Features Live Action Movies

The Cheaters

Director – Paulette McDonagh – 1930 – Australia – 95m

A criminal gang leader’s lifelong vow for revenge threatens the future happiness of his daughter in this beautifully restored and presented Australian silent -– free to watch on BFI Player as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2020 from 13.00 hrs Sunday, October 11th to 13.00 hrs Wednesday, October 14th

The first thing to say about this film is that it looks in remarkably good nick by any standards. Judging by the restoration trailer, this is an amazing testimony to today’s technology. Much of the footage before had deteriorated to near unwatchable. After the process, it looks fantastic.

As for the silent side of things, the current presentation on BFI Player shows the film windowboxed as you’d expect but then also the keyboard accompanist in locked off shot, keyboards and hands only, also windowboxed in a comparatively tiny image at the bottom left. This proves extremely effective and provides an excellent model for both future online screenings of silents and presentation on home video media such as Blu-ray or DVD.

The film medium has come a long way since 1929, so this film begs the question, is it any good? How does it stand up today? While very much of its time, the answer is, surprisingly well.

production still

After a curious yet strangely compelling prologue in which three fates sit in a cave spinning the threads of destiny – which could probably be tacked on to the beginning or end of any tale you care to imagine – this starts with a disciplinary session in an office. Marsh (Arthur Greenaway) is told that he must accept the consequences of his unjustifiable act. He pleads with Travers (John Faulkner) that his beloved wife is desperately ill, then is taken away for assault vowing revenge. He later learns of his wife’s death while in prison.

What follows divides neatly into two. On the one hand, Marsh has become the head of a criminal organisation whose gang regularly defraud jewellery stores of precious stones and the like. On the other, his daughter Paula (Marie Lorraine) is sent to stay in a posh hotel where she falls in love with a guest Lee (Josef Bambach) – unaware both that he is Travers’ adopted son and that her father is still hell bent on revenge to the exclusion of all else. She is later sent to burgle the safe of a house unaware that it is both Lee’s and Travers’ home.

It’s all very entertaining and moves along at a good pace. The details of a specific jewellery store fraud, which involve identity theft, are convincing while the scene where Paula departs the hotel and her romance with Lee, fearing that he might discover her criminal background, are deeply affecting.

The film is preceded by a trailer for McDonagh’s earlier Those Who Love (1926).

The Cheaters is free to watch on BFI Player as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2020 from 13.00 hrs Sunday, October 11th to 13.00 hrs Wednesday, October 14th.


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