywood’ (1974), recording her experiences in the film world, is a great and informative read. Here she plays a ‘free spirit’ whose charisma has a fatal effect on the men that she meets.

In this film she was working with one of the fine directors of Weimar Cinema. G. W Pabst. Pabst was born in Austria but his major career was in Germany. He was good with actors, especially women; his Joyless Street (Die freudlose Gasse, 1925) features three divas, Asta Neilsen, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. Pabst worked particularly in the ‘street’ film genre and in complex psychological dramas. He was noted for the fluid flow of the editing in his films. Following ‘Pandora’s Box’ Pabst also directed Brooks in the very fine Diary of a Lost Girl / Tagebuch einer Verlorenen, 1929).

One reason for the quality of Pabst’s silent films is the skill and expertise of the craft people working in Weimar Cinema. They led Europe in the quality of their production design and construction; and the development of ‘an unchained camera’ was extremely influential leading to German directors and craft people being recruited to the major Hollywood studios.

The film is an adaptation of an important German play ‘Earth Spirit’ (‘Erdgeist’, 1895) and ‘Pandora’s Box’ (‘Die Büchse der Pandora’, 1904) by Franz Wedekind. There had already been an earlier film adaptation with Asta Neilsen in the role of Lulu (1923); and there is a famous operatic adaptation, ‘Lulu’, by Alban Berg. In the play the character of Lulu is described as “the true animal, the wild, beautiful animal” and the “primal form of woman”.

Brooks, in her chapter on ‘Pabst and Lulu’, records;

“Franz Wedekind’s play Pandora’s Box opens with a prologue. Out of the circus tent steps the Animal Tamer, carrying in his left hand, a whip and in his right hand a loaded revolver. “Walk in” he says to the audience, “Walk into my menagerie”.”

In the play she is an ambiguous character; Pabst and Brooks bring a sense of natural innocence to the character who is much less of a femme fatale than in other versions. Pabst eschews the prologue in the film version but in most ways it is the most faithful adaptation of the original. Wedekind’s play was controversial in its time as was this film adaptation.  The film was censored in many countries including Britain where there was an altered and ludicrous ending. Brooks again comments:

“At the time Wedekind produced Pandora’s Box, in Berlin around the turn of the century, it was detested, condemned, and banned. It was declared to be “Immoral and inartistic”. If in that period when the sacred pleasures of the ruling class were comparatively private, a play exposing them had called out the dogs of law, how much more savage would be the attack upon a film faithful to Wedekind’s text which was made in 1928 in Berlin, where the ruling class publically flaunted its pleasures as symbol of wealth and power.”

Her comment points up the context for the film. The reputation of Berlin in particular was for social and sexual licence.  Brooks describes some of this. The effect on cinema was that, as in this film, writers and directors frequently addressed issues avoided in other cinemas and, again as with Pabst, took an unusually liberal line.

The film opens in Berlin with Lulu’s many male admirers: we have major German film actors, Fritz Kortner as Dr. Ludwig Schön: Francis Lederer as Alwa Schön: Carl Goetz as Schigolch: Krafft-Raschig as Rodrigo Quast: and also Countess Augusta Geschwitz (Alice Roberts). Here one gets a sense of the social whirl of the capital; often seen as decadent from outside.  An important scene is set in the theatre backstage as Lulu prepares for her entrance in an exotic costume. Here we see  admirer and performer Rodrigo. The focal point in the sequence is the stage-manage who constantly rushes to and fro pushing the show along. Pabst, and cinematographer Günther Krampf, under cranked the scene so there is a real sense of frenetic rush. The stage manager’s problems are exacerbated by Lulu, who is Schön’s mistress and jealous of his fiancée, and so suborns the bourgeois and wrecks the engagement.

The film moves to the post-wedding celebration for Schön and Lulu. Lulu is not only the bride but the focus of attention of all the participants. In particular Lulu spends time with Alwa. Schön, by now smitten with regrets and fears, considers suicide but it is Lulu’s hand that fires the fatal shot. The audience do not see the actual act, merely the drifting smoke from the revolver.

Lulu is now brought to trial and she is seen in the dock in her black widow’s weeds. The prosecutor indulges in overblown rhetoric; citing the myth of Pandora in his argument for her guilt. Found guilty Lulu is rescued by a diversion by her friends, including the Countess. He we see a group of lumpenproletarians who effect the rescue; a sign of the low class situation of Lulu and, in particular, Schigolch.

Leaving by train Lulu meets another admirer, Michael von Newlinsky as Marquis Casti-Piani. He suggests a place to hide out; an illegal shipboard gambling den. The ship is another site of frenetic activity; and again Pabst and Krampf use slight under cranking to provide a sense of almost hysteria at the gambling tables. In this sequence both Rodrigo and the Marquis blackmail Lulu for money. The countess accounts for Rodrigo. And Schigolch enables Lulu to flee the ship with Alwa. Here we get a shot of cross-dressing which emphasises the androgynous quality in Brooks’ performance.

Finally the trio end up in the East End of London; a night-time setting full of noir-like shadows. This is end of Lulu’s downward spiral. The grim sequence of events is counter-posed with the activities of the Salvation Army. Wikipedia has a line on the action of the Production Company attempting to address Britain’s censorious cinema culture. In a changed ending Lulu is saved ‘from fates equal to death’ by conversion. I have never seen this version but the British Board of Censors records show that the British release was up to half-an–hour shorter than the German original; [presumably at similar running speeds]..

Pabst clearly bought out an unrealised quality in Brooks’ acting. She records he4r feelings on this;

“When I went to Berlin to film  Pandora’s Box, what an exquisite release, what a revelation of the art of direction, was the Pabst spirit on the set.”

She also records how effectively Pabst worked with Alice Roberts, who was not enamoured with playing  a lesbian character. The performances from all the actors are really fine; notable in that their characters are almost completely unsympathetic. Some of the narrative may appear fanciful and, as with Wedekind’s original, is as much about symbolising society as preventing it realistically; but the narr6iave remains convincing.

The editing of the film is well up to Pabst high standards. The development of characters and plots flow along; and, in what is a slightly long film, maintains interest and development. Pabst also has a discerning eye for the detail of the mise en scene. The theatre sequence is full of interesting action in the back ground to the actions of the key characters. And the ship board sequence is full of fine detail: some of it obviously symbolic like the stuffed crocodile hanging near the ceiling: but also in creating atmosphere in the brief shots of the ship itself, its shadowy appearance suggesting the decadence beneath deck.

Praise is due to the cinematography of Gunter Krampf. He s clearly played an important role in the creation of the visual effect of the film. Brooks records’

“He [Pabst] always came on the set as fresh as a March win d, going directly to the camera to check the setup, after which he turned to his cameraman, Günther Krampf, who was the only person on the film to whom he gave a complete account of the ensuing scene’s action  and meaning.”

This film is rightly now a classic, and like many masterworks, it is as much a collective achievement as an auteur product. It is also rare in that it is not often that such an interesting commentary on the film is provided by one of its key performers. The uninhibited depiction that Brooks notes led to censorship problems across many territories, not just in Britain. Happily in recent decades there have been several restoration which have returned the film to almost its original release length.

Originally running for 133 minutes; the print screened had most of the cuts restored and ran for 130 minutes at 20 fps. It had English rather than German title cards; in plain black and white and in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. I was unsure what the print would be like beforehand as the details held on the print by the BFI are sparse. The projectionist advised me that he had set the lamp higher because of the darkness of so9me sequences. It appeared to have been copied from a second-generation positive print rather than original negatives but the image quality was reasonably good. In fact, I soon recognised the print because there was  a slight warping in the wedding sequence and again later in part of the ship board sequences. It was the same print screened at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in 2007. This was a print restored in 1998 by the Cineteca di Bologna and the Cinémathèque Française; recorded as 3018 metres, whereas the original had been 3255 metres.

It had a live musical accompaniment sponsored by Cinema for All – Yorkshire and performed by Darius Battiwalla. Darius is a fine and experienced accompanist and he provided an accomplished score which match the varied moods of the film.

Posted in German film, Silent Stars | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Alice Guy Blaché at the Kennington Bioscope

Posted by keith1942 on June 20, 2021

Solax – The House Built by Alice Guy Blaché.

