|Image Credit: British Film Institute via Silent London|
Today's guest blog post is from Spencer Blohm
Film buffs everywhere always have one film they’ve been waiting an eternity to see. For some films, it seems like no matter how hard you sleuth and search, there are no screenings, no DVDs, Blu-Rays, or even VHS tapes available. Perhaps the location of any existing prints of the film isn’t even known, and it’s simply lost to the ages.
For the British Film Institute, on the top of that list was George Pearson’s 1923 silent film Life, Love and Laughter, which, until recently, was believed to have been lost or destroyed. The only reason the BFI even knew the film existed was thanks to six production stills, a campaign booklet, and a publicity leaflet which were distributed to promote the film.
As luck would have it, the Dutch film institute EYE received a shipment of old film tins in November 2012 from a small cinema in rural Holland, which had only been open from 1929 to 1931. Earlier this year, workers at EYE finally began to sift through this shipment and stumbled upon a copy of Life, Love and Laughter. A call to the BFI confirmed that they had found the second of only two Pearson films known to still exist.
The film is noteworthy in many ways, making the find all that better. For one, it’s a full length film, something almost unheard of in the silent film era. The period during which it was created saw more silent filmmakers expanding their format into full length films, and this happened to be one of them. It’s also the film which is largely credited with launching the career of its star, Betty Balfour. Balfour was England’s answer to Mary Pickford in the 20s, who collaborated with Pearson on many films which earned her the nickname “Queen of Happiness” for the perpetual optimism she injected into her characters.
In this particular film Balfour plays Tip Toes, a down on her luck chorus girl who dreams of one day stepping into the spotlight on the main stage. She meets a young man (played by Harry Jonas) who has similarly large ambitions, except his consist of being a famous writer. The two plan to meet up two years later in order to see if either had been able to make it bit. The film served mainly as a unbeat story to comfort a nation shaken by World War I.
The film was both a critical and commercial hit, which is exactly why it was still being screened in the Netherlands six years later. The Daily Telegraph said the film was "destined in all probability to take its place among the screen classics" and the Manchester Guardian called it “spectacular at times, lit and photographed with a beauty to dream of” –a compliment which came courtesy of cinematographer Percy Strong.
While the film currently remains in the Netherlands, the BFI is hoping to obtain a copy so they can translate the Dutch title cards into English and host screenings of the notorious film. Next on BFI’s list of “Most Wanted” is another film by Pearson starring Balfour called Réveille, a film about British life during World War I.
About the Author: Spencer Blohm is a freelance entertainment, film, and pop culture blogger for DirectTelevisionSpecials.org
While he can’t claim to be the biggest silent film buff, he’s willing to make an exception for this missing piece of film history. He lives and works in Chicago, where he’s been known to catch a talkie or two from time to time.