|Index||4 reviews in total|
Ivor Novello obviously likes to take on roles that seem out of
character. He wrote the original play (in collaboration with Constance
Collier) with himself in mind for the lead and then played the role in
their British movie incarnations, of which this is the third. I've not
seen the previous two, but, all the same, Novello does not strike me as
a credible "Rat". He seems much more at home in the movie's earlier
scenes and yet even so, he often allows himself to be constantly
upstaged by the other players, particularly Bernard Nedell, Isabel
Jeans and even Gordon Harker (over-acting atrociously as the heavy of
the piece, and obviously relishing every moment of it).
Director Graham Cutts also seems to be favoring everyone else, reserving some of his most creative endeavors not only for the chorus girls but two knockabout comedians who are given the benefit of many amusing face-to-face close-ups.
Mabel Poulton seems miscast as Lisette. It's a large role that obviously called for a younger and more charismatic girl. For some reason, Mabel always appears ill-at-ease in the limelight here. Admittedly, her clothes do nothing for her and although cameraman Roy F. Overbaugh occasionally throws an enormous amount of light in her direction to present some attractively incandescent close-ups, by and large she looks dowdy and out of place. In short, she presents as hardly a credible rival for the super-glamorous Isabel Jeans. It's true that the screenplay called for a distinct contrast between the two girls, such as glamor versus charisma, sophistication versus youth, world-weariness versus latent sexiness; but Mabel doesn't project any of these qualities.
This leaves our hero, Ivor Novello, with nowhere to go. His attraction to Lisette seems willful rather than wholesome, but Ivor gamely endeavors to make the best of the situation until the script comes to his rescue by involving him as suspect number one in a murder investigation. This involvement doesn't make any sense, as the police already have the fingerprints (and even this aspect is rather odd) of the real murderer. My guess is that this development was hastily written in while the film was actually shooting and wasn't properly thought through and worked out.
Unhampered by the restrictions of early sound recording (the music score was added after the film was completed), the director has done his best to hide these various key deficiencies by concentrating on the mise-en-scene: the painted chorus girls and the weird Caligari-influenced sets; and all the busy "business" with over-the-top Gordon Harker; and even the remarkably prominent comic relief episodes which are given center stage treatment. (Harry Terry, who had a long career in bit parts, never had it so good. Scotch Kelly, on the other hand, was never heard from again. This is his only film).
Sadly, I enjoyed "The Return of the Rat" the least of the
trilogy. Sadly: not only because endings are the most important part
any work, but because there appears to have been an effort made
recognise what was most successful in the first two films and
them here. Thus we see the return of such elements as our hero
losing a fight where the odds are heavily against him, the
love of a poor girl pitted against the whims of a rich
Boucheron's authority under threat from an underworld rival, and
Rat as leader in a nefarious enterprise. We also see a return to
greater use of humour, after the oppressively downcast second film
Unfortunately, what the writers don't seem to have realised is that raising admiring laughs at the hero's effrontery is not quite the same thing as introducing a couple of comic-relief Cockney characters. The intent was laudable... the execution is crude in the extreme.
My main objection is that the bluff boxer and his jockey-sized manager appear to have no connection with the main section of the plot at all. Their part could quite easily have been spliced into the script after all the major scenes had been shot, in order to extend the running-time at the last minute. I doubt the process was quite as crude as that - but one does get the impression that somebody decreed "This film needs to be funnier!" and shoe-horned them in.
Leaving aside the unfortunate Bill and Alf, however, I felt that the film had more serious problems. It may be petty of me, but I found the continuity gap between this picture and its predecessor even greater than that between the first and second in the series. The second film essentially ends on a cliff-hanger. "Return of the Rat" not only completely ignores this - frustratingly, we never do find out what happened next - but depicts Boucheron in its opening scenes as being respectably married to the selfish and capricious Zelie. Not only is this pretty much inexplicable, but it totally undermines one of the few 'triumphs' the Rat is allowed to achieve at the end of the previous film!
After all the events of the last two instalments, to meet these two characters again without explanation as a married couple of long standing is almost incredible. It's not - entirely - impossible. But a Rat who went crawling back to accept his conniving mistress' charity, and then allowed himself to be duped into marrying her, scarcely cuts an admirable or heroic figure. Particularly since the lady has since been quite flagrantly unfaithful.
