Early & Silent Film

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Archive for the ‘Britain in the 1920s’ Category

Films and filmmakers from England, Scotland and Wales between 1919 and the advent of sound-on-film.

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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The First Born UK 1928

Posted by keith1942 on February 10, 2016


This British silent film from 1928 was re-discovered and restored by the British Film Institute. The film is a subtle and witty parable on married life and the bourgeois mores of the period. It adds to the re-evaluation of British silent film in recent years, joining a growing list of productions that are both intelligently scripted and made with a distinctive style and noticeable technical quality.

The film is also interesting because it benefits from the talents of a number of extremely able filmmakers. The film was produced for Gainsborough under the auspices of Michael Balcon. He is a producer whose impact over decades on British film is equal too or greater than many of the valued auteurs who usually garner the most attention. The film was designed by W. C. Arnold, whose distinctive sets gave such impact to an earlier Gainsborough film, The Rat (1925). And the film stars Miles Mander and Madeleine Carroll.

The film was directed also by Miles Mander, less well known for directing than for acting. He was a character actor whose typical role was as ‘a moustachioed cad’: he plays a bigamist in Hitchcock’s early silent The Pleasure Garden (1925). However, Mander had some experience in theatre, as an actor-director. He had also worked with the Swedish film director Gustaf Molander. Both The First Born and later directorial outings show a continental influence in the use of the camera and in editing practices.

Mander adapted the film from his own stage play ‘Those Common People’. In some ways his fellow-scenarist in the adaptation is the most interesting, Alma Reville, usually listed as the wife of Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock is generally regarded as the auteur par excellence. In fact, as with many other noted filmmakers, his work relies to a great degree on the talent of his collaborators. His British films benefited from the scriptwriting talent of Charles Bennett. He worked with notable cameramen, designers, editors and gifted actors like Peter Lorre, Robert Donat and indeed Madeleine Carroll. Michael Balcon was his mentor. Quite possibly though Alma was his most important muse. She was already established in the industry when Hitchcock entered it as young man. She worked for a time as a scriptwriter, but her career was subordinated to that of her husband: very much the norm in the industry of that time. Hitchcock always acknowledged that he discussed his films daily with his wife. So there is a tantalising question mark over the status of Alma Reville.

Intriguingly the film features a triangle, Miles Mander as Sir Hugo Boycott, Madeleine Carroll as Lady Madeleine Boycott and John Loder as Lord David Harborough. Sir Hugo is a philanderer and abuses his wife. This partly motivates the romantic but chase affair between Madeleine and David. At a crucial point in the film Hugo physically attacks his wife. But David is away in London, the ‘absent lover’. This is a not uncommon motif but one that appears regularly throughout the career of Hitchcock. Whose motif?

Some light was shed on this by the introductory talk before a screening of the film at the National Media Museum. The talk was by Nathalie Morris from the British Film Institute. She has written on ‘The Early Career of Alma Reville’ (in the Hitchcock Annuals, 1 to 15, 2009). This bought an added dimension to the film, as did the live music performed by Darius Battiwalla. He had already established a high standard of accompaniment at earlier Bradford screenings such as The Rat (1925) and Cottage on Dartmoor (1930). The film was screened as part of the Bradford International Film Festival.

Originally posted as a preview.

Posted in Britain in the 1920s, Silent Stars | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Would You Believe It! (UK 1929)

Posted by keith1942 on November 26, 2015

Walter Forde in What Next?

Walter Forde in What Next?

This film was the main feature in a silent film presentation during the Leeds International Film Festival. There was this feature and two earlier shorts, introduced and accompanied at the piano by Jonathan Best.

Would You Believe It! was a comedy feature co-scripted, directed and starring Walter Forde. Forde, born in Bradford, started out in the Northern Music Halls. He moved into film in 1919, first as a writer then as a comedy lead. He made several two reel comedies, produced in a converted hangar in Hertfordshire and then a converted drill-hall in Devon and all marketed under Zodiac Comedies. He, as was the  case in the silent era, played a stock character Walter, well meaning but innocent. He then made six two-reelers at the Windsor Studios. This was followed by two years in Hollywood at the Unviersal Studio. When he returned to the UK he joined the Nettlefold Company who had taken over Cecil Hepworth’s old Studio at Walton. There he made four comedy features, all using the Walter character and playing opposite Pauline Johnson as a romantic lead. The films were co-written by James B. Sloan with Walter also directing. Sloan is also credited as director on a number of comedy shorts that Forde made on his return to the UK.

Would You Believe It! was the final comedy feature silent made by Forde, as this was the point that the introduction of sound film occurred in the British film industry. Rachel Low comments on the film:

“His last silent comedy, Would You believe It! (Trade Show May 1929) was directed and written by him, and this time reviewers, slow to recognise comic ability unless already established either in America or on the stage, at last began to take notice. But by this time sound film had become the fashion and even a Vocalion music recording could not save a comedy so essentially silent in technique. The [four] films were slight comedies with timidly darting style, dabbling politely in romantic farce, slapstick and a playful use of the medium. Forde himself appeared as a burly amiable and innocent young man engaged in suburban misadventures, somewhat puzzled but hopefully dogged.

He was too late for a career as a silent film comedian, but the direction and editing of the film show a considerable talent, which was fortunately to find expression in the thirties.”

Low is likely accurate on the context and Forde’s general approach, but she probably underestimates the quality and popularity of the film. The BFI Screen Online is quoted in the Festival Catalogue:

“He resumed the ‘Walter’ series, this time in collaboration with James B. Sloan and by the late 1920s, had become recognised as one of Britain cinema’s major comic talents, the director and star of a number of very popular comedies for Nettlefold …”

In the film Forde plays Walter, a would-be inventor. After trials and failures he comes up with a remote-control system with military potential. At this point the invention and Walter become the target of foreign spies. Whilst this conflict continues Walter is also developing a relationship with Pauline (Pauline Johnson), who coincidentally works for the Ministry of War.

