THURSDAY 10 SEPTEMBER
The W Plan (1930)
Dir: Victor Saville: UK 1930: 95mins: U
Cast: Brian Aherne, Madeleine Carroll, Gordon Harker
A tense WWI spy thriller in which Colonel Duncan Grant (British star Brian Aherne, in his first talking role), parachutes into Germany to gather intelligence on the enemy’s secret ‘W Plan’ and to assist Allied POWs in digging escape tunnels. This early British talkie is a revelation; taut, stylish, with a great cast and a thrilling plot. The trade press were uncharacteristically enthusiastic about a British talkie, saying ‘thrills in plenty, a little romance and a considerable amount of joy. It is a triumph for Brian Aherne.’ Film Weekly, 12.7.1930.
British Silent Film and the Transition to Sound
Was Blackmail Really Britain’s First Talkie?”
Presentation and screenings by Geoff Brown.
History always tells us that Britain’s first talking feature was Hitchcock’s sound version of Blackmail, which famously went under the microphones in the spring of 1929. We hear much less about its close rivals and competitors. It was a turbulent scene, with films like the tropical melodrama White Cargo (advertising dubbed it “the world’s most sensational all-talking film”), and the even more fraught drama ofTo What Red Hell (epilepsy, murder, cabaret entertainment, Sybil Thorndike: what more could you want?).
Panting alongside the production of Blackmail, there was also Gaumont’s futuristic and very spectacular High Treason, and the rural delights of BIP’s Thomas Hardy adaptation Under the Greenwood Tree – begun in the mists of 1928, but then abandoned, and then relaunched. Nor should we forget the fogbound mystery thriller Black Waters, made by Herbert Wilcox’s British & Dominions company in late 1928 in Hollywood; or 25-minute stepping stones like the comedy Mr Smith Wakes Up! and other two- and three-reelers shot in the early months of 1929.
Using clips, illustrations, and research drawn from close inspection of the trade papers, Geoff Brown surveys the hectic landscape of a film industry just beginning its painful transition from silent to sound production. Was the sound version of Blackmail really Britain’s first talkie? The answer, it turns out, isn’t at all clear-cut.
Dark Red Roses (1929)
Dir: Sinclair Hill, UK 1929, 53mins. PG
Cast: Stuart Rome, Frances Doble, Kate Cutler, Hugh Eden, Jack and Jill Clayton
When a handsome young cellist ingratiates himself on the wealthy Cardew family, Mrs Laura Cardew (Frances Doble) appears to become infatuated with him, much to the frustration of her artist husband David (Stuart Rome). Convinced that his wife is having an affair he seizes the opportunity for hideous revenge when Laura suggests that he makes a cast of the musician’s priceless hands. The couple’s children are played by real-life siblings Jill and Jack Clayton, the latter who went on to become a director in his own right and the film features a rare appearance of the legendary dancer George Balanchine, performing his own choreography.
Dir: Jack Raymond: UK 1929; 82mins. U.
Cast: Sydney Howard, Nelson Keys, Carroll Gibbons.
Continuing our look at 1915, Splinters tells of the origins of the 1915 musical comedy revue of the same name, founded by British soldiers fighting on the Western Front in France. The film opens with an intertitle stating ‘Supported by a beauty chorus of 40 and everyone a perfect gentleman’, which sets the film’s tone as much of the revue features some of the most convincing drag acts ever seen on the screen. A fascinating and light-hearted insight into a slice of WWI history, made all the more authentic as it features some of the original Splinters cast.
See link below for the full Splinters programme, courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.
High Treason (1928)
Dir: Maurice Elvey, UK 1929, 67mins, U
Cast: Jameson Thomas, Benita Hulme, Humberston Wright, Irene Rook,, Basil Gill
Based on Noel Pemberton Billing’s futuristic play, this early British sci-fi was influenced by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis with Andrew Mazzei’s stunning set design imagining life in 1940. The world has divided into two conflicting entities; the United States of Europe and the Empire of the Atlantic State and peace is threatened when a terrorist plot is uncovered to blow-up the rail tunnel under the English Channel. This is a remarkably prescient film that foresaw the Channel Tunnel sixty four years before it opened, but it is also a plea for world peace a decade after the end of WWI. Made as both silent and sound, this is the sound version re-discovered in the Library of Congress.
