Albatros Set almost out on Flicker Alley



At long last Flicker Alley are releasing their DVD box set of Albatros films titled FRENCH MASTERWORKS: RUSSIAN ÉMIGRÉS IN PARIS 1923-1929 on the 9th April 2013 the films included are: Le Brasier ardent, Kean, Feu Mathias Pascal, Gribiche and Les Nouveaux messieur.

Available now on blu-ray is Feu Mathias Pascal.


Keeping a Film Diary


I know it’s been quiet around here of late. I have been watching silent films. Recently I haven’t seen any I’ve been taken with enough to write about. At least not on a blog. I have been filling my film diary up with reviews. Just because nobody sees it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.

When I was younger I used to keep a film diary. I jotted down thoughts & plot outlines in the diary’s pages. This was in the pre-internet age before IMDB & you tube. Scribbling down notes was the best way to retain information. As I grew older diaries film related or not fell by the wayside.

Last Christmas I received a decent sized diary. It seemed a waste of paper as I hadn’t needed one for years. Cue Internet Archive. I was looking at a film to watch on the archive & couldn’t remember if I had watched it or not. Fortunately I recognised the office set in the thumb nails. And reading the TV guide I kept thinking “Have I seen that or not?”. It’s easy to remember the great & the awful, less so all the middle of the road movies.

Something had to be done. This year I’ve been filling the diary up with up scribbles on films usually the whole page. The shortest entry goes to ‘Percy Jackson & the Lightening Thief’ with a brief “It was alright”. Which says it all. Of the average movies, particularly silents, some do have the odd interesting moment or character or whatever which is worth recording to separate it from the truly mediocre.

Silents they’re like the Wild West or something.

Doing a film diary is quite nice & liberating. There’s no need to think about anyone else reading the comments & their views or grammatical complaints. Or any need to make it understandable to anyone else either! There are no standards other than writing at least a sentence on the page. There’s no worry about flaming over any controversial views or looking like a nutter (it’s nice to know the Self Styled Siren wasn’t the only one picking up something in ‘Son of Fury’ every other reviewer ignored on the web, maybe our minds are equally diseased though). And pick out things that wouldn’t make it to the blog. Everyone’s so keen on telling everyone else their opinions on any topic these days, but I don’t think everyone needs or wants to know what I think of every film I’ve watched. The world doesn’t need to know what I think about the films I have covered on here but hey! If other people have, why shouldn‘t I?

Well that was MY reading of the text…

It’s nice to revisit old opinions in the original diaries & see if my views have changed; ‘Asphalt’ I though was better than ‘Pandora’s Box’, so sue me it‘s my truth. I thought ‘Night Nurse’ was dull, wrong! Wrong about ‘The Curse of the Cat People’ it was more boring the second time around & I still have no sympathy for Emil Jannings’ character in ‘The Blue Angel’. Ah well, controversy at last.

Other than that I liked it

It’s worth doing a film dairy. Looking at the growing list at the front I’m not surprised I’m having trouble remembering all the films I’ve seen if I times the total by decades.

And finally someone who made a much finer diary than I:

Rebel Girl: Thomas Graal Basta Film (1917)


Thomas & Bessie

Thomas Graals Basta Film (1917) directed by Mauritz Stiller is a Swedish comedy about a film screenwriter/actor, Thomas Graal (Victor Sjostrom) who suffers from writer’s block until his secretary disappears. Thomas gets over this occurrence by writing a script about her & how he saved her from a life of poverty. All of this is a lie, as his secretary, Bessie (Karin Molander), is a run away rich girl & not the beaten waif she told him she was. Thomas’ plan to get her back is to refuse to make the film until the girl is found to star in it. Thomas is meant to be a big box office draw, he’d have to be as his plot isn’t up to much!

