On a volcanic island near the kingdom of Hetvia rules Count Dakkar, a benevolent leader and scientist who has eliminated class distinction among the island's inhabitants. Dakkar, his ... See full summary »
The film was made in separate silent and sound versions. While a mute negative of the sound version had been kept by the UK National Film Archive since 1981, it was thought that all sound elements were lost. However, a 35mm fine-grain nitrate print of the sound version was found in 2005 on Vashon Island, Washington, USA by the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association and was preserved by the US Library of Congress. See more »
HIGH TREASON was originally issued in both sound and silent versions, but for many years, only the silent version was known to survive. A few years ago, a copy of the abbreviated sound version, issued by Tiffany in the US was discovered and restored. However, it is still difficult to see, and so this review is based on the silent version.
The year is 1950 -- a popular year for science-fiction films in the 1920s -- and tensions are rising between the Federated States of Europe and the Atlantic States. A car carrying liquor breaks through a border guard and is shot down; the Atlantic States send an ultimatum to Europe, whose President, Basil Gill, wants war; although he is not implicated, arms manufacturers are shown bribing people. Only the World League of Peace, led by Humberstone Wright, and his daughter, Benita Hume, stand in the way of war. Miss Hume's boy friend is Jameson Thomas, an officer of Europe, ready to carry out his orders. Thus the conflict is not only a matter of the world and politics and money, but of love.
Visually, the movie is an Art Deco feast, pitched halfway between METROPOLIS and THINGS TO COME (Raymond Massey, who starred in the latter, has a small but prominent role and can be clearly seen at about the 30-minute mark). Clothes follows the sleek design, with a lot of shiny fabric and hats midway between cloches and skullcaps. Neither does Elvey neglect the technological touches, with autogyros and biplanes flying about London, television broadcasts, sliding doors and the other paraphernalia beloved of screen sf. Percy Strong's camerawork is limber, with many a tracking shot to focus the audience's attention, and a couple of moving crane shots. British film-making may have long been considered a backwater of the industry, but British Gaumont had the resources and will to make this spectacular.
The weaknesses of this movie are twofold. First, it is very talky for a silent picture, with a lot of title cards of dialogue, doubtless reproducing speech in the sound version. Second is the rather clunky utopianism of the plot, reducing the issues of politics and economics in a theoretical world to melodrama, where singing a song can stop a military action, and national leaders can be isolated from their guards. In my rather cynical view, Realpolitik guides the powerful, who are isolated and protected from the consequences of their follies.
Still, that's no way to make popular entertainment now, and was less so in 1929; and while this movies shows flaws that an examination of the sound version might more fully explain, it remains visually quite beautiful, with the lovely 23-year-old Miss Hume a high point.
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