June 2nd at 7.30 p.m. and available until June 30th on Kennington Bioscope You Tube Channel.

Women and the Silent Screen’ is a conference held bi-annually in New York City. Number 11 this year was on line between June 4th and June 6th. A series of programmes had papers and discussion on the work and art of women film-makers in early cinema; the central theme this year was ‘Women, Cinema and World Migration’.

Before the Conference there was tribute screening to the important pioneer of early cinema, Alice Guy Blaché and this was made available on the Kennington Bioscope. Alice worked as a secretary at the firm of Gaumont, soon to be come the first major production company in the new cinema industry. She was a pioneer in making short narrative films as the Head of Production at Gaumont between 1896 and 1906.

In 1907 she married Herbert Blaché and the pair moved to the USA to work for Gaumont in that territory. In 1910 she, with partners, formed the Solax Film Company, a production company based first in an ex-Gaumont Studio in New York and then in a new production facility in the film town Fort Lee, near New York. She continued directing and producing films up until 1920.

The programme streaming on the Bioscope offers nine titles from her period at Solax. The titles included present Alice Guy as producer, writer and director. A number of archives have contributed including producing newly digitised versions. As can been seen the surviving information available varies. The Bioscope also  offers musical accompaniments streamed alongside the titles. The programme is in two parts and runs for nearly three hours. Programme notes are provided on the Conference web pages. The streaming includes introduction by the Conference organisers and the Bioscope.

Frozen on Love’s Trail. Directed and produced by Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, USA, 1912). running time: 13:30 minutes. Source Archive: Eye Filmmuseum. Music: Costas Fotopolous.

An early western. The print transfer has Dutch title cards with English sub-titles provided. The alternative Dutch title was

‘Self-sacrifice of a redskin’.

Mary is the daughter of the commander of a military fort. Set in winter, one day she is given a lift into the fort by an Indian courier delivering mail with a four dog team. Clearly smitten the Indian offers  Mary a necklace but when an officer, Captain Black, intervenes she is shamed into throwing the necklace away. Later the Indian is sent with important mail over a difficult mountain route. Out riding, Mary has fallen from her horse and is found unconscious by the Indian. He wraps Mary in his great winter coat, straps her to the sledge and staggers in the cold back towards the fort. Overcome, he sends the dogs on with the sledge and Mary to the fort. A search party discovers her and the dogs; and later, the body of the dead Indian. Remorsefully Mary searches and finds the necklace she threw away; the final shot.

This film was shot during a snow storm in the environs of Fort Lee. The use of the exteriors is impressive; especially in a sequence as the Indian staggers across a bleak and snow covered landscape. The cinematography is predominately in mid-height long shot. There are a couple of camera movements during the rescue but these are like adjustments rather than proper pans. The print does have some flaws due to deterioration over the years. Whilst the European migrant characters have names, the Native-American is only ‘Indian’ [or ‘redskin’]. However, as is common in early western produced in eastern studios  the representation of the Native-American is far more sympathetic than in the later Hollywood examples of the genre. However, it is nearly always the case that a Native American sacrifices for a European and does not really posses proper autonomy as a character. The character was apparently played by a European actor, Bud Buster, with added make-up. One review describes the character as a ‘half-breed’, which fits the look on screen.

The Native American does come off better than the dogs. Their intelligent completion of the rescue does not seem to have been lauded by characters in the film; nor by reviewers later.

Two Little Rangers. Directed and produced by Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, USA, 1912). running time: 14 minutes: one reel, 300 metres. Source Archive: Eye Filmmuseum. Music: Andrew E. Simpson. The transfer had Dutch title cards with English sub-titles provided.

This is an action packed western with a fairly complicated plot. The film opens in the postmaster’s store where ‘Wild Bill’ Grey overhears information about a gold shipment. The postmaster’s two daughters note Bill’s interest with suspicion. Back at his cabin Bill is revealed as a wife beater, interrupted in his violence by ‘kindly Jim’. This motivates Bill to seek revenge.

When the postmaster sets out with the gold for the station he is accompanied by Jim and followed by Bill. The actions of the last are closely watched by the youngest daughter. Bill finds the postmaster alone and after a struggle pushes him over a steep cliff. Bill plants Jim’s knife at the scene and the  latter is arrested though innocent. However, the daughters suspicions lead to them following Bill and the older daughter finding and rescuing her injured father. Bill is pursued and wounded. Back at the store he confesses to the robbery and is forgiven by both the postmaster and Jim; he shakes hands with each in turn and then expires.

This is a really dramatic title and the the intensity is increased by the frequent use of close-ups, both revealing the emotions of the characters and showing important detail such as the knife or a clue of a piece of a torn shirt. The exteriors are impressive including the well-known Cliffhanger Point,  a sheer cliff overlooking the Hudson River. The acting is at times over-emphatic with Bill and the younger daughter in particular using melodramatic stances. The older daughter is played by a regular leading player with Solax, Vinnie Burns. She was noted for her stunt work and the rescue of the postmaster, involving a lasso down Cliffhanger Point is impressive.

This is the earliest example that I have seen of domestic violence in a plot. Countering the victim-hood of the wife is the dynamic actions of the daughters. They are smarter than the male posse when Bill flees justice. In the chase and fight with Bill the girls let off volleys of shots from six-guns and then set fire to the cabin in which he hides.

The tinting in the film survives including that of red when the cabin takes fire.

The Strike. Directed and produced by Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, USA, 1912). running time: 11:10 minutes. Source Archive: BFI.  Music: Lillian Henley. Film Length 296.25 m (1 reel) (USA)

Set in a factory the lead character is Jack Smith, a union organiser. At the start of the film he is presented speaking powerfully to a meeting of the workers. He is supported by another character, not a factory worker, and labelled ‘Agitator. Jack visits the employer who dismisses the unspecified demands of the men. A meeting of workers outside is stirred up by the agitator and they stone the factory windows and then go on strike. A small committee of workers, at the instigation of the Agitator, plan to plant a bomb at the factory ‘at midnight’. Jack reluctantly draws the short straw.

Later we see him at home with his wife and daughter (Magda Foy). He conceals the bomb in a desk drawer and then leaves with the Agitator for a meeting. The Agitator carelessly flicks his cigarette end, missing the waste basket and a fire starts. At the meeting Jack addresses the workers. At home the wife puts the daughter to bed and then discovers they are both trapped in the bedroom by the fire. She is able to phone Jack with a telephone in the bedroom; a split screen shot. He leaves the meeting and races home. He is passed by his employer who drives him to his house and together they carry the wife and daughter to safety. The assumed explosion of the bomb is off-screen.

Next day, dressed in her Sunday best, the daughter brings a message to the employer from Jack.

“We’ve had enough of strike …… so let the whistle blow.’

The employer calls a clerk who is sent to sound the whistle. The employer leaves with the daughter, presumably to see Jack. The final shot is a close-up of the sounding whistle at the factory.

A ‘labour problem’ drama. Solax marketed it as “a big labor problem play, showing the human side of the employer,” Intriguingly there is an Australian film of the same title in the same year.

This is clearly a pro-capitalist and anti-worker property; likely reflecting that Solax itself was an example of commodity production and labour extraction. The pre-war years were a time of intense conflict between labour and capital. But the majority of violence was organised by the employer class, using vigilantes and the police in attempts to drive working class resistance away. Weighed in the Balance from the 1916 ‘Who’s Guilty?’ series has a rather different plotting of such violence.

In this version the workers, including Jack, are presented as suborned by an outside agitator; a trope that has had  a long life in mainstream film and on television.

The film offers a series of short scenes, both interiors and exteriors. The camera is predominately in long shot and mid-shot. Jack in particular is given to melodramatic gestures.There is tinting but, for example, the red at the fire sequence seems very muted.

A Man’s a Man. Directed and produced by Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, USA, 1912). running time: 9.5 minutes, 300 metres.. Source Archive: GEM. Music: Andrew E. Simpson. A drama of social justice.

There are two men in this melodrama; a Jewish pedlar and a rich gentile ‘Joy Rider’. The latter carelessly knocks over the pedlar’s tray of goods and then runs down the pedlar’s daughter who is playing with other children in the street. In what is an immigrant urban area a mob gathers and proposes to lynch the Joy Rider. He seeks refuge in the rooms of the pedlar, whilst the daughter lies dying in the next room. Showing great humanity, the pedlar hides the Joy Rider and deflects the mob when they appear. Now the daughter has died and the pedlar sends the Joy Rider away, refusing his offer of money. A year later the two meet at the grave of the daughter. The now penitent rich gentile carries a bouquet for the grave.