The Guns of Loos (1928)
Dir. Sinclair Hill
Scr. Reginald Fogwell, Leslie Howard Gordon
Cast: Henry Victor, Madeleine Carroll, Donald McArdle, Danny Laidlaw
Set against the backdrop of the shell crisis of 1915 at home and the Battle of Loos on the Western Front, two soldiers, one the manager of Grimlaw’s munitions factory are tested in their rivalry for Diana, a red cross nurse (Madeleine Carroll in her first film role). They are equally tested on the battlefield where issue of class an personal bravery are sensitively explored. An extraordinary action sequence – the saving of the guns – gives the lie to the myth that British silent film was static and stagey.
Accompanied by Stephen Horne’s stirring new score. The score was commissioned by Great War Dundee Project, together with Dundee Contemporary Arts, the DCA screening on 26th Sept will be the Scottish premiere.
FRIDAY 11 SEPTEMBER
The Rocks of Valpre (1919)
Dir: Maurice Elvey: UK 1919, 80mins. U.
Cast: Basil Gill, Peggy Carlisle, Cowley Wright, Humberston Wright
Adapted from the novel by the extremely popular writer, Ethel M Dell, this is a romantic melodrama about a young woman, Christine, who falls in love with a glamorous French soldier. Bertrand is involved in secret work with the French army but when he gets falsely accused of stealing army plans, she marries the sensible, rich and older Trevor Mordaunt. Their marriage is strained when her feckless brothers hint that she has only married him for his money and they themselves keep pestering for handouts. Marital problems escalate and her fidelity questioned when Christine and Bertrand get cut off by the tide on the Rocks of Valpre and are forced to spend the night together. Elvey’s Torbay locations look absolutely sumptuous!
Not For Sale (1924)
Dir: Will Kellino, UK 1924, 86mins
Screenplay by Lydia Hayward from the novel by Monica Ewer
Cast: Mary Odette, Ian Hunter, Gladys Hamer, Mary Brough, Moore Marriott, Jack Trevor
The BSFF has been agreeably surprised at the quality of the films scripted by Lydia Hayward in recent years – her work with Manning Haynes on their adaptations of W. W. Jacobs stories are a genuine rediscovery of the best of British silent cinema. This modest but well constructed tale of a young aristocrat reduced to living in a Bloomsbury boarding house. A strong ensemble cast is well directed by comedy king W P Kellino.
The Man from Home (1922)
Dir George Fitzmaurice, UK 1922,
Cast: Anna Q Nilsson, Norman Kerry, James Kirkwood, Annette Benson, Jose Ruben
Like Three Live Ghosts, The Man from Home was adapted from an American property, the 1908 novel by Booth Tarkington (best known for The Magnificent Ambersons). It’s a fairly conventional romance of an American heiress, loved by boy back home, bedazzled by a glamorous prince in beautiful Italian surroundings. In the print surviving at the EYE Film Institute in the Netherlands the English titles designed by Hitchcock have again been replaced but Hitchcock scholars Charles Barr and Alain Kerzoncuf do offer an argument that Hitchcock’s hand id detectable in the film! Charles Barr will explain more in his introduction.
Den Starkaste/ The Strongest (1929)
Dir: Alf Sjoberg, Axel Lindblom, Sweden 1929, 97mins
Cast: Anders Henrikson, Bengt Djurberg, Gun Holmquist, Hjalmer Peters
An itinerant sailor meets a beautiful girl on the road and takes a job with her father, the Skipper of an Arctic sealer. He must prove himself stronger than his rival among the glaciers and ice floes. One of the most striking films of the late Swedish silent cinema and among the greatest silents of all time.The cramped scenes on board the ship are beautifully contrasted with images of the men leaping from ice floe to ice floe in search of their quarry. One suspects that the filmmaking was as heroic as the story.
Three Live Ghosts (1922)
Dir George Fitzmaurice, UK, 1922, 90mins
Cast: Anna Q Nilsson, Norman Kerry, Edmund Golding, Cyril Chadwick, John Miltern
Recently rediscovered at Gosfilmofond this comedy is one of the thought-to-be lost films on which a young Alfred Hitchcock worked during his tenure at the Famous Players Lasky’s London studio. Directed by George Fitzmaurice, this was adapted from a popular Broadway play and concerns three veterans who return to London from the War only to discover that they have been officially listed as dead. Hitchcock aficionados will recognise regular favourite Clare Greet and Annette Benson in the cast. Introduced by Charles Barr. The original titles as designed by AH are replaced with Russian translations but we can see the kind of film he was working on at that stage in his career.
Michel Strogoff (1926)
Dir. Victor Tourjansky, France, 1926, U.
