F.P.1

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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!”

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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.

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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,

While grazing.

Listening to ze breakers on ze shore,

Comes zat tiny cottage whence we’ll snore,

Stand for ages with a Fred Lenore,

Star gazing.”

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.

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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.

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60 Responses to “F.P.1”

  1. ———-
    “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!”
    ————-
    I am reminded of the wonderful English novelist Henry Green.

  2. On the one hand, any film that presents us with both Conrad Veidt and Francis L. Sullivan can’t help but pique our curiosity. On the other hand, the basis of the film being about a floating platform, well, that’s a harder sell. I’m thinking as I’m reading, “This has to be the only floating platform film ever made”. Then I discover there are two alternate versions. But it does stop there. I think I’d like to see this just to see Sullivan as a construction worker, does he actually work in this film? Everything else I’ve seen him in involves sitting on his ass (or standing) and pontificating. Both Veidt and Sullivan died at a relatively early age, Veidt at 50, Sullivan at 53. As rotund actors go, I’d take Sullivan over Greenstreet any day.

  3. I became deeply smitten with Connie Veidt when I saw The Thief of Baghdad (a key film for me because f my childhood role model — Sabu) I didn’t catch up with him in Calagari and Casablanca until many years later. And only recently did I get to see him in Different From the Others. A true star. Utterly unique in look and manner and truly compelling because of that. REAL stars force you to watch their every move.

  4. Conrad Veidt was also in Vincent Sherman’s All Through the Night. One never hears much mention of Vincent Sherman’s films these days.

  5. I have All Through the Night lined up to watch, and just experienced Veidt in something else which I think I’ll write about for The Forgotten. I won’t say what it was yet, but it was awesome.

    His work for Powell is rather good, especially The Spy in Black. I thought he was the first Jafar, sinister Grand Vizier in The Thief of Bagdad, predating the Disney villain, but I just found a Jafar in the English operetta-film Chu-Chin-Chow, so I guess sinister grand viziers are ALWAYS called Jafar.

    You never actually see Francis Sullivan do any work in FP1, he just sits on his ass on a girder and pretends to sing.

  6. Composer Allan Gray would turn up the same year as the lead character in VAMPYR.

  7. No, that Baron Nicolas de Gunzberg — edior in chief of Vanity Fair and major fashionista

  8. Whenever Veidt’s name comes up I always recall the irony that he worked tirelessly against the Nazis and funneled money to Resistance fighters, most of which was earned from playing odious Fascist characters in the likes of Casablanca, whose Victor Laszlo – hero of the Resistance – was played by elitist assface Paul Henreid. I love the P&P Veidts – Contraband and The Spy in Black turn up pretty reliably on afternoon TV in this part of the world and are always worth spending time with, particularly the latter…

  9. Yes, but the CHARACTER is called Allen Gray, oddly enough.

  10. Of course, with typical Powell and Pressburger perversity, Veidt’s German spy in black becomes the most sympathetic character in that film, more or less.

    Am just watching Veidt in All Through the Night — good film, but not quite worthy of his unique gifts.

  11. In his bio on the IMDB: “He had long been known in German theatrical circles as a staunch anti-Nazi. His activities came under the scrutiny of the Gestapo, and a decision was made to assassinate him. Veidt found out about the plot, and managed to escape Germany before the Nazi death squad found him.

    Now THAT would have made a teriffic movie! Hopefully one not starring Tom Cruise as Connie.

  12. Ironies abound! A few years before hunting him down in Casablanca, Conrad Veidt actually helped save Paul Henreid from deportation to the Reich when the latter was stranded in England by the Anschluss. Veidt vouched for Henreid to the British government, thus preserving him for the heroic third-wheel role that he was born to play.

    FP1 has got to be one of the few extant Conrad Veidt movies that I haven’t seen. I’m just not that into floating platforms.

  13. Actually, pretty damn hard to find anybody today who could play Connie, with that combination of froideur, charm, gravitas, and that sepulchral quality as well. And those looks! But it does sound like an exciting story. I think he’s in an English version of Jew Suss that looks remarkable (that story was the basis of a rabidly Nazi and anti-semitic German film also).

