18 December 2016 | kekseksa
a style that deserved a better story and e better cinematograher
The widespread introduction of sound in 1928-29 caught all the European film-makers unawares, as it was intended to. It was, in certain respects, simply a ploy on the part of the US industry to dish its rivals. In fact it did not quite go according to plan. The US industry itself was not so well prepared as it might have been and the far more technically advanced German industry wad rapidly able to turn the change to its own advantage. The major sufferer was in fact France which was hopelessly unprepared for the change. As far as Britain was concerned, it had been working independently on sound systems and was in fact relatively well prepared (the same year saw Hitchcock's Blackmail) and, since the British industry was also co-operating quite closely at this time with the German industry, its early talkies are generally of a much better quality than their US counterparts even if the dialogue was sometimes, as here, far too slow-paced.
Those who were sceptical about the advent of sound were not simply convinced that it was a fad; they believed that it was a regressive development that would tend to further trivialise film as a medium. When it became clear that "silent" films were not only dead but damned, all those sceptics made their mea culpas but they were quite wrong to do so. Now, as we are beginning, after decades of neglect, to rediscover "silent" cinema, we can at last see that in many respects the analysis of the sceptics was very largely correct and that "sound" has been something that the more serious end of cinema (generally outside the US) has struggled to recover from ever since. One might for instance regard the "neo-expressionism" of the forties and fifties, post-war "neo-realism", the "new wave" cinemas of the sixties and seventies and even the current interest in the digital, as all being means of compensating for the trivialisation of cinema that accompanied the introduction of the talkies. Each of these phenomena in its turn coincided with a rise in interest in silent cinema (or what little was then known of silent cinema).
What is interesting to note is that this film, like so many British films of the period, shows at moments - but alas only at moments- clear German influence in it style of direction but the cinematographer Benjamin Kline, a throughly conventional product of the US "glamour" school, has difficulty in doing it justice (relying on occasional exaggerated close-ups to create "atmosphere"). Nevertheless the style is often interesting and one suspects it was probably even more so in the lost Cutts/Hitchcock 1923 version. Unfortunately the story itself is unoriginal and over-melodramatic, the ending pathetically and here rather incomprehensibly conventional,and the dialogue poor. The child is unbearably whiney and Compson's apology for a French accent is a horror.
One does not really need to apologise all the time for films of this transitional period (The Cocoanuts, Applause and Piccadilly, all talkies made the same year, are superb films and Blackmail and The Dance of Life are also good). This film was itself remade in 1946 but remains by common consent the better of the two versions. But the best of all may well be the one that got away. Should the 1923 film re-emerge it may afford a very interesting comparison both between silent and sound and between the European and US style of filming.