The film  opens when Walter’s experiments force him to leave home. He obtains a job as an assistant in a toy shop. There are several very funny sequences involving, first as baby, then balloons and finally mechanical toys. The balloons at one point form a phallic shape which I assumed was intentional and rather risqué for the period. The mechanical toys go berserk in a marvellous sequence, scattering customers round the shop.

It is at the shop that Walter meets Pauline. As their relationship develops she also arranges for him to demonstrate his invention to the Ministry of War. At this point the foreign spies enter the picture. The chief seems to be modelled on a caricature of Lenin: an unidentified reference to a Soviet threat?


There are a number of sequences where the less than competent spies attempt to steal the invention or kidnap Walter. There is a fine long sequence on the London Underground involving a spiral staircase and a lift. This is really fine comedy and the humour increases as there are repetitions both on the stairs and in the lift.

“All are seen from a simple, single camera angle, but by rapid cutting of repeat shows of this section with the hero, the villains, and then the case itself sliding down on its own, the illusion of a chase up and down the staircase is created … The comedy effect of this simple sequence is successfully created by using the juxtaposition of shot …” (Rachel Low).

The film develops to a final climax when Walter’s invention is tried out on an actual tank. Once again the spies are plotting to steal the invention. This is a fairly long sequence but it develops both the drama and humour with real skill. It is also a fairly destructive sequence, demolishing cars and  whole houses in a chase sequence. You might guess that there is a positive outcome for Walter and Pauline.

Low’s comments on the filmmaker and the film sequence are apt. This was an extremely well made silent feature. The cinematography is excellent: by Geoffrey Faithful. And equally well done was the Art Design by W.G. Saunders and the editing by Culley Forde. Both the underground and the toy shop sequences were really effective. And the finale, though drawn out, is full of extremely well presented action. Forde himself obviously has an eye for the distinctive comedy sequence: there is another ingenious scene when he goes to the wrong venue for his War Office interview.

The film was accompanied at the piano by Jonathan Best. This was a enjoyable and appropriate score, adding to but not overpowering the film’s drama and comedy. Jonathan also offered a short introduction to the film and to the accompanying  two short films. He explained that the three films represented three early decades  in the British silent cinema and among other aspects offered a comparison of the development in comedy in that period.

Motor Pirates or The Modern Pirates, a black and white film  produced by the Alpha Trading Company. They operated from 1903 until about 1910. The film was approximately 500 feet in length and ran for about nine minutes at 16 fps. An armoured car terrorises the countryside but is finally bought to book. The film is rather violent but the action is presented in long shot: there is little sign of motivation. There are a couple of ingenious set-ups with the police before an extended chase ends in a river.

Blood and Bosh (1913) is from the Hepworth Company. It is just on 650 feet in length, running for about running for about 11 minutes at 16fps. The plot synopsis gives little idea of the actual film.

“A baby, the beneficiary of a will, is kidnapped, thrown through a window, trample don, and finally rushed to hospital to be re-inflated.” [LIFF Catalogue].

The characters, including a hero, heroine, villains, mother and child, surgeon and sawman, are performed in stark melodramatic fashion. The cuts are frequently abrupt as the audience is taken on a erratic narrative. And the action  is violent, bizarre but often very funny. The films seems to be the product of a premature British member of the Dada.

The 35mm prints, in pretty condition, were provided by the British Film Institute. They do not seem to have a practice of recording frame rates? The projectionist, at the Hyde Park Picture House, had to experiment, eventually they settled on 18 fps for the programme. This was slightly fast for the early films. It seemed OK for the Forde feature, though there was a slight flicker from that frame rate.

Still a very entertaining programme. More please, soon.

Rachel low’s The History of British Film 1918 – 1929 is part of the seminal five-volume study: Geoffrey Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1971.


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Dawn, UK 1928

Posted by keith1942 on October 31, 2015


This is an early film about Edith Cavell, a British nurse shot by the Germans during World War I for spying. Her case became a cause celebre at the time and she has remained a fairly iconic figure since. This is the centenary of her death and Park Circus has re-issued a 1939 film, Nurse Edith Cavell. The Hyde Park Picture House has gone one better and recently screened the earlier film in a 35mm print and with a set of interesting introductions. The film previously has only been screened at the Imperial War Museum and the British Silent Film Festival.

The essential record. Cavell was a British Nurse working in Belgium when the war broke out. She became involved in a network helping escaped POW’s make their way home. The network was betrayed and 35 members captured by the Germans. 30 of the members were sentenced to hard labour, five, including Cavell, were sentenced to be executed. Three of these had their sentences commuted to hard labour, but Cavell and a colleague were shot. There were protests both by the Allied enemies and by ‘neutral’ nations, especially by the US Legation in Belgium.

Herbert Wilcox was one of the more successful producers and directors in British film in the 1920s. He specialised in historical dramas, and he also produced and directed the 1939 version, which starred Anna Eagle. There had been some short films about Cavell, in which the Germans were portrayed as brutes and Cavell as an innocent victim. But by the late 1920s the British Government was concerned to maintain good relations as Germany was shepherded back into the ‘democratic fold’. The German Government raised objections when Wilcox’s production got underway. The British Government evaded the issue with reference to the British Board of Film Censors [set up in 1912] as an independent censorship body: somewhat economical with the facts. Wilcox did in fact make changes to the film including the ending, but it does not seem that there is a record of these.

In fact when the film was completed the BBFC refused it a certificate. However, the BBFC’s remit was only partial in this period, as the Local Authorities actually held the legal right of licensing. Wilcox was successful in getting the film licensed by the London County Council and it received a general exhibition. It was also screened in Germany, without much apparent incidents.