I was quite taken with Bessie as she is a sort of a sub-Ossi Oswalda character as seen in ‘I don’t Want to be a Man’ & ‘The Oyster Princess’. Bessie’s actions would be difficult to apply to in real life but it’s fun going along for the ride. I’ve been looking for female lovable rogues in books with little success & Bessie’s antics cheered me up after my failed literary efforts. Bessie is a spirited, spoilt rich girl. Bessie refreshingly doesn’t come across as pitiable, hateful, evil or forced to compromise by the end. Bessie at the start of the film is always running away from home & cheeking her parents particulary her Dad. She rolls bowling balls at him & gets him to promise not to make her marry anyone she doesn’t want to & then makes him give her a cigarette! Woman smoking was a sign of a “new” woman, always a worrying creature. Bessie’s brave (perhaps foolhardy) riding to the rescue of a woman being attacked, although not is all as it seems. More a comedy of errors rather than a girl power statement but fun nonetheless. Bessie does show some interest in domestic duties but it’s a ruse to stay in town & take cookery classes, which she then bunks off (if indeed they ever existed at all) to act in Thomas‘ film. Bessie does find love at the end but she doesn’t go in to a ’all I want is babies & to be a homemaker’ inter-title & her feistyness is intact. She does say she won’t run away again, but that was because she was bored with her life at the time which seems fair enough.

It is hard to take Bessie as a serious role model. She has a child-like nature. Bessie makes her household think she’s gone mad as she acts out tragic scenes that she imagines she’ll play on film. And her idea of being an Adventuress is being a ….. secretary. Albeit for a lazy screenwriter so there’s more setting curtains on fire than actual admin tasks(!).

Bessie could be seen as an older Tilly the schoolgirl or scruffy St. Trininan. And both of those are comedy characters too. So rebellious girls are alright if they’re confined to comedy rather than more realistic serious drama? Or maybe we should be more child-like and not try to take things seriously when they’re not?

To sum up: Bessie’s Best Film/Thomas who? (nice boater Sir).

My Dane Is: Hamlet (1921)


I must confess my ignorance I did not know the story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet beforehand. I had studied Shakespeare at school although we didn’t cover Hamlet. It may seem a folly to make a silent film of a play by the famous wordsmith but from a slow start it becomes a gripping tale. From when the actors turn up at the castle to the end ‘Hamlet’(1921) is full of tension packed moments from the small to the large.

Apart from the silence the other way Hamlet deviates from its source is Hamlet is a woman. There was a popular theory in Victorian times which felt Hamlet’s actions made a lot more sense if he was really a she. Film wise this means there is a prologue explaining why the infant Hamlet was proclaimed to be a boy & the pretence carried on into adulthood. Hamlet as a woman pretending to be a man is not dwelt on much, Hamlet being more busy trying to find a way to avenge his father’s murder by his uncle Claudius. Maybe Hamlet’s inability to kill Claudius is a sign of weakness meaning Hamlet must be a woman, which sounds a very dodgy theory to me! Hamlet’s situation informs his treatment of Ophelia. Hamlet doesn’t love her, as unfortunately she is a straight woman, only carrying on with Ophelia as she is loved by Horatio, Hamlet’s best mate (and secret love). Hamlet figures if she wins Ophelia’s affections, Hamlet will not lose Horatio to Ophelia.

Asta Nielsen who plays Hamlet is an engaging character. I imagined Hamlet to be an annoying character, moping round like a medieval emo boy or Macbeth part two. I was wrong Hamlet seems quite normal considering, the pretence she has to keep up & has a couple of good friends who liked her open-heartedly. Hamlet’s motives are easy to sympathise with, she wants to expose her Uncle for what he did but not for greed or power. Her actions toward Ophelia are sad but as she says by intertitle: “I’m not a man, but I’m not allowed to be a woman either”. Tragically it all goes wrong for the Dane & I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Hamlet. I wish Hollywood had made it so that the film could have a happy ending, going off to the provinces with Horatio.

Overall the sets & costumes are well done. The characterisation is of a standard that I was sad to see the deaths of all but one of the characters who was a skank anyway(!).

Hamlet was a pet project for die Asta & it was worth all the money & effort she put into it. Hamlet (1921) is not just a good Shakespeare adaptation or a good silent film it’s a good film full stop. I’d show it to kids starting to study Shakespeare! Impressive.

To sum up: One to watch after ‘The Artist’.

Rat’s this?: The Triumph of the Rat (1926)



***Warning: Spoilers*** More a synopsis than a post you have been warned!

The Rat is back, but his rattishness has gone pitching this film closer to Downhill rather than Novello’s original ‘The Rat’ (1925). Again this is an ordinary enough melodrama but when thinking about it it’s quite odd.

The Rat this time has left the criminal underworld and is part of the smart set, which feels more British than Parisian. Pierre ‘The Rat’ Boucheron is “sponsored” by the rich lady of ‘The Rat’ (1925) Zelie Chaumet (Isabel Jeans, who later appeared in some of Novello’s stage plays) & spends his time living the high life and going to balls. In a scene back at his old haunt, the notorious underworld dive, The White Coffin (place as character if there ever was one.) one of the clientel seeing his picture in a society magazine comments he’s now a “poodle faker”. I’m not sure what a poodle faker is, but the Rat does seem to have lost his rattishness & like a proto-Roddy from ‘Downhill’ doesn’t appear to be in charge of his destiny. At the start of the film Pierre has a bet with Zelie that he can win the heart of the titled Madeleine de L’Orme in a month. He does but in turn falls in love with Madeleine, in a jealous rage Zelie vows to destroy Pierre Boucheron. Pierre does little to resist her attempts to ruin his life, whilst unwaveringly sticking to his principles to not commit crime to support himself. As the film continues Zelie even manages to turn everyone at the White Coffin against him. I was expecting at some point for the Rat to fight back either physically or mentally, against an old criminal comrade who had set him up to prove he hadn’t sold out to the police, sparking the White Coffin crews rejection. But no! A normal reaction I would think given the title of the film is ‘The Triumph of the Rat’. What triumph? Trade descriptions here.

What does happen doesn’t fulfill my very unoriginal expectations. Near the end of the film Zelie spotting Pierre dressed in rags scavenging a bone rues what she has done to him and clasps him to her bosom vowing to look after him & he rejects her as she caused his suffering. Then at the end the girl in the White Coffin, Mou Mou, offers to look after him again he rejects her. Male pride or is it because he doesn’t love them like Madeleine? At any rate Madeleine’s love isn’t much good as she doesn’t turn up looking for him. Still ladies going to a chaps aid, girl power(!) and they do have the power to do so. Maybe he changes his mind after the end of the film and chooses one of the other women. If people wrote fan-fic in the 1920’s I can see them writing a story to finish off the story, with Madeleine turning up, especially as the film itself partially follows a hurt/comfort storyline (i.e a character realises they love another character when the other character nearly dies & leading to the pair living happily ever after).

Again showing how my dull expectations have been formed by watching too many formulaic films is the final fight scene between the Rat & his underworld foe. They have a tussle ending with the Rat accepting the coming of a fatal stab from his enemy’s knife, until a lady of the White Coffin intervenes, saved by a woman again. The scene itself would make a good essay. Despite being severely weakened I thought Pierre would prevail & go off to reclaim the lady he loves fulfilling the promise of triumph suggested by the title. Usually in films violence solves everything. It’s more realistic having the Rat losing a fight though. As a minor note one of the ladies in the background is Violet Farebrother who had a more significant part in Downhill.

Unlike The Rat (1925) Novello didn’t have anything to do with the scenario, but I wonder if it did influence Novello or his co-writer Constance Collier when he came to write Downhill (1927) about another male who goes from the height of society to the depths. Like Roddy, Pierre has his own code of honour, that others lack, by resisting

Visually there is something that inspires Graham Cutts (the director) about the White Coffin and the cinematography goes up a notch. There is a rather nice pull out through the coffin-shaped doorways of the club. Back at the less cinematographically exciting world of the upper classes there’s a visually appealing overhead shot of balloons falling down on to a ballroom. Carrying on the mis en scene Cutts frequently has Novello look into the camera directly when he is looking/speaking to another character. This is clever because it looks like Novello is gazing into the eyes of the watching audience, giving a thrill to all the watchers out there who like gazing at his lovely face. For everyone else it gives them a welcome break from looking at Novello’s profile & there’s nothing film makers like more than showing Novello’s profile on-screen.

All these subverting of conventions of what a on-screen hero should do didn’t bother the Novello loving public or Gainsborough Pictures as the Rat turned up again in 1928’s Return of The Rat. However cinema goers reportedly didn’t like the less than triumphant ending. Suffering is acceptable as long as it has a happy ending.

To sum up: Novello suffers for us all again, hurrah(!).

