Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Peril of the Fleet

Kriegsschiffe in Gefahr. GB 1909. PC: London Cinematograph Company. D: S. Wormald?; CAST: Frank Bayley. Orig. l: 535 ft; 459 ft /16 fps/ 8 min; from: BFINA. Deutsche Zwischentitel. E-subtitles in English + Italian, grand piano: Philip Carli. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 6 Oct 2009. - From the GCM Catalogue: "A spate of invasion films appeared in 1909, taking advantage of the brewing preoccupation with Britain’s military might in the face of Germany’s rising naval strength. This cinematic mood was in some ways a late reflection of the increasing number of invasion scenarios hysterically fomented in both magazine serials and novels, beginning most famously with George Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking (1871). Like many of these works, Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands (1903) uses a pseudo-factual approach akin to first-hand reportage to stoke the fears of the reading public, offering convincing “proof” that “Germany is pre-eminently fitted to undertake an invasion of Great Britain”.
The North Sea Treaty, signed on 23 April 1908 by Germany, Denmark, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Sweden to ensure the sovereignty of territories bordering the North Sea, appears to have done little to convince the public (or their governments) – the New York Times noted, “The chief significance attached to the declaration here is that it will disarm foreign suspicions of Germany’s designs against the integrity of the Netherlands.” With a rising military and economic rivalry between Germany and the UK, not to mention the jostling for colonies, such suspicions merely increased.
The Peril of the Fleet, much like Percy Stow’s The Invaders of the same year, needs to be seen within this context. Incorporating impressive actuality footage of the Battleships Agamemnon, Irresistible, and Drake (shot during the 1909 review of the Royal Navy fleet at Spithead) helped to reassure the public of Britain’s naval might, while the unspecified wicked foreign agents are foiled by a very English detective, the kind of happy-go-lucky chap who, as Simon Baker observes, succeeds more by luck than skill, “emphasizing the gentleman-amateur rather than the cunning organization of the foreigner”. As a whole the production appears to have been rushed through – children seen in the background of some of the location shots watch the camera with interest, and one of the female extras helping the temporarily thwarted detective seems very amused at finding herself part of the movie business. Ironically, this print, like the BFI’s copy of The Invaders, has German intertitles; tracking their reception within Germany would be a fascinating subject for research, though the spies have no defining national characteristics.
The film was produced by the short-lived London Cinematograph Company, formed in August 1908 by the exhibiting firm Electric Theatres to ensure a steady supply of frequently changing product to their cinemas. However, the venture was not a success, and by late 1910 it was succeeded by the Co-Operative Cinematograph Company. Little is known about the possible director, S. Wormald, whose name appears only to be connected with the London Cinematograph Company. – Jay Weissberg". - The audience responded with laughter to this naive film where the amateur detective foils the plans of the foreign powers. Cardboard sets. Passable print.

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