There are other film versions of the basic plot; but the ethnic dimension adds interest to the film. The characters are to a degree stereotypical in their representation. The conflict and the emotions are rendered in stark opposition. The tinting of the film survives. The final shot seems cut off and too short for full impact.

Starting Something. Directed and produced by Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, USA, 1911). running time: 10:30 minutes, 300 metres. Source Archive: Library of Congress/Lobster Films Collection. Music: John Sweeney. A suffragette comedy.

This is a knockabout farce and the suffragette theme is more a plot device than a central focus. The opening scene is missing but explanatory titles inform us that Jones and his wife indulge in cross-dressing. The situation is exacerbated by Auntie; clearly the suffragette character dressed in masculine wear. She also suggests to the wife that Jones needs mental treatment with hypnotism. A suggestion of poison leads to chaos involving Jones, Auntie, a servant, a policeman and, finally, the wife.

Pathé Frères appear to have borrowed heavily from the plot in a film of the the same title in 1913. And the Solax production likely borrowed plot from an earlier Gaumont title directed by Guy in France; The Consequences of Feminism / Les résultats du féminisme (1906) and running only seven minutes. It seems that both films feature the same male lead, unidentified. This probably also explains the knockabout quality; the film feels like an earlier slapstick comedy. The production was shot at the Gaumont Flushing studio in Queen’s Borough; before the move to Fort Lee.

Part 2.

The latter title and the final four titles were all provided by the Library of Congress. And at the start of the second part there is a short video presentation by staff there. This includes the archive at Culpeper in the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills. The staff talked about preserving and restoring Alice Guy titles. And there is footage of the digital equipment and processes involved in transferring titles for on line use.

The Sewer. Directed by Edward Warren (Solax, USA, 1912). Produced with scenario by Alice Guy Blaché. Set design by Henri Ménessier. Running time: 18:40 minutes. Source Archive: Library of Congress. Music: John Sweeney. A crime drama.

Edward Warren was a US actor and director who started out with Solax and made films between 1912 and 1920. Henri Ménessier worked for Gaumont in France and then was sent to the US studio. He later worked with French film-makers in the USA, Albert Capellani and Léonce Perret. The notes on this title refer to its high production standards, quoting a US review:

“Every foot of the film brings a new thrill. In the long weeks of preparation, real sewers, manholes, rats, traps, switches, pulleys, divers and dens, mannikins and other contraptions used in the underworld, were gotten together with utmost care and attention to detail.”

Unfortunately the surviving print has suffered some serious deterioration and there are missing sequences described in this restoration by titles.

The film opens with wealthy philanthropists Mr and Mrs Stanhope distributing largesse to the needy at their home. They are visited by Herbert Moore who pretends to be a charity official but who is really a member of a criminal gang. We next see the gang at their hideout. They are teaching to young boys to pick pockets. This scene and a subsequent burglary are clearly modelled on Charles Dickens’ novel ‘Oliver Twist’; and the key young boy is called Oliver [Magda Foy playing a male part].

When the gang attempt to burgle the Stanhope’s Oliver is caught by the husband. However, moved by pity at this state he lets Oliver go. Back at the hideout the gang develop another plan which is overheard by Oliver.

When Mr Stanhope calls he is quickly seized and tied up. Then he is forced to sign a cheque for the gang and dropped by a trapdoor into a basement cell. But Oliver has secreted a note in his pocket with a key to a hidden door. He has also included a coin, made up as a mini-saw which Stanhope found on him in the earlier burglary.

Stanhope now has to escape via ‘the sewer’ of the title. This is an impressive sequence and, fortunately, there is no deterioration in the image. Menessier’s design captures the dank gloom and almost noir quality as Stanhope struggles through the underground passages. The gang are seized and the Stanhopes adopt the two boys.

Cousins of Sherlocko. Directed and produced by Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, USA, 1913). running time: 12 minutes. Source Archive: Library Of Congress. Music: Colin Sell.

Mistaken identity leads to a criminal investigation.

This comedy involves cross-dressing; an action that was extremely popular in earlier comedies. A newspaper headlines informs the viewers that

‘Jim Spike is on the job again’.

When Fraunie sees the accompanying photograph he realises that he and Spike look similar. Shrugging of the issue he visits his girlfriend Sallie. But her father, having seen the article, throws Fraunie/Spike out of the house. The story now runs in parallel. In one Fraunie is seen and pursued by detective Sherlocko and his partner who mistake him for Spike. To avoid them Fraunie and his friend Dick dress as women. The film makes great play with the consequences including Sherlocko and partner making advances. Meanwhile Sallie, on a city ferry, encounters Spike himself. She temps him into attempting to rob  her and she is able to have in arrested. All the characters come together at a police station where confusion continues until Sallie explains who is who.

A rather knock about comedy. Out heroine Sallie is clearly smarter and more able than than the assembled males.

The Detective’s Dog. Produced by Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, USA, 1912). running time: 11:30 minutes, one reel of 300 metres. Source Archive: Library Of Congress. Music: Meg Morley.

One for Canine fans. Both the opening and closing scenes are missing and explained in on-screen titles. There is also some deterioration, as shown above, but only for a few shots.

Detective Harper’s daughter, (Magda Foy again), brings home a canine waif. She is so attached to this large Bernese Mountain Dog that the parents allow him to stay. Meanwhile the detective is on the trail of a gang of counterfeiters who both threaten storekeepers as well as passing fake bills. Not the brightest member of the Force Harper is trapped in the gangs basement workshop. In a trope found in other silent dramas and still on the go in the Bond era, Harper is tied to a plank inching towards a whirling circular saw. Meanwhile, Harper’s wife is worried a by his absence. The unnamed canine hero is given a coat of Harper to sniff. He sets off and soon finds Harper dangerously close to the saw but helps him break free. We learn the gang are captured and the dog is celebrated by the family.

Our canine hero offers a performance of restraint in the family home but is far more active in the rescue sequence. He is possibly the same dog as Pathé’s 1911 Fidèle / Fidelity but that was made in France by Léonce Perret. Did someone migrate with their companion or was this a relative in the New World?

Greater Love Hath No Man. Directed and produced by Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, USA, 1911). running time: 15:20 minutes. Source Archive: Library Of Congress. Music: John Sweeney. 1 reel, 300 metres; without tinting. There is a 1915 film of five reels with the same title credited to Herbert Blaché; it looks like a mining drama.

This title is a western romance. Set in a mining town in New Mexico. Jake is smitten with the camp flower, Florence [Vinnie Jones]. We see them both in the town saloon as the mail arrives. There is news of a news superintendent for the mining. When he, Harry, arrives Florence is immediately smitten with him; poor Jake is spurned. The superintendent weighs the gold bought by the miners and pays out the value. Some Mexican miners, only identifiable as such from the title card, dispute his valuation. But he forces compliance at gun point. Meanwhile Jake sees the couple in a leafy spot embracing; he is distraught and leans against a tree as he cries. Harry and Florence also meet in the superintendent office. Thus they are caught together when the Mexicans attack the office. Helped by Jake they flee the mob. However, there is only one horse and Jake offers to hold off the mob whilst Harry and Florence ride for help. They find a troop of US cavalry. But Jake is out-gunned by the Mexicans and when they return he dies in Florence arms.

The film will have been shot at the Flushing Studio in New York. The interiors, especially the saloon, are well done. It is not clear where the exteriors were shot but they are very well done. The sequence where Jake watches the couple uses trees and greenery to good effect. And the clearing where we watch the gunfight as Jake holds off the Mexican mob is well done and really exciting.