    And he’s in Victor Sjostrom’s last film as director, Under the Red Robe, which is a nice little British swashbuckler.

    But I may have found his best British film… more later.

  14. Katya, don’t let the floating platform put you off! Let the stilted script put you off instead. Still, it’s a reasonably entertaining thing.

    Have you seen King of the Damned? I was just thinking of grabbing that one. Walter Forde seems like a director with plenty of visual skill but not so much dramatic skill. But maybe Different From the Others should be a higher priority!

  15. About portly Francis: You sit on your ass long enough, you will die young. I still think he was great though (beefy Peter Bull too). About Conrad: I think he first came to my attention in the Eighties, when I saw The Man Who Laughs in a theatre. The pathos in his eyes was wrenching. I’ve seen most everything mentioned above (Jew Suss and FP1 excepted), and I think his performance in A Woman’s Face deserves recognition as well, both he and Crawford are exceptional in it. Veidt is grandly demonic in that hectic sleigh ride late in the film, every bit as good as the chariot race in Ben Hur.

  16. An interesting exception to the fat ass rule is Robert Morley, who made it into his eighties. I get the impression he was Peter Bull’s partner, but can’t confirm this. Makes sense though, doesn’t it?

    The Man Who Laughs is an amazing work, once you get over the dog being called Homo, which is slightly distracting. But the climax is very exciting, and Veidt is incredible.

    Shock confession: I haven’t seen A Woman’s Face! You make it sound unmissable though.

  17. You’ll love it.

  18. King of the Damned is one of those Devil’s Island prisoner revolt type movies featuring half-dressed men sweating in their jungle compound. I don’t think it has much to recommend it beyond what’s implied in that description, plus (if I recall correctly) a somewhat muddled left-wing message. Rome Express, though, the other Walter Forde film that features Connie, is still surprisingly engaging and quite dynamic for an English film of the period.

    Jew Suss IMHO is flawed as a movie (static direction, inadequate supporting cast, strangely bad performance by Cedric Hardwicke, who doesn’t seem to know the difference between a rabbi and a golem), but it features a very fine Veidt performance, the final scene is chilling, and the context makes it quite moving. Veidt was detained during his one return trip to Germany in order to pressure him into not taking this part (Goebbels having correctly surmised that the project was a covert way of delivering an anti-Nazi and anti-antisemitism message). The Foreign Office and Gaumont British were eventually able to extract him. The notorious Nazi version of the story, Jud Suss, features Werner Krauss playing an array of antisemitic stereotypes, so the two pictures together contrast Caligari with his somnambulist.

  19. A Woman’s Face is indeed a treat. Mr. Cukor knew he was making an outragoeus melodrama. He also knew exactly what to do with Joan Crawford. The results are teriffic.

  20. A Jud Suss double bill sounds very tempting, if I can track them down. Not easy…

    Cukor + Crawford is of course very tempting. I think I have the original of AWF, but not the Hollywood version. I’ll grab a copy at the earliest op.

    Rome Express is indeed pretty good fun. Forde may be due for reappraisal. The set-up is especially energetic, with lots of directorial tricks and flourishes.

    I’ll hold fire on King of the Damned for now, maybe, but I know where to get a copy and I think I might be tempted…

  21. Tony Williams Says:

    I ran the two Veidt-Powell films a few weeks ago in my Archers class and believe that these contain his best performances in British fiilms. DARK JOURNEY ()1937) directed by Victor Saville appears weak in comparison with THE SPY IN BLACK. I also have Veidt’s THE PASSING ON THE THIRD FLOOR BACK on bootleg VHS where he delivers a great performance.

    Has anyone seen NAZI SPY where he plays a double role? I believe Jules Dassin directed it? Finally, these is a comprehensive book on Veidt’s life and career by John Soister published by McFarland & Co, Ltd.

  22. I’m planning to get ahold of Nazi Spy soon. Although Dassin disowned all his early films, and for me Veidt’s US films don’t give him enough room.

    I’m just writing a piece on Passing, a terrific film I think.

  23. Tony Williams Says:

    Yes, PASSING is a very neglected and underrated film in several respects.

