Thursday, October 01, 2009

Night Out.

It wasn’t just any old film - this was the only existing 35 mm archive print of the 1934 classic ‘Lorna Doone’ - R D Blackmore’s classic novel - which was first shown in 1935 at Minehead’s own Regal Cinema. The Cinema itself had had a grand opening in 1934 and it was thrilling to be treated to a short film recording the opening. What a splendid place it looked in those days with palms in the foyer and a wide impressive entrance with commissionaire. (Part of the ground floor now houses a supermarket) The class system was very evident with men in cloth caps, gents in ‘hets’. The ladies were more uniform with mid calf dresses, beanies and the odd dead animal round their necks. The cars were fascinating too – I could have happily watched that over and over.

Basil Dean directed the film and folk lore has it that his Aston Martin conked out on Porlock Hill because of course they filmed it on Exmoor and stunning it looked too. The film tells the story of John Ridd, the son of a decent farming family who falls in love with Lorna – supposedly a member of the evil Doone family – cutthroats and murderers, who had murdered John’s father so you can see it wasn’t a match made in heaven. Eventually Lorna flees to John’s farm and they get married in Oare Church. Some time ago I was in the church and told my DIL I didn’t know the full story so she proceeded to tell me as we stood before the altar.

‘See that window? That’s where Carver Doone (the arch villain) shot Lorna with his musket.’

My face must have fallen because she quickly said,

‘But she didn’t die.’ Huge sigh of relief.

We knew Margaret Lockwood was in it - (who remembers that marvellous quartet of stars – Margaret Lockwood, Phyllis Calvert, Stewart Granger and James Mason – two baddies and two goodies) but Margaret L was only 18 and she only got the part of John’s sister because of the illness of another actress. She was perfectly natural and clearly meant for stardom. Victoria Hopper was Lorna – she looked the part but had songs to sing and her voice was rather screechy. I’ll have to check but I think she was married to Basil.

The film was in black and white and the reel had to be changed for time to time but the audience didn’t care- audience participation was total with hisses and boos , cheers and applause and much laughter – especially in the battle and fight scenes. There was an enormous cast and villagers, farmers and local gentry played extras. The hunters brought their horses and the riding was as convincing as any western. When they all saw the finished product they grumbled that they weren’t on the screen long enough

John Loder was convincing as the gentle giant John Ridd aka Jan Ridd and was clearly an excellent horseman - there is a long tracking shot of him galloping across the moor which is amazing. He captured the gentle ruminative character of John without being too much of a country bumpkin. Roger Livesey played the dashing highway man who captured the heart of Margaret Lockwood.

The next day when I asked the girls what their impressions had been. They all loved the fight scenes – bloodthirsty creatures – I don’t want to sound girly but they were very noisy and very long - all those blunder busses. They also preferred the crowd scenes to the lovey- dovey parts and found the revels in the huge farm kitchen much to their taste. Joy enjoyed the harvesting – the blessing of the fields and the scything. One could tell from the animated discussion the film had had a great impact. We enjoyed the audience participation and agreed the best bit was at the end when John Ridd finally tossed the evil Carver Doone – who resembled a Gerald Scarfe cartoon of the most evil villain imaginable – into the terrible Wizard’s Slough and he was slowly sucked down into the ooze.

Margaret and Malcolm are clearing their house ready for the move and Malcolm has given me his Doone memorabilia including two booklets which identify the various spots in the Doone valley which makes Exmoor even more romantic. Malcolm pointed out that the scenes in the Royal Court when John follows Lorna to London were a great contrast to the Exmoor part and were most convincing.

We are lucky to have such a place as Exmoor on our doorstep and fortunate that it is still one of the best kept secret of the west. Of course I should tell you that Blackmore based his characters on real people. Two booklets I found invaluable are ‘Down in the Doone Country’ written and illustrated by Ron Barrington and ’A Day with Jan and Lorna’ by Bill Loaring but I’m not sure if they are still available.


Pat said...


sablonneuse said...

I loved that post even though I've not seen that particular film. However, we all enjoy early movies in this household and ny son has quite a collection.
The bit about having dead animals round necks also struck a chord as my grandmother had a fox fur that fascinated me as a child.
Hope you managed to sort out retuning the TV!

