Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Movie: A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929)

My work schedule will prevent me from attending Silent Movie Mondays at the Paramount Theater, but fortunately I have resources at my disposal. Here’s my lovely wife and VKDC correspondent Rosemarie.

It had been ages since I’d been to Silent Movie Mondays at the Paramount, but when they advertised their latest series as a “Silent Crime Spree” I knew I couldn’t miss it.

I got there early, not because I worried that the 3,000 seat theater would fill up but because I was hoping that sponsor Trader Joe’s would be making with the delicious giveaways. And were they ever. I filled my pockets with chocolate, lollipops and taffy and settled in among a nice-sized crowd for A Cottage on Dartmoor.

But Anthony Asquith’s thriller was so engrossing I forgot to eat my candy. An escaped convict dashes across the titular landscape to the titular edifice. The woman of the house, her baby asleep upstairs, recognizes the wild-eyed fugitive. This cues a flashback that takes up the bulk of the film in which we meet John, a barber’s assistant, who’s infatuated with Sally, a manicurist. Unfortunately for the intense and somewhat creepy chap, Sally has eyes for a hail-fellow-well-met customer who is only too happy to flirt with her, appearing at the barber shop every other day for any and all beauty treatments on offer (setting up a nice visual gag during the “vibro massage” service). By the time he’s proposed to Sally he has the handsomest fingernails in Britain.

The standout scene takes place in a movie theater. Sally’s beau escorts her to a cinema and John slips into the row behind them, apparently just to torture himself. The 15 minute sequence cuts among the audience members, showing their reactions first to a Harold Lloyd silent then to a talkie, a melodrama that keeps them on the edge of their seats. Never once do we see what’s happening on the theater’s screen, only the crowd’s responses. It’s riveting watching them laugh, recoil and swoon while we do the same right along with them.

Before the screening the Paramount’s organist for the evening, Jim Riggs, a virtuoso on the Mighty Wurlitzer, pointed out a cameo in the talkie sequence. The young fellow whom a schoolboy mistakes for Harold Lloyd is director Asquith himself.

The ending is more pessimistic than I would have imagined, not just in its action, but in what it tells us about Sally’s seeming domestic bliss. Perhaps John wasn’t the only one who wanted to run away from his prison on the moors. For a dark, dare I say noir film, there are more comedic uses of an ear horn than you would imagine and I, for one, couldn’t be happier about it.