The Importance of Being Ernst

“The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg” (MGM 1927)

Friday March 23, 2018

       shearer_novarroNorma Shearer and Ramon Novarro

The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival held in Bo’ness, Scotland every year in March has always focussed on great Hollywood directors – Borzage, Wellmann, Murnau – and now Ernst Lubitsch has been added to the illustrious list.

His 1927 MGM tearjerker “The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg” (or “In Old Heidelberg” as existing prints are now titled) was the film choice for Friday’s Gala Night screening. Projected in 35mm (remember that?) in a lovely print supplied by Patrick Stanbury and Kevin Brownlow’s Photoplay Productions (and also lovely to hear that Patrick was in the audience!), the packed house swooned en masse for the star-crossed lovers doomed romance.

There were a few of the maestro’s “Lubitsch touches” on view, but the film concentrated more on the intimate romance between Novarro and Shearer, their love scene in a flower-strewn Cedric Gibbons/Richard Day meadow at night, complete with shooting stars and a gentle summer breeze blowing was beautifully photographed by cinematographer John Mescall and simply glistened and glowed as only vintage 1920’s cinema knew how. Jean Hersholt added a much-needed comic touch to the proceedings as the Prince’s tutor, Herr Jüttner, who accompanies him to student-infested Heidelberg where there seem to be no studies – unless you count swilling copious steins of beer and carousing at the local hostelry run by Norma’s dad as studying.

Apparently Lubitsch went to Heidelberg and filmed locations at the castle there, but none of the footage was used in the finished film, all was recreated on standing sets on the huge MGM backlot, apart from a couple of sequences at Lake Arrowhead.

Guests were encouraged to arrive in period or suitable attire and I even saw one old codger in lederhosen and a jaunty hat with a feather in it!

lubitsch on set

On the set (left to right): Ernst Lubitsch, Marion Davies, Ramon Novarro, Mary Pickford, unknown, Bebe Daniels, Jean Hersholt (Photo: The Museum of Modern Art, New York.)

The icing on the cake was the terrific piano accompaniment by the inestimable Neil Brand.

I can’t put it any better than the Photoplay Productions online film notes: “the film is bathed in the rosy glow of young love”………….. it was.

Rose-coloured “Follies”

FOLLIESFOLLIES (National Theatre) London: “live” cinema transmission 16th November 2017

From the moment the spotlight hovers on a ghostly, glimmering Broadway showgirl high up on a balcony, and the orchestra starts playing the opening bars of Stephen Sondheim’s fabled musical “Follies”, you know you are in for a memorable and thrilling night.

Set in a soon-to-be-demolished Broadway theatre in 1971, this is the last ever reunion of Dimitri Weissmann’s (read Florenz Ziegfeld’s) showgirls and stars. Old relationships, friends from the past and rivalries bubble and surface on and around the dusty and abandoned stage.

Imelda Staunton dazzles as Sally Durant, fondly remembering her past encounters with Ben Stone (Philip Quast), husband of her old best friend Phyllis (the superb Janie Dee). As they interact, the ghostly figures of long-lost showgirls move across the stage, and Ben, Sally, Phyllis and Sally’s husband Buddy (Peter Forbes) also have their ghostly younger counterparts there as well to remind them of their past follies.

Also delivering stand-out performances are Josephine Barstow as Heidi: her song “One Last Kiss”, a Strauss/Lehar lieder-type melody sung in counterpoint with her younger self (Alison Langer) is a dramatic and wistful look back at operetta and the incomparable Tracie Bennett as Carlotta Campion – never has “I’m Still Here” been sung with more chutzpah, charisma and downright feistiness as her version here, she prowls, vamps and wows the audience with her showstopping act.

As always, the trio of great Sondheim songs “Rain on the Roof”, “Ah, Paree” and “Broadway Baby” performed as a non-stop trilogy is one of the highlights of “Follies”. Sung by Billy Barnes and Norma Attalah, “Rain on the Roof” has just the right amount of saccharin and spice, redolent of married double acts of the 1930’s but still tongue in cheek. “Ah, Paree” a paean to the city of light sung by Geraldine Fitzgerald sizzles with Gallic charm and Di Boutcher’s “Broadway Baby” has just the right amount of dedication, verve and damn-it-all dedication to stop the show.

