Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.
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Submitted by Neal Lofthouse
Bringing the Alps to Denham
by Freda Bruce Lockhart
from Film Weekly of 25th December 1937
Last week you read in 'Film Weekly' Robert Douglas's own account of his mountaineering adventures when London Films sent him to the Matterhorn to play Whymper in 'The Challenge'.
This week I had a look at the way they've brought the Swiss mountains to Denham.
In Switzerland they filmed all the perilous climbing by Whymper and his Italian rival, Carell, and the fatal accident to Whymper's companions.
The studio setting is for the more domestic scenes in the Italian inn where Whymper convalesces from a broken ankle after his first unsuccessful climb.
Domesticity includes some romance between Luis Trenker and Joan Gardner and some comedy of smuggling. Trenker told me he made a silent film of the subject nine years ago.
It was never shown outside Germany because Whymper's relatives objected vehemently to the disreputable "love - interest."
This time no chances have been taken. The romance is a respectable one between Carell and the innkeeper's daughter.
Large painted backcloths of snowy mountain-tops were the only sign of the inn's geography. And very fine they looked, seen through the window.
The inside of the inn, too, was a conginial hostelry. Outside, it is just bare boards. For the Riffelberg Inn, near Zermatt, was used as its exterior.
So, when you see Joan Gardner go in at the inn door, carrying her pitcher of goat's milk, she'll be in Switzerland. But coming through the same door into the inn, she'll be at Denham. So simply does the cinema solve the higher problems of space and time.
A most noxious sight was Tony Sympson, the smuggler. Last time I saw Tony he was a dapper figure, wearing a spotless white towel to keep the grease-paint off his collar. Here he had a red beard of three weeks growth, and a shirt which he told me proudly "was clean when I put it on on July 23 and hasn't been washed since."
Authentic local colour was brought in by Luis Trenker and his henchman, Hugo Lehner, both Tyroleans born and bred. Trenker is in an odd position here. He has just finished directing the German version, and here he is just an actor being directed by Milton Rosmer.
"There is very little difference between the two versions," he said. "Mine has more outdoors and less in."
Trenker has a fund of exciting stories about his adventures as an Austrian soldier, a mountain guide, a writer, and an actor and director in Germany, Italy and Hollywood. He tells them in voluble, very bad English to an accompaniment of energetic pantomime, and has never been known to repeat one.
At lunch he had no patience with formalities, geting up to fetch plates from the waiters' sideboard and serving meringues from the trolley himself.
In appearance and manner he's a real man of the mountains and it was funny to see him wrestling with English income-tax papers. I assured him the English don't understand them either !
One knotty problem is the business of matching studio shots exactly with the same scenes in Switzerland. Phyllis Ross, the continuity girl who has been right through the whole expedition, was in constant demand to decide if the bandage on Whymper's ankle was the same as before, or whether he was wearing a sock or not. Her main worry was in case anybody should notice that Joan Gardner was wearing high heels in Switzerland and flat red slippers now.
Only one little Alp has actually been reproduced. Douglas, Joan Gardner, Trenker and Sympson took me off to see it, but it was already in the process of demolition. The snow was gone, leaving only some soil scattered over a built-up mound of boards.
The fine pine trees in the background proved on closer inspection to be seasonable Christmas trees in tubs, not at all safe for climbing.
The free-and-easy ragging that goes on between these four made me feel this company had got to know each other, as people do on a foreign holiday, much better than most players in a film.
Mary Clare, the innkeeper's wife, ought to feel quite at home in the Tyrol, after 'The Constant Nymph' . Others who were out on the spot are Frank Birch and Ralph Truman.
"This feels rather dull after the fun we had out there," says Douglas. But he's not bored, being one stage actor who's a serious convert to the films.
And the only person I felt sorry for was Cyril Smith. As a suspicious customs officer he has to drink mine host Fred Grove's goat's milk, because it smells of tobacco. Not surprisingly, since the smuggled tobacco is fed to the goat. With retakes, Smith consumed four tumblers of milk - and didn't like even one of them.
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