Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Cottage on Dartmoor (Anthony Asquith) ****

Director: Anthony Asquith

Cast: Uno Henning, Norah Baring, Hans Adalbert Schlettow

Background: Asquith was the son of a former UK Prime Minister. He had previously directed three silent films, none of them very successful.

Story: Joe (Henning) makes a daring escape from prison to see Sally (Baring), then we flash back to see what landed him in prison. We follow as he falls for Sally, his later disappointment, and his growing mad obsession as Sally falls in love with Harry (Schlettow).

Thoughts: Another of the very late silent films that shows the true power of the silent era. This is an absolutely wonderful film where not much really happens, but the emotion are expressed powerfully with some stunning images. Watching Uno Henning brilliantly depict a seemingly normal man's descent into madness and obsession is quite a treat. Director Anthony Asquith is able to create very suspenseful moments out of ordinary events. There is a scene in a movie theater that is a masterwork of editing. Later, there is a pivotal scene that takes place in a barbershop that is incredibly tense thanks to outstanding performances from both Henning and Norah Baring and Asquith's ability to milk the situation for maximum effect. The ending has some major surprises in store and I appreciate the unpredictable way the characters react to the situations that occur at the very end. What a fantastic job by everyone involved.

Postscript: Despite not being very well known by modern audiences, the film has an excellent reputation among critics and those who have managed to see it. Asquith went on to a long career, with notable films being The Browning Version, Pygmalion, and The Importance of Being Earnest. Neither Henning or Baring had very successful careers.

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