As the show develops, it gets darker in tone, and some of the strongest songs are in the second half – Janie Dee’s “Could I Leave You” is spot-on and her later “The Story of Lucy and Jessie” showcases her dancing talents as well as reminding us of those MGM musicals of the 1950’s in its setting and choreography.

But there are too many excellent moments and performances in this production to single out – the direction by Dominic Cooke is pin-sharp, the choreography by Bill Dearner and the crumbling, dusty set designs of Vicki Mortimer and lighting design by Paule Constable are noteworthy.

Played by a 21-piece orchestra (a rarity these days) the original orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick are given new life by conductor Nigel Lilley – never has Sondheim’s score sounded better.

My only cavil is that watching this “live” performance being transmitted to cinemas doesn’t give you that “being there” frisson, and (in the case of the performance I attended at the Bo’ness Hippodrome cinema in Scotland) the lack of our audience applauding at the end of a show-stopping song and, indeed, at the finale came across as a bit of a let-down, I wanted to stand up and cheer, just as the audience at the National Theatre were doing on-screen.

This show has restored my faith in  bringing classic musicals back to present-day musical theatre!

Celery and Cleavage : The Patsy film review

The-patsy-1928-lobbycardDir: King Vidor (1928) Bo’ness Hippodrome Friday 24th March 2017
Part of the 2017 Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema

Accompanied by Filmorchestra The Sprockets: a six-piece ensemble from the Netherlands, Daphne Balvers (soprano sax), Frido ter Beek (baritone, alto sax), Marco Ludemann (mandolin, banjo, guitar), Jasper Somsen (double bass), Rombout Stoffers (percussion, accordion) and Maud Nelissen (piano), the MGM comedy “The Patsy” was a revelation!
Despite a shaky start, when the projection speed seemed to be faster than the ensemble was used to and had to be restarted, the film – and the audience – settled down to a Marion Davies comedy classic. Known mainly today for her association with William Randolph Hearst the newspaper magnate, in this film she shows us her comedic range and also her skill as a mimic – giving us spot-on impersonations of silent stars Mae Murray, of the bee-stung lips, virginal Lillian Gish and exotic temptress Pola Negri.
Supported by a great cast, including Dell Henderson as her hen-pecked father, Jane Winton as her spoiled brat of a sister and her sister’s long-suffering boyfriend, Orville Caldwell, Marion Davies gives a spirited and sometimes touching performance as the drudge of the family, constantly getting the thin edge of the familial wedge while harbouring a secret passion for her sister’s paramour.
marie dressler marion davies the patsy 1
Marie Dressler: Marion Davies
She almost but not quite, has the film stolen from her by Marie Dressler, who plays her domineering mother, complete with exaggerated looks, double-takes and mannerisms. In one scene at a fancy club during a meal, one of her daughter’s other suitors, played with great gusto by Lawrence Gray, shows off some of his party tricks and launches a stick of celery high up in the air: when it descends, it lands neatly in Ms Dressler’s ample cleavage. A show-stopper!
Marie Dressler + Jane Winton - The Patsy (1928)
Marie Dressler: Jane Winton

The plot, such as it is, consists mainly of Ms Davies attempts to get a “personality” in order to captivate her sister’s beau – with unexpected results. The main reason that this film is remembered today is really the excellent cast, and the fact that it was adapted from a play holds back the cinematic quality of the picture somewhat, despite a high-speed motorboat sequence, which seemed to me to be included by director King Vidor mainly to “open up” the film.

