The Sunday Intertitle: Not Me

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Strange title card from SHOOTING STARS (1928). This one has strange credits, also — it has a scenario by one John Orton, it’s directed by one A.V. Bramble, but it has in addition a non-specific authorial credit — “By Anthony Asquith.” Since Asquith is known to us a director, one tends to ascribe him credit, but heaven knows how the workload was actually divided.

I like A.V. Bramble because his name is A.V. Bramble.

Sad to say, the astounding A COTTAGE ON DARTMOOR is unique in the Asquith oeuvre, a Germanic, doomladen, yet quirky drama. A late silent, it contains a naughty parody of early talkies — and then Asquith plunged into talkies himself and immediately came to embody the British tradition of quality, making respectable, theatrical, well-acted movies which are kind of D.O.A. from a cinematic perspective. I don’t know, I have a vague plan to attempt to watch THE V.I.P.S sometime, just to see if it’s really as dull as I remember (I remember it as eight hours long and entirely composed of actors in an airport doing their income tax. Possibly this is a distorted memory.)

But if COTTAGE is the one supernova in Asquith’s career, UNDERGROUND has quite a lot of verve and makes London’s subway into an epic adventure setting, and SHOOTING STARS is the other lively one, with much to commend it. (I’d be very interested to see his other silent, THE RUNAWAY PRINCESS if that ever becomes possible.) Like UNDERGROUND this has the star quality of the underrated Brian Aherne, and character actor Donald Calthrop (Hitchcock’s BLACKMAILer), and its setting behind the scenes of the British film industry immediately endears it to silent movie buffs. The fact that we’re introduced to the crew as they shoot a western just makes it better. British westerns are so scarce that there’s no slang name for them — “fish and chips western” has occasionally been bandied about, but apart from CARRY ON COWBOY there’s very little to apply it to (HANNIE CALDER and A TOWN CALLED BASTARD are the others that come to mind. “The crookedest film I ever did,” was Dudley Sutton’s verdict on the latter).

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There are a few moments where Asquith runs mad, creatively, too, such as his subjective camera swinging-from-a-chandelier shots…

 

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12 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Not Me”

  1. You’re a bit unfair to Asquith – apart from turning Edith Evans loose as Lady Bracknell, his theatrical films are good theatre. In fact, one of his skills was getting fine acting out of actors – James Mason as a depraved and sadistic aristo who’s still a good chap in Fanny by Gaslight and James Robertson Justice as a cheerfully murderous expert in unarmed combat in Orders to Kill, for example.

  2. Oh, he was certainly good at that. i just regret the other skills he moved away from, which he could have hung onto.

  3. chris schneider Says:

    Two other British westerns that come to mind are also oddities: Anthony Harvey’s EAGLE’S WING and Roy Ward Baker’s THE SINGER NOT THE SONG … The latter of which I’m tempted to call THE PANTO NOT THE PANTS.

  4. Mark Fuller Says:

    Were you not at the last BSFF at Leicester ??? Did you miss his first talkie, Tell England, which had the entire audience nestling their jaws in their laps at the bravura Gallipoli beach landing sequence, which may as well have been a template for the equivalent sequence in Saving Private Ryan (but he can’t have seen it either) ??? He became a director of actors later, yes, but I must also point out The Way To The Stars as the best WW2 movie of the war years not directed by Powell and Pressburger….

  5. Mark, no, this is all news to me, and splendid news. The question then becomes, if sound did not instantly change Asquith, what did?

    And somehow, though I’ve been catching up on lots of British WWII stuff over the past few years, I’ve never gotten around to TWTTS. Is it good theatre or good cinema?

  6. Mark Fuller Says:

    IMO its great cinema….but it wouldn’t take a great deal of work to adapt it to the stage…..it being Rattigan of course. The cast is a prime one, all on top form -even eternally wooden [Kent] Douglass Montgomery’s awkwardness is used to good effect as an US Airforce officer in unfamiliar territory. No, I dont recall any swooping cameramoves or bravura montage sequences but…..it works. Its very evocative. Re. Asquiths change on the sound era I do wonder if it was partly down to exerting his energies elsewhere …..he was a pioneer in the film trades union movement; he was President of ACT for 30 years. That and his screen artnership with Rattigan ….

  7. … and certain private activities have been rumoured.

    I shall certainly move TWTTS up my viewing list — I actually like Douglass Montgomery a lot — I don’t find him wooden, although “awkward” is fair comment. I feel like he embodies awkwardness in a way that’s refreshing.

  8. John Seal Says:

    I haven’t seen The V.I.P.s in, oh, close to 40 years but I’m fairly certain your description of the plot is pretty accurate. Or am I getting it confused with The Yellow Royals Royce?

    Also, don’t forget Kenneth More’s The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw.

  9. John Seal Says:

    Rolls Royce. Good God. (I’m jet-lagged, sorry.)

  10. For years I resisted seeing The Solid Gold Cadillac because the title reminded me of The Yellow Rolls Royce.

  11. Matthew Davis Says:

    Just watched Asquith’s “Orders to Kill” (1958) which is a mixed bag but there’s 40-60 second sequence after our protagonist, a young pre-Hammer-Dr-Jekyll Paul Massie, has committed his assassination when he stumbles across Nazi Paris in drunken, guilty, terrified wobbly montage which is an unexpected return to the effects of “Underground” (1928). There’s also a nifty early sequence of spy training with James Robertson Justice which anticipates both The Avengers and The Prisoner.

  12. Ooh, that does sound exciting! Bookmarked.

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