The film was shot in black and white and is six reels – running about 85 minutes at 22fps. The original release was 7,300 feet: now it is 6,510 feet which suggests cuts due to wear and tear. The Writing Credits (in alphabetical order) Reginald Berkeley   … (story),  Robert Cullen   … (scenario) , Herbert Wilcox   … (adaptation). Cullen also directed and one of his films is Every Mother’s Son (1926) a wartime drama. It is possible that Wilcox’s adaptation is to do with the changes: what these all were is not clear, though it definitely included the ending. My thoughts on re-watching the film was that some of the title cards were likely the result of this change in approach.

The film opens with a series of title cards. They first laud Cavell’s ‘heroic life and death’. Then they offer a sort of generalised anti-war message, ‘Rulers of Europe, puppets of carnage ..enslaved by war.’

The film then moves into its story, and we see the Belgium Institute where Cavell worked. Inside we are presented with a children’s ward, the use of children is a recurring trope in the film. One boy puts on a Prussian style helmet, ‘I am an Uhlan’ [light cavalry in Poland, Russia, and Prussia]. Another boy puts on a different cap, ‘I am a chasseur’ [French light infantry’. The ‘Uhlan’ chases the ‘Chasseur’ who runs and shelters behind Cavell in her office. Briefly and directly the film sets up the drama’s plot and values.

The war arrives, Europe ‘blazed into flames’. Then we see a man on the run (Jacques – Mickey Brantford ) and Germans searching. His mother, Madame Rappard (Marie Ault) attempts to hide him and when Cavell arrives she arranges to take the man to the Institute. There she burns his uniform: right through the film, with one other exception, escaping soldiers are seen in civilian clothes. Later Cavell and Madame Rappard hide Jacques in a part of the basement and move a large wardrobe to hide the entrance.

So Cavell is drawn into helping escapees: a flashback shows Jacques telling her that there are ‘hundreds like me’. In most cases the men are taken through the streets at dark and secreted on a barge which travels along a canal across the frontier. The group appears to consists of Cavell, Rappard and two other women (Madame Ada Bodart – herself and Madame Pitou – Mary Brough) and a Bodart’s young son Philippe (Gordon Craig): rather different from the actual network. This is a woman’s group. One man, the bargee (Richard Worth) , hesitates to assist the prisoners and is roundly ordered to do so by his wife, Madame Pitou. Later it is a man who betrays the network. The only positive male member is Philippe, a teenage boy and an unnamed man who guides the prisoners from the Institute..

The actions of the group are intercut regularly with the German military. At times this is quite stereotypical: the communication system is a post card mailed at the frontier. After a fruitless search one German soldier willingly agrees to post the card for the Madame Pitou. We also see the German high command, including the Military Governor, General von Zauberzweig (Frank Perfitt) . As they start to realise that there is an escape network investigations and searches are instigated. At one point it appears that escaped prisoners are being found among the allied dead after battles on the front line: clearly having rejoined the allies and their war effort.

The investigating officer is presented as quite intelligent. He remembers a conversation with Cavell which arouses his suspicions. His first search is fruitless, but after the betrayal he returns and discovers the hidden door behind the wardrobe. This is a moment of high drama in the film. Cavell is assisting a wounded and wanted RAF officer: the only other escapee seen in uniform. The search takes place as Cavell and an assistant attempt to smuggle him out of the Institute. This is done successfully: another rather conventional plot device. Meanwhile Cavell is incriminated by a discovered network document.

We then get Cavell’s trial and execution. ‘Trial between women and war machine’. Her women companions are also charged but the trial is predominately about Cavell. We do see the young Philippe who is a compulsory witness and who is committed for perjury. Cavell is found guilty and sentenced to be executed. A title tells us that the others are sentenced to hard labour: so unlike in actuality Cavell is to die alone.

Following the sentence the film includes the efforts of the US Ambassador to stop the execution. There are letters and visits by his aide, but the Commander cites ‘duty’. This section of the plot emphasises the ‘brutality’ of the sentence: the film does not raise the issue of spying by the actual network. It does provide sympathetic Germans who themselves sympathise with Cavell, undermining the German position. So an officer visits the Institute and sees the wounded airman, but ‘clicking’ his heels’ and saluting Cavell he leaves without reporting what he has seen.

Even more notably we see dissent among a member of the firing squad. This is Private Rambler, who demurs when he is selected for the squad. At the actual execution he hesitates when the order to ‘raise arms’ is given and then refuses. The officer commanding berates him. And there is an exchange of glances between Rambler and Cavell. This sequence is clearly cut, likely due to the changes made to placate the Germans. It would seem that there was originally more than one exchange of glances between Cavell and the soldier, and the suggestion of Cavell’s nod that he should ‘do his duty’. Note, ‘a legend long generally accepted’.

The execution took place at the Tire National, on the edge of a field behind the building. We see the preparations including an English Chaplain ministering to Cavell. She is them marched down stairs, through a basement to the yard. There is the business with Private Rambler but we do not see Cavell actually shot. What we do then get is a title showing the words that Cavell spoke to the Chaplin,

“Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

These are famous and off-quoted words.

The film has a very restrained feel. Partly this is down to the performance of Sybil Thorndike as Cavell: she is magisterial and even her emotional displays are restrained. There is some difference between her and other cast members’ performances: Madam Pitou and Rappard are quite a bit more expressive. This restraint is emphasised by the film’s direction. Wilcox is a fairly static director, his films concentrate on performance and mise en scène. So the film is shot predominately in long and mid-shots. And even when there are close-ups they are not large, but almost themselves mid-shots. There is very little moving camera: though already Graham Cutts, Maurice Elvey and Alfred Hitchcock were using these techniques in their films. All I noted were several pans, especially during the court sequence.