Scr. Tourjansky , Mosjoukine, Boris De Fast
As we celebrate the centenary of Technicolor this Pathecolor spectacle shows what glories could be achieved with the stencil process developed way back in the 1900s. An adaptation of Jules Verne’s epic scale Siberian adventure ‘Courier of the Czar’ is the perfect vehicle for mega star Ivan Mosjoukine. This huge production out-Hollywoods Hollywood in offering fantastic locations, costumes, action and romance. The colour sequence in the Tartar camp is astonishing and unforgettable and brace yourself for a genuinely affecting torture scene.
The British Silent Film Festival would like to thank the Cinémathèque française for the loan of this film.
SATURDAY 12 SEPTEMBER
Dir: J.O.C. Orton, UK 1930, 58mins, U
Cast: Tony Bruce, Michael Hogan, Hal Gordon, Sam Livesey
Adapted from the book By Way of Cape Horn by A.J Villiers, Windjammer is a beautifully-filmed record of the last journey of the Grace Harwar, a full-rigged Windjammer sailing from Australia to England via Cape Horn. A hybrid of actuality and fiction, the real-life film of the journey was shot silent and later combined with dramatic ‘talkie’ sequences filmed in the UK. The journey was fraught with difficulty as the ship encountered storms, rough seas and becalming in the Doldrums. The crew ran out of food and water and tragically the cameraman, Gregory Walker, was killed on the journey with his burial-at-sea incorporated into the narrative. Windjammer is a unique portrait of the last of the great sailing ships and the men who served on the most demanding but stunning sea voyages.
The World in 1915 – The Sinking of the Lusitania
Dir: Various, UK, 40mins, PG.
2015 marks the centenary of the sinking of the passenger liner RMS Lusitania by a German U boat on in the waters off Ireland resulted in the deaths of 1,198 people, 128 of which were American, an event that marked the first step toward the United States’ entry into the First World War. Still shrouded in controversy this event, had a huge impact in which cinema, now a well established news media, played its part.
Bryony Dixon will show footage, including rarely seen early British animation, relating to the sinking of the Lusitania and discover how the beautiful ‘Lucy’ intersects with the world of silent film.
The Death of a War Hero
Dir: Various, UK, 30mins, PG.
On 5 June 1916, HMS Hampshire was sunk by a German mine off the coast of Mainland, Orkney. Among the 655 men killed was Lord Horatio Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, and a national hero. Kitchener had not only created the new volunteer Army, which first saw action at the Battle of the Somme, but was personally identified with the formation of this force, by his face appearing on recruiting posters. Mystery and speculation surrounded the sinking of the Hampshire and the death of Kitchener (as his body was never recovered), while the loss of the ship was greatly felt by Orcadians, as many had rushed to the cliffs overlooking the point at which the Hampshire had sunk to try to rescue survivors. Both aspects of this story – the mystery and the loss, are covered in two rarely seen films from the IWM collection, Earl Kitchener of Khartoum (1926) and ‘The Unveiling of the Kitchener Memorial, Orkney’(1926). The second part of the programme will be a selection of animated films used for military training during the First World War. Dr Toby Haggith, Senior Curator, IWM.
Steamboat Bill Jnr (1928) + Keaton Programme
Dir: Buster Keaton, Charles Reisner, USA, 111mins, U.
Neil Brand analyses Buster Keaton’s character, comedy, greatest stunts and superb understanding of the camera in a mixture of clips, informed context and the complete, sparkling new restoration of Steamboat Bill Jnr, all accompanied live on the piano. From his earliest films with Fatty Arbuckle, through his glory days, to the two stunts that really nearly did kill him, we meet Buster the man and the character, as well as enjoying some of the funniest moments in silent comedy.
The Great Game
Dir: Jack Raymond, UK 1930, 76mins, U
Cast: John Batten, Renee Clama, Jack Cock, Randle Ayrton, Rex Harrison, Billy Blyth
Set in Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge football ground and featuring appearances from many real-life players from the day, this is the first film to feature football as its central theme and is recognisably modern and authentic. It deals with the day to day dramas, conflicts and love interests of players and managers in the run-up to the Cup Final. The Club manager wants to introduce new, young players whilst the Chairman insists on signing older, mature players such as Jack Cock who played for Chelsea in real-life. There’s a romantic side story between the Manager’s daughter and aspiring young player who wants to break into the team and the film features the first appearance by Rex Harrison.
The Cosmic Voyage (1936)
Dir: Vasili Zhuravlov, USSR 1936, 75mins U.
Cast: Sergei Komarov, Vasilii Kovrigin, Viktor Gaponenko, Nikolai Feoktistov
Vasili Zhuravlov’s film version of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s book about a boy’s involvement with the first Soviet moon shot (in 1946!) was intended to encourage a generation of cosmonauts, and with its breath taking model work, pacy action-adventure vibe, it certainly does that, or it would have done had it ever been released, The film was closely linked with the Soviet space race and its amazing futuristic architecture and technology is closely linked with the ideas of Soviet Constructivism. Its visionary achievement predicts real-life developments in space exploration with uncanny accuracy.
