Henry K. Miller
Saturday 7 January
The Egyptologist Arthur Weigall, serving as film critic of the Daily Mail, tells his readers that The Three Musketeers, then showing at the Covent Garden Opera House, was to be continued indefinitely, and that ‘the public seem at last to be waking up to the attractions of Mr. Walter Wanger’s interesting (and very courageous) enterprise’.
A Broadway producer turned film executive, Wanger had given up his job at Famous Players-Lasky to come to London and try his hand at showmanship, and had opened Douglas Fairbanks’s epic at the Opera House just before Christmas, with great éclat.
In the summer of 1921, in one of his London Letters to the American modernist magazine the Dial, T. S. Eliot had written that:
Drury Lane and Covent Garden mourn; the singers have flocked, we are told, to New York, where such luxuries can be maintained. They have forgotten thee, O Sion. Opera was one of the last reminders of a former excellence of life, a sustaining symbol even for those who seldom went. England sits in her weeds: eleven theatres are on the point of closing, as the public will no longer pay the prices required by the cost.
Wanger had calculated that the same ‘public’ Eliot had in mind, meaning the public that might have gone to hear opera, or see Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, would pay the price to see The Three Musketeers, and he was being proved right. Weigall wrote that ‘some 30 per cent.’ of the audience had bought 5s seats.
The venue had been equipped for the season by Sidney Bernstein, owner of a cinema equipment business in Cecil Court, historic heart of the British film business. During the Christmas holiday, Bernstein had arranged a special screening of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid for the royal family, and a party of 500, in the ballroom at Sandringham.
Wanger’s great coup had been to hire Eugene Goossens as conductor. According to the Musical Times, his involvement ‘accounts for the fact that we do not hear Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony while the hero is being eaten by the lions or thrown over the cliff in a love motorcar’. Goossens had managed to do this while also sharing credit for conducting Diaghilev’s production of The Sleeping Princess at the Alhambra music-hall in Leicester Square.
On 29 December The Times had reported that Diaghilev was planning to take his company to see Fairbanks at Covent Garden, and that at Goossens’s suggestion he had approached Wanger with a view to filming Tchaikovsky’s ballet. Among the cognoscenti, Diaghilev’s choice of The Sleeping Princess represented a step backwards from modernism; nor was it a popular success. The film never materialized.
Wanger would return to film production, initially at Famous Players-Lasky, later with his own company, and in 1940 he would produce Hitchcock’s second Hollywood movie, Foreign Correspondent.
Bernstein, meanwhile, would work with Hitchcock extensively in the 1940s, first at the Ministry of Information, on a number of official films including the project known as ‘German Concentration Camps Factual Survey’, then as Hitchcock’s production partner when he attempted to go independent, starting with Rope in 1948. But their association began well before then, some time in the early 1920s.