Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Rare treats... Kennington Bioscope, Silent Film Weekender Day One

"To those who believe in Santa Claus, thirty miles to the gallon, and other fairy stories…"

Cruise of the Jasper B (1926) with Lilian Henley

The weekend cast off with a Jasper B-film, this one was an odd fish that put me in mind of the Marx Brothers, with period-zany humour and a hero who wasn’t afraid to dress for the occasion. Rod La Rocque looks like a lanky Fairbanks in the Black Pirate as Jerry Cleggett, descendant of an 18th Century pirate and inheritor of his family fortune so long as he marries before he’s 25… He lives on the bad-ship Jasper B but leaves it in pursuit of conveniently timed true love with Agatha Fairhaven (Mildred Harris).

All looks fair set for multi-millionaire matrimony until Reginald Maltravers (Snitz Edwards) tries to put a spoke in the wheel to rob his stepsister Agatha of her inheritance which, naturally, is detailed in the will written on her back. The second half of the film is full of entertaining hi-jinks as the couple, aided by Cleggett’s right-hand man Wiggins (Jack Ackroyd), tries to shake off their pursuers and end up being attacked by army, navy and air force… some comment on Federal government and heavy handedness perhaps?

James W. Horne directs and it was good of him to take responsibility in the circumstances. Lillian Henley accompanied keeping a cool head whilst all those around we’re nearly losing theirs.

Rider of the Stone...
The Stone Rider (1923) with John Sweeney

‘Tis the season for Weimar film and it was good to see another rare one this featuring Dr Mabuse himself, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, in the role of Der Herr vom Berge a man more villain than hero. In a weekend dominated by Hollywood films it was interesting to compare this expressionist-gothic tale with its darker themes and wild mise en scène. The central fantasy village looked like Teletubbies on mescaline and the interiors were similarly eccentric – like Caligari off-cuts. The story was dream-like but then it is a tale being told to a group of young people as they gather beneath a curious rock feature that looks like a man riding a horse…

Directed by Fritz Wendhausen from a script he co-wrote with Thea von Harbou, The Stone Rider is a grim fairy-tale but also an interesting one the subverts our expectations with redemptive love saving the soul of a man who never knew he cared.

The irony is that vom Berge is feared for his visits to disrupt weddings in his valley and it is one such love match he destroys that sets his fate in motion. The groom lashes out at him with a knife and in so doing, kills his bride Schaffnerin (Emilia Unda) … vom Berge rides off laughing, leaving the valley full of fear and a need for revenge.

Schaffnerin’s sister (Hirtin) Lucie Mannheim runs down from the mountain too late but resolves to avenge the death and sets off armed for the deed. Opportunity presents itself but something stays her hand… deeper feelings intervene and there’s hope out of hate.  But, just as the Baron softens so do his subject’s hearts harden for revenge… it’s a brutal world and The Stone Rider is determined to confront it.

John Sweeney illuminated with some expressionism of his own, monolithic slabs of gothic foreboding mixing with thrilling romance.

"Their only sin was that they loved too much..."
The Price of Pleasure (1925) with Costas Fotopolous

Turns out that even pleasure carries a charge even as The Stone Rider pays the wages of sin. This film was directed by Edward Sloman who directed His People (1925) and Surrender (1927) – two very interesting works of which Kevin Brownlow spoke highly.

Mordaunt Hall wrote a bizarre review of this film for The New York Times at the time, in which he praised the method of child actor Charles Bernard Murphy Jr. who must have been all of 18 months at the time: “He is the jolliest and most effective baby we have seen on the screen filling a rôle in a full-fledged production…” but the film is much more about the boy’s “support actors”,  Virginia Valli’s expressiveness, Norman Kerry’s heroic quality and Louise Fazenda’s sheer zip: she’s always highly watchable!