Pat said...

SANDY: I'm glad you enjoyed it. I have to confess that Gran had a pine marten fur(spelling?) which she passed on to me and I remember wearing it in a modelling shot. We weren't nearly so squeamish then.

kenju said...

I don't know anything of that story or movie, but I do remember 3 of the actors, especially Stewart Granger. I thought he was so handsome when I was young. I have eaten many a Lorna Doone cookie, however, and wondered how they got that name.

Four Dinners said...

Roger Livesey was in 'A Matter of Life and Death" (David Niven / Kim Hunter) one of my favourites.

As a man of leisure (temporarily) I've been catching up on some old videos not aired for many years. Apart from the above 'The Charge of The Light Brigade' - Errol Flynn / Olivia de Haviland, 'Raffles' - David Niven and 'Wuthering Heights' Olivier / Merle Oberon and Niven (again).

They don't make em like that anymore! ;-)

The Cloudcutter said...

Wow! This was so fascinating to read about. I haven't watched this one yet but I'm going to try and get my hands on it soon. I can't wait till TCM decides to air it :-)

The Cloudcutter said...

A tip for restoring para breaks in your post - try copying the whole into Word and editing there. Then paste back?

R. Sherman said...

I was not familiar with this film, but in America, there's a cookie (biscuit) called "Lorna Doone." I wonder what the connection is?


Pat said...

Judy: he left his wife for Jean Simmons but when he was old and very asthmatic she looked after him. He was a bit of a dish and he didn't slobber when he kissed.

Four Dinners: all good stuff! I doubt if you could get hold of this one though. We were only allowed it because someone at the Film Institute owed a favour.

Cloudcutter: see above - I don't think it is readily available.
I do most of my posts on Word and find that I have to repeat making the paragraphs. This time I tried doing a double gap on Word in the hope that the paragraphs would be correct . They were but then when posted disappeared.
They just like to tantalise me:)

The Cloudcutter said...

Oh! Blogger sometimes has a mind of its own... I often have my posts just vanish into thing air!

The Cloudcutter said...


Leah said...

Oooh, now I will see this too.

I just watched the Scarlet Pimpernel this past week, because you'd mentioned the hunkiness of Leslie Howard as Sir Percy. I'd read the book many times, but never seen the movie. Leslie was dreamy and Merle Oberon stunning. Hedgehog watched with me, but decried the romance...she too prefers the action.

Pat said...

Randall: how odd. I think I feel a google coming on:)

Leah: maybe one gets soppier as one gets older. Do'y think?
And Leslie Howard -there is another English actor with squinty eyes - but somehow it works.

Edelweiss Transplanted said...

Oh, I have always wanted to get to Exmoor! Have had one trip through the West to do genealogy research in Cornwall, but never got to that place. Love the watercolor postcard with the poem.

Charlie said...

I always liked James Mason: he was an excellent "bad guy".

And I agree with a couple other commenters: like many other things, they don't make movies like they used to. (Some rare exceptions, of course.)

Guyana-Gyal said...

Lorna Doone sounds like an old Indian movie, what a tale. I haven't read the book, so many books to read.

I remember hearing about cinemas with palm trees and what not, they sound glorious.

Now I want to go on a black & white movie binge!

Pat said...

Edelweiss: when we decided to retire here all I knew of Exmoor was of a picture map I saw in a pub with deer Lorna Doone, wild ponies and all the honey spots. 'That looks nice.' I said and there we were. One of the reasons it is so unspoilt is that people tend to hurtle through en route to Devon and Cornwall.

Charlie: yes he was great - for a Yorkshire man - and played a sadistic anti- hero very convincingly.

GG: Margaret offered it to me to read but I have so much reading to do I was afraid I wouldn't finish it before she goes. MTL insists we have a copy somewhere.
I've just ordered 'Solutions for the writer' recommended by Queenie so that will have priority.

Queenie said...

I read the book years ago and loved it, all except the 'being sucked down into the ooze' scene which gave me nightmares. I know he was a baddie and deserved the comeuppance, but the scene was so vividly written that it stayed in my mind for years. The film sounds terrific, and I love Exmoor; I don't know it as well as I know Dartmoor, but it's a fabulous, spectacular place, particularly (for me) where it meets the coast - in that respect it has the edge (ha ha) over Dartmoor, I think.