The Hippodrome audience seemed to really enjoy the film and the accompaniment added much to the performance. There is something magical about seeing a good silent film with a great group of musicians delivering a perfect “live” soundtrack.

marion at the hippodrome_the patsyPhoto: Dorota Borowiecka


Little Arrows

man hunt

Man Hunt (Fritz Lang: 1941 20th Century Fox) The recent Twilight Time blu-ray of one of Fritz Lang’s classic suspense films. Walter Pidgeon is surprisingly good as the stiff-upper lipped Brit hero, and Joan Bennett (despite a dodgy Cockerney accent) looks luminescent as the female lead. But George Sanders excels – and steals the film – as a German/British baddie. Looking remarkably like Lang himself (the monocle helps) George paces and growls Germanically (or should that be Germaniacally) as Pidgeon’s adversary. His German accent and speech are far more convincing than Bennett’s dire Pearly-queen accent. The scenes in 20th Century-Fox’s London are a little off-kilter though. Renault taxis weren’t part of the traffic scene in 1940’s London, as far as I am aware, and that Underground train looked distinctly as though it emanated from the Bronx!

Great film, nonetheless.

And to follow……….. Man Hunt – the CD!

man hunt_la la land 2014

man hunt cd back

Just released in October 2014 by La La Land Records in the US, is their limited edition CD (1500 units) of the original soundtrack music by Alfred Newman. 16 tracks from the original music stems, as recorded on the Fox scoring stage on  May 26 and 27 1941.

‘Treasure Of Avalon’ – book


In case anyone starts searching on IMDB, Treasure of Avalon isn’t a film. It’s the first novel by a friend of mine’s friend: Stephen Sim and I am unashamedly giving him a plug on my blog here as well!  This item has been copied from my friends blog.

TREASURE OF AVALON is set in the time of King Arthur. It is fantasy, adventure, romance and there are small winged creatures! Lots of interesting characters including Stephen’s different take on Guinevere, Lancelot and Galahad. The forbidden islands of Avalon are where the Gods live and where it is dangerous for mere mortals to visit.

This book is the first of a trilogy and if it sounds remotely interesting to you, the book (and E-Book) is available here at (and Amazon.UK)

Stephen’s WordPress blog is here

Magic Moments with Burt Bacharach

burt usher hall 29_06_13

Just back from Burt’s concert in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh last night (the 29th). A nearly full auditorium welcomed Mr. Bacharach back to Edinburgh for the fourth time – he mentioned his visit to the Edinburgh Festival way back in 1964 (and 1965) as conductor for Marlene Dietrich.
Always good to hear his excellent singers in great voice – the highlight for me was John Pagano’s show-stopping rendition of “Any Day Now“, but so good to also hear the little-known (until now!) “Waiting For Charlie To Come Home“, by Donna Taylor which brought the audience to its feet for a standing ovation (just one of many!). Josie James by now legendary performance of “Anyone Who Had a Heart” also got a tremendous reception. it was great to see Burt so relaxed and he seemed to be loving all the adulation from the enthusiastic audience.
Another highlight was the “film music” section of the show – which always brings applause after nearly every number. Good to hear “My Little Red Book” sung by Burt’s MD – and a delight to see Oliver, Burt’s son on keyboards for a brief period, too. Burt seems to love having him on the tour.
One slight cavil – my partner seemed to find the sound levels a little too loud, but this seems to be one of the things you have to put up with these days – the drums were amplified really loudly.
But as an emotional experience the evening could not have been bettered. I would have loved to have waited after the show and tried to speak to Burt, just as I did way back in 1964 and 1965, but it was late, and there was no guarantee I would get the chance.

It Seems To Me That I Have Heard This Song Before………



Since seeing “Bad Lads Army” and its successors on television, I have been more than curious about the use of a new legion of regularly-used library music cues in many documentary programmes on the box. The online source for all this music is a website which contains all this stock music and much, much more.

Composers like Paul Mottram, Ray Davies, Nik Kershaw (remember him?) and other contemporary writers have made their music available to TV producers and programmes via this site. There is a “Dance Of the Sugar Plum Fairy” piece which appears with monotonous regularity in many television documentaries: its pace,  arrangement  and melody is almost identical to the Tchaikovsky original, but it almost sounds as though it was being played with the notes in reverse order.  I have since found out that the title of this pastiche piece is “Dance of the Woodland Pixies” composed by Ray Davies. Television programmes that feature this music are: “The Hotel Inspector”, “Ladettes To Ladies”, “Shipwrecked: Battle of the Islands” (desert island reality show),   “The Home Show” (in the George Clarke make-over programme this music is used in the “reveal” portion at the end of the show) and “The Victorian Farm” (surprisingly, a BBC series – all the others are ITV!) Also by Davies is the pizzicato piece that is used in so many recent programmes: “Stringfellows” , “Tinsel and Tiaras” (a piece used regularly in  “Ladettes To Ladies”) and “Whistling Willie” (more than a reminder of  “Housewives Choice” here).

