A deranged man escapes from prison to
seek revenge on the woman who put him there in A Cottage on Dartmoor
(1929). Revealed in flashbacks and punctuated with rapid
montage, this late silent era film displays the mastery of visual
narrative achieved just prior to "the talkies" using lurid metaphor
and a minimal number of inter-titles.
Joe (Uno Henning) a barber's assistant,
is obsessed with Sally (Norah Baring) a pretty manicurist who has
fallen in love with a customer and local farmer (Hans Schlettow).
As their attachment grows, Joe becomes increasingly jealous, cutting
the farmer's throat with a straight razor when he finally snaps.
Director Anthony Asquith etches his
characters with sparing light against the darkness of night, in the
street, the theater and farmhouse. By contrast, the dark
doings of Joe's crime are all the more shocking in the only bright
setting, the barbershop. As mayhem ensues, a bottle falls from
an overturned table, its liquid contents burbling onto the floor.
An overwrought Joe smears real blood across his face and claims his
innocence, "I never meant to do it." A glowing ceiling light
over his shoulder recalls the earlier image of a sinister moon
hiding behind clouds as he runs across the darkened countryside.
Fundamentally a silent film, A Cottage
on Dartmoor was released during the period of transition into sound
when hybrid productions were common. The original film included one
scene, in which Joe spies on Sally and the farmer at the movies,
with a synchronized soundtrack. Ironically, the group who
would soon be thrown out of work by sound is featured in this
segment, the theater orchestra. Anthony Asquith appears
briefly as an audience member, mistaken for the star on the screen
by two boys. While this scene remains in the film, the
synchronized soundtrack recorded in Germany is now presumed lost.
Multi-national in the truest sense, A
Cottage on Dartmoor was co-produced by British Instructional Films
and the Swedish Biograph Company. Schlettow, a German,
appeared in numerous Fritz Lang productions, also working with
Griffith and Joe May. Henning, a Swede, appeared in G.W.
Pabst and Victor Sjöström films, while Baring, a Brit, was featured
Alfred Hitchcock's Murder (1930).