Charles Ashton and British Silent Films

British Silent Film Star – Charles Ashton

The Monkey’s Paw (1923)

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Production Company: Artistic Films.  Director: Manning Haynes.  Producer: George Redman.  Script: Lydia Hayward.  Author of the Original Work: W.W. Jacobs.

Cast: Moore Marriott (John White); Marie Ault (Mrs White); Charles Ashton (Herbert White); Johnny Butt (Sergeant Tom Morris); Tom Coventry (Engine driver).

Plot synopsis by Dan Pavlides, AllMovie Guide:

Moore Marriott, Marie Ault, and Charles Ashton star in this fantasy about a magic monkey’s paw that reunites them with their late son. The paw gives the holder three wishes, but the subject of the last wish will always involve death.

W.W. Jacobs was a prolific author of short stories whose works were popular with silent film directors.  His most famous ghost story, The Monkey’s Paw, was filmed by Manning Haynes in 1923.

Character actor, Moore Marriott, is the old man who buys the monkey’s paw in order to gain its three magical wishes. Moore spent most of his long career playing elderly men even though he was not yet 40 when he made this film.

Marie Ault (1870-1951) was a star in many British silent films, but also had bit parts in later talking films including Jamaica Inn (1939) and Caesar and Cleopatra (1945).

Marie Ault as Mrs White in The Monkey’s Paw (1923). Image held at http://www.listal.com/movie/the-monkeys-paw-1923

A recent review by MacIntyre, F Gwynplaine (2003) of this film appears on The Internet Movie Database website:

“This silent version of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ reveals one of the shortcomings of silent-film grammar. In an incautious moment, the old man has wished for his dead son Herbert to return from the grave … then he realises the horrible consequences if this wish is granted literally. Suddenly there’s a knock at the door. With a desperate lunge, the old man seizes the monkey’s paw and uses his last wish to send his son back to the grave. The brilliantly ambiguous plot of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ never discloses whether any of these wishes were actually granted: We never learn if the knock at the door was really a message from a homesick corpse or merely a visit from a commercial traveller.

This reviewer points out the problem of how to give the impression of sound of someone knocking on a door in a silent film:

“Normally in a silent film, a knock at the door is conveyed by an insert close-up of a hand rapping at a door, followed by a return to the previous camera set-up as the characters react to the sound of the knock. In this film ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, no such set-up is viable: if we see the hand of the person knocking, we will know once for all if the visitor is a corpse (the dead son, supernaturally returning) or a more mundane caller. So, in order to preserve that ambiguity in this silent film, we never see the knock at the door: we merely see Marriott and actress Marie Ault doing a sudden ‘What was that?’ reaction and glancing fearfully towards the door.”

Unfortunately, Charles’ performance is not appreciated by the reviewer!

“Overall, the film is excellent, with a moody atmosphere marred only by a sarcastic performance by Charles Ashton as the doomed son. John Butt is excellent as the visitor (a soldier, in this version) who sells the monkey’s paw. But this plotline really requires a soundtrack. I’ll rate this silent version of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ 6 points out of 10.”

The popular storyline would later appear in film version in 1933 and 1945, but it is probably best remembered by the macabre version from the 1960′s television showing presented by Alfred Hitchcock. This first version was imported from Britain by the Selznick company (All Movie Guide).

There is a viewing copy of this film in 35 mm format at the BFI National Film Archive’s Research Viewing Service, duration: 33 mins, however, it is incomplete: reels 1, 2, 3 only.

Written by anneramsden

March 9, 2010 at 4:17 pm

2 Responses

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  1. [...] the full surviving fragment of Graham Cutts’s Cocaine (1922) and the only surviving reel of Monkey’s Paw (Manning Haynes, 1923). Speaking of Haynes – you’ll be able to feast on his delightful WW [...]

  2. [...] April from 10 a.m. till 8 p.m. The highlight for me is the screening of the first film version of The Monkey’s Paw starring Charles Ashton, Moore Marriott, Marie Adult and Johnny Butt. Though the film is incomplete [...]


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