Henry K. Miller
Tuesday 6 June
First of three trade shows for The Cocaine Smugglers, arranged by Victor Saville Ltd., in a private screening room at 89 Wardour Street.
Trade shows were ordinarily put on in cinemas, and to accommodate everyone Saville put on three shows a day for three days. 89 Wardour Street was the address of Astra Films, Herbert and Charles Wilcox’s company, distributor of Cocaine and The Wonderful Story, which may not be coincidental.
Saville had joined the trade after being invalided out of the war, as an underling of the West Midlands showman Solomon Levy, before working with the Wilcoxes in Leeds, and then in 1919 setting up his own West Midlands distribution firm, Victory Motion Pictures, in league with an old schoolfriend, Michael Balcon.
The pair of them had then gone into partnership with Jack Freedman, son of Sydney Freedman of W. & F., as Victor Saville Ltd, with an office in Cranbourn Street, off Leicester Square. Victor Saville Ltd traded in programme-filling fare, handling the British rights to films from the lesser American companies – ‘Poverty Row’ – starting with a fifteen-part serial of two-reel Nick Carter detective films. Meanwhile Victory Motion Pictures, which was still connected to Balcon and Saville through blood and marriage, had become, in effect, W. & F.’s West Midlands branch, a relationship that was formalized later.
The Cocaine Smugglers, which had been released in the US as The Bootleggers, starred Paul Panzer, who had won fame as the villain in The Perils of Pauline, and whose 407 credits include an uncredited role as a bystander at the merry-go-round in Strangers on Train. Lower down the bill was Norma Shearer.
The original film was about alcohol smuggling – these were the years of prohibition – and Saville had retitled it to exploit the craze for cocaine stories in London. ‘It must have shocked the few who knew about cocaine to see a rum-running crew rolling large barrels of cocaine about the ship’s hold,’ he wrote in his autobiography. Possibly this is what Film Renter’s reviewer meant when he or she criticized the film’s ‘lack of real cocaine interest’.