I can imagine conversations between British moviegoers in 1933 probably went something like ~
“Darling, would you like to see the new talking pictograph at the Roxy Regal Odeon tonight?”
“Who’s in it?”
“That German chappie, Conrad Veidt.”
“What’s it about?”
“A floating platform.”
“Oh yes, let’s!”
For no silver screen devotee could resist the alluring combination of Conrad Veidt and floating platforms. Floating platforms were all the rage — with their large, flat surfaces, and their reliable buoyancy, they struck a deeply reassuring chord with a nation still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression.
As for Veidt, something about his imposing height made him the perfect accompaniment to tales of floating platforms. As elegantly erect as a platform is sleek and low-lying, as heavily Germanic as a floating thing is light, he complimented the craze for floating platforms (schwimmender-Plattformverrücktheit) like no other actor. It was inevitable that producers would attempt to combine the appeal of the floating platform with that of Veidt.
And so was produced the epic F.P.1 — a.k.a. F.P.1 DOESN’T ANSWER, a.k.a. SECRETS OF F.P.1. (Floating Platform 1, naturally.) Following in the wake of E.A. Dupont’s Titanic flick, ATLANTIC (“The ship… has one hour… to live!”), made in three seperate versions with English, French and German casts, and anticipating Maurice Elvey’s transatlantic tunnel yarn THE TUNNEL, a terrifying look at the future of civil engineering which also predicted the horrors of television, SECRETS OF F.P.1 was another oceanic adventure of technological hubris. The sort-of science fictional idea is for an oceanic air-strip positioned in the Atlantic, equidistant between the four continents of Europe, Africa, and the two Americas, allowing planes to land and refuel in mid-journey. It’s an aircraft carrier, but a bit bigger, basically.
Of course, there’s industrial espionage, at the hands of shady and unidentified business interests. I was reminded of the sinister goings-on in Fritz Lang’s WOMAN ON THE MOON, although this wasn’t quite as exciting. After all, we’re not dealing with space travel here, just a big metal raft. It’s slightly less romantic than an oil rig, if anything. The slightly uninteresting concept of the film stems from the fertile lobes of Curt Siodmak, sci-fi writer and idiot brother of the more celebrated Robert.
Still, we get Francis L. Sullivan (I think the L stands for Large) in a bit part as a construction worker with the least convincing cockney accent on record, making me glad he played his club owner character in NIGHT AND THE CITY, years later, with an improbably upper-crust voice. And we get a musical number! Once the workmen are all aboard and the platform is ready, they all have a sing-song, and the plot, already foundering, comes to a dead stop. Amusingly, all the chorus have thick German accents (but all the workmen who have speaking parts are English) and it’s a little hard to make out what they’re singing. As far as I can tell, the lyrics are ~
“Where ze light-house shines across ze bay,
There’s a cottage shits while you’re astray,
She’ll put off for long ze winter day,
Listening to ze breakers on ze shore,
Comes zat tiny cottage whence we’ll snore,
Stand for ages with a Fred Lenore,
Something like that, anyway.
Allan Gray, the composer, was, despite his name, a German, but he made his home in Britain as the war approached and scored several great Powell and Pressburger films, from COLONEL BLIMP to AMOLAD.
In the very Germanic tradition of superhuman, supermasculine hero, Connie Veidt, as a fearless pilot, is dashing and a little stiff — I suspect his director, Karl Hartl, would have got a more relaxed performance from him in the German version, but for some reason that stars Hans (BARON MUNCHAUSEN) Albers. Peter Lorre plays the scruffy reporter in that one, a role that goes to Donald Calthrop in the Brit flick. Calthrop is immortalised in Matthew Sweet’s book Shepperton Babylon in an account of the “Film Studio Horror” in which a young starlet burned to death in Calthrop’s dressing room after a box of face powder spilled onto an electric fire. Meanwhile, in the French version, Charles Boyer takes the lead (now he’s my idea of a glamorous aviator). Haven’t seen those alternate films, but I love the idea of simultaneous multi-lingual versions, and am looking forward to comparing Hitchcock’s MURDER! with its German-language counterpart, MARY, even though the latter is said to be markedly inferior and of little interest. That’s just the way I roll.
I enjoyed this one for its sheer obscurity, and for the nice rooms designed by Erich Kettelhut, who worked on Fritz Lang’s first and last MABUSE films. FP1 is like Lang Lite, which is fine once in a while if you don’t feel up to the Real Thing.