An early film of Romance and Adventure in the British Empire
In 1895, 16-year-old Talbot Mundy fled the strait-laced Victorian upbringing of his native England for a life of adventure. He crossed the entire northern frontier of India, toward Tibet, spent four years in Africa, and traveled the Middle East in the wake of World War I.
Colonial odysseys of the time led most writers to echo Rudyard Kipling?s support of British imperialism, Sax Rohmer?s ?yellow peril,? or Joseph Conrad?s bleak ?heart of darkness.? Not Mundy. His fantasy-adventure books challenged assumptions of Western cultural superiority.
Mundy?s writing was based in Eastern religious teaching, informed by his membership in the Theosophical Society in San Diego, California. There he wrote Om?The Secret of Ahbor Valley, Tros of Samothrace, and Queen Cleopatra.
Radio won him an audience of millions of daily listeners in the 1930s. Such classic Mundy novels as King?of the Khyber Rifles have also been adapted for the screen.
Mundy immigrated to the United States in 1909, and on his very first day in New York City was savagely beaten and robbed of his small capital in an incident that was widely reported in newspapers around the country. Destitute, he found a friend in one of the reporters who had covered his mugging, and invited him to share lodgings with several other young journalists so he could try writing. By the beginning of 1911, Mundy was publishing in pulp magazines. During 1912, eighteen stories and four articles by Mundy appeared, and by the middle of that year, his stories began to be reprinted in British magazines. Mundy's growing success as a popular author was also demonstrated that year by the fact that two of his short stories were adapted to motion pictures. The two films, FOR VALOUR and THE FIRE-COP, represented opposite poles of Mundy's writing--yet remain the most faithful screen versions of his stories ever produced.
FOR VALOUR was based on a story of the same title which had appeared in the January 1912 issue of Adventure magazine. The entire regiment adores local girl Rosie Webster, but she cares for only two men, Big Bill Swanwick, with whom she flirts, and Rat Brunton, whom she loves and believes is more likely to win promotion. When the troops are called out to fight the Mahdi, Rosie asks Bill to watch over Rat and see that he comes back to her, although he cannot understand why Rat arouses such emotions.
Bill discovers that in addition to Rat?s braggadocio, he is also a coward. Bill, wounded, must compel Rat to carry him back to the British lines under fire. The act is misinterpreted by the colonel as one of heroism, earning Rat the Victoria Cross, on which are inscribed in Roman letters, "For Valour" (hence the story's title). Back in hospital together in England, where both are wounded, Bill tells Rat he doesn't want the truth known for the regiment's sake. However, he does insist that Rat tell Rosie, and she finally realizes Bill would be the best husband. "For Valour" was one of Mundy's lightest stories for Adventure, and the first to include a major romance, but it also displays the dubious attitude toward courage that would become typical of his later works.
The Boer War was then a popular subject for the screen, and the Edison company produced FOR VALOUR in the Bahamas under the direction of J. Searle Dawley. While the film doesn?t survive, script materials exist at the Museum of Modern Art. The second battalion of the Queen's regiment stationed in the Bahamas was used for battle scenes, as were the local lilies in bloom and the rugged coastline. By July, the one-reel picture version was ready for release in the United States, appearing in England in September. Following the story closely, Laura Sawyer played Rosie, Richard Neill was Rat, and Benjamin Wilson portrayed Bill. Rat was made a ladies's man to explain his appeal to Rosie, which Mundy had left vague. In turn, the specific historical background in Africa is no longer clear, and the two battles of the Mundy story are compressed into a single attack on "Zankee Island," with Bill encountering Rat in a fort. FOR VALOUR also emphasized the romantic triangle more, opening as the two men compete for Rosie's affection.
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