The year is now officially underway with the first Bioscope of 2016 and what a grand way to start with a rarely-seen British thriller featuring one of our leading men, Ivor Novello, a striking young man who for those unfamiliar is not unlike a leaner Valentino.
Novello co-wrote the script and the original stage play with Constance Collier and starred in both along with two no doubt smashing sequels - The Triumph of the Rat (1926) and The Return of the Rat (1929). This is the kind of character Hitchcock was casting in The Lodger – a contemporary leading man without peer in the UK and with a refined dramatic style that reflected a supernatural wit.
|The Jeans Genie and the Thin White Duke|
Novello prowls the opening sequences with delicious intent, Top Cat more than King Rat, breaking hearts for a living whilst being looked after by the steadfast Odile Etrange played by Mae Marsh – with whom he’d been in a DW Griffith film the previous year. He’d played a conflicted preacher, Joseph Beaugarde in The White Rose but here as Pierre Boucheron, The Rat, he has no qualms to slow down his criminal style.
The Rat is at ease with himself, equally adept at making women fall for him as he is at throwing his cap and dagger at the wall in order to create an instant hat stand – that’s a trick for me to work on in our hallway… We first see him on the run from the police, hiding under a man-hole as they stand overhead, unaware enough for him to slice the shoelaces off one man’s shoe.
He frequents a lively nightclub called the White Coffin Club where the prevailing ethos seems to be burning out before fading away… and where the coffin-shaped doorways and general décor are simply to die for… The redoubtable Marie Ault is superb as Mère Colline, the WCC’s mistress of ceremonies whilst the striking Julie Suedo as Mou Mou is one of Rat’s former lovers, scrapping with other contenders and ripping her skirt to dance a dirty tango with our anti-hero.
|The White Coffin Club: check out the coffin-shaped doors|
|Julie Suedo as Mou Mou|
Elsewhere there is grander entertainment as rich manipulator Herman Stetz (Robert Scholtz) treats his much younger lady friend Zélie de Chaumet (Isabel Jeans) to some culture. The dance sequences are spectacular and well filmed. Zélie is a thrill-seeker, slightly bored with it all but little does she know that her purse has just been appropriated from under her bored nose by the notorious Rat…
|Stetz and his young squeeze...|
Zélie arrives and duly becomes captivated by the dark-eyed, flop-fringed smooth criminal and the two engage in a middle-distance flirt off, he preening, she seething, especially after dropping her hankie and giving the biggest sequence of come-hithers imaginable. Eventually the irresistible object succumbs to irresistible force and there will be trouble ahead.
|Zélie and The Rat|
The second half of the film begins to play these themes out and is less entertaining than the more light-hearted first. In what has time and again been described as a period of stylistic struggle for domestic film, The Rat proved that our sense of humour and irony was a feature of our silent cinema and this was much appreciated by a full-house audience of considerable demographic diversity – I swear some of the denizens of the White Coffin Club may have dropped in for the night…
|Odile and her Rat|
Cyrus Gabrysch played some wonderfully fluid lines alongside the film and had a ball with Novello’s musicality: there’s a reason the songwriter’s best moments are in a nightclub.
Tonight’s under-card was a diverse treat from an intriguing
last surviving reel of a Danish gothic thriller, The House of Fatal Love 1919) featuring one of my favourites, Clara
Pontoppidan, in flash-back being bricked in by an enraged lover whose read too
much Edgar Allen Poe. Then there was A
Trip to the White Sea Fisheries (1909), Joseph Rosenthal’s astonishing
footage of the North Sea fishing fleet which shows the perfect storms the
fishermen faced and yet amidst all the everyday dangers they still find time to
muck about, throwing the day’s catch at each other and bobbing for apples
whilst tied upside down (just wait for next Halloween!).
|Down in the sewers...|
In keeping with tonight’s theme there was also Alice Rattled by Rats, a 1925 Disney cartoon featuring a live action Alice, dozens of dirty rats and Julius the Cat (Felix’s cousin?). Top Cat John Sweeney played along before rushing off to Bristol for more slapstick than you can shake a stick at!
|Waiting for The Man?|