Thursday, 12 January 2006

Remember Milton Rosmer?

The search is on for what might be the first ever film version of Wuthering Heights, one of the few adaptations to have stuck closely to what Emily Brontë actually wrote.

Only a few stills and photographs taken in and around Haworth during the filming remain as clues to its whereabouts. The search was launched after the Parsonage was given an album of these which were presented originally by the film's producer, A V Bramble, to Jonas Bradley, a very active Brontë Society founder-member and a teacher at the school in Stanbury, who had helped find appropriate locations for the crew.

The film, shot in 1920, was a six-reeler which lasted for about an hour and a half. It was made by the long-gone Ideal Film Company, based in London's Soho .

Milton Rosmer starred as the adult Heathcliff, with three other actors playing the character in his youth. Rosmer was considered by some to have been one of England's answers to Rudolph Valentino, and would have boosted box office takings.

Cathy was played by three actresses including Anne Trevor and child star Twinkles Hunter.

"No-one seems to have a copy," Parsonage Librarian Ann Dinsdale told this blog. "We have contacted an impressive number of people and organisations, from the Academy of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles and the Library of Congress, to Kevin Brownlow, an acknowledged expert on silent films.

We believe it may be in private hands.

It would be wonderful to have in our collection. We have a huge number of programmes and stills of all the many adaptations and in recent years there has been a huge interest in the films.

The film's makers went to a lot of trouble to ensure the accuracy, shooting it on location. It covers the entire novel while most modern adaptations end half-way through."

More than eighty years ago, canisters of the film, billed at the time as 'Emily Brontë's tremendous story of hate' might have remained in Yorkshire after the showings, but are more likely to have been taken to some central distribution point, probably London.

Although some early films have survived fairly well, many forgotten classics have decayed beyond the point where they can be restored. Thinking optimistically, it is possible that Wuthering Heights on its cellulose nitrate base was once copied on to modern safety film.

Ann Dinsdale is optimistic: "Previous curators have tried to find it, but did not get far. We decided that the time has come to make a concerted effort.

We want to hear from anyone who might have any information at all about the film. Perhaps your grandparents talked about the fascinating events in the village, which must have caused a stir.

And ultimately, has anyone got a copy?"

*Email this blog if you have details!

Milton Rosmer (pictured above, but not as Heathcliff)had a lengthy and successful career as an actor, director and writer. He appeared as Mr Bennett in a 1952 television version of Pride and Prejudice and in many popular films in the preceding decades, for example Goodbye Mr Chips, made in 1939.

His direction of Dreyfus in 1931 was much praised.

In 1920 cinema audiences would probably have known him for his roles such as Theodore Lawrence in Little Women (1917) or Sir Roger de la Haye in The Chinese Puzzle (1919).

As a stage actor, he was much admired, and was briefly (in 1943) Director of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford.

1 comment:

Irma McCann said...

Old film stock has mostly turned to dust by now unless it has survived through freak conditions. I saw a TV programme on rescuing famous films - like the silent version of Napoleon restored by Kein Brownlow - and one of the things mentioned was that the canister could be explosive if it was opened after many years and someone was smoking a cigarette.