The Solax Studio in Fort Lee

These early films have few credits. So the researchers have identified Alice Guy’s contributions as writer, director and, often, producer. Some of the cast are known and there seems to have been a stock company of faces including regular leading players like Vinnie Burns and regular character actors like the child Magda Foy. There is little information regarding the craft personnel. It seems that Herbert Blaché acted as production manager and cinematographer for the majority of these titles. One other craft person known is Henri Ménessier who was the set designer on many of these films. He had worked with Guy in France at Gaumont and was sent across the Atlantic  to the Flushing Studio; then moving with Guy to the Solax studio at Fort Lee. Clara Auclair discussed his work in one of the presentations at the Conference. She noted that he had a tendency to include alternative spaces alongside the central setting; allowing for particular plot developments. So in The Sewer we see young Oliver in an alcove listening as the gang plan their assault on Stanhope. This is crucial in allowing Oliver to assist Stanhope to escape the clutches of the gang and the final happy resolution.

The Conference organisers plan to make the presentations available date. This will provide an interesting and informative commentary to these fascinating early films. You can get a sense of this; full details on the Conference and screened titles and programme notes are on the web pages. The whole event is a welcome opportunity, especially during  a lock down where we are all missing cinema.

Posted in Archival compilations, US pioneers | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

William Friese-Greene at the Bioscope

Posted by keith1942 on May 4, 2021

Kennington Bioscope on line on You Tube

[Note, the first 50 seconds are a blank screen with no sound then the opening credits appear.]

May 5th is one hundred years since the death of this British film inventor and pioneer. The Kennington Bioscope is streaming a discussion on his life and work by three researcher/historians; Ian Christie: Peter Domankiewicz: Stephen Herbert; ‘Back in focus: The Centenary of William Friese-Greene’.

Friese-Greene was one of  a number of people in the 1880s experimenting on techniques to produce the illusion of a moving image from projected photographic film. He produced several working cameras between 1888 and 1891 and issued a patent for these. However, like some of the other inventor, he was not successful in projecting these images in a public showing; it was the Lumière Brothers success in this that made their work historic.

Friese-Greene ran a successful photographic portrait studio but his main interests were his experiments and the costs of his work on moving images led to bankruptcy. In the early 1900 he then experimented with early colour film. One of these, Biocolour, was projected successfully but it was eclipsed by other examples; it suffered from heavy flicker and colour fringing. Examples of his early films are available on You Tube, including a refurbished version of ‘The Open Road’, shot by his son Claude using his father’s system.

Friese-Greene‘s last public appearance was attending and speaking at a meeting of members of the British Film industry. Ironically he collapsed at the meeting and died.

He was for a long time a forgotten figure. The film biopic,The Magic Box, produced in 1951 was planned  to accompany the Festival of Britain in that year.The film was produced by Festival Film Productions, partly funded by the National Film Finance Corporation with contributions from all the major British production companies either for free or at cost. The script was by Eric Ambler based on a book by Ray Allister and directed by John Boulting. The film was shot in Technicolor, at that time reserved for prestige production in Britain. The technical side and the casting benefited from the varied contributing companies. There is is excellent colour cinematography by Jack Cardiff, fine production design by John Bryan and excellent costume design  by Julia Squire.

The cast list is immense, with dozens of cameos from successful British film actors. In fact, it is possibly easier to spot who is missing than list all those who appear.

Despite or possible because of this approach the film was a failure. The film has an odd script and despite a fine performance by Robert Donat as Friese-Greene the film lacks dramatic development. The opening credits appear over a stone slab successive names of an interesting selection of film pioneers:

Thomas Alva Edison – whose employee W. K. Dickson developed a working camera.

Etienne Jules Marey – a French pioneer who developed a photographic ‘gun’ taking multiple images.

Louis le Prince – a French pioneer working in Leeds who developed a camera and possibly a projector

Louis Lumière ave son frère. – the famous organisers of a public projection in December 1895

And then Friese-Greene himself is inscribed on the slab for the closing credits; as with his grave which offers ‘the inventor of kinematography’.

The film’s script is structured around two flashbacks. At the opening we see Friese-Greene, on his way to a meeting of the British Film industry at The Connaught Rooms in London, visiting his second wife, now separated.. The visits motivates a flashback by his wife. She remembers the evening of their first meeting, following a visit to an early fairground cinématographe projection featuring Lumiére titles. Then, with friends, she is taken to Friese-Greene workshop where he demonstrates his early work exploring colour film. Most of the flashback concerns the travail of the family as Friese-Greene encounters increasing problems of debt.

After the first flashback see Friese-Greene arrive at the Industry meetings. A phrase by a speaker motivates a longer flashback. Friese-Greene remembers his courtship of his first wife and his early career in a photographic portrait studio.

His growing interest in the possibility of projecting moving images involves increased experimental work but also an increasing debt burden. Much of this concerns his work with the newly developed celluloid, a crucial technology for film projection. In an  undated sequence we see him successfully project moving images; at about ten frames a second with a pronounced flicker. He rushes into the street and finds  a policeman to whom he can demonstrate his invention; a cameo by Lawrence Olivier.

We then see the affect of his debt and bankruptcy on his family; his wife died young. But the projection sequence appears as a climax of the flashback. We return to the meeting where Friese-Greene makes an impassioned plea to the uncomprehending meeting. Shortly afterwards he collapses and dies.

The film’s focus is the travails of his career. The sequences showing his experiments are brief. That depicting colour does not give much sense of the technology but that showing his working camera and projector does give a greater sense of its operation. There are some dates, such as the Industry meeting, but others, like the success with projecting his film,or his work on colour film, is curiously undated.

Brian Coe in  ‘The History of Movie Photography’ (Eastview Editions, 1981) is sceptical of the claims put forward in the film. He questions whether the machine described in Friese-Greene’s patents actually projected at the required frame rate of 16; and he reckons that the inventor only used celluloid after its use in the Edison workshops. Friese-Greene’s Biocolour system has more credence but fell foul of a patent suit by Charles Urban for his Kinemacolor.

Michael Chanan in ‘The Dream that Kicks The Prehistory and Early years of Cinema in Britain’ (1980) has several pages on Friese-Greene in his chapters on patents. He writes that the inventor probably did develop some form of celluloid which he used in his 1889 camera. Chanan also notes that the patent is jointly in the name of Friese-Greene and an engineer Mortimer Evans. However the frame rate of around ten per second would not have produced a viewable moving image.

There is more on Peter Domankiewicz’s Blog ‘William Friese-Greene & me’. Happily it also includes posts on another pioneer in Britain, Louis le Prince. The Bioscope presentation will likely shed more light on Friese-Greene and his contribution to cinema history.

The KB seminar addressed both Friese-Greene’s biography, his technical achievements and the ups and downs of his reputation. It was introduced by Nicholas Hiley, a trustee of the Cinema Museum where the Bioscope is based. He noted that they were not able to show actual clips from The Magic Box as screening these on You Tube would be a breach of copyright. There is a real irony in this. Friese-Greene’s financial problems stemmed in part from legal disputes over patents. Copyright is a form of patent and after dying in poverty Friese-Greene’s work is now protected for profits be other capitalists. The irony was not remarked on.

The first presentation was by Peter Domankiewicz who is researching Friese-Greene’s life and work. He provided an overview of the inventor and addressed the ‘problem’; the two very different assessments of his achievements. Peter talked about his life, with illustrations, images of replicas of his cameras, and some digital versions of the film that he did make.

Running successful photographic studios Friese-Greene worked with a John  Rudge in 1881; the latter having a lantern projector with a primitive shutter mechanism. By 1885 they had a four lens lantern which created a form of moving image. In 1889 Friese-Greene took out a patent for a single lens camera which ran at about ten frames per second and included pinholes on early celluloid as the film strip.  This was earlier than the use of celluloid by Thomas Edison’s employee, W. K. Dickson. Friese-Greene went on to take out a patent for a stereoscopic camera and then for early colour film stock. But his cameras all seem to have operated about ten fps, slower than the minimum of 14 fps which produces the illusion of movement.

Replica camera

Peter did talk about the irony of the obscurity in which Friese-Greene lived at the time of his death which was then overturned and led to his funeral being a large public event and a continuing reputation as  a key inventor in the development of what became cinema.

Steve Herbert talked about the technical aspects of Friese-Greeene’s inventions. Steve was involved in 2000 in the ‘race to cinema‘ project. Their website contains illustrations and information about the replicas, including two by Friese-Greene and also one by the Leeds-based inventor Louis le Prince. Steve presented some of these replicas in stills and short moving image sequences. He pointed out that the patents involved associate engineers; for the single lens camera Mortimer Evans. He commented on the frame rates of Friese-Greene’s camera, only 10 fps or less. And he made a general point about the early inventions that one lacunae was the absence of a sprocket system. This was the contribution of W. K. Dickson and the Lumiere Brothers, the latter developing  a combined camera/ projector. Steve will be posting a fuller discussion of this issue on his webpage, The Optilogue.