The cinematography by Bernard Knowles is well done and there is some expressive lighting in certain sequences. The art direction is by Clifford Pember and would seem mainly to relate to interiors,. Much of the exteriors were shot in Belgium, frequently using actual locations from the events recorded. Note, the 35m print we watched was a composite, one could discern changes in lighting and definition within sequences. It appears this BFI print combines four reels from its own archive copy and two reels from a copy in New Zealand.

The film had a musical accompaniment by Darius Battiwalla on the piano. Darius gave a short explanation before the screening. His performance was partially prepared, partly improvised. He explained that in the 1920s there was a range of musical accompaniments: some using prepared musical sequences, some composed or arranged. The latter had at one extreme the Wagnerian romantic approach, The sort of music that Korngold bought to Hollywood in the 1930s. Some of it was closer to neo-classical, for example Kurt Weill. Darius’ accompaniment for this film was closer to the latter, re-enforcing the style of the film. Much of it was low-key and often with sparse notation, but he also bought in martial chords at certain points in the film,. I thought it set of the film exceptionally well. though it of course re-enforced the values the film offered.

Darius at the piano.

Darius at the piano.

The pre-screening talks were also informative. Dr Emma Cavell was related to Edith Cavell through an Australian connection. She filled out some of the family history. But her project around Cavell also bought her into contact with the Cavell heritage events. It is worth noting that Cavell was given a state funeral in the UK and there is a statue to her in Trafalgar Square where there is an annual memorial event. She was also added to the Anglican Church listing of ‘saints’.

Professor Fell talked about the history of Cavell and the network in which she was involved. There is evidence that the network not only assisting escaping soldiers but that they also passed on information concerned with the war effort – i.e. spying. She also pointed out that Cavell was not tried alone, nor was she executed alone but along with Philippe Baucq who was a key member of the network.

The disparities between the film and the record made sense when Doctor Claudia Sternberg talked about the representations of Cavell , including on film. Early illustration showed Cavell with long, streaming hair, younger than her actual 49 years and in some suggestions of rape. One newspaper illustration depicted the Germans as pigs or ‘swine’. One film of 1915 was entitled Nurse Martyr. She also talked about the depiction of Cavell as a lone victim in illustrations of the execution and the use of nurse uniforms rather than civilian clothes. She went on to fill in the context of the Wilcox film  and suggested that this was a transitional work, with ‘civilian society’ portrayed as ‘subordinate to the military’.

Dawn poster 01

The talks filled out the film and enabled a fuller appreciation of the representation and its relationship to the historical person and events. My main reservations were two-fold.

The suggestion was that the changes made by the film after the German objections gave the film a more general anti-war tone. I thought there was a discrepancy between the title cards and the visual representation in the film. The opening title cards in particular were quite strident and appeared to put together European powers on both sides of the conflict as war-mongers. However the actual narrative was much closer to conventional war films. Cavell and the network were portrayed sympathetically and shown as non-military. The fact that the key member were women seemed more about this type of discourse than any feminist rendering, though they did come across as strong characters. The Germans were portrayed through the film in conventional militaristic terms, re-enforced by the dissensions by individual Germans and the depiction of the US Legation. I incline to think that one of the ways that German objections were responded to was to change title cards rather than the actual imagery, a not uncommon way of ‘sanitising’ silent film.

Edith Cavell with Don and Jack in 1913, neither feature in the film.

Edith Cavell with Don and Jack in 1913, neither feature in the film.

The key changes to the visual imagery were the execution. Here there are clear cuts, at one point there is a shot of Cavell facing the squad and then a reverse shot, and we discover a field behind her. It is a disruptive moment. Presumably this cut was seen as diminishing the literal visual violence in the film, but all the business with the dissenting soldier remains.

I also had reservations about the idea of a transitional film. I can see that it has some of these aspects in terms of British film. But the anti-war tone had already appeared much earlier in the 1920s. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (USA 1921) has a powerful anti-war drive and in this film civil society is clearly subordinate to the military. And in British film the jingoistic support of the allied war effort continued, a good example being The W Plan from 1930. Here Brian Aherne plays an British Officer and spy who outwits the stereotypical Germans.

It also need to be pointed out that ‘anti-war’ has a limited connotation in such films as Dawn. As  pointed out by Andrew Britton such films rarely address the actual politics of an actual war. This is centrally true of World War I. This was an imperialist war between European colonial powers and ‘plucky little Belgium’ had one of the worse records for colonial atrocities in the Congo.

But a great opportunity, so felicitations to the Hyde Park Picture House and to the contributors to the event.

There is more material in Rachel Low’s the History of the British Film 1918 – 1929, Allen and Unwin 1971. The Belgium archive also have a print which is being restored.


Now I have seen the Belgium print which was screened at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. This version, transferred on to a DCP [running 91 minutes], is incomplete but contains footage not in the British version. To illustrate the important differences the screening also included the final reel of the 35mm print from the BFI National Archive, 1040 feet projected at 20 fps.

The Belgium version fills out the depiction of Private Rammler (Edward Sorley) at the execution. There is not one but two marked exchanges of looks between Rammler and Cavell. We then see him [onscreen] throw down his rifle, at which point the officer commanding the firing squad points his revolver at the soldier. We see Cavell fall to the ground, in faint. The execution is not shown but it is implied that the officer has to administer the coup de grace with his revolver. And it is also implied that Rammler is shot as well. On screen we see the two graves sides by side, ‘Cavell’ and ‘Rammler’.

This latter part is what is missing in the BFI print and the shot of the two graves [side-by-side] appears to have been cropped to only show Cavell’s. The London County Council did request certain cuts before licensing screenings of the film and it may have been felt that the complete execution [as far as it is depicted] was too gruesome. The other difference is that the Belgium print has more final title cards. This deliberately attempt to displace the suggestion of a war crime by the Germans as they state that such actions are not the province of just one country or combatant.

