Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Jersey Critic: Silent Movies, and Absurd Communication Links

From November 1927, and the "Jersey Critic".

The front cover of the magazine has a large advert for "Wests", which was well as being a cinema, also had "West's Ballroom", with dancing (and "West's unrivalled orchestra"), and a café serving morning coffee, teas or light lunches. The cinema had a matinee at 3, and was continuous in the evening from 6.30 to 11, except Sundays when there was only one showing at 8.15.

I'm old enough to remember (as a child) a cinema at a UK railway station which showed films continuously; you paid, and went in on a short film, and would see it at whatever point it reached; when it finished, you watched the first part. I don't know if West's cinema adopted that, but with relative short silent films, it is likely.

The cinema was showing silent films - "Out of the Frying Pan" featuring Fred Thomson and Silver King (a horse),, "the Second Mrs Fenway" starring Pauline Frederick - "the great emotional actress" in a film which asked "What is Woman's Real Place, The Platform or The Home", and Mary Carr and June Marlowe in "The Fourth Commandment" for which the tagline was "Which should a man choose - wife or mother?"

"The Second Mrs Fenway", also known as "Her Honor, the Governor" (1926) also starred a young actor called Boris Karloff. Running at 66 minutes, it is a film about political corruption in America. This is the plot which Jersey audiences would have seen unfold on the silent screen:

"Adele Fenway (Pauline Frederick) is Her Honor the Governor. After winning the gubernatorial election, Adele discovers that her campaign was a sham: Crooked senator Jim Dornton (Stanton Heck) intends to go on running the state as he's always done, using Adele as a mere figurehead. But she's a lot more savvy than he suspects, as she proves when she successfully blocks a bit of underhanded legislation engineered by Dornton. He, in turn, threatens to reveal that, due to a legal technicality, Adele's son Bob (Carrol Nye) is illegitimate in the eyes of the law. Infuriated, Bob rushes to Dornton's home, demanding an apology -- and the next morning, the Senator is found dead. Desperately trying to save her son from a murder conviction, Adele faces imminent impeachment, but all ends happily when the actual killer is revealed. Boris Karloff appears in a small but showy role as a dope addict."

One wonders what Jersey folk would have made of the American politics, but they would certainly have been influenced by the silent era of Hollywood, which was transmitting American culture and mores around the globe.

Perhaps more to the taste for a Jersey audience would have been "Out of the Frying Pan". This was an American silent Western starring cowboy Fred Thomson and his trusty steed Silver King. Forgotten today, he was rising in popularity and by 1927, he was making a then astounding $10,000 a week!

Turning to the notes in The Jersey Critic from the editor, Edward Le Brocq, just inside. These cover the problems which beset communications between vessels at sea and land. Le Brocq explains it very well, but it seems strange that when technology was taking off, and movies could come all the way from America, Jersey was held back from benefiting from the changes in communication.

And all this is less than a hundred years ago, showing how rapidly society has changed over that time, when communication was by telegraph, and movies were silent!

Random Notes by the editor

An Absurdity

When are the States going to move in the matter of a wireless installation? If anything more had been required to demonstrate the absolute absurdity of the actual position this was provided on Tuesday, when the incoming mail boat was delayed by fog for a matter of about nine hours. We knew she was anchored somewhere off the Corbière or Noirmont, but communication with the vessel was impossible.

Via England

The Press informed us that Captain Smith sent a wireless message during the afternoon to the effect that the "Lorina" was lying off Noirmont in a dense fog, and that unless the weather cleared, she would not come in until 2 am. This message, of course, could not come direct. It was sent by Captain Smith to the mainland and was telegraphed back to Jersey. The "Lorina", in fact, though only half a mile or so from Jersey had to communicate with the Island via England.


The position is more than absurd, it is dangerous. Had the "Lorina" struck a rock in the dense fog, we would not have known. Some other vessel might have picked up the call, but relatives and friends in the Island of Jersey would have been in blissful ignorance that a disaster was occurring. True, the "Lorina" did not strike a rock, but that is hardly the point. She might have met with an accident (they have occurred in the past) and in that case her passengers could have drowned at their leisure. We'd have been told about it afterwards.

Our Plain Course

I know perfectly well that if we haven't got a wireless installation, the blame doesn't lie entirely with the States, who, on more than one occasion have tried to come to terms with the [UK] Government. But I maintain that there is no difficulty so great that it can't be settled if the parties really mean business. Our course is quite plain. We should go on hammering away at the Government, and in the end we should get something done. While we are satisfied to take no active steps but to merely omit a growl of displeasure every now and then, the matter will remain shelved. The States should remember and profit by the story of the importunate widow.

For further reading on the films showing at Wests:
Pauline Frederick (August 12, 1883 - September 19, 1938) was an American stage and film actress.

Frederick Clifton Thomson (February 26, 1890 - December 25, 1928) was an American silent film cowboy who rivalled Tom Mix in popularity before dying at age 38 of tetanus

The Fourth Commandment

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