There is also another piece, which sounds a little like the “Pink Panther Theme” which has also been used in many recent television shows – starting with “Bad Lads Army”. This is titled “Sideways Like A Crab” and is composed by Paul Mottram, who seems to be responsible for many of the catchy themes around these days. Other Mottram pieces which pop up time and again on our screens are: “Enchanted Forest”, “Spring Is In the Air”, “Fireflies”, “Time Lapse” and  “Groundhog Day”  (all used frequently in “The Hotel Inspector” and other shows), the Vivaldi-inspired “Ode To Spring from “Victorian Farm” and also from the latter –  “Morning Dew” (described in the catalogue as ”large orchestral strings with soaring, beautiful violin top line”).

The swoony-fifties nostalgic piece “Veiled In Satin” is instantly recognisable as coming from “How Clean Is Your House” and a Harry Potter-type theme has been used often in many documentaries: “Sorcerer’s Dream”. There is also a familiar fugue-like piece that is titled “Bold Prediction”, which will be recognisable as coming from many recent TV documentaries. And other pieces which are used in “The Hotel Inspector” are “Fat Fairy” by Patrick Hawes and a “quirky, pizzicato strings & marimba” tune: “Walter’s Theme” by Helen Jane Long.

Music To Be Murdered By


concert review by Alistair Kerr

John Wilson, the current “enfant terrible” of British conductors, was in Glasgow on Sunday 18th September 2011 to conduct “Music To Be Murdered By” a varied selection of Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Newman, Miklos Rozsa, David Raksin, Richard Rodney Bennett and Constant Lambert film music with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

The rousing “Overture” from “North By Northwest”, started off this marvellous concert and showed what both the orchestra and conductor were capable of. Then a short suite from “Laura” (David Raksin) gave us another side of film music, soft, sweet and completely entrancing. More Herrmann next with the “Prelude”, “Nightmare” and “Love Scene” from the Hitchcock/Herrmann collaboration “Vertigo”, superbly played with just the right amount of tension and tempo.

The “Overture” to “All About Eve”, Alfred Newman’s 1950 Twentieth-Century Fox classic film score followed and then pianist Ben Dawson joined Wilson and the BBC SSO to perform brilliantly the “Concerto Macabre”  – the climax to  Herrmann’s spine-tingling score from “Hangover Square”. The first act finale was “Parade of the Charioteers” from “Ben Hur”, Miklos Rozsa’s masterpiece – the orchestra and Wilson brought the house down with this rousing and spectacular performance.

More Herrmann started Part 2 – “Prelude, “Murder” and “Finale” from  Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. Just the right amount of brio and flair showed the appreciative audience just what a great conductor John Wilson is – he nailed this suite with consummate ease. He might have been channelling Bernard Herrmann here – one of the best performances of this music I have heard.

A suite from “Anna Karenina”, Constant Lambert’s underrated score from the 1948 British film came next and Wilson told the audience that Bernard Herrmann had originally recorded this for a Decca album, “Great British Film Music”. Then the thrilling “Main Title” from “Marnie” gave us more classic Herrmann and the concert concluded with the Christopher Palmer-adapted Herrmann  suite from “Taxi Driver” and Richard Rodney Bennett’s “Overture” and “Waltz” from the 1974 movie “Murder On the Orient Express” for orchestra, piano and – fire extinguisher! (Simulated steam noise for the engine in this well-played piece.)

The afternoon was a great addition to Bernard Herrmann’s centennial – and the almost-full auditorium at Glasgow’s City Hall proved that the audience certainly appreciated Herrmann, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and conductor John Wilson, whose love of film and film music gave us a performance to treasure – and remember.


the-goose-woman 1


Hippodrome Festival Of Silent Cinema March 17 2013

This fine Clarence Brown-directed film from 1925 will dispel many people’s ideas about silent films. Far from the slapstick antics of Chaplin, or the dreamy bird-kissing style of the Gish sisters, this gritty, expressionistic film gives silent star Louise Dresser her dream role as a faded opera diva who has lost her singing voice.

