Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Four Just Men

[The film was never released in Finland].
GB 1921. PC: Stoll Film Company. D+SC: George Ridgwell; - based on the novel by Edgar Wallace (1905); DP: Alfred H. Moises; AD: Walter W. Murton; CAST: Cecil Humphreys (Manfred), Owen Roughwood (Poiccart), Teddy Arundell (Sir Philip Ramon), George Bellamy (Gonzalez), Charles Tilson-Chowne (Inspector Falmouth), Charles Crocker-King (Thery), Robert Vallis (Billy Marks); print: BFINA. 4962 ft /20 fps/ [66 min announced], actual duration 62 min
E-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Donald Sosin. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 3 Oct 2009.

From the GCM Catalogue: "A recent discovery by the British Silent Film Festival is The Four Just Men, an efficient and gripping adaptation of Edgar Wallace’s first major success featuring international political terrorists, ingenious murders, and a ticking clock. This detective thriller relates the story of how the “Four Just Men” carry out their threat to kill the Foreign Secretary, Sir Philip Ramon, if he passes an Aliens Extradition Bill making it possible for an asylum seeker to be deported from England to be murdered by a repressive government. It is no coincidence that the novel was published in 1905, the year in Britain of the Aliens Act, which contained clauses allowing for the deportation of “criminals” and undesirables. However, the morality of these clever vigilantes plays second fiddle to their ingenious methods for building terror and suspense as the deadline approaches.
The novel is very cinematic. Wallace had a knack for dialogue and inventive plots. His ability to create mounting suspense in “stand alone” scenes converts particularly well to the screen – for example, the build-up of the announcement of the threat to Sir Philip from a regulation notice in the back pages of The Times, to the sarcastic comments of Athenaeum Club members, to the concerned curiosity on behalf of a polite newspaper, to the instant reaction of the editor of the aptly named Megaphone, who sits up, barks orders at a reporter, and drafts sensational headlines in one manoeuvre: “CABINET MINISTER IN DANGER -- THREATS TO MURDER THE FOREIGN SECRETARY -- 'THE FOUR JUST MEN' -- PLOT TO ARREST THE PASSAGE OF THE -- ALIENS EXTRADITION BILL --EXTRAORDINARY REVELATIONS.” You can see just how a screenwriter could visualize that scene and almost hear the rat-a-tat of the telex machine – it is almost a cliché of 1930s crime drama – but written in 1905.
This early adaptation by George Ridgwell for Stoll is very faithful to the original, efficient and assured. It is said that during the 1920s every fourth book being read in the world was by Edgar Wallace, so it hardly surprising that he should have an impact on the cinema. Hundreds of adaptations followed in a lifelong love affair with the cinema for Wallace, who was on his way to Hollywood to work on King Kong when he died in 1931. – Bryony Dixon"

The print had a variable quality, from quite ok to pretty soft, slightly duped, with black missing, maybe produced via a digital intermediate?, with further small problems in the screening of at the worst three simultaneous reflections from video projectors etc. - A historically important film: an early Edgar Wallace adaptation. The IMDb lists 167 of them, and this was the seventh, based on his first novel. - I agree with Bryony Dixon: there is a lot of cinematically promising material here. They include the devices of the switchboard and the printing press. It is a professionally made thriller with the exciting and disturbing twist that the four criminals use terror to pursue justice. The climax is an assassination via telephone (a lethal electric shock delivered via the telephone wire). But this film does not rise to the level of Lang or Hitchcock, as there is little psychological depth.

No comments: