Wednesday 25 February 2015

Monochrome Marvels 1

I've long been a fan of old TV and film, and one of the wonderful things about it is how much more there always is to still discover. Nosing around on the internet can reveal all sorts of gems, free to view.

A Message from Mars (1913)

The poster advertises Hawtrey's involvement but shows Clark.
The first feature length science fiction film made in the UK, A Message from Mars was released by the BFI at the end of last year, restored and returned to its original colour tints. I've only just got round to watching it, but after a hundred years I'm sure a couple of months can't hurt. A silent film, it has only a few text inserts, the story mostly being told through the acting. It's a beautiful work, largely down to its star, Charles Hawtrey (not that one). Hawtrey was born in 1858 and was the leading comic stage actor of his generation. It was towards the very end of his career that he began to perform in silent films, using his expressive physicality to put across his characters' emotions. The cast also includes Hubert Willis, who was most famous as Doctor Watson alongside Eille Norwood's Sherlock Holmes.

A little research tells me that the film was based on an earlier version released in New Zealand in 1903, now lost, and itself based on a play by Richard Ganthony. It's essentially a spacey version of A Christmas Carol, with Hawtrey's character Horace shown the error of his selfish and miserable ways not by a series of ghosts but by Remiel, a Martian sent to Earth to prove his own abilties. I love E. Holman Clark's performance as Remiel; his expression of sheer indignation when he is given his earthly assignment. The Martian setting of his origin scenes might as well be heaven or some fantasy realm, but interplanetary romances were in vogue in that era. You can stream it on the BBC website.

Next : The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941)

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