Making the most of her supposed part as a witness to a murder, she thinks that her name in the papers might make her famous in the eyes of the public again, until she realises that her estranged son (played by Jack Pickford – Mary’s brother) is implicated in it.

Not your typical Universal Studios fare, Adolph Zukor must really have taken a chance producing this film. Also starring a young and very beautiful Constance Bennett , the new print projected at the Hippodrome came from two copies (one at UCLA donated by David Packard, the other owned by silent film maestro Kevin Brownlow). While not in the best condition, this wonderful  film is a real rarity and deserves to be better known.



second world war years



Chapter 1 (1939)

1: Newsreel footage(War) : “Keep Smiling”/ENSA newsreel

2: “Pathetone Parade”: Rupert Hazell & Elsie Dean

3: “Viscount” (dog act)

Chapter 2

4: Sidney Burchall (Britone) (song): “The Lady Of Armentieres”

5: Stetson (juggler)

6: Arthur Prince & Jim (ventriloquist)

Chapter 3

7: Cyril Fletcher (comedy  patter)

8: Peter Sinclare (Scots song): “Frugal Dougal”

Chapter 4

9: Jimmy Rogers (comedian/magician)

10: Mantovani (violin)

 11: Monte (Monty) Morris (balancing act/stilts)

12: Lance Fairfax (Baritone) (song): “The Deathless Army”

Chapter 5

13: Robb Wilton (courtroom sketch)

Chapter 6

14: Gracie Fields (newsreel)”Sing As We Go”/”I’m Sending a Letter To Santa Claus”/”Wish Me Luck”

Chapter 7 (1940)

15: “Cheerio Crusade” (newsreel): (with Jack Warner/Will Fyffe)

16: Arthur Askey/Richard “Stinker” Murdoch (newsreel)(“Band Wagon” sketch)/Gracie Fields “Land Of Hope and Glory”

17: Robert Ashley (Baritone) (song): “We Drink To Those We Love”

Chapter 8

18: Max Wall (comedian/impressions)

19: Jack and Eddie Eden (song): “It’s Turned Out Nice Again”

20: The Three New Yorkers (juggling)

Chapter 9

21: Teddy Brown (xylophonist)

22: jack Warner & Jeff Darnell (piano & vocals) (song): “We’re Just a Pair of Foreign Legionnaires”

Chapter 10

23: Joe Loss & His Band (song): “Rhythm In the Alphabet”

24: George Formby (newsreel) (songs): “When I’m Cleaning Windows”/”Imagine Me In the Maginot Line”

Chapter 11

25: Ronald Frankau (song): “Don’t Let’s Sing About the War”

26: Sidney Burchall (Baritone) (song): “The Marching Song”

27: May Wong (contortionist)

Chapter 12

28: The Three Vriginians (song): “Roll Out the Barrel”

29:  Newsreel: into Richard Hassett (impersonations) “Street Cries”

30: Tommy Trevor & Partner (juggling)

Chapter 13

31: Afrique (impressions)

32: Bernard Clifton (Baritone) (song): “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square”

33: Gracie Fields (newsreel) (song): “As We March Along Together”

34: Gracie Fields (newsreel) (song): “Sally” (Navy Concert)

Chapter 14 (1941)

35: George Formby (newsreel) fund-raising (song): “Working Down the Old Coal Hole”

36: George Formby (newsreel) Salvage Collection

Chapter 15

37: Reading & Grant (acrobatics/trampoline)

38: Gracie Fields (newsreel) Gracie In Britain

39: Malcolm McEachern (“Jetsam”) (Bass) (song): “Convoy Ahoy!”