It is worth noting that the version on the DCP looked very much like a dupe and that the BFI 35mm print was definitely superior. Using the complete digital version and only one reel from the 35mm print puzzled me. The comparison and the differences are clear either way round: in fact I had seen the complete British print first. It would have done the film greater justice to see it in the visually superior version. Moreover, the Belgium version is missing several scenes. I was working from memory but I though there were additional sequences on the barge used for escapes; in the trial sequences; and also involving the US Legation.

More light on the British version is shed in a biography of Dame Sybil Thorndike, ‘A Star of Life’ by Jonathan Croall, Haus Books 2008. It seems that Wilcox originally cast a US stage actress, Pauline Frederick.

“Suddenly she was called back to America ‘on urgent private business’. Wilcox soon discovered the truth: the German Embassy had told her that if she played the part no film of hers would ever be shown again in Germany, and pickets would be placed on cinemas showing her films in the States.”

Sybil Thorndike was delighted to play the part. Her admiration for Cavell included copying  annotations in a copy of Thomas á Kempis’s ‘The Imitation of Christ’ belonging to Cavell into her own copy of the same book.

“‘I am tremendously proud at being offered the part’, she announced. ‘Not a woman among us but reveres the memory of Miss Cavell, and I feel that through the medium of the screen it will be possible to convey the great lessons of self-sacrifice and patriotism that she taught.'”

This was Thorndike’s first feature-length film. Her performance was widely praised by critics at the time. However, like the rest of the production, she discovered that the film was very controversial. Croall records some of the machinations at the time. The German Ambassador spoke to the Foreign Secretary Austen Chamberlain who persuaded the British Board of Film Censors to ban the film. Despite the repeated claims that the BBFC was an independents body the government constantly interfered in the censorship of this Board. As it was many local authorities, lie the London County Council, above, passed the film for exhibition.

Thorndike herself spoke out in defence of the film.

“They say the feelings amongst the Germans was very strong against shooting her, but I am trying to show that it is not just one nation that is to blame, but war – …”

This fits with the predominantly ‘anti-war’ feeling of the film: though the characterisations of the Germans and German militarism undercut this. But Thorndike was clear in opposing censorship. She later signed the letter opposing the London County Council’s ban on the new Soviet Films like October.

Posted in Archival issues, Britain in the 1920s, war and anti-war films | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The 18th British Silent Film Festival – finale.

Posted by keith1942 on September 21, 2015

Anzac Cove.

Anzac Cove.

Sunday morning returned us to World War I. The scene was set with a presentation on how film had treated the ill-fated Gallipoli failure. This was an event on which troops from the then empire – especially Australia and New Zealand – suffered heavy casualties. It is even now a day of remembrance in Australia. We watch several aspects including two films based [rather differently]] on the same book by Ernest Raymond. One was the relatively recent Gallipoli (1981) following the fate of two Australian recruits. The second was from a 1930 sound film, Tell England. A recent film, The Water Diviner (2014) also deals with these events: interestingly it provides much space and a certain sympathy for the Turkish combatants: not noticeable in the earlier films.

Tell England was also the morning feature. This was filmed by British Instructional Films and directed by Anthony Asquith. Asquith is a much neglected British director. His earlier silent films are very fine, and so is this early sound film. His output in the 1930s is less distinguished which is presumably down to the failings of the British industry. Whilst some of the sound sequences are clichéd there are stand-out action sequences. The most impressive is one featuring the allied landings, which intercuts specially filmed material with ‘found footage’ from 1915. Asquith’s early films show the influence of Soviet cinema, which he presumably saw at the London Film Society. There are examples in editing and montage in this film: and Asquith not only learnt from the techniques of Soviet filmmakers, but also clearly comprehended their use of montage. There are three listed cameramen, Jack Parker, Stanley Rodwell and James Rogers, and their black and white cinematography is extremely well done. The editor is Mary Fields and she also was obviously a fine talent.

After lunch we had a presentation on Early British Advertising Films. These ranged from 1903 to 1947. We saw scotch, matches, boot polish soap, railways, cycling and hot drinks. The early ones ran for under a minute. Then oddly there was a period of extended advertisements of several minutes, reverting in the 1950s to the earlier and shorter length. This is what we suffer today. The blessed aspect of early adverts is the absence of sound. I tend to think that the dialogue and commentary in contemporary adverts is somewhat worse than the images.

A 1920s advert.

A 1920s advert.

The last two films in the programme had already featured at Il Giornate del Cinema Muto. So, being fairly wacked, I am afraid I missed them. The first is a very fine late Scandinavian silent, Ragens Rike (The Kingdom of Rye, 1929). This is a rural drama with fine location filming: one of the pleasures of Swedish silent cinema.

The final film was Oleksandr Dovzhenko’s 1929 Arsenal. This is a classic of Soviet cinema, always worth revisiting. The film had a newly prepared electronic score by Guy Bartell. I have to ask friends how they found it. I trained back to Leeds, tired but replete.

This was a rewarding four days, and extremely well delivered. I did have some minor reservations, which are worth airing because they seem to me to be on the increase. The advance programmes did not have information on formats. One of the helpful De Montfort organisers provided me with a partial list. But even in the programme notes it was not always clear what format would be screened: there were 35mm, DCPs and DVDs. With some of the films from elsewhere it apparently was not always certain what format would arrive. But the bulk of the programme came from the BFI, so there must have been certainty in these cases. There is a mistaken assumption that watching digital is the same or better than celluloid. I thought, as with the Hitchcock silents and on this occasion with the Keaton, that this is not the case.

The notes on 35mm did provide frame rates. But this was not the case with DCPS. The sound films would run at 24 fps, but what happens with silents. FIAF has now provide specifications for silent running rates on digital: but there seems to be very little usage of these in the UK.

And none of the notes provided aspect ratios. This was a particular problem because early sound films tended to be in 1.33:1 with the framing reduced by the added soundtracks. And there was apparent frequent cropping in the 35mm sound prints. These require appropriate projection plates and lenses, which I assume the Phoenix do not have. But it would have been good to have been forewarned about this.