Two Legs Good: The Penalty (1920)



You can't beat a good intertitle! They were very legist in the old days

Lon Chaney! Well I don’t know what would have prompted us to watch a Lon Chaney film(!). All the US silents I’ve been watching for a long while have been falling into the category of average-good to my mind. I rate a film as average-good when it is an obviously well crafted film: good costumes, decent acting, some or a lot of cinematic flair etc but doesn’t grab my attention or affections. While not a blockbuster pic like ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame'(1923) or ‘The Phantom of the Opera'(1925), ‘The Penalty'(1920) is hugely enjoyable. Easy to follow with a few sub-plots (Blizzard’s a busy man), a bum friendly running time & I wished it would hurry up to find out what was going to happen, rather than because I wanted it to end so I could go to bed. ‘The Penalty’ is a crime thriller like a more modest ‘Spione’ but more fun. I like ‘Spione’ it’s a good silent popcorn film & I would happily recommend it but I enjoyed ‘The Penalty’ slightly more. There’s alot to be said for an economical running time. ‘The Penalty’ may not be the most original film but as I’ve said this is the first american silent I’ve enjoyed in ages.

As ever the bare bones of the plot may be standard but ‘The Penalty’ wins by the original & different elements it brings to its mix. ‘The Penalty’ does have a few aces up its sleeve. Chaney’s crippled character, Blizzard, means there is interesting set dressing, with bars to help him climb the walls to oversee his minions and the double rope and links he and others use to get down in to his secret basement. And there’s the gimmick of Blizzard needing someone to manipulate the peddles of the piano he likes to play, music soothes the savage beast and all that. Blizzard also has a good motivation for why he acts why he does, he doesn’t want to take over the universe just because… As a child his legs were needlessly amputated & he overheard an experienced Dr. telling the Dr. who performed the operation that he had messed up. Then the senior doctor covers up for the young Dr Ferris! Unsurprisingly Blizzard wants revenge for the amputation that ruined his life, his father we are told by inter-title didn’t care for little boys with no legs and also wants to be able to walk with legs again. That’s the first two sub-plots the next two concern what happened after Blizzard’s childhood, as an adult he is now a criminal king-pin of San Francisco. Rose, a secret agent, is sent to discover why Blizzard has taken all his girls out of the dance halls to make hats. As the dance hall looks pretty empty I’d say there must be more money in hats. What will Rose find, will she get caught and what are all the straw hats for? As Rose investigates the plot focuses on Barbara, Dr Ferris’s daughter, who is an artist and won’t get married until she creates a great work of art as you do. To do this she decides she needs a model for a sculpture of Satan after the fall (has she never seen ‘Satan Triumphant'(1917)? clearly not!!!!) and Blizzard fixes it so he is the model and can set into motion his revenge on Dr Ferris. Plus as a bonus bogus medical science, I do like made up medical science in films, though it’s the only false note in the film.

Everyone acted well, Chaney being the most impressive due to his commitment to the role but I felt a bit melancholy watching him. Chaney had to be fit to clamber about using just his arms & take the pain of having his legs bound back & then he lost his fight against cancer. It seems wrong somehow, how arbitrary illness is.

To sum up: One to collapse on to the sofa to and one for silent newbies if anyone wants a recommendation, better than all the talkie films we’ve watched this month (sometimes I wonder why talkies weren’t a passing fad, zzz).

Screengrabs from jackpickfordisaluteyou.

Silent Music


It doesn’t matter if it’s low background music or a specially written score I need music to get into a silent film. If there is no sound I feel disengaged, locked out like there’s a glass wall between the film and me and I can’t get in. With music in my ears the wall is gone I can get in. I’ve managed to get into films with dreadful scores but never with silence oddly enough. Henri Langlois didn’t like silent films to be shown with musical accompaniment as he wanted others to focus on the techniques but that’s not what I want from a silent, sounds too much like homework. The Cinémathèque Française today carrying on from Langlois aren’t keen on music either feeling it would be a pastiche which is very respectful but can’t be much fun.

If silent film is an awake dream, I think a soundtrack supports this state, as being surrounded by music is a modern developement & is therefore unreal.

A good soundtrack can enhance a scene but what to do if a silent film is really just that? Outside of the Cinémathèque Française at home there are choices. initially not finding any helpful information I made a compilation of classical music instrumentals. I can’t stand silents that have soundtracks of people singing or dialogue, fair enough if it is integral to the plot i.e. ‘Lonesome’ or was on the original soundtrack anyway e.g ‘The Man Who Laughs’. Not only do I find singing distracting from the action on-screen but I also get suspicious the soundtracker is trying to impose some meaning they think I should think. And that really gets on my wick. O.K. so putting on a sad score over a tragic scene is trying to make the audience think in a certain way, but it’s much more tolerable.