Steve also recounted an odd little tale. For the production of The Magic Box replicas were made of both Friese-Greene’s monoscopic camera [single lens] and his stereoscopic camera [dual lens camera] but that the one used in the famous sequence where Robert Donat as Friese-Greene demonstrates his moving image to a Police Constable is the stereoscopic camera.

Steve concluded on the claim in Roy Allister 1948 book ‘Friese-Greene: close-up of an inventor’ , labeling him ‘the father of film’. But the mechanisms only reached 10 fps and were limited to cameras rather than projectors.

Ian Christie addressed the ‘afterlife of Friese-Greene; the ups and downs of his reputation. In the years after his death, at least in Britain, he enjoyed the status as a key inventor in the development of cinema. The Magic Box was the culmination of this viewpoint. In Britain the release of the film was seen  as a major event; even though it did not do well at the box office. However, in the USA the film was described in one review as a ‘perversion of history’; the general view was that the British were inflating Friese-Greene’s importance.

Ian commented on how critical publications on the inventor undermined his status in Britain. Brian Coe, a prestigious critic because of his position at the Kodak’s George Eastman Museum, was damning in his comments. Michael Chanan offered a more balanced view. And John Barnes, author of ‘The Beginnings of Cinema in England, 1894 – 1901’, regarded Friese-Greene as having little relevance.

Ian also explained about a particular confusion in the film biopic. The famous sequence is where Donat, playing the inventor, demonstrates his camera/projector to a police constable. However, this conflates Friese-Greene’s work with an incident from the work of another British pioneer, R. W. Paul. Ian has written on Paul and the incident in question is illustrated in a graphic novel about Paul. He traced some of the mistaken writings that led to this confusion.

Ian ended with a quotation by Henry Hopwood in 1899;

“there never was an inventor of Living Pictures” (‘Living Pictures’).

This was a general view in which the three speakers concurred in the final Q&A with Nicholas Hiley. In times past there was an emphasis on the successful inventor/s who produced key technological developments. Nowadays there is a more general interest in the variety of contributions which led to a particular form of moving images.

Readers can check out the various sites indicated above and both Peter Domankiewicz and Steve Herbert will be adding more contributions to out understanding of Friese-Greene and the context in which he worked. And Ian Christie has published a major work on R. W. Paul, described on his web site.

Note; The Magic Box is a title that screens on ‘Talking Pictures’ [Freeview 81] and is on today, May 28th, at 6 p.m.

Posted in UK pioneers | 3 Comments »

The Golden Age of Méxican Cinema: A Prelude

Posted by keith1942 on February 22, 2021

This is a streaming programme available on several platforms including You Tube.

It is provided by Filmoteca UNAM which is an annexe based in London offering ‘A Centre for Méxican Studies’ on behalf of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Their home web page gives information on their variety of services and studies. This programme is titled;

‘The Golden Age of Méxican Cinema. A Prelude.’

This ‘golden age’ is generally considered to have run from 1930 into the 1950s. This was a period on increased production, high production values, and films made by distinguished directors and craft people. This ‘prelude offered six titles from both the preceding decades and the 1930s; this included titles from both silent and sound cinema. The titles were streamed on Tuesdays from February 16th and then weekly; at the moment all the titles remain available on YouTube. I assume that they are available beyond the bound of Britain. Search under ‘UNAM UK’ and you can scroll horizontally along a listing; the titles all have the publicity frame above.

Titles should have English sub-titles for the Spanish title cards. I viewed the first title on You Tube; note there is an earlier version on this platform which does not have sub-titles. And there are panels and similar in the early frames which seem to be cross-feeds from the other platforms.

16 Feb: Tepeyac. México, 1917 – Silent Film

Directors: Carlos E. Gonzáles, José Manuel Ramos y Fernando Sáyago.

This is a drama set round the myth of an apparition by the Virgin Mary to an indigenous Indian in the 16th century. Tepeyac [Tepeyacac] is close to Mexico City. In the Aztec culture it was the site of a temple to an Aztec Goddess Tomantzin. By the 1520s the Spanish had succeeded in overthrowing the dominant Aztec society and introducing colonial control and exploitation of the lands and peoples. Conveniently in 1531 an Indian, Juan Diego, who had converted to the Spanish catholic religion claimed to encounter an apparition of the virgin Mary on Tepeyac hill. She asked that a shrine be erected at this spot to her. The Spanish authorities were sceptical when Juan Diego reported this to the bishop. However, when he produced a miraculous image of the Virgin they were convinced. So a Basilica was erected at Tepeyac with the shrine known as Our Lady Of Guadalupe. Guadalupe is the name of the local villa, now a suburb of the city. I wondered if the use of Guadalupe rather than Tepeyac was because the latter had associations with a Aztec goddess. The conversion of the Indians and such a myth were instrumental in increasing the hegemony of the Spanish in Mexico.

The title opens with information about the digital restoration of the film in 2016. Title cards briefly refer to the ‘tradition’ of this apparition and its importance in Mexican culture. Then, in a common trope of the period, we are introduced to the cast and their characters. The film has two story lines. Initially we meet Carlos and his girlfriend Lupita. Carlos is sent on a mission to war torn Europe. Lupita gives him medallion of the Virgin for safe keeping. He travels by train to Vera Cruz and takes a steamship to New York. Then Lupita reads of the sinking of an Atlantic liner by a German submarine. She is distraught for Carlos’ safety; unable to sleep she reads an old history book which contains the legend of the Virgin of Tepeyac. This motivates a flashback to the early years of the Spanish domination. We see Aztec Indians secretly worshiping the Goddess Tomantzin. And two Indians assault a Conquistador. Armed Conquistadors invade the Indian temple but a Friar intervenes and, as the Conquistador watch, inveigles the Indians into converting to Catholicism.

Then, in a long sequence, we see the events of Juan Diego’s apparition and his efforts to persuade the Spanish prelates to build a Basilica on Tepeyac. He is assisted by a miraculous image and the cure of a sick relative.

Returning to the present Lupita receives a telegram from Carlos in New York, ‘safe’. Later he returns and the couple go to the Guadalupe shrine on the anniversary of the apparition in December.

The title is in black and white; I wondered if the original had some tinting, possibly for night scenes. The cinematography is in long shots; at several points the camera moves closer to the protagonists but still effectively long shots. The film concludes with a slow pan across the basilica and the city below.

The film valorises the myth but also does give attention to the Indian culture. At various points the subject of the apparition is referred to as:

‘Mexican tradition: ‘Virgin of Tepeyac: Virgin of Guadalupe’: Mexican Virgin’.

And we do see an example of the Indian resistance to Spanish colonialism. However, the friars, whilst sympathetic to the Indians are still in the service of colonialism and they are valorised. There is a limited criticism in the presentation of the Spanish. And a title card notes that the Spaniards changed

‘Santa María Tequatlanspeah’ to ‘Santa María de Guadalupe’

And another title card referenced the 1910 revolution which ushered in the existing government and social forms.

Lupita, Carlos and Lupita’s mother all subscribe to the myth. However, since Carlos is on a steamship to New York rather than crossing the Atlantic Lupita’s medallion is not required to demonstrate any efficacy. And when the couple visit the Basilica we see them in the nearby fair where the relics and souvenirs of the shrine are just commodities; [ an unwitting criticism].

The restoration work has been well done and the images and title cards are pretty good. Note, the English sub-titles are laid across the title cards reducing the clarity of both.

The title has an accompaniment by José María Serralde Ruiz at the piano with Valeria Palomina and Martin Diaz Velez on woodwind.

El Tren Fantasma. México, 1926 – Silent Film

Dir. Gabriel García Moreno.

