Henry K. Miller
Monday 17 April
The film director Adrian Brunel and actor Miles Mander take on the running of the Polytechnic hall on Regent Street, turning it into a repertory cinema.
The Polytechnic was an educational institution which had been the site of the first demonstration in Britain of the Lumière brothers’ new invention, the Cinématographe, in 1896, and it had been used for film shows quite regularly since 1913. Brunel and Mander began with The Mask of Zorro, a Douglas Fairbanks adventure from 1920 – not an especially old film but a favourite of, for example, C. A. Lejeune, who credited it with inspiring her to become a film critic.
Other films in this brief season included Daddy Long Legs, with Mary Pickford, and John S. Robertson’s Jekyll and Hyde, both paired with short films of Brunel’s.
‘The public is being asked if it desires the revival of such films as “Cabiria,” “The Birth of a Nation,” “Quo Vadis?” “Intolerance,” and similar big subjects,’ reported the Evening Standard, ‘and if the project succeeds it is intended to secure other theatres throughout the Kingdom for a similar purpose.’ The scheme came to nothing, and its significance lies in what it augured – the ability to see films after their very brief passage through the cinemas on first release.
Brunel and Mander were founder members of the Kinema Club and frequent contributors to Motion Picture Studio, ambitious filmmakers frustrated by lack of opportunity. They came into contact with Hitchcock during his apprenticeship as an assistant director in 1924–5, when Brunel established what Hitchcock called a ‘film hospital’, or post-production house in modern parlance, in Dansey Yard, Soho.
In the Sight and Sound ‘Index’ on Hitchcock, it is said that Brunel remembers Hitchcock showing him Number Thirteen ‘in an incomplete state, in 1922’. This is not impossible, but there is firmer evidence of him having seen it later, in the autumn 1925, in his capacity as a film surgeon, with a view to preparing it for release. At that point the film was ‘about 3,400ft’, which is more than two reels, but Brunel felt that much of it would have to go, and that ‘much new stuff will have to be shot’.
However, it is unclear to what extent the footage he saw had been edited, and unclear whether the new stuff he proposed shooting constituted essential material that Hitchcock had failed to capture, since Brunel entertained ‘several ideas for expanding it’, which may have entailed a radical alteration. This amounts to the film’s last known whereabouts – there appears to be no subsequent reference to it, except for Hitchcock’s rueful reminiscences.
Mander had roles in Hitchcock’s debut, The Pleasure Garden, and in Murder. He would also work with Alma Reville as a screenwriter on his directorial debut, The First Born, starring Madeleine Carroll.