Monday, 20 June 2016

A bonza day at the Bioscope! - Kennington Bioscope, 2nd Silent Film Weekend, Day Two

The mood turns ugly at the Bioscope as the flapjacks run out!
Day Two of the Kennington Bioscope Silent Weekender and we're all refreshed and ready for another winning programme of the rare, the inspirational and the just plain funny. 

For breakfast...

 The Fighting Smile (USA 1925) with Meg Morley

Directed by Jay Marchant and staring Bill Cody (who was neither Wild or related...) – a baby-faced Audie Murphy for the silent era - this film also featured Jean Arthur who would go onto eventual success with those talkies and their comedy of the screwball… Here she wears jodhpurs very well and provides plucky romantic interest for Cody’s character to rescue whilst sometimes rescuing him.

This was a very neat and enjoyable western featuring some vertiginous horse-charges down dangerous slopes, almost non-stop action and the good humour of Mr Cody and his smile of fight. It’s a likeable smile and one that is based on confidence and can-do in a world where trust is always qualified by friendship and a good heart.

Bill on the horse and Jean Arthur to the right
Cody plays Bud Brant who is returning home to help his father save his ranch from ruin caused by careless cow counting. On his way he spots what looks like a young man struggling with a bucking bronco… seeing the young fella thrown to the ground he drives his horse down a steep incline to intervene only discover ‘taint a he but a she and a mighty pretty one too, name of Rose Craddock (Miss Arthur).

The two make eyes only to be rudely interrupted by her step-father and his foreman (George Magrill and Billie Bennett respectively) who is all dressed in black - never a good sign - and intend on marrying Rose. Bill, sorry Bud, is naturally undeterred and heads onto his father’s ranch to quickly spot the solution to the mystery of the disappearing cattle – a man named Shorty (he’s not that tall you see) who has been playing both sides.

As luck would have it, Bud once saved the fella’s life and feelings of loyalty are stirred only for Shorty to get cut short by Black Hat’s bullets. Luckily there’s time for the dying man to sketch out the location of the rustler’s secret hide-away and the game is on!

Bill Cody and friend
It is formulaic fair but you can’t help but be won over by the pace and the players – it’s good to see a happy cowboy for a change and that fighting smile is also a winning one.

Meg Morley put on her ten-gallon hat and spurs for some country-flavoured accompaniment for this rhinestone cowboy, soon she’d be on home turf…

Paradise (GB 1928) with Lillian Henley

Now back to Britain for the country’s Queen of Happiness, Betty Balfour to show us just how good an actress she was. This film progressively gets darker after an opening which sees our girl – as Kitty Cranston -  struggling to complete a crossword on a crowded tube – as I type I’m on the Victoria Line – there are shades of Underground and it’s nice to see that commuter-mood hasn’t really changed.

Our Betty Balfour
Now keep that crossword in mind as it’s going to be important. Kitty’s one word away, eight letters… a place of enduring happiness? “Public ‘ouse?” miscounts a lady crammed to the left of her, “Sarf ‘end” suggests a boy to the right… it’s only when she goes to meet her boyfriend, handsome Doctor John Halliday (Joseph Striker) in his crowded waiting room (plus ca change) that his ironic comment about the state of things makes the penny drop: “Paradise!”

The Doc wants to settle down but Kitty is fed up of the rain and the grey and the rain and the trains… she wants the sunshine where people can “live”!

She gets her chance when her crossword wins her £500 and whilst her father Reverend Cranston (Winter Hall) says it should be used to help the needy Kitty decides that self-actualization is more important and heads off on a lone mission to The Riviera!

Alexander D'Arcy enjoyed a long and varied career and everywhere he went, he took is 'tache with him!
Cue bleached images of Monte Carlo as director Denison Clift’s real agenda is revealed… Kitty ignores the warnings of the Doctor and the Reverend and starts to enjoy herself in five star luxury. But it’s not long before she attracts the attention of the local gigolo, Spirdoff (Alexander D'Arcy) who opts to stop dancing with older woman for money in favour of this much younger model and her money.