This is the second silent in the Mexican title season. It is an action drama set on the Ferrocaril-Mexicano line in Orizaba Province, close to Vera Cruz. A railway engineer is sent to Orizaba to investigate ‘irregularities’. He arrives and is met by the rail dispatcher Don Tomas and his daughter Elena. She is accompanied by Paco. Adolfo and Paco become rivals for Elena’s affections. Adolfo’s investigations soon involve him in tracking down the bandit gang behind recent robberies. In fact Paco, known as “Ruby”, is the leader of the gang and already has a moll, Carmela. Predictably Paco and Carmela, she undeservedly so, meet untimely ends.

The plot is fairly basic and the film relies on dramatic action. Great use is made of the rail-road and its engines. There are dramatic sequences, chases and fights on engines and tenders. The action is padded out with ethnic cultural actions. There are several scenes involving lassos. And during the first visit to the bandit den we watch as they indulge in dances, rumbas and jarabes; [traditional Spanish song forms involving dancing]. There is long sequence set in a bull-fighting arena as Paco attempts to display his courage and skill.

The cinematography by mainly uses long shots and mid-shots, though there are several close-up for dramatic detail. The camera is mobile; there are frequent high angle shots, presumably from buildings and possibly platforms or cranes. This is especially so in a fine sequence of a chase in a disused rail works with the actors climbing over a n array of buildings, walls and machinery. At least one of the bandit members is played by an actor with acrobatic skills.

The film also uses moving cameras, frequently placed on an engine or tender or following along rail tracks. This is well done and the actors have some fairly dramatic stunts and actions. And the film uses superimpositions; one very effective one shows Paco watching his rival with Elena, sitting by a pool, and the image in his mind of her superimposed. And the film ends on an iris of the couple. The film effectively combines actuality footage with staged scenes and sequences. The editing of this is sharp and precise. I could not find a credit or listing for an editor on the film; it may have been the director or cinematographer.

And there is a very sprightly accompaniment with José María Serralde on piano: Omar Álvarez on violin: and Roberto Zerquere on percussion.

The restoration in 2002 had to work on a print with many problems and none of the original title cards. There was also missing footage. In this digital version a sequence before the climax is reconstructed using still and titles. I think there are probably other short lengths of missing footage but the overall narrative works and the new title cards provide the necessary information.

El Puño de Hierro. México, 1927 – Silent Film

Dir. Gabriel García Moreno.

This is a later film by the same director and cinematographer as El tren fantasma. The plot shares the melodramatic aspects of the earlier film  but the central theme appears to be moral and educational. This is a expose and riposte to the drug taking habit and the criminal underworld in which it operates. The basic plot of the film is illustrated in a effective title frame which shows a trio in the grip of a hand as a hypodermic enters the forearm.

The key characters include Carlos, a young man drawn into indulging in morphine. Laura is his girlfriend and lives on a fairly large ranch. Antonio is a foreman on a nearby ranch but is also leader of a criminal gang, ‘The Bats’. Whilst the gang have committed a series of robberies they draw the line at drug taking. Pete is also a worker at the Two Diamonds ranch and his friend is a kid called Jackie. Jackie is introduced reading a ‘Nick Carter’ magazine, setting him up as an amateur detective. Doctor Ortíz runs a hospital clinic for drug victims. We first see him giving a street lecture on the evils of drugs; however, a later title card claims that he has a ‘split personality. And then there is the drug den and its denizens, all controlled by “Old Faggin”.

The film opens with Carlos in a drug den; a site central in the later stages of the film. The effects of the morphine are shown as Carlos mistaking a donkey for his girlfriend and bizarre dreams. However, during the lecture by Doctor Ortíz the more serious effects of drug taking are illustrated in quite disturbing scenes. As the story develops there are action sequences, chases, fights, sleazy buildings and hidden trapdoors; all the tropes of early action dramas. There is however a distinctly different feel to the melodramatic action and the actual scenes of drug abuse and hospital treatment. The final scene of the film is missing and is explained in an on-screen title;but the plot is fully resolved in the surviving final scene.

Like ‘El tren …’ the film mixes actuality footage with staged drama. But the footage supporting the moral theme slows the pace of the film and the fights and chase are not as dynamic as in the earlier film. This title was restored in 2001 and digitised in 2016. Many of the title cards were missing and explanatory titles based on the surviving script have been inserted; even so there are some points where not all is clear.

The style of the film is similar to its predecessor. The cinematography mainly uses long shots and mid-shots with a few close ups for dramatic detail; like the injection of morphine which is actually shown. There are hardly any of the tracking shots which added to the dynamism of ‘El tren ..’ The settings though mirror the earlier film; much of the action is set on what seems to be an old ruin, similar in some ways to the earlier rail workings.

The film runs over half-and-half longer than ‘El tren…’ but the actual action lot occupies a similar amount of time to the train plot. I wondered what motivated this title. Perhaps there were some monies for such a moral property or perhaps they reflect The personal experience of the production members. This version looks reasonable and has involved much restoration. The end titles provide a cast list; however the musical credits are missing but this sic aleatory the same trio led by Jose Maria Serralde Ruiz, again in fine form.

El Prisionero 13, México 1933 – Sound Film

Dir. Fernando de Fuentes.

This is the first of three films directed by Fernando Fuentes dealing in some fashion with the Mexican revolution of 1910. The revolution lasted a decade, from 1910 to 1920. In 1911 there was a military coup by a General Huerta; The resistance to his government included the forces led by Emiliano Zapata and a Constitutionalist Army controlled by Venustiano Carranza. When Huerta was overthrown in 1914 a civil war broke out between the forces of Zapata and Carranza. Pancho Villa, initially part of the Constitutionalist armies, sided with Zapata but Carranza’s forces were finally victorious. The film is an early ‘talkie’ or sound film, in black and white and running 73 minutes.

The film opens with Colonel Carrasco playing cards with a friend and drinking. It is clear that the Colonel has a drink problem which he refuses to address. Following scenes show how his addiction oppresses his wife. He also appears to have frequent extra-marital affairs. Finally the wife leaves with his baby son, Juan and their maid. The Colonel frantically tries to trace his missing son without success.

Several lap dissolves of mother and son take us to the adult Juan [Juanito to his mother]. Every evening Juan visits his girlfriend following traditional customs and thus  only able to speak through window bars though these are wide enough to enable a kiss. His mother worries for Juan’s safety as street demonstrations foreshadow the coming revolution.

Colonel Carrasco, an officer in Huerta’s army, is now commander in the district. A group of civilians are planning an insurrection against Huerta’s oppressive rule.  The Colonel orders his soldiers to arrest leading figures in the ‘rebellion’. By this point viewers will probably sense a familiar generic story emerging. However, the plot has at least one surprise in store. And for much of the remaining film the focus is on the Colonel and the imprisoned leaders rather than on Juan and his mother. However, the key protagonists do come together for the climax and resolution of the story.

The film predominately uses long shots and mid-shots with infrequent close-ups. However, the cinematographer Ross Fisher offers a more dynamic style for the climax. Set in the military barracks there are powerful tracking shots along line of prisoners and squads of soldiers. The editing by Aniceto Ortega is also effective with number of lap-dissolves which relate characters and settings.

The soundtrack uses plot-related sound behind the dialogue;and there are occasional bugle and military band music. The film has been restored but the streaming quality was not great with some minor buffering.

Rosalio entertains the Zapatistas

El Compadre Mendoza, [ México, 1933 – Sound Film

Dir. Fernando de Fuentes.

The film’s title translates as ‘My Buddy Mendoza’ but there is also an English title, ‘Godfather Mendoza’, which is some ways is more appropriate.

This was the second title in the Fernando de Fuentes trilogy set during the Mexican Revolution which ran between 1910 and 1920. In the story there are both Zapatistas and the Constitutionalist Army Carrancistas] fighting the dictatorship of General Huerta. This was an early stage of the revolution which, following the defeat of Huerta’s forces, then saw a civil war won by the leader of the Constitutionalist forces Carranza. The protagonist Rosalio Mendoza is a rich landowner who is also involved in other businesses with his two brothers. Rosalio manages to be on good terms both with the Zapatistas and the Government military and we see units of both armies entertained on his hacienda. A frequent trope shows servants changing the portraits that hang in the study; from Huerta to Zapata: from Zapata to Huerta and finally the hanging of that of Carranza.

