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Cape Forlorn [DVD]
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Written by and starring Frank Harvey and directed by German film pioneer E. A. Dupont, Cape Forlorn tells the story of a passionate, sexually aware young woman whose presence destroys the serenity and ultimately the lives of three men. Set on an isolated lighthouse off the New Zealand coast, Cape Forlorn's provocative, apparently amoral storyline led to its initial banning in Australia. This brand-new digital transfer presents the film uncut, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio.
William Kell, the keeper of a lighthouse on a lonely stretch of coastline, marries cabaret dancer Eileen. His young wife, however, goes on to have an affair with Henry Cass, the handsome assistant later taken on by her husband; when she then begins to flirt with a stranger who is rescued from the wreck of a motor-launch, a chain of shocking events is set in motion...
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Top customer reviews
“Well, there are worse ones.”
“So I used to think.”
E.A. Dupont’s Cape Forlorn may be a creaky old melodrama, but this early 1931 British-German-French co-production creaks in some quite interesting ways. It’s a surprisingly bleak and far from romantic triangle that sees Fay Compton’s dancehall girl giving it all up to marry a lighthouse keeper in New Zealand (where the film was actually banned, as it was in Australia) in the kind of match her friend predicts won’t last the year – and that’s without seeing her husband, Frank Harvey, who doesn’t have a romantic bone in his body, and no young ones in it either. It’s not long before she drifts into an affair with Edmund Willard’s coarse assistant, more out of boredom and sexual frustration than passion, an unsatisfying relationship that only lasts until a better looking castaway in the shape of Ian Hunter arrives with a gun in his pocket, a roll of cash and a very vague story – as Willard’s ‘convict-born scum’ notes, “He may come from a good family. He don’t seem very anxious to get back to it, does he?”
Boasting adultery (Donald Calthrop is the only credited member of the cast Compton doesn’t sleep with), a habitually lying heroine, a murder that goes unpunished and a pretty dim view of human nature, it’s the sort of thing that only a few years later would never have made it past the censors. It’s certainly a sordid little affair, what with Willard suggestively stroking the stockings hanging up to dry while trying to tempt Compton with talk of his plan to start a dairy farm in Sidney (well, maybe a bit to the north of Sidney) and its anti-heroine a considerably less than admirable victim concerned only with herself (in her final scene she all but destroys the last man standing because she seems completely oblivious of the effect her words will have). In the kind of role that in Hollywood would have gone to a Jean Harlow or a Joan Blondell, Compton is a bit too demure and almost matronly a type to entirely convince as the dancehall girl and looks unintentionally comic in the scene where she dolls herself up only for her husband to throw out her paints and powders and roughly wipe the makeup from her face, but she can certainly handle the repressed desire and frustration. Love never really enters into it: you get the impression that the only reason she bothers with either man is that they’re all that’s on offer in that forsaken rock.
The forgotten silent wunderkind behind 1925’s German classic Varieté that once saw him listed as one of the ten greatest directors in the world, Dupont never successfully made the adjustment to talkies and ended his career directing the likes of The Neanderthal Man, yet his work here is occasionally striking, finding ways to bridge the gap between silent cinema and the new possibilities of sound. Beginning with a hugely ambitious two minute travelling shot following a goodtime girl through exotic streets and into a huge and raucous nightclub where we meet our heroine, much of the rest of the film features much more claustrophic camerawork by design rather than budgetary limitation, with some quite striking visuals in the last third of the film as the stakes rise. Yet perhaps more interesting is his approach to sound, keeping some of the dialogue offscreen, whether it’s the camera remaining on Willard and Calthrop as they dismissively overhear Harvey giving Compton the grand tour of her new home or the first stirrings between Hunter and Compton heard over shots of their hands casually tinkering with a piano, or cutting from mocking laughter to the cackling of gulls. The film certainly creaks, especially for viewers unaccustomed to early talkies, but Dupont’s craftsmanship, Claudie Friese-Greene’s cinematography and the script’s commitment to its own bleak cynicism keeps it much more interesting than expected.
Shot in English, French and German versions (as was Dupont’s infamously stilted Titanic drama Atlantic), the French version starring the ill-fated Harry Baur and the German Conrad Veidt, Network’s UK DVD offers only the English version in a decent but not outstanding transfer. A brief stills gallery is the only extra.