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The Arrest of a Pickpocket (1895)

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A policeman catches a pickpocket, who slips from his jacket but is caught by a sailor.


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A policeman catches a pickpocket, who slips from his jacket but is caught by a sailor.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Short | Crime




Release Date:

May 1895 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

A zsebtolvaj letartóztatása  »

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User Reviews

Not a lucky dip.
2 March 2007 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

I saw this short film at the Cinema Muto film festival in Sacile, Italy, in October 2006. The directors of that excellent annual festival placed a great deal of emphasis on this particular film as one of the prestige attractions of the 2006 festival. In fact, the significance of 'Arrest of a Pickpocket' is almost entirely historical rather than aesthetic. It's the earliest known British film which tells a story, rather than recording a real-world event; it's also the earliest known British film which definitely survives. Filmed in April 1895 by cinema pioneers Robert W Paul and Birt Acres, 'Arrest of a Pickpocket' is their second collaboration: the first (now apparently lost) was a brief excerpt of that year's Oxford-Cambridge boat race, filmed a month earlier at Henley-on-Thames.

The brief but action-packed narrative which we see here is laughably crude by modern standards, but must have been riveting indeed to audiences in 1895. A helmeted constable pursues a pickpocket, who violently resists and knocks off the peeler's helmet. The constable attempts to handcuff the pickpocket, who struggles right out of his jacket and carries on running ... straight into the arms of an arriving sailor, who helps the policeman tackle the pickpocket. The tar restrains the dip while the cop handcuffs him, then the policeman marches him away. Fair cop! End of film.

Audiences in 1895 may well have believed they were watching a recording of an actual event, not realising the unlikelihood that a cameraman and his unwieldy apparatus might just happen to be present (with the appropriate lighting) at such an occurrence. There is only one camera set-up here, and the actors (for actors they are) perform in front of a simple backdrop which may have convinced contemporary audiences, yet which now looks blatantly phony. This is a wall, on which are stencilled the words 'STICK NO BILLS', yet on which several bills are posted anyway. The film was too blurry for me to read most of them clearly, but one bill is clearly an advertisement for Birt Acres's film company, listing some of the other motion-picture films which he offers for exhibition: these include 'British Retreat', 'Colonel Killed', 'Mail Train' and 'Capture of the Burglars'. So far, I haven't been able to match those up to specific Acres productions. 'Mail Train' and (just possibly) 'British Retreat' might actually be filmed records of genuine events, but 'Colonel Killed' and 'Capture of the Burglars' -- if these films ever existed at all -- have got to be staged enactments.

'Arrest of a Pickpocket' should also be reckoned the first film with production design, as the set is clearly an artistic creation. Someone drew a stick-figure on the wall (it looks like one of Sherlock Holmes's "Dancing Men"), in an attempt to make this backdrop look a 'real' wall with actual graffiti.

Entirely for its historic significance, rather than for any aesthetic content, I'll rate 'Arrest of a Pickpocket' at 8 out of 10.

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