On a visit to Mexico City to check on his businesses Rosalio meets Dolores [‘Lolita]’] whom he marries. Soon they have son. One of the visitors to the hacienda is General Felipe Nieto, a Zapatista. Felipe becomes the godfather of the son, named after him. But Felipe senior’s devotion to Felipe junior is really motivated by his undeclared passion for Dolores. Dolores is probably aware of this passion but neither initiate an affair. The climax of the narrative is when Rosalio has to make a choice between his relations with the Zapatista and the Constitutionalist army, here led by Colonel Bernáldez.

Most of the action takes place on the hacienda with one visit to Mexico City [only interiors]. Most the action between the Zapatistas and the Government army take place off-screen; and this applies to the later conflict between Zapatistas and Constitutionalist. We see a Colonel Martinez, the leader of the Huerta forces, as well as Nieto and Bernáldez. The ordinary Zapatista enjoy greater attention, greater screen time and more frequent close-ups than those of the Huerta or Constitutionalist soldiers.

There are familiar names and faces from El Prisionero trece, both in front of and behind the camera. However this is a far more dynamic production. The film opens with a excellent touch; the camera tracks along the ground, then on  a rifle butt trailing in the dust as the camera tilts up to show a weary Zapatista at the rear of a military column as it arrives at the hacienda. Entrances and exits to the hacienda regularly show the gate in the walls that surround the property. In the course of the film there are fluid tracking shots and ambitious pans, one describing a complete circle. Interiors make frequent use of dollies which show the sets are often full of lead characters and numbers of extras. The film also uses both high and low angle shots and superimposition to emphasize the drama and forward the action. The flow is assisted by numerous lap dissolves as sequences develop. And the is the judicious use of low key lighting in the frequent night time scenes. The sound track techniques are basic with limiting mixing functions; we hear dialogue, diegetic noises and several songs [again sung by the Zapatista] which also comment on the plot. There are only a few snatches of non-diegetic music, which accompany the different military forces and add to their characterisation.

The cinematography is by Ross Fisher who shot El Prisionero trece and the earlier film had a couple of sequences that shared the dynamic camera work. However, this title was edited by the director [no editor is shown in he credits] and the dynamic approach is apparent right through the 85 minutes running time. Like the earlier film there is a powerful final sequence to the story; a body is shown hanging in the gateway at the exit from the hacienda.

¡Vámonos con Pancho Villa!, (Let’s Go With Pancho Villa!., México, 1936 – Sound Film

Dir. Fernando de Fuentes.

This was the third and last title in the trilogy of films set during the Mexican Revolution and directed by Fernando de Fuentes. It was not successful at the box office and the production company was bankrupted, though Fuentes continued writing and directing films into the 1950s.

The title character, Pancho Villa [originally Francisco] is one of the best known of the figures of the revolutionary decade. A wealthy landowner he entered the wars in the early stages when the rebellion began against the Presidency of Porfirio Díaz. Over the course of the revolution Villas changed sides more than once. He was prominent in the fight against the dictatorship of General Huerta, as part of the Constitutionalist forces. In the film the final stages are set as Villa’s army set off to what became the battle of Zacatecas in 1914. This was the decisive battle which led to the defeat of General Huerta. However, it was followed by a civil war between Villa, allied with Emiliano Zapata, and the Constitutionalist forces led by Venistiano Carranza. Carranza was finally victorious and for some years Villa was not included in the pantheon of the revolution.

The film opens in the small town of San Pablo where an army captain in Huerta’s forces is investigating the deaths of 14 of his soldiers. He suspect a young man, Miguel/Angel. Miguel goes on the run. He calls at the house of a fellow radical Tiburcio. Joined by four other friends they set off to join Villa’s army. We meet Villa as he distributes grain to the peasants from his military train, whilst his soldiers eat, sing, drink and attempt amours. Villa is portrayed as very effective in his rhetoric to the troops and to the peasants. He welcomes the new recruits and nicknames then ‘The Lions’; they are Tiburcio, Miguel, Martin, Maximo, Meliton and Rodrigo.

The rest of the film presents a series of battles between Villa’s forces and those of General Huerta. Villa’s army is generally victorious but there are frequent set-backs and large number of fatalities. There are intervening scenes, mostly of ‘the lions’, of the personal lives of the soldiers; and alongside those showing Villa’s planning and leadership. The Lions’ are brave and very supportive of their fellow members. This includes one point where they are captured by Huerta’s troops and then freed. However, battle by battle, individual members die. Some in battle but some from the ravages that accompany the war. Finally we see the sole surviving member traipsing away into the darkness.

The film has a fairly varied use of camera and editing though it is less dynamic than El compadre Mendoza. In particular there are far fewer tracking shots, though a couple of the forces of Villa, like at the initial sequence on the military train, are impressive. But there are frequent pans and dollies, high and low angle shots and frequent cuts to close-ups of protagonists. Much of the film presents large scale battle sequences: these include trench warfare: charges by Villa’s volunteers: and hand-to-hand fighting during assaults of redoubts and fortresses. The editing, this time by J. B. Noriega; maintains a high tempo that drive forward the action. The opening of the film sets the tone with a short montage of images that will follow in the main narrative.  The soundtrack includes much martial music, in particular to accompany Villa’s forces. There are several songs, sang by ‘the Lions’ and other Villa volunteers; one that is repeated is ‘If they kill me tomorrow …’.

Villa is portrayed as a ruthless character ready to sacrifice his men in the pursuit of victory. Like most generals he commands from behind the troops but on at least one occasion he leads his men in a charge against the enemy. The army of Huerta enjoys supplies of artillery and the Gatling machine gun. Villa’s men are seen in heroic actions against the lethal technology. The representations in the film are pointed clearly in a long opening on-screen title which includes:

“blame for the cruelty [in the war] cannot be put on any group of people …”,

thus inferring that such actions were common to all sides in the conflict. This film, like the two earlier, has a muted support of the revolutionary forces but does not really valorise them. It is individual characters who receive the positive representations in this trilogy.

UNAM partnered with Filmoteca to this exclusive film cycle… ‘The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema: A Prelude’ with ENGLISH SUBTITLES.

Free Access in the following link: http://bit.ly/2MVI7VF – currently the six titles are still available on You Tube.

Thank you Filmoteca UK to make this possible.

Posted in Mexican film | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

A virtual Giornate

Posted by keith1942 on December 6, 2020

As with a number of other film festivals Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2020 could not meet in the new Verdi theatre in Pordenone and relied on streaming a series of programmes.

The week opened with ‘The Urge to Travel’ / ‘Voglia di Viaggiare’’ this was a programme of nine short films made between 1911 and 1939.

They were all interesting but I most enjoyed Over Bessegen på Motorcykkel, Norway 1932; here two unskilled cyclist created chaos for a series of road users, pedestrians and workmen. The music was by José María Serralde Ruiz.

The opening feature was Penrod and Sam, directed by William Beaudine, USA 1923, This was adapted from a novel by Booth Tarkington; the second in a series of three chronicling a young middle class boy and his friends. Tarkington was known as a ‘midwest regionalist’ so this is set in what is called ‘small town USA’. Apart from Sam, Penrod’s closest companion is Duke, a white Staffordshire or Staff cross. I should warn those of a sensitive soul that Duke comes a cropper in the film. I do not know about the books but the film has pretty sympathetic portraits of black member of Penrod’s gang for the period. The accompaniment was by Stephen Horne.

‘The Brilliant Biograph: earliest Moving Images of Europe (1897 – 1902’) was a compilation by Frank Roumen, Netherlands 2020

“Amid the welter of projectors with extravagant names that competed for the public’s attention in the very first years of cinema, the Biograph had established itself as a product above the others, with a sharper, steadier, and far larger screen image than any of its competitors, a true source of wonder in all who saw it. The key to this success was the unperforated film of approximately 70mm width that the Biograph projector used, coupled with its choice of international subjects, and a policy of select and classy presentation, with the company controlling all exhibitions that used this unique system.” Luke McKernan in the Giornate 2000 Catalogue.

Now fifty titles from the collections of the Eye Museum and the National Film Archive have been digitised. The accompaniment was by Daan van den Hurk.