  24. I agree; looking forward to your write-up.

    I saw Nazi Agent on TCM a few months ago. Veidt plays a gentle Good German (illegal) immigrant who kills his Nazi spy twin brother and then impersonates him. Hmm, an anti-Nazi German compelled to impersonate a Nazi: the story of Veidt’s life (or the last few years of it). Maybe that’s why his performance has an outsized emotional intensity for this modest 40’s anti-fascist movie with crazyass plot. The movie was overall a bit better than I expected, especially in the middle sections where the hero is trying to figure out how to occupy his brother’s life.

  25. Tony Williams Says:

    Yes, I’ve just ordered NAZI AGENT. It also has ironic associations since it unconsciously replays one of Veidt’s great successes in THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE (1926) where he plays double roles there.

  26. And Der Januskopf or whatever it’s called, the Murnau Jekyll & Hyde that’s now tragically lost.

    Now I’m quite excited about Nazi Agent, I better go get it!

  27. Tony Williams Says:

    I believe only one of the Murnau-Veidt collaborations survives according to Soister. I wish it were JANUSKOPF.

  28. Dassin had a very funny story about directing Veidt, but I’ll save that for when I’ve seen NA and am writing about it. Soon!

  29. Can anyone assist me, I am trying to get hold of an original CD or re-issue of F.P.1 soundtrack which includes “Where the Lighthouse Shines Across the Bay”. Any ideas please let me know. Thanks

  30. My best suggestion would be to somehow rip the sound from a DVD copy, which I could supply. I’d be amazed if a CD existed, but there is a way to extract MP3s from DVD, I think. I know how to turn DVDs to AVIs, but I haven’t figured out how to create music files.

  31. Tony Williams Says:

    The song was very popular in the early 90s when it was played on the Terry Wogan Show on radio. So Veidt became a posthumous recording star.

  32. That is BIZARRE. But I don’t think Veidt actually sings in that scene.

    In that case, I guess there are CDs flying about somewhere…

  33. Tony Williams Says:

    Well, he does sing somewhere and you can access it on youtube.

  34. You’re right!

    I guess they recorded this as a single to promote the movie. “The love theme from FP1.”

  35. Tony Williams Says:

    Yes, and much better than Lee Marvin singing Wandering Star” and Clint’s “I talk to the trees” in PAINT YOUR WAGON!

  36. Hey, I notice that Jew Suss (the “good” or English version) is viewable online, at this Hungarian site:

  37. Tony Williams Says:

    Katya, Please supply the co-ordinates of this Hungarian site.

    Thank you

  38. I second that call! Need my Veidt fix!

  39. Yikes! I thought I’d pasted it in. Here it is:

    http://www.sofar.hu/2008/08/jew-sss-1934.html

  40. Tony Williams Says:

    Katya, Thank you. I’ve watched 5 mins and have bookmarked the page to see the remainder at a more convenient time. On the credits are Alfred Junge (who also did sets for the Archers later), Roy Kellino as photographer and Pamela Ostrer who later married Kellino and became Pamela Mason. Superb use of moving camera and crane shots in the beginning and what a great introduction to Veidt.

    Definitely much better than Veit Harlan’s Nazi remake and this film must have been a thorn in the flesh of those monsters as the opening scenes show.

  41. Excellent, thanks!

    Also thrilled by the presence of Dennis “Inspector Lestrade” Hoey, a Shadowplay favourite.

  42. Frank Vosper (as the duke) is a big ol’ slice of ham in this, as he was in “Rome Express” (but hamminess was appropriate and fun there). Some background which I read somewhere or other: The notion of making an English version of the Feuchtwanger novel, starring Veidt, went back a few years, and it was originally thought that Emil Jannings would play the duke. Of course, when the filming actually began the political point of the material had become more acute and Jannings was … otherwise engaged, mainly in kissing Goebbels’ ass.

  43. Tony Williams Says:

    What a great entry line for Connie! “I shall have my coachman wheeped for his carelessness.”

    They don’t write them like that anymore.