Chapter 16

40: “Pathetone Parade Of 1941” (compere Ronald Frankau) intro : Ronald Frankau

41: Mantovani & His Orchestra

42: Norman Evans (comedy impersonations)

Chapter 17

43: Sidney Burchall (Baritone) (song): “Old Pete, the Postman”

44: Rollo, Earle & Carole (rollerskating)

Chapter 18

45: Teddy Brown (xylophonist)

46: Mah Foo (juggling)

Chapter 19

47: Sandy MacPherson (organist) “Any Broken Hearts To Mend”

48: Newman Mond (aka Norman Bond) (billiard tricks)

Chapter 20

49: Jack Jackson & His Band “Poet & Peasant Overture”

50: Robb Wilton (comedy song): “I’m One Of the Lads In Blue”

Chapter 21

51: Ronald Frankau signing off

40 – 51 “Pathetone Parade Of 1941”

52: Malcolm McEachern (“Jetsam”) (Bass) (song): “Spread Your Wings”

53: Max Wall (comedy/song): “Everything Was Champion After That”

54: Raymond Newall (Baritone) (song): “London Will Rise Again”


Chapter 22

55: Cyril Fletcher (comedian)

56: Mantovani & His Octette “When Our Dreams Grow Old”

57: Bud Flanagan joins the Home Guard (newsreel)

58: Gracie Fields In the USA (newsreel)

Chapter 23 (1942)

59: Sidney Burchall (baritone) (song): “This Is Worth Fighting For”

60: Tommy Trinder introduces The Quads Of Song: “The Pennsylvania Polka”

Chapter 24

61: The Pavians (balancing act)

62: Mario Lorenzi (harp) : “Hold That Tiger”

63: Marie Wilson (trick cyclist)

64: Peter Sinclare (song): “Mothers Of the Motherland”

65: Manette (contortionist)

Chapter 25 (1943)

66: Big Bill Campbell & His Rocky Mountaineers (song): “Mighty Tough In the West”

Chapter 26

67: Josie Torina (?) (female muscle act)

68: Cyril Fletcher (comedian)

Chapter 27

69: Flanagan & Allen (newsreel) (song) : ”Underneath the Arches”

70: Peter Mike Coates (impersonations)* see item 80 (same person: Peter Cavanagh)

Chapter 28

71: Sidney Burchall (Baritone) (song): “The Bells Of Malta”

72: Rasanna (?) (balancing act)

Chapter 29

73: The Moscow Singers  (song): “Comrades”

74: Gracie home in Rochdale (newsreel)

75: Jitterbug/Rhythm  item (newsreel)

Chapter 30

76: Ronald Frankau (comedy) “After the War”

Chapter 31

77: Florence Desmond with Flanagan & Allen (newsreel)

78: Peter Brough (ventriloquist)

Chapter 32

79: Margaret Eaves (song): “When Big ben Chimes”

80: Peter Cavanagh (impersonations* (see item 70: same person as Peter Mike Coates)

81: Mantovani: “The Moon In An Old Lagoon”

Chapter 33

82: Robb Wilton (courtroom sketch)

Chapter 34 (1944)

83: Tommy Trinder (newsreel)

84: Kenway & Young/Charles Coburn/Cyril Fletcher /Hitler (in the negative)

Chapter 35

85: Emile Koraschenko (muscleman)

86: Bennett & Williams (comedians)

Chapter 36

87: Frank’s Famous Terriers (dog act)

88: Malcolm McEachern (“Jetsam”) (song): “The Changing Of the Guard”

Chapter 37

89: Jack Simpson (xylophonist)”Pop Goes the Weasel”

90: Home Guard disbands (newsreel)/concert in Albert Hall : George Robey/Vi Loraine/Vera Lynn

Chapter 38 (1945)

91: Tommy Trinder “National Insurance” short

92: Kay Cavendish (song): “I’m Gonna Love That Guy”

Chapter 39

93: Petula Clark (newsreel) (song): “Mighty Lak a Rose”

Chapter 40

94: Gracie Fields in Brisbane (newsreel)

95: ITMA’s farewell party (newsreel)

Chapter 41

96: End Of War In Europe (newsreel) “Roll Out the Barrel”

97: Vera Lynn at Albert Hall (newsreel) (song): “Lili Marlen”

98: Gracie Fields Looks Back (newsreel excerpts) (bonus feature)