Book Archive


The Unknown 1930s: An Alternative History of British Cinema, 1929-1939. ed. Jeffrey Richards

This collection of essays aims to examine aspects of thirties cinema which have been neglected by academics. It concentrates on the quota-quickies and directors and artists normally overlooked in historical accounts of the period. It does a pretty fair job.

It covers many bases, beginning with John Sedgwick's fascinating analysis of cinema-going preferences in the 30s. Statistics have never been my field since first year at college so I have to accept that his figures show Tom Walls was the biggest star of 36-37 and that George Formby didn't even make the top 20.

Linda Wood has the most interesting article: a long-overdue examination of the career of Julius Hagen. James Chapman's essay on British thrillers looks at a genre which could arguably be considered as significant a British contribution to World cinema as the documentary. Sue Harper's essay on Conrad Veidt is a thought-provoking look at how a star personality is altered or created, and how in this particular case Veidt's German persona was adapted to reflect his position in British cinema.

I'm a sucker for Tod Slaughter films, so Jeffrey Richards' essay on Mr Slaughter's career was alone worth buying the book for. For me he's one of the true stars of British cinema - I'll sit through any old rubbish he's in (what am I saying? - they're all rubbish). The essay traces Slaughter's links from Victorian melodrama and connections with Gainsborough melos and Hammer horrors.  

A few of the essays seem misplaced. Kevin Gough-Yates on Berthold Viertel doesn't explain why a German director who made three undistinguished films here should be in this book (other than being a prototype for a lead character in a Christopher Isherwood novel). Tony Aldgate's essay lacks focus though it does finally settle on writing about early society melodramas which is a fascinating subject (though the films themselves are unwatchable).

In conclusion, it's a great book and it's nice to see the subject taken seriously.

The Unknown 1930s

Pub: I.B. Taurus

ISBN: (h.b.) 1-86064-303-5; (p.b.) 1-86064-628X

Price: (h.b.) 29.95; (p.b.) 14.95  

The Unknown 1930s: hardback available at Amazon

The Unknown 1930s: paperback available at Amazon

The Unknown 1930s: available at Amazon US