Sex and scandal: British film life of the Thirties returns to screen

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A BBC film is to expose the secrets of British cinema in the 1930s, when the "talkies" took off. Shepperton Babylon, based on the book by Matthew Sweet, which takes its name from Kenneth Anger's account of movieland debauchery, Hollywood Babylon, will bring to life one of the most licentious decades in the history of the British industry.

A BBC film is to expose the secrets of British cinema in the 1930s, when the "talkies" took off. Shepperton Babylon, based on the book by Matthew Sweet, which takes its name from Kenneth Anger's account of movieland debauchery, Hollywood Babylon, will bring to life one of the most licentious decades in the history of the British industry.

Between 1927, when the first talkie was released, and the Second World War, studios opened at Shepperton, Elstree and Ealing, creating a new generation of matinee idols and film-makers whose infidelities, suicides and scandals were fertile ground for newspapers.

The era gave birth to the first film gossip column, written by Nerina Shute, and saw the News of the World emerge as a home for lurid reports of off-screen antics and a showcase for scantily clad starlets.

Ben McPherson, the director of Shepperton Babylon, said: "It's a forgotten period of British cinema, a seething underworld. The main casualties were the silent stars who saw their careers floundering if they didn't sleep with producers. It was exploitative and harsh; people who had been big were forgotten very quickly."

Britain's first "talkie" was Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail, originally shot as a silent film. When the new equipment arrived, he reshot with the original cast. The only problem was that the leading lady, Anny Ondra, had a Polish accent.

The documentary features a sound test for the film, in which Hitchcock accuses Ondra of sleeping with many men to advance herself. "He's clearly enjoying it," said McPherson.

The accent issuewas resolved by placing an English actress, Joan Barry, just off set to read her lines.

The documentary, to be shown on BBC4, will recount how Hitchcock exposed himself during the making of The 39 Steps, to achieve a genuine reaction of fear from his female star Madeleine Carroll.

Comments