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The Times (24/Sep/1983) - Rarities brought out of the shadows

(c) The Times (24/Sep/1983)

Rarities brought out of the shadows

Life is full of surprises, and here is another: during his career's slow decline, Buster Keaton appeared in a bizarre, forgotten British comedy of 1936, filmed in both English and French, set in Spain and called The Invader. The director, Adrian Brunel, later remembered the production as "trouble from beginning to end". Contemporary reviewers were less than complimentary.

No matter: the curiosity demands to be seen. And on November 29 we have the chance, thanks to the National Film Archive, who preserved the film, to the Museum of London, who scheduled it in their sixth "Made in London" season, and to the Japanese investment company Nomura International, who gave the museum's venture crucial and heart-warming sponsorship. The season began this week and lasts until December 15, with programmes on Tuesday and Thursdays at 6.10pm.

The Invader may not overturn our conception of Keaton or British comedy, but its very existence proves the wealth of unusual material awaiting reassessment. The museum's dip into the Archive's collection balances popular titles with rarities. We know the value of the Korda output (Rembrandt, Oct 4; Elephant Boy, Oct 25), of Powell and Pressburger's boffin drama The Small Back Room (Oct 13), of Sydney Box's The Seventh Veil (Oct 11), with its lunatic mixture of Rachmaninov, sadism and psychiatry.

But who beats the drum for shadowy directors like Arthur Woods, Charles Frank, and the wandering Frenchman Edmond T. Grevilfe? All are represented by stylish works; the season also offers rare chances to savour the stately drolleries of Sydney Howard (Splinters, Dec 1), George Arliss's succulent ham (The Iron Duke, Oct 18) and the entertaining folly of London Town (Nov 17).

Arthur Woods's thriller They Drive By Night (Nov 8) drew enraptured words from Graham Greene in 1938; how could it do otherwise, with Ernest Thesiger as a sex maniac and a background of squalid poetry? Greville's 1948 version of Richard Llewellyn's play Noose (Oct 6) presents another slice of British low-life, with Hollywood import Carole Landis pitched among Soho racketeers.

The Forties' fondness for the phantasmagorical is also represented. Charles Frank's Uncle Silas (Dec 6) embodies Sheridan le Fanu's chilling tale with rare flights of visual fancy; Bernard Knowles's version of Osbert Sitwell's ghost story A Place of One's Own (Nov 3) remains one of the few intelligent Gainsborough melodramas.

The week ahead, however, belongs to Hitchcock. On Tuesday Ivor Novello sidles through The Lodger (1927) with something of the beauty and mystery now displayed by David Bowie. Thursday's offering is Blackmail, usually screened in its talkie version: the museum comes up with another valuable rarity by presenting the Archive's newly available silent print, released in August, 1929, to cinemas not yet converted to sound.