Going back to the classical compilation while I found it good for deadly serious scenes, it would kill a comedy scene stone dead. Unhappily I was back to square one until I found a solution. The music I listen to while watching a silent is krautrock in the form of Soul Jazz’s ‘Deutsche Elektronische Musik’. Out of a 2 CD set there’s about 70 min of instrumentals. A few of the tracks have a motorik beat which was ideal for listening to when viewing ‘Tih Minh’ with it’s car chases. The more atmospheric tracks can be surprisingly effective when they co-incide with the on-screen action, ‘Rhenita’ by La Dusseldorf being a favourite. By a process of repetition, I’ve become used to the germans doing their stuff in my ears and ‘Deutsche Elektronische Musik’ has become background music to film watching. It shuts the real world out & lets me back into the silent’s world.

I’ve been trying to branch out musically from this base. ‘Musik Von Harmonia’ by Harmonia is a good album but as a whole it doesn’t work for silents. The scary track didn’t even work on ‘The Cat & The Canary'(1927). Next stop: Tangerine Dream.

Lon Chaney on ‘Whitechapel’ ITV



Hot on ‘The Artist’s oscar success yesterday (well done chaps) is Lon Chaney in ITV’s slightly implausible mystery drama ‘Whitechapel’, sort of. In the first part of a two-part episode, first screened yesterday, it is revealed that the escaped criminally insane killer is a fan of Chaney. The viewer was alerted to this when the lower grade ‘tecs investigated the killer’s old home and his nutter room was covered in a large mural of Chaney and a possibly not old enough projector to run old films through.

Later on when looking through the psycho’s case history it turns out the set designers weren’t having fun but the character is a Chaney fan who claimed to have the only surviving copy of ‘London after Midnight'(1927). And as all cases in ‘Whitechapel’ have links to old murders, back in the 1920’s a murderer blamed ‘London After Midnight’ for their crimes. Back to the present day the escaped killer’s hatred of noise is the explanation of his love of silent film and putting him away in a noisy jail for the insane has made him even loonier! He asked to be allowed to dress as Chaney in jail but the doctors wouldn’t let him. So now he’s out he dresses in a mask! Er, if he’s a fan of Lon Chaney shouldn’t he be trying his hand at make-ups? The mask itself looks like a dissolved Frankenstein mask plus the black clothing and tights make the perp look more like he’s been watching too much ‘Caligari’, duh.

A reason why the makers chose ‘London after Midnight’ over any other silent horror is that the first series of ‘Whitechapel’ was about the hunt for a Jack the Ripper style copycat killer, while Chaney based his look in ‘London after Midnight’ on what Jack the Ripper allegedly looked like.

Update: In the second part one of the detectives was given a copy of ‘London after Midnight’ the viewers weren’t told what he did with the reel. Maybe he won’t be in the next series after making millions selling the film?(!).

Update 2: After looking at Chaney DVDs on amazon I noticed ‘Whitechapel’ listed in ‘customers who viewed this also viewed’ box. Are ‘Whitechapel’ fans now watching Lon Chaney or vise versa? The power of publicity, interesting.

Watch at:

Ivor Got A Feeling – Downhill (1927)


(Warning spoilers for ‘Downhill’ and ‘The Lodger’****************)

It’s quite fun watching Ivor Novello movies. Ivor Novello is famous for being a composer and his name lives on in the form of the Ivor Novello awards which are awarded yearly for the best song compositions. Away from the music Novello was Britain’s answer to Valentino in the 1920’s. It’s like he had this whole secret life away from the theatre and composing except that to British audiences he didn’t. It’s pretty hard to be a secret silent film actor when during 1926 Novello was the 2nd most popular male actor, after Valentino, on the British screen and starred in films that were amongst the most successful British films screened in the U.S in 1921-2.

Today Novello is still the best known silent film star who acted in British made silents, as opposed to British performers who made it big in America, like Chaplin. Why? Hitchcock of course, if he hadn’t been in two of Hitchcock’s silents, ‘The Lodger’ & ‘Downhill’, I wonder who would have taken his place, whoever played the Lodger I suppose & if there were no Hitchcock silents?

