Thursday, 14 September 2017

An odd mix… Cocktails (1928) with John Sweeney, British Silent Film Festival


My first film at the British Silent Film Festival and it was strange and rewarding… A supernaturally fine print from the BFI brought some superb camerawork to the fore – a very “1928” film with some lovely dolly shots, all round camera mobility topped off with some wonderful shots from a trolley bus as it carries our heroes through London streets so structurally familiar and, yet by now – one world war and generations of “planning” later – so different.

Sat near the front with John Sweeney ripping it up like the Jerry Lee Lewis of silent film accompaniment, I was lost in those streets, Wimbledon Stadium speedway, the East London Docks – mighty liners alongside huge, alien, banks of cranes, was that Holborn, the Strand, Hendon? It was a spellbinding nerdy delight.

Now… in front of those images were the weirdest couple and, in moments of high excitement, a dog. The tallest was gangly, saggy-moustached Carl Schenstrøm, aka Pat and here called “Gin” (is cocktails, isn’t it!) and then a suede-headed strangeling, Patachon, here named “It” (no idea…) played by Harald Madsen, a short, stocky man of middle years whose trousers leave a less-than-alluring two-inch gap above his socks.

I don’t know what the dog’s name was and that will haunt me for days.

Pat and Patachon
Pat and Patachon were a highly-successful duo who like Buster and Roscoe, Stan and Ollie… generated humour from their difference in stature. They were far less sophisticated than the others and… did I mention the oddness? It’s like a Fast Show skit on silent comedy duos… only a decade before Arthur “where’s me washboard” Atkinson tread the boards.

In fairness, they are unfamiliar to me and I did warm to their off-neat charm, especially once Gin shaves his ‘tache off. They hold hands a lot, which I liked, and were up for physical comedy throughout… And the dog; the dog is great!

We first encounter them as stowaways on a cruise ship, Gin who has “lost his senses” through some trauma and It who never had much sense to begin with. Before we meet them, we see two young lovers, Betty (Enid Stamp-Taylor) and Jerry (Tony Wylde) who are shot against the sea in subtle close-up as director Monty Banks establishes their delicate passion: these are the good guys and what’s more they have a trouble-shooting, all action maid called Mary (Lorna Duveen, from East Kirkby in Notts) who will turn out to be the most sympathetic, non-canine character.

One is small and the other, he is tall
The baddies are greedy Giles (Nigel Barrie) and his thuggish accomplice Bosco (Harry Terry) who are smuggling drugs into Blighty and on the look-out for patsies to help get the good past customs and coppers.

Gin and It are too good to be true and, despite Gin’s reflexive kleptomania – he evens steals fish from the Thames when they get dumped in the drink - the pair are so clueless they steal and then return Giles’ stash of tinned “Tokyo”. But they’re not the only ones in the frame as Giles slips a smaller pack into Jerry’s coat pocket and then shops him allowing his madcap mules to, just about, escape via land and sea (and as far East as Kent from the looks of some of the winding, sloped streets.

The police pursue Gin and It for a good while and there’s much comedy to be had, especially when the duo have to blend in with some ballet dancers (not the first nor last time that had to be done… but it’s funny; Madsen almost does the splits upside down). Then Gin has to drag up – you can’t miss with that one – and off comes the face fur and out comes the padding as, It checks out the curves on the woman whose clothes they’ve stolen, to make sure he gets the bumps right. Now this is very European and there’s extra sauce throughout from these Danish rascals.

Choas at Wimbledon Staduim: that's a AJS Bigport 350cc (probably!)
Cue, lady Gin pulling a cigar out of her jacket and smoking it atop a trolley bus and a series of great reaction shots from shocked fellow passengers all against that backdrop of crystal clear 1928. The chase is undertaken via motorcycle, car, horses and steam engine… as the two finally realise they’ve been played for fools by some hardened criminals.

Meanwhile, Jerry is facing prison and Betty is in bits, still cut up by her father’s mysterious disappearance in 1911… Giles is her legal guardian and seems to hold all the cards but you know at some point The Madness will provide a Method.

It is a well-made film, fast-paced  and chock full of gags – you have to see Pat make a cocktail for his mate in the climactic cocktail party… it’s oddly logical. Cocktails is not a masterpiece but worth the ride for a glimpse of the dynamic Danes at the peak of their powers. Schenstrøm had already enjoyed a long career before being teamed with Madsen – he been in August Blom's Atlantis (1913) – and the two made dozens of films between 1921 and 1940. Broadly translated Pat equals Fyrtaarnet or lighthouse whilst Patachon is a trailer or sidecar: so… Lighthouse and Sidecar it is!
Enid Stamp-Taylor
Mr Sweeney saw this one coming and played with along with delighted flourishes from start to finish matching the Danes' tone every step of the way whilst imposing a narrative and emotional tone that infused gentle flavours in the story like the finest garnish.

Full day tomorrow: bring it on and more dogs to come on Saturday! 

The boys caught the 127... Could be an AEC K-Type from 1921 or even a Dennis 4-ton?

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