Birds of Prey (1930)
Directed by Basil Dean from a screenplay based on an A.A. Milne play, The Fourth Wall, this is one of those early British films which struggles to escape its theatrical origins. With cameras that pan between static actors as they recite their lines, actors and actresses who play to camera as if playing to an audience rather than each other, and rather stilted dialogue, Birds of Prey isn't one of the best examples of 1930s British cinema. That said, it's good to see it finally available as part of Volume 4 of Network DVD's Ealing Studios Rarities Collection, a collection that sets out to reissue all of the previously unavailable output from Ealing Studios:
The story revolves around the murder of Arthur Hilton (played by C. Aubrey Smith) by two men he had arrested many years before whilst working as a policeman in Africa. Under new identities the men Carter and Laverick (played by Robert Loraine and Warwick Ward) return to murder Hilton.
|C. Aubrey Smith|
It's one of those curious mystery movies in which there is no mystery: we are told the identity of one of the murderers in the opening scene and then see the crime being committed. The drama unfolds as two young lovers, Jimmy Hilton and Molly (Frank Lawton and Dorothy Boyd) ...
|Dorothy Boyd and Frank Lawton|
... are frustrated by police incompetence and set out to solve the murder. The way they go about solving the murder is the essence of the film and is, to be fair, rather entertaining. Does it make up for some of the hammy acting?
I'll leave that for others to be the judge.
It was interesting to see jack Hawkins in his very first screen role (playing a member of domestic staff at Mr Hilton's home) and Nigel Bruce in one of his earliest credited screen roles:
|Jack Hawkins & Nigel Bruce|
Whilst Hawkins and Bruce were at the beginning of long and illustrious screen careers, Robert Loraine (who died in 1935) was at the end of a long theatrical career. Even more interesting than his long experience on the stage was his military career: Loraine served in the British Army during the Boer War, then trained as a pilot, serving in the First World War in the Royal Flying Corps and winning the Military Cross. He is also credited as being the first person to use the word 'joystick' to refer to an aircraft's controls.