Such thoughts are just idle speculation though and this post is about ‘Downhill’. Generally ’Downhill’ is ignored in favour of ’The Lodger’. Of the two films Hitchcock did with Novello I prefer ’Downhill’. ’The Lodger’ is undeniably well made but it didn’t grab my attention as much (on this contrary note of the two films Peter Lorre did with Hitchcock, I liked ’Secret Agent’ (1934) much, much more than ’The Man Who Knew Too Much’ (1936) again it’s the latter that gets all the critics going).  I was drawn to ‘Downhill’ because of it’s twist on a very well worn and common plot that of a series of events leading a character into a life of degradation. Inevitably the character is always a woman, but in ‘Downhill’s case the character is a man. Although after seeing films where the man of the house gets the maid pregnant & she ends up on the street & the man carries on unaffected, it does seem odd that the reason for Novello’s character, Roddy’s descent is caused by getting a girl pregnant. Roddy didn’t as he was taking the rap for his poorer friend so he could afford to go to college, leaving Roddy to be expelled & leave his wealthy family home to try & make his way in the world, in between having visions of his father’s disapproving face. The actor playing Roddy’s father looks like Nosferatu with out his make-up, no wonder Roddy is disturbed by his imaginings!

What’s unusual about Roddy is as a male character is his passivity. I’ve seen a lot of pathetic male characters on the screen but none so passive; Roddy lets the pregnant girl pin the blame on him without a word, his wife makes him a cuckold & spends his cash, again she was only after his money, after becoming broke he ends up dancing for money, with matronly ladies (a quick mention must be made of the excellent Violet Farebrother here) even then he’s not in control as the money’s not his but is given to a the madam who runs the establishment. And finally near the end when Roddy is seriously ill and not capable of even moving much he is only saved as the people around him think they can gain financially from him if they get him back to his rich family. Roddy sticks to his code honour but nobody else does. In the end Roddy’s happy ending, like his downfall is facilitated by others actions & not his own. Much like the career of an actor in fact! Novello did co-write the play after all, maybe it was an outlet for how he felt about being Britain’s top pin-up. As an actor, though, several of his films were based on scripts/plays written by him, so he wasn’t without power.

Being different is not enough to make a film watchable though and even at this early stage of Hitchcock’s career it’s clear he is a skilled film maker with well put together scenes and editing. The reveal where Roddy is shown not to be a waiter but an extra in a play playing a waiter on stage is particularly nice. The scene with Roddy in a lift going down with a close up of the “down” button, to signify Roddy’s life going down the pan was underlining the situation a bit heavily though.

It’s his most noted feature but it wasn’t until Downhill, my 4th Novello film I noticed that yes, he is quite handsome. There’s a lot to be said about a decent quality print. Or perhaps ‘Downhill’ is the most enamoured of Novello’s looks as an object I’ve seen. In a short scene of giving the fans what they want there is a shot of a topless Novello. Back to Novello’s visage, on his (near) deathbed Hitch gives the viewer a good long look a Novello’s face and his stillness adds to the sense of Roddy as a passive object to be looked at. And to Novello’s credit he does a good impression of being suitably tortured and ill. Who needs a cool blonde, eh?

One thing I’ve noted about comments about Novello’s acting is people either like it or if they don’t his lack of ability is put down to him being gay. For example in ‘Downhill’ it’s pretty hard to believe Roddy could have got a young woman pregnant he looks like he wouldn’t have a clue. This could be because, as people have said Novello’s gay & couldn’t possibly act convincingly with a girl, or it could be due to his acting ability. Either way it doesn’t matter. I’m not too tied to style if it works it works whether or not it’s an Oscar winning performance or not. Novello’s performance sets up Roddy’s character as a naïve & unworldly young man; he gets upset at not being able to play at the old boy’s match rather than the prospect of making child support payments. And besides after spending all that time at a public school for boys (at the time of filming Novello was 34. At least he didn’t have a paunch like the “teenager” in ‘The Addams Family”, ha) I wouldn’t expect Roddy to know much about girls anyway! At any rate it leaves the dimmest viewer certain that Roddy isn’t guilty of pre-marital sex.

