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-A glimpse into the future. An imaginative, thrilling, romantic story of life and love in 1940. New York and London bombed from the air. Giant battle cruisers of the skies raining destruction upon earth. Passenger trains blown up in a tunnel under English channel. Marvels of science that would tax the ingenuity of a Jules Verne. (Print Ad-Hepner Gazette-times, ((Hepner, Ore.)) 29 May 1930) See more »
The print of the silent version (copyrighted 1929) held by the National Film Archive in the UK runs 82 minutes at 20 fps. The sound version originally ran 92 minutes but the surviving version (copyrighted 1930 with different opening credits) is a shortened US release version of 67 minutes.
As well as re-shot dialogue scenes, both versions feature different takes of particular shots. The silent version is set in 1950, the sound version in 1940. 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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