(aka 'Escape from Dartmoor' or 'Fången 53')

Directed by Anthony Asquith
UK 1929

 

One of the very last silent films to be made in Britain before the talkies revolutionised cinema, A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929) is a virtuoso piece of filmmaking, a final passionate cry in defence of an art form soon to be obsolete. Restored from film materials preserved in the BFI National Archive, this little-known gem is released on DVD for the first time in the UK and presented here with a specially commissioned score by Stephen Horne.

Directed by Anthony Asquith (better known for The Browning Version and The Way to the Stars) A Cottage on Dartmoor is an embroiled melodrama, a tale of love and revenge, set on the bleak landscape of Dartmoor.

In a small-town hairdressing salon, a young barber, Joe (Uno Henning) is trying to court Sally, the beautiful manicurist (Nora Baring) and asks her out. She rejects him in favour of the security offered by an older, wealthier farmer. In a jealous rage Joe slashes the farmer with a razor and is sent to Dartmoor prison for attempted murder. He escapes over the moors to find Sally, who does not know if he has come to kill her or ask her forgiveness, and it's at this point that the film begins. The rest of the story is told in flashback.

Overlooked by critics more eager to heap praise upon his contemporary, Hitchcock, (who made Blackmail during the same year), Asquith's films display the same skill in inventive story-telling and technical artistry. Steeped in the work of the Soviet avant-garde and German expressionism, Asquith adopts these styles whilst instilling the film with a particularly British sensibility.

***

Made, like Hitchcock's Blackmail, in separate sound and silent versions, Asquith's simple, striking passion play offers a glimmer of visual Expressionism rarely seen in British cinema. (Regrettably, the National Film Archive print under review is the sound-cut minus sound.) Opening on a breathless dash over the sodden looming moors, it flashes back from the exclamation 'Joe!' to the city and an extended exposition in which the self-same barber suffers as his salon colleague Sally is willingly wooed by a ruddy-faced customer. At times the film's ardour is more intense than the speed of its storytelling, but it's eminently handsome, both in the simpatico performances and in Asquith's crisp, adventurous, Eisensteinian montage.

Excerpt from TimeOut Film Guide located HERE

Theatrical Release: October 1929

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DVD Review: BFI - Region 2 - PAL

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Distribution BFI Home Video - Region 2 - PAL
Runtime 1:24:15 
Video 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.13 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:

Audio Silent with piano accompaniment (Dolby Digital 2.0) 
Subtitles None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: BFI

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1

Edition Details:

Insight (1960) - Study of Anthony Asquith at work featuring on set footage and interviews - 15:01
• Rush Hour - Comedy film from the BFI National Archive about Britain's workers coping with the transport system during the War (Asquith, 1941) - 5:55
•  Fully illustrated booklet including essays by Bryony Dixon and Geoffrey Macnab

DVD Release Date: May 26th, 200
8
Transparent Keep Case
Chapters: 9

 

Comments:

NOTE: The Kino version HERE released in October of 2007 is reported to have ghosting from an incorrect standard source - as well as combing from being interlaced. Taking this into consideration the new BFI edition is definitely superior on the visual front. 

Housed on a single-layered DVD this BFI release looks quite marvelous. It was restored from film materials preserved in the BFI National Archive and shown on the Festival circuit. Image quality has some incredible moments considering the film's age of almost 80 years. It can look very impressive - even on an advanced viewing system as the disc is progressively transferred. Fine noise resembles grain. Contrast is strong and detail looks probably as good as it did in its initial theatrical showings. Damage marks still exist especially in the opening 10-15 minutes but it settles in for a fairly smooth presentation.  

The audio track is presented here with a specially commissioned solo piano score by Stephen Horne. It reproduces the aura of a vintage showing blending adeptly with the onscreen activity. There are no subtitles offered.

Supplements include Insight - a 15 minute piece from 1960 - examining Anthony Asquith at work featuring on-set footage and interviews. Plus we are treated to Rush Hour a short Asquith comedy from 1940. This was taken from the BFI National Archive dealing with British workers coping with the transport system during the WWII. There is also a fully illustrated liner notes booklet featuring essays by Bryony Dixon and Geoffrey Macnab.

The film? - the references to Hitchcock are appropriate and if you didn't know the difference this could easily be counted as part of his early work - murder amongst the lower classes, love, betrayal, justice - it has the trademark genre proclivities. I was quite enthralled and recommend this DVD if you are at all interested in viewing. Great work by the BFI!   

Gary W. Tooze

 



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Distribution BFI Home Video - Region 2 - PAL




 

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