One of Leeds' 100 year-old cinemas.

One of Leeds’ 100 year-old cinemas.

Still my views are predominately positive and hopefully there will be future silent festivals. So I wanted to add two suggestions. One is that by number nineteen it will be long overdue to have a festival in the North of England. Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle and Sheffield could all provide excellent venues. And my own city of Leeds could also do so: and there are in or nearby the city five working cinemas that a hundred years ago were already exhibiting the films that are the subject of these festivals. We could also have an overdue appreciation of Louis Le Prince.

My other suggestion is regarding content. The films were fine, but I did weary slightly of the uncritical patriotism. It would be good to have early films from the Socialist and Labour Movements. Groups like Kino and the Film and Photo League continued making silents into the 1930s. And there were talented and interesting filmmakers like Ivor Montagu and Ralph Bond. Some of these films certainly survive, even if only in their original 16mm format. Wheel them out?

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The 18th British Silent Film Festival – Day 3.

Posted by keith1942 on September 19, 2015

An example of a Windjammer.

An example of a Windjammer.

Saturday had a distinct maritime flavour. We opened with the 1930 Windjammer. Loraine Porter introduced the film and we learnt that the project started as a film record of a voyage of Grace Harwar from Australia to England carrying grain. The voyage rounded the Cape Horn, so it was long and arduous. A.J. Villiers, [author of a book By Way of Cape Horn) recorded the voyage with cameraman Gregory Walker: who died near the voyage’s end. They filmed at silent speed, though it is not clear if it was a hand-cranked camera. After the voyage Villiers attempted to get the record released as a film. The first attempt failed, but there was more success with Wardour Films and it was released in a sound version. This unfortunately led to a disappointing version. The on-ship footage is often impressive, but only about 2,000 foot [a third of the total] made it into the 58 minute release. The rest was a sort of dramatic addition, filmed either in a studio or on the port-moored ship. This offered the poor sound and dramatic qualities of the early thirties. And the silent footage was speeded up, maybe from 20 to 24 fps? Villiers also suffered because he had great difficulties in getting any share of the income, which was less than the production and release costs. A missed opportunity unless someone can find surviving footage.

the RMS Lusitania

The RMS Lusitania

Following this there was background and film examples about the notorious sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. There were some particular interesting examples of the use of animation for wartime propaganda. The session then offered Imperial War Museum material on Lord Kitchener: a chance for landlubbers to regain their feet. I was fascinated to learn that Kitchener was possibly gay and involved in such a relationship.

After lunch we had more water with Buster Keaton and his Steamboat Bill Jnr (1928). Some of my friends were very taken with this digital version, [which is getting a UK general release]. I found it had that flat surface patina that is a problem with digital versions. The better side of the session was Neil Brand, first talking about Keaton, and then providing a sparkling accompaniment.

After tea – the refreshment breaks were frequent and well done – we had another early sound film, The Great Game from British Instructional Films (1930). The ‘great’ game was football. The film effectively combined fictional dramatic sequences with actual footage, including Wembley and the FA Cup. The plot was fairly generic, and included a young footballer trying to make the first team. But the central conflict was in the Board Room, twixt Chairman and Manager. Rather nicely, and presumably reflective of currents in the 1930s, the emphasis was on the team. Surprisingly for me, it was also a period with debates about transfer fees, which made it seem quite up-to-date.

The actual FA Cup 1930.

The actual FA Cup 1930.

The afternoon finished with another Soviet feature, The Cosmic Voyage (1936). This originally had a synchronised score but had an electronic accompaniment at the Phoenix. It had also been screened at the previous Giornate del Cinema Muto. This science fiction feature offered a preview of a coming Soviet Moon shot, with impressive designs and construction, whilst aiming for a scientifically based view of the future.

In the evening the Festival moved to Leicester Cathedral and the new tomb of Richard Third. The film, Jane Shore (1915), was set during the Yorkshire vs. Lancaster Wars of the Roses. Richard, as villain rather than hero or wise monarch, appears in the film. The film’s notable appeal is in the use of location settings with large numbers of extras. The version screened also had the original tinting restored. And there was a live accompaniment by Orchestra Celeste. So the day ended land-bound again.

Jane Shore booklet

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The 18th British Silent Film Festival – Day 2.

Posted by keith1942 on September 18, 2015

Maurice Elvey - the film director.

Maurice Elvey – the film director.

The Friday was devoted to silent films and included some titles from Europe. We opened with a film by the British director Maurice Elvey, The Rocks of Valpre (1919). Elvey was a prolific but uneven filmmaker. This however was one of his finer films. Unfortunately there were at least two, probably three, missing sequences. However, the film followed fairly closely [I was advised] the adapted novel by Ethel M Dell and even with plot ellipsis it was possible to make sense of events. What distinguished the film was the locations [partly filmed in Torbay though set in France) and the style, with distinctive use of iris, shot placement and cutting. And there was a fine piano accompaniment by Neil Brand.

There followed Not for Sale from the Stoll Company (1924). The film was scripted by Lydia Hayward who has featured in earlier festivals with adaptations of stories by W. W. Jacobs. This was early example of the ‘romcom’ or romantic comedy. Ian Hunter plays a rich aristocrat, Lord Denny, whose spindrift ways are bought to a sudden halt by his father. He is forced to find paid employment and moved from a Mayfair flat to a lower class boarding house run by Anne (Mary Odette). Hunter played the lighter comic touch well and there were many engaging scenes and, as you might expect, economic and romantic travails. The film also enjoyed a suitably light accompaniment from John Sweeney.