Neil Brand’s new electronic score channels Ron Goodwin and Hans Zimmer and premieres here at the British Silent Film Festival.
8.30pm at Leicester Cathedral
Dir. Bert Haldane, F. Martin Thornton, UK, 1915,
Scr. Rowland Talbot from play by W G Wills
Cast: Blanch Forysthe, Roy Travers, Rolf Leslie, Robert Purdie
A cast of thousands is used to great effect by Will Barker in his ambitious 1915 version of the much-told story of Jane Shore, a goldsmith’s wife who becomes mistress to Edward IV and then falls foul of the future Richard the Third. With gorgeous location work at the Devil’s Punch Bowl and Chepstow Castle this early feature demonstrates a love for historical drama that shows no sign of abating in British film today. Newly transferred, with its original tints from a nitrate print this is a rare chance to see this early classic from the BFI National Archive on the big screen, presented with a dazzling new score by Laura Rossi.
SUNDAY 13 SEPTEMBER
The World in 1915 – Gallipoli
Dir. Various, UK, 90mins, U.
The centenary of Gallipoli has a poignancy for Australian and New Zealand for whom it was a defining nation-building episode. It was no less traumatic for the Allied troops of Britain and France with their racially diverse regiments or indeed for the Turks who were defending their homeland at appalling cost. You have to look hard at the morale boosting films made during the campaign to see any of its horrors but the myth building on which subsequent films such as Tell England (1931) and Gallipoli (1981) draw is clear as daylight. Presented by Bryony Dixon
Tell England (1931)
Dir. & Scr. Anthony Asquith, Geoffrey Barkas, UK, 1931, 82mins, U.
Cast: Carl Harbord, Tony Bruce, Fay Compton, Dennis Hoey
Anthony Asquith and Geoffrey Barkas directed this adaptation of a 1922 novel by Ernest Raymond in which two friends find themselves in the middle of the terrible events at Gallipoli. Despite the compromised quality of the 1931 soundtrack this is a beautifully made film – the beach landings sequence is one of the finest action sequences of early British cinema. If the story rings a bell it’s because it was the inspiration for Peter Weir’s celebrated Gallipoli (1981). Asquith’s older brother fought at Gallipoli burying his friend Rupert Brooke who died on the way there.
The Silent Persuader
Early British Advertising Films
Dir: Various, UK, 75mins
A dip into the forgotten world of motion picture advertising. Did you know that there were advertising films even before cinemas? Join Steve Foxon (BFI Curator) for a light hearted look at as we explore the growth of the cinematic advert right up to WWII and see some of the finest and sometimes bizarre products that British consumers were exposed to at the cinema. From Rudge bicycles to Rufflette curtain tape we delve into the lucrative medium that was the Silent Persuader.
Rågens Rike/The Kingdom of Rye (1929)
Dir: Ivar Johansson; Sweden 1929, 128mins
Cast: Mathias Taube, Eric Laurent, Märtha Lindlöf, Margit Manstad
Based on a Finnish poem, The Kingdom of Rye is a gorgeous romantic drama set in rural northern Sweden during the harvest. It features a young couple whose love affair is fraught with Hardy-esque complications and an unhappily married wife of the landowner. It deals with themes such as man’s dependence upon nature, masculine rivalry, love and passion, underscored with seething sexual tension. The eerie atmosphere of the unhappy wife’s lonely night time walks and the frenzied drinking duels between rival farmers are contrasted with the beauty and tranquillity of the Nordic summer nights and its sumptuous landscape.
Dir: Alexander Dovzhenko: USSR 1929, 92mins, PG
Cast: Semyon Svashenko, Amvrosi Buchma, Georgi Khorkov, Dimitri Erdman, Sergei Petrov.
The second of Ukrainian director, Dovzhenko trilogy is set in the bleak aftermath of WWI and during the 1918 Russian Civil War. Timosh, a demobbed soldier, survives a devastating train crash on his return home from the War to find that Ukrainian freedom is being prematurely celebrated. Timosh becomes increasingly disenfranchised with the governance of the munitions factory in which he works and calls for the adoption of the new Soviet Collectivism. Dovzhenko was commissioned by Stalin to make Arsenal in order to win the Ukrainian people over to the Soviet cause. The film’s ultimate failure to do so, is possibly a reflection of Dovzhenko’s own divided loyalties.