Valli plays Linnie Randall, a shop girl who marries Kerry’s Garry Schuyler who is well above her station but equally smitten. This pure love-match is does not impress Garry’s mother (Kate Lester) who cannot overlook her daughter-in-law’s humble status and employs lawyer John Osborne (George Fawcett ) to drive a wedge between the two.

Linnie runs away upset and – calamity! – gets knocked down by Garry’s over-anxious driving, somehow, he is convinced that she has died in hospital and his mother makes sure it stays that way. Meanwhile, Linnie recovers, has Garry’s baby boy – CB Murphy jnr – and gets by with her pal Stella Kelly (Louise Fazenda) babysitting… The course of true love never runs true but you can bet that joy wins out in the end.

Costas Fotopolous made merry throughout with fluid themes that followed the romance through the slings and arrows of outrageous parents.

Living Flowers (1906) 

35mm Shorts from the David Eve Collection – Programme One, with Lillian Henley

David Eve has amassed a collection of rare short films, and we saw a selection on a 35mm copy of the originals which are held in George Eastman House. I was especially taken with the coloured Living Flowers (1906) directed by George Velle in which women’s faces grew from flowers; includible vibrancy for a 113-year old film. Then there was Wait Till I Catch You (1910) by Percy Stow involving a chase through the streets of Croydon – hell, we’ve all been there! Finally, there was a rare-as-hens-teeth Mack Sennett comedy, Great Scott (1920) featuring the Charlie Murray and Ford Sterling – one of a series of shorts in which they played “Reilly” and “Yonson” – Irish and Dutch antagonists in a multi-cultural muddle.

Lillian Henley crafted delightful themes, drawing on her theatrical affinity for this period as she opened a melodic gateway to Edwardian Croydon and beyond.

Beauty’s Worth (1922) with John Sweeney

Marion Davies was always good, this was one of her major films from her period of peak popularity – when she was crowned “Queen of the Screen” by theatre owners - and as with When Knighthood Was in Flower (1922), Little Old New York and The Bride’s Play, she’s a solid-gold star already and showing how adept she really was a romantic drama. She didn’t need to wait for The Patsy or Show People for the audience to get her, she was always, lovingly funny and charmingly believable.

Here she goes from being Prudence Cole, a nice homely Quaker girl, in an unusually stylish satin Quaker dress, to being a fashion plate for the quick-designing talents of cool rich-boy artist Cheyne Rovein (Forrest Stanley). Rovein is trying to help Prudence impress the shallow young man who she thinks she loves and manages to stage some very impressive tableaux at a few days’ notice one of which allows the actress to recreate the dancing doll routine from the Ziegfeld Follies of 1916 in which she featured – a long road to the top for Brooklyn’s Marion Douras!

In the film she starts off poor Prudence under the thumb of her strictly Quaker aunts, Aunt Elizabeth (Martha Mattox, so scary in Paul Leni’s Cat and the Canary which also featured Mr Stanley)
And Aunt Cynthia (Aileen Manning). They receive a visit from former neighbours Mrs. Garrison (Truly Shattuck, yes, really!!) and her son Henry (Hallam Cooley) – Prudence’s childhood sweetheart and a man with fond memories of her inheritance.

Amazing what you can throw together in just two days...
The Garrisons get permission to bring Prudence over to stay with them in Haven, somewhere on the familiar coast of Monterey where the idle rich and their feckless off-spring spend all day looking for something to do. Pru is, of course out of her depth here and just hasn’t the fashion sense to catch up, which is where our bohemian friend steps in to help her get noticed by her intended and, as it transpires, herself…

John Sweeney accompanied with some lovely lines and was especially impressive in covering the splendour of those high-fashion tableaux, even in the most predictable of Hollywood fare, you need to be ready for such a shift and, as usual, Mr Sweeney had it covered. He played his part on underpinning the gentle charm of this film and of the leading actress herself.

Once again, I had to miss Norwegian epic, Laila (1929) on account of footballing matters – this being Liverpool FC’s sixth triumph in the Champions League. You can never have too much of a good thing in film or footie! 

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