Before seeing ‘Downhill’ I viewed it as merely a twist on the fallen woman theme but the more I think about it, it’s bizarre in it’s orgy of (male) passivity. Maybe ‘The Lodger’ has had more critical focus on it because ‘Downhill’ is dominated by Novello’s on screen persona rather than Hitchcock as auteur, Hitchcock not yet having all the fame and influence he was later to have. ‘Downhill’ could be seen as evidence of the view that 1920’s & 30’s films were all about promoting the star and their image/myth and directors were just there to facilitate that. For all the passivity of Roddy, Hitchcock is a slave to Novello’s creation. Or maybe ‘The Lodger’ gets all the critical attention because a Jack the Ripper based yarn is easier to take than a naff, old melodrama with an idiot boy bemoaning being banned from the old boy’s match. Either way I think ‘Downhill’ should be viewed as a Novello film instead of a Hitchcock film.

To finish off, the other Novello films I have seen are ‘The Lodger’(1927) and it’s talkie re-make ‘The Phantom Fiend’(1932), ‘The Rat’ (1925) & ‘I Lived With You’(1933). In ‘The Lodger’(1927) there is a serial killer at large in London & Novello’s character the, er, Lodger seems a likely suspect. It turns out he’s innocent despite all the situations & behaviour that make him look guilty as hell. Unfortunately for the story to work Novello doesn’t come across as a likely murder suspect, his lodger seems more likely to be found cutting himself rather than strangling blondes. Novello does come across well as a disturbed young man taken to the edge by his beloved sister’s murder and that is precisely what he is ultimately revealed to be.

‘The Rat’ (1925), an agreeably cheesy melodrama & like ‘Downhill’ is based on a play by Novello, which Valentino wanted to make a film of himself. In ‘The Rat’ Novello is the titular Rat who is a sort of a king of thieves figure of the Parisian criminal underclass. When not committing crime he spends his time having tarts fight over him in his favourite dive; The White Coffin, which despite it’s low rentness boasts rather cool coffin shaped doorways. But where does the Rat’s heart lie with Odile who looks after him like a big sister or a rich society lady in search of excitement? Sadly I’ve only seen a wobbly copy of ‘The Rat’ & after seeing the sharp clip in ‘Silent Britain’ I feel a decent picture would have hieghtened the excitement. Still, is it cool to hang a cap up by pinning it to the wall with a knife or supremely silly? It’s an eternal question. I bet quite a few people after watching ‘The Rat’ dreamt about opening a nightspot called The White Coffin, bet those coffin shaped doorways weren’t cheap though. ‘The Rat’ spawned two sequels and would make an ideal box set, alas, the Rat’s melodramatic doings are probably too trashy to get one. ‘The Man Without Desire’ might make it though: C18th Venetian playboy (Novello) wakes up in the 1920’s, I really want to see it.

‘I Lived with You’ has Novello as a Russian émigré with a strong welsh accent (Novello was welsh) which is a bit odd but not bothering with perfecting accents didn’t seem to harm Sean Connery’s career. Actors weren’t that bothered about doing accents in the 1930’s & 40’s anyway. Perhaps the makers thought Novello’s exotic looks would distract from the accent anyway. Novello‘s welsh accent is also evident in ‘The Phantom Fiend’, after welding my ear to the speaker. Novello sounds quite sweet in that!!! Feel the tension. It’s all gone to pot now hasn’t it?

In the 1930’s Novello’s career waned & he went back to making wildly successful musicals full time.


Fox, Julian,(1982) ‘Ivor Novello’ in ‘The Movie’ (magazine part-work, pg 2468, Orbis Publishing)

Sweet, Matthew, (2005) Shepperton Babylon – The Lost World’s of British Cinema (Faber & Faber) [ The first few chapters were the basis for Sweet’s documentary ‘Silent Britain’  and the later chapters for BBC4’s ‘B-Movie Britain’ documentary. Not as scurrilous as the title suggests].

Random songs for Silents


Here a couple of videos that remind me of silent movies.

First up is the TOTP performance of Peek-a-boo by Siouxsie & the Banshees. Siouxsie with her bob, stylised make-up and top hat remind me of 1920’s flicks. Not sure what the lyrics are about, tres catchy tho’

Next up is Hot Chip with ‘Ready for the Floor’ with it’s lyric of ‘I can’t hear your voice, Do I have a choice?’

(N.B the offical video clip is freaky & quieter)


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