Ian Hunter

Ian Hunter

The day also saw two films on which the young Alfred Hitchcock worked at the London studio of Famous-Players. Hitchcock is credited with the film titles, though none of the actual title cards survive. Charles Barr provided introductions to the films and a possible relationship to the body of Hitchcock’s full directorial work. The Man From Home (1922) followed a young US heiress on a European tour and mainly set on the Italian Rivera. The plot was fairly generic and predictable, with the young heiress and her brother tempted astray by continental fortune seekers. But the production values of this US company were notable. The second film from the same studio was a unusual, bizarre example. Three Live Ghosts (1922) only survives in a re-edited version from the Soviet Union and Gosfilmofond. In the 1920s films from the capitalist west were frequently changed through editing and titling to accord better with the socialist values of the new Republic. There were performances of Intolerance (1916|) with added live choral inserts to improve the film. And Eisenstein, whilst learning his craft with Esfir Shubb, did some re-editing on films by Fritz Lang. Unfortunately whoever worked on this film was not of the same calibre. The changes relied almost wholly on new titles and the plotting was confusing and the political comment simplistic to say the least. However, it is a rare example of a uncommon cinematic form. We also enjoyed a fine Swedish import, Den Starkaste / The Strongest (1929). The films had previously been screened at Il Giornate del Cinema Muto in 2013, but this fine production is worth several viewings. It is partly a romantic drama, but much of the film involves arctic voyages and hunts, and the quality of the settings and cinematography is admirable. Stephen Horne provided a suitable and lyrical musical accompaniment.

Ivan Mosjoukine.

Ivan Mosjoukine.

The evening screening was Michel Strogoff (1926). This was one of the French films involving Russian émigrés in the 1920s. It stared Ivan Mosjoukine, a really charismatic actor of the silent era. A Siberian adventure based on a Jules Verne novel, one of the attractions of this film version was the use of Pathecolor [a stencil colour process] for a dramatic sequence. It was also an epic, running 169 minutes.

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The 18th British Silent Film Festival

Posted by keith1942 on September 16, 2015

Silent cover

This excellent four-day event, British Silent Film and the Transition to Sound, took place from the 10th to the 13th of September at the Phoenix in Leicester. It was also supported by the BFI, The Arts and Humanities Research Council and De Montfort University. There was a programme of early films, some of which I will post on individually. And there were introductions and longer contributions on the films and the context of the transition from silent film to sound film. This event was extremely well organised. The programme was intelligent and interesting. The contributions were stimulating. There were well prepared supporting notes.

It says a lot for the organisation that the programme went off with only a couple of minor hitches, even though relying on a stack of film cans from 80 or 90 years ago. The provision by the cinema was also excellent: friendly staff, very good catering and always someone to point one in the right direction. The projection team worked well not only with many old films but with a variety of format – celluloid and digital. And then there were a bunch of talented musicians.

Thursday featured early examples of the new sound technology in British cinema. The day opened with Larraine Porter offering an illustrated talk on the period of transition. Rather like the first years of cinema this was a complicated picture, with rival sounds systems, rival companies and a competition to offer the first example. The larger competition was between the USA and Europe. The most notable intruder was Western-Electric; whilst the notable European system was Tobis Klang-film. As in the USA, whilst there were examples of disc with film, the industry soon tended to sound-on-film.

There had already been a burst of investment following the Film Act of 1927. Much of this, was speculative. As Larraine noted, of six companies launched in May 1928, only Associated Talking Picture survived into the mid-1930s. The new technology required heavy investment, both for studios and cinemas. It also required relatively quick returns, but the UK was already dominated by Hollywood studios and [to a degree] their distribution arms.

Many of these early sound films do not survive. Critical comment suggests that at least some of them did not deserve to. However, there were films of higher quality. One was the morning screening, The W Plan, from British International Pictures (1930). It was directed by Victor Saville at the Elstree Studio and used the RCA Sound System. The film was a World War I spy story and ran for 104 minutes. It starred Brian Aherne [soon to move to Hollywood] and Madeline Carroll: soon to work with Alfred Hitchcock.


After lunch Geoff Brown asked ‘Was Blackmail Britain’s First Talkie?’ As you might expect, it depends on the definition. And Geoff actually said very little about the Hitchcock film but offered descriptions and illustrations of some of the other contenders. These included the now infamous White Cargo where Tondaleyo leads the colonial administrator astray: Mr Smith Wakes Up, a comedy short with Elsa Lanchester singing: Under the Greenwood Tree, which offered a delightful sequence when the village musicians discover the vicar has purchased an organ and threatens part of their livelihoods: and To What Red Hell, a film with an anti-capital punishment message and a character frequently seen after both World Wars, the damaged veteran (all titles released in 1929).          

There were two screenings in the afternoon. There was Dark Red Roses from British Talking Pictures (1929). Unfortunately sequences from the film were missing and it only ran 53 minutes. However, it had a straightforward revenge plot with the rather stilted dialogue common in this period. The second film was a jollier affair, Splinters from British & Dominion Film Corporation (1929). The company had a tie-up with The Gramophone Company ‘His Master’s Voice’, which enabled it to offer recorded music and artists. Splinters was a musical revue actually started by the top brass to entertain front-line soldiers in 1915. And it had become a box-office attraction post-war in London and on tours. There was a certain amount of presentation of the condition nears the front and then the entertainments. These were remarkably good and included an impressive female interpreter, Reg Stone.

I missed the evening screenings, just to be in a fit state for the next day. But the evening featured the US sound version of High Treason from the Gaumont Company (1929) and war drama The Guns of Loos from Stoll Picture Productions (1928).


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The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands, UK 1927

Posted by keith1942 on February 14, 2015


These days the BFI journal Sight & Sound has a regular column on The World of Silent Cinema – ‘Primal Screen’. The new issue (March 2015) has a report by Bryony Dixon on a screening of The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands organised by ‘The Falkland Island 1914 Centenary Committee’. The title of the latter illuminates the values of the article, which describes this as ‘a glorious odd opportunity of a lifetime’. The BFI staff member and film were flown down to the Malvinas in a RAF airbus. Obviously another British propaganda exercise [in the bourgeois sense].

