Charles Ashton and British Silent Films

British Silent Film Star – Charles Ashton

Maria Marten (1928)

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Also known as Murder in the Red Barn.

Production Company: QTS Productions. Producer: Harry Rowson. QTS and Ideal also produced an adaptation of Sweeny Todd the same year.

Duration: 75 min. Release date: 8 March 1928 (UK). Format: 35 mm.

Genre: Crime | Mystery

Cast: Trilby Clark (Maria Marten); Warwick Ward (William Corder); James Knight (Carlos, a gypsy); Charles Ashton (Sam Giles); Vesta Sylvia (Ann Marten); Frank Perfitt (John Marten); Dora Barton (Cast Member); Margot Armand (Lady Maud Derringham); Judd Green (William Giles); Tom Morris (Ishmael); Chili Bouchier (Carlos’ sister).

Plot Synopsis by AMC Movie Guide: Maria Marten is the first film version of that chop-licking old stage melodrama Murder in the Red Barn. Villainous town squire William Corder (Warwick Ward) lusts after the virginal Maria Marten (Trilby Clark), and lures her to an old barn for the purposes of seduction. When Maria resists his advances, Corder murders the poor girl and buries her body beneath the barn. The rest of the story deals with Corder’s efforts to cover up his crime and his ultimate downfall at the hands of the innocent young man who has been held responsible for the girl’s disappearance.

This was the third silent film to tell the story of Squire William Corder, a real life British aristocrat, who murdered his pregnant mistress, Maria Marten, in order to marry an heiress in 1828. The first film version was made in 1902 by Dicky Winslow; the second in 1913 by Maurice Elvey for the Motograph Film Company; and this the third 1928 version by Walter West for QTS Productions. In 1935 a fourth version with sound was made by Milton Rosmer for George King Productions at Shepperton Studios. Charles worked on other films with three of these directors, Milton Rosmer, Maurice Elvey and Walter West.

Walter West (1885-1958) started his film career as an actor in 1915 and then went on to produce his own films as well as films for other directors. He owned several production companies including QTS Productions, which was formed to produce two films: Maria Marten and Sweeney Todd in 1928.

Australian actress, Trilby Clark, appeared in films made in Australia, USA and England. Her earliest film was produced in Australia in 1920: The Breaking of the Drought was a grim story of the severe drought of 1919. She made six films in the USA: Big Dan (1923), The Prairie Pirate (1925), Silent Sanderson (1925), The Bad Lands (1925), The Seventh Bandit (1926), Catherine Bennett Throws Missiles (1926). Her first UK films were Carry On (1927, followed by the lead role in Maria Marten (1928). She made five more films up until 1930.

Warwick Ward, actor and film producer, appeared in 64 films between 1903 and 1933. He also produced 19 films between 1931 and 1958. Ward appeared not only in English films, but American, German as well as French productions including: The Yellow Mask (1930), Stamboul (1931), Deadlock (1931), Ariane (1931) and the English version of the German film F.P.1 (1933). After that he retired completely from the film business and began a second career as a producer working up until the 1950s.

In the Maria Marten cast was the young 19 year old, Chili Bouchier, who appeared as Rachel, Carlos the gypsy’s sister Her only big scene is when she plunges a knife deep into her heart after the wicked Squire Corder spurns her love.

Chili Bouchier

Chili Bouchier as the gypsy sister in Maria Marten (1928). Image taken from Classic horror website http://www.classichorror.free-online.co.uk/bouchier.htm

Chili, otherwise known as Dorothy Hill (1909-1999), made the successful transition from silent films of the 1920s to the talkies. She lived well into her nineties and continued acting in both film and theatre well into the 1960s and 1970s. It was while working at Harrods she acquired the nickname “Chili” after a well known song of the time. Her later performances included “The MouseTrap” (1971, 1974) and “Harvey” with James Stewart (1975). Chili wrote a book in 1996 about her acting career and love life called “Shooting Star: The last of the silent film stars” published by Atlantis Books.

Both Maria Marten and Sweeney Todd were made after the Cinematograph Films Act of 1927, which was meant to protect the British silent film industry from the import of prolific and successful Hollywood films. British cinema managers were obliged to show British films alongside imported American films. Known as the “Quota Quickie law”, the Act caused a drastic drop in studio budgets and resulted in the production of large numbers of short, low-quality British films.

The Maria Marten film is presumed lost.

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Written by anneramsden

August 5, 2013 at 3:34 pm

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