It is with this unedifying domestic spectacle that the third film begins, as a hen-pecked Boucheron nags at his wife to stop gambling, and she flirts openly with a wealthy nobleman who bears all the hallmarks of her previous 'protectors'. It's interesting that the recurring female character in these films - arguably their heroine - is depicted both as more powerful than the men and as morally unscruplous: but the cumulative effect is to make the hero appear weak in contrast. Any man fool enough to *marry* Zelie is going to find himself led by the nose; and this is just what happens.
It's not surprising, therefore, that the other half of the Rat's life beckons, and he is tempted by his old haunts in the White Coffin Club. It is unfortunate, however, for anyone who has seen the first film, that the clip chosen to illustrate his previous life comes from the scene where he is retrieving his knife thanks to his true-love Odile - who has since been effectively erased from history. Jarring, to say the least. The role of poor-but-honest love interest is taken in this film by the barmaid Lisette, in a part that comes across as little more than a debased carbon copy of that of Odile. At least, in a perfunctory nod to continuity, this time we do learn the fate of 'Mou-Mou'...
The first we really see of the mockery and daring of the old Rat comes in his confrontation with Morel, the ruffian who has been lording it at the White Coffin Club in Boucheron's absence. The scenes in which he baffles Morel, and later reasserts his command of his erstwhile henchmen and leads them out in a scheme to humiliate Zelie, and take his revenge on her paramour, are among the most satisfactory in the film. However, the climax - in which he is hunted through the streets while Lisette offers to sacrifice herself to Morel - is a pale clone of the first film that does not even work nearly so well; the barmaid Lisette, shrinking at the last minute from the man she has been leading on, arouses rather less sympathy than the innocent Odile fighting off a predatory intruder.
But, far worse, the crucial fingerprint clue makes no sense at all. I actually can't help wondering if the stage-directions in the script were somehow misinterpreted during filming, and that the print was intended to have been found on the *knife* - the only explanation that seems to fit the facts.
As I said, endings are important. The first film had a cracker of a weepie. The second film trails off basically unresolved. But the climax of this third managed to confuse and annoy me simultaneously - which, coupled with unsubtle comic relief, a retread romantic subplot that was hard to take seriously, and a hero for the most part in the shadow of past glories, was decidedly unsatisfactory.
The only real virtue of this film lay in making me feel more kindly towards its predecessor, "Triumph of the Rat", which I had previously been prepared to dismiss - it at least had the courage to be original. This one, which could have marked a successful return to formula, comes across instead as simply formulaic.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As a Novello enthusiast I'm so grateful to get hold of a copy of any
Novello movies that it's hard for me to be really critical of this one
although it's the least good of the three I've found so far. I must
agree this is a confused movie and the mainly incomprehensible comic
turns of the two London cockneys are excruciatingly awful and
completely incongruous. I concluded they must have been a very famous
real comic turn at the time and shoved in to get in extra audience, but
why this should be necessary when you have amazing superstar Novello
and one of his favourite leading ladies Isabel Jeans let alone Marie
Ault, is beyond me from this many years later.
I enjoyed the movie in that it's the only Rat movie I've managed to get hold of so far although I've obtained the novelisations of the earlier two movies. I'm simply longing to see the first of the series and astonished the famous Apache dance wasn't repeated in Triumph of the Rat - I'll bet the audiences would have loved a repeat. Instead there's no underworld dancing to excite us. As for the story, this has been a bit confused for modern viewers by Denise Robbins' novelisation of Triumph of the Rat as unfortunately she added to the original movie a whole sequence about the girl the Rat was in love with at the time and transposed the period to just before WW1 which simply doesn't fit in with the fashions or the underworld twenties etc.
Ivor Novello wrote a very successful play THE RAT and turned it into a very
successful film, followed by two sequels, which fared less well with
audiences, THE TRIUMPH OF THE RAT and THE RETURN OF THE RAT. This last was
the conclusion to the series. Herein, Novello has married into society,
indeed the woman he'd been courting through the other two, but she is bored
with him and starts flirting with a baron. The Rat returns to his
underworld comrades and realizes he belongs with them. He challenges his
rival to a dual and is left for dead, but he is nursed by his old gang,
especially a young woman, who has fallen in love with him. At a party
celebrating her engagement to the Baron, the caddish woman is murdered.
the Rat do it? With the police on his heels, will he find the true
murderer in time?
The plot moves along briskly, is well directed and engaging and the players are attractive. All in all, a most enjoyable though not significant silent film melodrama.
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