As far as I know this is the only silent film that features the islands. However, Bryony Dixon goes on to note sound films that also feature the area. She seems to have only seen two British films. Certainly there is no mention of a film like Resurrected: a far more critical treatment than the two that she lists. Like wise there is no mention of Argentinean films that treat the conflict: for example, Verónico Cruz (1987) and Illuminados por el fuego. That is as one-sided as British war films from earlier conflicts, including World War I. So, re the Malvinas, colonialism is alive and kicking in this so-called ‘post-colonial’ world.

Bryony Dixon ends the article by listing some of the other recent BFI restorations that have been screened in far away places. Some of these, I know for a fact, used 35mm prints transported from the UK. Presumably this applies to the screening of The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands, which would explain why a RAF airbus was needed. However, whilst the BFI is happy to transport these valued prints over thousands of miles they are not as forthcoming nearer home. I know of cases where an exhibitor has specifically requested a 35mm print for a screening and they have been fobbed off with a DCP. The political reaction probably matters more, but having to suffer inferior copies is equally galling.


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The Epic of Everest

Posted by keith1942 on January 8, 2014

An iris shot of Everest

An iris shot of Everest

This is a record of the 1924 British Expedition to Mount Everest (Chomolungma in Tibetan). The attempt failed but remained famous because of the death high on the mountain of two English climbers, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. The film records both the expedition to the mountain and the attempted ascent. The filming was undertaken by Captain J. B. L. Noel, using a specially adapted camera to film in the difficult conditions on the ground and on the mountain itself. Noel was only able to carry the camera up to the lower camps, but he recorded the climbs higher up by using a powerful telephoto lens.

Noel edited the footage and added explanatory title cards to create a documentary record of the expedition. He successfully recorded the journey of the expedition to the mountain and the grandeur of the ice fields at its foot and the steep snow and ice-bound slopes of the ascent. The title cards do more than explain. They provide a sort of commentary on the expedition and on its tragic conclusion. The commentary has a strong tone of orientalism about it. It also presents the expedition as a rather unique venture. Noel had in fact filmed an earlier expedition in 1922. But there is no mention of this in the title cards, suggesting that the expedition is a rather special, new type of venture.

Visually the film is impressive. This is scenery on a grand scale: the great mountain frequently dwarfs the British climbers and their laden Sherpas. The film certainly conjures up both the isolation and the impressive size and bleakness of Everest and the surrounding peaks and glaciers.

The bfi has restored the film and made it available around the UK. However, it seems that they have only distributed it in a digital format, a 2K DCP, running for 87 minutes. This did not seem to me to do due justice to the films visual qualities. Much of the footage has the sharper outlines found in digital formats. In fact the most impressive shots are those that were tinted, blue and orange. The tinting presumably softening the harder edges of the digital image. Moreover, the film has been step-printed to accommodate the projection speed of digital, 24-fps. Noel was using cameras fitted with electric motors but I have not found any record of the camera speed. It certainly seems to have been slower than 24 fps: in fact some of the fottage appeared to vary in projection speed: perhaps he varied the speeds or over or under cranked at times.

I had in fact seen the film before, at the 1995 Il Cinema Ritrovato. Then we viewed a Nederlands Filmmuseum black and white 35mm print, which [in the record] ran for 110 minutes. This had English intertitles as in the bfi restoration. My memory is that the visual quality of the Nederlands print was fairly good. And I don’t remember there being sequences that appeared speeded-up. I don’t have a record of the projection speed, but given it was a 35mm print it may well have enjoyed varied projection speeds. The difference in running times would not be explained solely by differences in projection speeds. I did think that the bfi version felt rather compressed towards the end. There is a bfi WebPages on the restoration, however it does not mention the length or the frame speed. The digital version clearly had some step printing in it, though with the sequences at variable speeds it is difficult to gauge the ratio of extra frames.

It is a shame that the bfi are not offering a 35mm print on this occasion. They will presumably have struck one from the restoration. The modern 35mm projectors with which I am familiar can change projection speeds at the push of a button. Though it would require an experienced and attentive projectionist to perform the operation. It is now possible to transfer early film to digital at the appropriate projection speed. The specifications provided by FIAF for this range from 16 fps to 24 fps. Of course, with this particular film there would still be a problem with the projection speed because I don’t think variation within a feature is possible on digital. If I am wrong, someone please fill me in on this.

As it stands I did not feel this digital version did proper justice to Noel’s cinematographic feats in the most hostile of environs. The digital effect on the image seemed to me quite noticeable at times. And one of the sections which appeared too fast was a rescue incident and this subverted the intended tension of the sequence. The digital version also had a sound accompaniment, partly composed of electronic music and partly of Nepalese ethnic instruments. It did not work for me; the parts that I thought effective were actually traditional piano. The Ritrovato presentation had a small musical ensemble with a score composed by Willem Friede from the Rotterdam Conservatorium: as I remember it worked very well. Can we hope for a 35mm print circulating at some future date? This would also provide space for live accompaniments and musicians able to respond to the quality of the film.



The Epic of Everest was screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014 in the ‘Recovered and restored’ section. The film was screened in a 35mm print at 20 fps. The Catalogue notes that “The prints were scanned at a resolution of 4K using a wet gate to eliminate scratches and a novel technique was developed to scan selected scenes using individual colour LED’s to compensate for deterioration of the blue toning and the severe mould damage.” There was no mention of variable camera speeds, which certainly seemed the case when I saw the digital version and which affected the step printing for the DCP.

This is another example of the BFI transporting 35mm prints thousand of miles for a Festival, whilst they seem unwilling to transport the film a couple of hundred miles for indigenous audiences. And I am pretty sure that the DCP circulated in the UK was only 2K.

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