The second feature was Guofeng / National Customs; China 1935. This title was made at a studio under the dominance of the Kuomintang. The ‘National Customs’ was a campaign against foreign cultural influences and here it is structured into a romantic melodrama. In a rural town two sisters both love the same man. The working out of this conflict lead to personal tragedy but also to disruption in the school in which the sisters and their mother work. This provides the setting and situation for the values embodied in the Kuomintang campaign. The film was screened at an earlier Giornate in 1997 from a 35mm print. This was a digitised version recently completed by the Chinese Archive and then offered to this year’s Giornate. The film presents the problem of foreign influences as a cultural epidemic. This makes one wonder if the title was chosen as a riposte to the USA/Donald Trump’s constant accusations against China over the current epidemic.

The next programme opened with the Thanhouser one-reeler Toodles, Tom and Trouble, (US 1915). Despite that titular names the real star was a border collie, Lady. I have to complain about Jay’s introduction where he assured us that Lady remained OK. He apparently meant after the production whereas it seemed that he was talking about the plot. So the climax was a shock! Hopefully we will get a chance to see this skilled performer in another of her films.

The feature Where Lights are Low directed by Colin Campbell, US 1921, was a vehicle for the star Sessue Hayakawa. It was made by his own production company. The Haworth Pictures Corporation, established in 1918, which changed its name to the Hayakawa Feature Play Company at the beginning of 1921. A Chinese prince is sent to the USA to study. But his lowly love at home is sold into bondage and he has to struggle for money to save her from prostitution. Then, at the climax, he has to battle a San Francisco’s Chinatown criminal to save her. The final battle is long and visceral whilst the forces of law and order seem to take an eternity to come to the rescue. The film felt that there were missing sequences though the narrative still made sense. The accompaniment was by Philip Carli, who in the ‘chat’ also thought there were sequences missing.

The fourth feature was preceded by the Czech short film Ceské Hrady a Zámsky (1916). This opened in a ancient castle but the setting was merely the motivation for a mad dash from here to the capital Prague. The protagonist predictably encountered obstacle after obstacle as well as being assisted by a number of cinematographic tricks.

The feature was an Italian ‘anarchic comedy from 1921, La Tempesta in un Cranio, which translates as ‘the tempest in the cranium’ but which in Britain was titled ‘Kill or Cure’. I never really engaged with the premise of the title directed by Carlo Campogalliani who also played the lead characters. A rich and young man of a wealthy family fears that the hereditary madness will sooner or later afflict him. His friends set up a bizarre situation where he starts to think he is mad; revealed reality cures his fears. This approach to madness seemed to me only slightly preferable to that proposed by Freud. The music was provided by Günter A. Buchwald, Frank Bockius

Oi Apachides ton Athinon / The Apaches of Athens was a late silent produced in Greece in 1930. I thought the title was a little misleading. Coined in France the European term, ‘Les Apache’ referred to a violent criminal world culture and had a similar meaning when copied in other countries. However, in this title, the lead male trio:

“the charming but penniless Pierre Lambeth, known as “The Prince,” beloved by the flower-seller Titika, and his two chums, the comic duo Karoumbas (played by librettist Prineas) and Karkaletsos.”

are law abiding itinerant labourers. In the main climax of the story Pierre is even more moral that the guests at a bourgeois party. The film was adapted from an operetta

“celebrated for its revolutionary populist treatment of working-class characters,”

What stood out for me was the location filming in Athens and its celebration of working class life and experience. Directed by Dimitrios Gaziades and with a recorded orchestral accompaniment: Greek Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Abwege (Germany 1928) ([The] Crisis) Directed by G. W. [Georg Wilhelm] Pabst,

This film had been screened at an earlier Giornate, also 1997. But the title was the digital version seen at the 2018 Berlinale. The music was by Mauro Colombis.

A Romance of the Redwoods (US 1917) Directed by Cecil B. DeMille. This was a delightful Mary Pickford vehicle. She plays Jenny who travels from the East to the West of the USA. She is faced by all sorts of obstacles and dangers but she is a strong willed young woman who finally achieves a romance and a place in this new territory. The production was extremely well done, as you would expect from the people involved, including Alvin Wyckoff’s fine cinematography and it was a pleasure to watch. The music by Donald Sosin with Joanna Seaton

Ballettens Datter (Denmark 1913) (GB: Unjustly Accused) [Daughter of the Ballet]

Directed by Holger-Madsen

This film drama was described as a ‘modern comedy’, in the sense that it was a tale of irony rather than outright humour. The ballet dancer of the title marries a wealthy admirer with his condition that she leave the stage, When, frustrated in marriage and domesticity, she returns secretly to the stage this action sparks a familiar melodramatic conflation; but one that is resolve in a slightly fantastic fashion.

The music was by John Sweeney.

The final programme was a number of one and two reel comedies featuring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, but before they formed the famous duo. There were moments of fun and humour but overall I thought these were minor examples of silent comedy. They demonstrated how, when they formed a double act, the combination of their individual talents created a whole more substantial than the parts.

Neil Brand accompanied the titles at the piano.

All the features were introduced by Jay who was seen in a variety of places in Pordenone familiar to regular Giornate guests. Streamings were followed by ‘chats’ hosted by Jay and usually including the musician who accompanied the title and one or even two people who were know legible on the film, the film-makers and the national cinema which they represented. These are available on You Tube.

There were also a series of ‘master classes’. The master classes at the regular Festival providing a learning opportunity for musician who want to develop their skills in accompanying silent titles. These virtual versions featured the musicians who accompanied this year’s title discussing their approach to providing such music from a range of viewpoints. These varied in the way they treated the issue; they were interesting but I sensed that the festival had not given them a specific brief. Such a brief would have providing for the different presentations to build into a coherent commentary on music and silent film.

And there were also daily review programmes, recommending new books on silent film and in one case a new box set of DVDs, [The Thanhouser Studio]. There are also available in You Tube.

The festival programme was streamed on MyMovie, which is the same platform as used by Il Cinema Ritrovato earlier in the year. The platforms runs up to 1080 but most of the features that I viewed were at 720. The supporting programmes were streamed at a lower rate and some that I viewed were several rates lower. I gave up one masterclass because the extracts used were so poor; though that may be partly due to the source. Overall the Festival programme was well organised and well presented. There were background notes for each programme on the Web Site. These offered basic production details and comments. I would have liked more information on the source material and the digitisation process. However, Le Giornate are preparing a printed catalogue which should be available in December and I hope will have more information.

The Festival was worth following but it did not increase my liking for streaming. Hopefully 2021 will see us back at Pordenone and in the new Verdi. I do worry that the increase of digital versions over this year both in festival and other screening facilities may lessen the amount of 35mm prints that we enjoy in Le Giornate; last year it was about fifty-fifty. My friend Peter, who checks these matters, says that the proportion of 35mm has gone down year-by-year recently.

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Silent Comedy Watch Party

Posted by keith1942 on November 9, 2020

This is a New York based streaming programme that uploads weekly examples of the comedy of the silent era.  It is found on the major Web Site of Ben Model a composer and film historian dedicated mainly to the Silent Era. He is also involved in distributing titles on Blu-Ray and DVDs.

To date there are 33 episodes which include introductions and usually two or three one or two reel titles.

There are introductions on the titles, background and source material. Ben is accompanied by Steve Massa.

A list of the episodes can be found on the ‘vault page’ of the website:

One of the regular fans of this series has written profiling the programmes.

The Silent Comedy Watch Party- free streaming on Facebook live on Sunday at 3:00PM Eastern Standard Time, or YouTube for all episodes from March 22nd forward. …
You can watch The Silent Comedy Watch Party on YouTube. They are dedicated to providing free streaming and watching so more people can enjoy and learn. The streaming has evolved electronically over the m months.
They always get permission from the owners of the shorts prior to screening and always thank them. Ben Model has been providing musical accompaniment to silent films since he was a NYY Film School student and provided scores for DVDs and screenings including MoMA and The Library Of Congress in Culpepper, Virginia as well as other venues around the world. His music is all improvised so each performance is different. Steve Massa also a film historian and author. His last East book is ‘Rediscovering Roscoe Arbuckle’. Ben’s wife, Mona Allen, does the camera work and lighting, while Steve’s wife, Susan, watches from her device, to watch for any glitches. She will text Mona, who can make the necessary changes.

They provide this all free so everyone can enjoy and learn about silent comedy and learn about the actors and actresses as well as the directors, writers production companies and the releasing companies.

The programs are good family fun too!


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