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Critical Moments

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British films are being brought to this country in increasing quantities this season and some of them have made our Hollywood producers a trifle jealous. Such pictures as “The Private Life of Henry VIII” and “Catherine the Great” have not added to the good will between the two nations. These pictures were much too successful for comfort. The latest importation, made by Gaumont-British and called “Friday the 13th” will help smooth things over, however. It is a botchy job.


Playing at the Westminster, it is a long film about a bus full of passengers riding through the streets of London just before midnight of the titled date. Big Ben, the best advertised clock in the world, plays an important role as it booms off the minutes while the bus is running along. The director has seen fit to repeat the idea of showing a few shots of the passengers and then a shot of Big Ben to denote the passing of time. Just before the hour of midnight the expected happens and the bus crashes into a store. The film then traces the events in the lives of the passengers immediately preceding the accident.


The idea is a particularly good one for the movies but it has been badly handled. The dialogue was carelessly conceived and the attempt to be American is false. As a matter of truth the whole film has an unmistakable air of unreality about it and the audience does not become engrossed in the proceedings. The acting, especially by Sonnie Hale and Edmund Gwenn is good, but then English actors are as a rule far superior to our own.

All of which reminds me that one phase of British film making needs correcting and that is the inability to make a moving picture seem as though it were a moving picture and not merely a picturization of a stage play. All the English films I have seen suffer from this defect. They are often better written, invariably better acted and sometimes better directed but you can’t get over the feeling they were filmed from the orchestra pit of a theatre while the show was going on.


Buster Keaton, peer of the “deadpan” comedians, complains that talkie audiences do not laugh in the unrestrained fashion of the old silent pictures patrons. He explains it by stating that people who frequent movies are afraid of missing the dialogue and therefore when they should be guffawing in volume sit tense, waiting for the next line. Keaton, who started his stage career as an acrobat in vaudeville, a race that never says more than “alley oup,” offers a solution to the problem. He suggests that in making comedies directors should cut the dialogue down to a minimum.

Recently he made a picture for Educational Films called “The Gold Ghost.” In it there were but fifty lines of dialogue. It was a successful picture. Keaton also believes a good comedy must have action. Slow pantomime has its place but if it is “belly laughs” a director desires he must fill his script with antics, the comedian believes.

Foot note to the uninitiated-I must explain that “deadpan” is an expression used by actors to denote the ability of a performer to maintain a set or frozen facial expression throughout an entire scene regardless of what happens to him.

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