  44. No comments as yet…except that the 1934 version of Jew Suss aka Power,is almost impossible to get hold of.

  45. It’s online though!

  46. So it is……..SILLY ME!
    thanks….and thanks also Katya.xxxx

  47. OK…..had my first view(of Jew Suss-1934)yesterday,i do need a second view tonight(although i think i remember a viewing a few years back on BBC 2 and thought the same thing…i can`t hear a `bleeping`word.and i have excellent hearing)so with a lot of fiddling around,i do hope i can get a better gist of the dialogue….the most distressing part of the plot to me was(apart from the anti-semitism) that two devoted and tad overprotective fathers are willing to sacrifice each other daughters for the benefit of a worthless pervert….kudos to the actor who played Magdalane`s father..his name escapes me,but he was wonderful.

  48. Ah, Gerald DuMaurier (Daphne’s dad) in his last role. Early thirties films, with their primitive sound recording and unusual delivery of dialogue by actors schooled in an alien stage tradition, do present challenges to the modern ear. Although I’m sure a modern DVD release could clean up the sound and make it a bit clearer at least.

  49. Yeah to that DC.XXXX

  50. Jew Suss….
    “You can`t hang me higher then the gallows now,can you”?…this movie WAS amazing and deeply moving…..despite among many faults,especially that damned poor sound quality…would love to talk about it more….and would love also to read the novel(it`s even harder to get hold of in the uk,then anywhere) will keep you posted on that book search…
    PS.Just downloaded “La Grande Illusion”..never seen it although wanted to for YEARS..so looking forward to watching thiis tonight!

  51. Oh, I think you’ll dig it. Been too long since I watched it myself, and as part of my ongoing rediscovery of Renoir I really should!

    Speaking of Veidt, have you seen The Passing of the Third Floor Back? I’d say it’s his other best British film (although I’m fond of The Spy in Black too).

  52. No……i have never seen that…but give me time.
    Yes my mum and dad brought me up on TSIB and Contraband..not to mention `The Thief of Bagdad` and `Casablanca`..of course.
    Also on my facebook pages i have the Expressionism gems…but there is only one movie that rocks my world at the moment…
    and that is….
    THE MAN WHO LAUGHS……I ADORE THIS MOVIE.XXXXX

  53. There is just one question that crosses my mind in TMWL…. the scene where he lowers the book to reveal Gwynplane`s hideous(beautiful)face..
    Was that REALLY Major Strasser in Casablanca?????
    Answer…..frigging A.lol

  54. Hey…..having watched”La Grande Illusion”the other day i was amazed of the parallel between THAT scene in Casablanca…and the scene in the POW camp with Jean Gabin belting out”La Marseillaise”in the former…a fine example how one great film can inspire another….btw talking of that Casablanca scene..Major Stresser(as i like to call him)was amazingly seething in that scene was he not..a combination of pent-up frustration and blind petulance(i love Conrad in this..and Claude Raines too…)…
    As for LGI…perfect and Pierre Fresnay was also another beautiful man!

  55. Oh, I like Fresnay a lot, especially in Le Corbeau. He suffers so much, being so upright in that!

  56. “I think you`ll dig it”!Good one DC.Once again ….thanks for the heads-up on “The Passing on the Third Floor Back”and “Le Corbeau”they both look like must-see movies…would also love it if you will give me a heads-up on where i could get hold of them?(i try to avoid ebay as much as i can)…..OH btw,just uploaded the Bela Lugusi B movie”The Dark Eyes of London”aka”The Human Monster”i have not seen this since since i was a sprog in the mid 70`s….so intrigued with the relationship between the gentle blind Lew and the hideous henchman Jake..incidently Jake wasn`the human monster`Dr Bela was….no change there then,lol.

  57. Le Corbeau is available on DVD in the UK and US, so Amazon is the source there.

    You can see a clip of Passing which I uploaded onto YouTube. This came from an Australian TV broadcast. It’s only available in bootleg form… maybe we could do a swap?

    I have a copy of Dark Eyes which I keep forgetting to watch. I’ve seen the German remake, which was excellent.

  58. julie mason Says:

    You probably already know but `Passing of the Third Floor Back`can now be downloaded from it`s imdb pages….and it is indeed a sweet and lovely movie..

  59. Excellent news! I must spread it around.

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