Pat said...

Queenie: OK then you inspired me to - at least read the sinking in the ooze bit - especially now I have the visual to go with it.
That's your pun ration done for the autumn.

apprentice said...

I remember reading the book as a child and finding that whole world so dark and captivating. Thanks for reminding me about it.

I'd love to see Exmoor someday, the TV coverage of it always looks wonderful.

Pat said...

Anna: some people say it's like Scotland in miniature - and some people are rather scathing about that description:)

Guyana-Gyal said...

I just remembered...'interactive' cinema is what one Caribbean writer called it, when audiences used to holler, hoot and boo.

I think if we had cinemas here, people would interact.

Guyana-Gyal said...

Oh...another thing...another good book for writers is Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway.

Pat said...

GG: I experienced interactive theatre in France when we took Sweeney Todd to Le Puy. It was very stimulating:)
Thanks for the book heads up but I'm a million miles from writing fiction just now.

Kim Ayres said...

Exmoor has always been one of my father's favourite places to paint, and when I was a kid we had a few holidays in and around there - usually camping near Dulverton. I do remember various refernces to Lorna Doone, but I never have seen a film or tv drama or read the book

Pat said...

Kim: I really think I have to read the book especially if it terrified Queenie.
I wonder if your father knew the places mentioned in the book. I'm sure he would know Tarr steps - maybe even painted it.

Kim Ayres said...

He's painted Tarr Steps a few times, and I'm sure several other key places :)

Pat said...

Kim: you certainly are a gifted family. You could photograph the spots he has painted as a sort of homage. Next time you're down.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I had so much trouble trying to leave a comment, my dear...BLOGGER is Acting Up...I kept clicking on your comments under BEAUTIFUL Margaret Lockwoods picture...It Wouldn't Go Anywhere! I tried this one too...and NADA!
Finally....I kept trying....AND Here I Am!

First, What a fabulous evening! Such fun to be part of all the Hissing and Booing....LOL!

I remeber those four WONDERFUL Actors you mentioned---BRILLIANT, All Of Them!

And Margaret L. was truly so very very Beautiful and so incredibly talented! I've never seen that film. I wonder if TCM has a print of it...I should look that up!
Anyway.....I love your description of that wonderful Old Movie Palace...Weren't they just The Best! It is sad to me that so many young people don't know what an "event" it was to go to these very special Theatres. Like, Radio City Music Hall---I guess that's the last of those kinds of Palaces STILL around to see in New York...!
Lorna Doone's, the cookie, I never realized she was a REAL Person!
Wonderful Post, Pat, as always!

Pat said...

Naomi: I'm sorry you had trouble with blogger it drives me dotty especially when it interferes with posting. Twice recently I have been trying to lower a picture to title it and it has just published itself and then to retrieve it and edit it doesn't always work. I think there is a wicked gremlin who just loves to gum up the works.
I never knew - until Randall said -there was a Lorna Doone cookie:)

rashbre said...

Interactive cinema is good fun. I wonder if you've ever been to the craziness of a Rocky Horror Picture SHow at a cinema? Brilliant fun.

A while ago in London, there was a play of Brief Encounter at the Haymarket Cinema. It was mixed media, with film (not the original) and acting, including some loopy adverts. As one entered the lobby, it was flashback to another era and then inside the cinema itself there were musicians and singers before the show.

And of course the actors started in the cinema and then walked through the film onto the stage. A punchdrunk production. Excellent.

Pat said...

Rashbre:I saw the Rocky Horror Show when it first came out in London and was very surprised to be led into the theatre by members of the cast. It was all very new and a bit puzzling in those days.
The 'Brief Encounter' sounds interesting and I wonder if they played it straight. It's all too easy to lampoon.

rashbre said...

It was a loving portrayal. Some amusing parts but with some quite earnest acting by the main couple.

Wasn't punchdrunk btw, was kneehigh production. Both good companies who think outside the box.

Pat said...

Rashbre: I'd like to have seen it.