Spirdoff has a moustache so sharp it could cut a deck of cards and he’s as smooth as all get out. He introduces Kitty to a group of his fellow emigres, all artists who fled the revolution and who, being honest, seem like a pretty fun crew.

Now, I’m not sure whether the film is being subtly subversive but many of us took to this diverse group of bohemians and, when the inevitable call comes to return with Honest John we were in two minds… But things don’t quite pan out that simply…

Lillian Henley, dubbed The Queen of the Twenties by Bryony Dixon – the BFI Baroness - in her introduction, was clearly right at home duetting with Betty – can we have more Bronson-Henley please?!
Sentimental Bloke (Australia 1920) with Meg Morley

Made in 1919 and on general release from 1920 this Australian film confounded so many expectations it’s hard to capture them all although Stephen Morgan – almost – the token Aussie for this day, did his best in his introduction.

Firstly, the film is based on a poem – by CJ Dennis – and retains much of the verse to form its title cards. Secondly, that verse is in colloquial Aussie, written phonetically to create the genuine idioms of the time: bonzer mate! isn’t even the half of it: it’s about stoushing the johns, cracking a boo and piling on the dog… all as perfectly understandable as a magic eye picture or a paragraph with vowels turned upside down. A brave choice but we all got it right mates?

Thirdly, this film is set mostly in Sydney and not in the outback – this is no Barbeque Western but a tale of ordinary working class lives in Woolloomooloo – a tough neighbourhood, with the odd moments in the Royal Botanical Gardens and beyond

Finally… this is a film in which a man, changes and makes sacrifices to be with the woman he loves. Now as then this is not always the case – Betty B in the above film has to be the more pliant in her relationship. There’s something in Australia’s willingness to self-examine and to be humble (if the occassion calls for it…).

Raymond Longford directed and produced and directed and his partner, Lottie Lyell acted as ‘Er later identified as Doreen for whom our hero, the rough and ready Billy the Bloke aka The Kid (although with that mug, I’d opt for the former) played by Arthur Tauchert.

Billy starts in trouble and ends up in jail for illegal gambling, he’s very much a man of his environment and yet he wants to do better. After his release he searches fro self-improvement but it’s tough work staying strong and out of the pub.

Then one day he catches a glimpse of “’er” and his World turns… but there’s a long, rocky road to escaping his roots and to winning Doreen over on her terms, not with his fists or his wits: he needs to understand
Meg Morley added antipodean cadence to the film and matched this most rhythmic of films with consideration and precision throughout. Had my mate Kevin from Adelaide been here he would have shouted, ”go you good thing!” but the Brits just clapped and smiled – a lot!

At this point, Father’s Day called and I headed home to be unconditionally-worshiped by my family…

So, I missed:
Napoleon (FR 1927)  

This was Kevin Brownlow's original, 60-minute long, 9.5mm print of Abel Gance’s epic and as such is of historical interest in itself: helping to inspire the man who played a major part in the film’s restoration. The full five and a half hour Napoleon is being screened again with full orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday 6th November – last time I screamed like a 1D fan at an appearance of Harry Styles and I shall no doubt rave on about it again.
Cyrano De Bergerac (FR 1923)

This is a sumptuous film and one I have already written about on this blog. I’d like to have seen it live to see the full impact of the colours and the sheer opulence of Augusto Genina’s production

Three Bad Men (USA 1926) with John Sweeney

I have this film on DVD but again it was a shame to miss seeing it on proper film – the BFI’s 35mm copy.

It’s one of John Ford’s major silent westerns and no doubt made for an interesting cowboy bookend to Day Two.

Again all credit to Amran, John, Cyrus, Lillian, Meg, Stephen, Costas and the crew in arranging a flawless two days – special mention also for the Bioscope’s projection wizard: Dave Locke.

To be continued…

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