Sunday, 20 October 2013

Escape (1930)
Gerald Du Maurier
Oh dear ... this just isn't very good. You know a film isn't going to be very good when the first six minutes is simply documentary footage of a fox hunt:
Based on a play by John Galsworthy, Escape is the story of a foxhunter and a war hero, Captain Matt Denant (played by Gerald Du Maurier - the father of novelist Daphne Du Maurier) ...
Gerald Du Maurier
... who is imprisoned for manslaughter and frustrated by life in prison decides to escape and go on the run on Dartmoor.
He is imprisoned after he intervenes to prevent a prostitute (Mabel Poulton) being arrested in Hyde Park. He punches the arresting officer who falls, hits his head and dies.
Mabel Poulton & Gerald Du Maurier

Mabel Poulton & Gerald Du Maurier

Mabel Poulton & Gerald Du Maurier

Ian Hunter & Gerald Du Maurier
The scene is interesting because it reminds a modern audience of what a hive of activity Hyde Park used to be: crowds gathered at the bandstand, people promenading, courting couples and - rather actively - prostitutes. It appears the park was one of London's most notorious locales for soliciting. I also noticed lots of Guardsmen walking around the park. Police reports from the 1930s note that the park was also notorious for homosexual pick-ups, with young Guardsmen being active in the 'trade'. As a point of trivia, police investigations at the time revealed that there were even price lists in circulation in the Guards barracks for what they should charges for sexual favours.

In a nutshell, the film is rather ridiculous. After his escape, everyone he meets is either stupid or sympathetic. A woman (played by Edna Best) who finds him hiding in her bedroom is less worried about assisting an escaped convict than she is by the thought that he might see her underwear:
Edna Best hides her stockings and knickers under a cushion
She does however happily wave her stockings at him from her bedroom window to alert him of the arrival of a policeman:
Edna Best
Personally, I think she should have been more concerned about how this would have looked if anyone had seen her waving her stockings at an escaped convicted who been hiding in her bedroom. I suspect her husband would have suspected all manner of frightfulness and considered this grounds for divorce. But no, she resists telephoning for the police on the grounds that "You look such a sport." Yes, she actually said that.
It seems that Du Maurier has an odd effect that seems to get women waving their stockings around. When he meets some hikers, Phyllis Konstam removes her stockings as well:

It seems, he really is popular with the ladies.
Whilst later being chased by villagers, he seeks shelter in another house, where he again receives shelter and Madeleine Carroll says "I can't bear to see a man like that chased by a lot of yokels." The message seems to be that the middle classes should stick together, even if it means assisting a man who has killed a policeman.
Having started the film with scenes of a foxhunt, the film's director Basil Dean rather labours images comparing Du Maurier to a fox fleeing the hounds:

So, what was the most interesting thing about the film? I suppose it was spotting the extras:
Madeleine Carroll & Marie Ney
Austin Trevor
Jean Cadell (centre) who later played Gordon Jackson's mother in Whisky Galore
Ann Casson and Gerald Du Maurier. Casson was the daughter of the actress Sybil Thorndike. Casson made her penultimate screen appearance in 1940, only returning to the screen fifty years later in 1990 for 'I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle'
George Curzon (centre) - about to deliver one of film's most ridiculous lines: "Nothing to see - it's only a corpse."
Nigel Bruce (left) before he found fame as Dr Watson
And finally, Gordon Harker ...
Gordon Harker & Gerald Du Maurier
... who was the great uncle of the actresses Susannah and Caroline Harker:
Caroline Harker
Susannah Harker
Trivia 1: Whilst on the run, Du Maurier visits the Warren House Inn on Dartmoor.
It's still there.
Trivia 2: Du Maurier had a brand of cigarettes named after him, in turn the name was borrowed by Jan Ludvik Hyman Binyamin Hoch, who took the name Du Maurier when he first joined the British Army during World War 2. He later changed his name to Robert Maxwell. The rest of the story you probably know.

The film is currently available from Network DVD in Volume 1 of the Ealing Studios Rarities Collection.


  1. Escape was remade in 1948 starring Rex Harrison. I like the lad’s 1940s films in particular and so enjoyed watching it recently, but I have to admit that even he and Joseph L. Mankiewicz couldn’t make a silk purse out of this material. Not that Rex would have minded, he didn’t sign up to make Escape to enhance his reputation as an actor. He had an ulterior motive, in the shape of Carole Landis. By late 1947 Rex, who was feeling trapped in his contract with Fox and his enforced stay in Hollywood, wangled a trip to England to make Escape so that he could be with his extramarital Miss of the moment, Carole Landis. She had decided that working in the UK (on Noose & Brass Monkey, both 1948) was better than being out of work in Hollywood. Rex decided to pop over and keep her company, whilst knocking off a bit of Galsworthy in his spare time. The relationship only lasted a few months after their return to the States and sadly 29 year old Miss Landis took her own life. It appears that the reasons for doing so were varied and various but the American press and public decided to hold Sexy Rexy almost exclusively to blame. Apparently his character in the then recently released Rake’s Progress was seen as evidence for the prosecution. No wonder American actors don’t like playing dubious characters on screen.

  2. They filmed another version! Who would have believed it? I'm sure it's dreadful - but i will, no doubt, end up watching it sometime!