Rynox + Hotel Splendide

UK 1931/32, 48/53 mins
Director: Michael Powell

During the 1930s, Michael Powell worked on 31 feature films, yet most of these are little known. This can be attributed mainly to two factors: first, they belong broadly to that category of films contemptuously referred to as ‘quota quickies’. The origin of this term lies in the fact that nowhere in the act was there mentioned a quality test, or threshold; in fact, realistically speaking, the requirements for length and cost were so minimal as to practically preclude any quality at all, let alone the guarantee of a minimum standard. The ‘quota quickies’ sprang up as films that were made to exploit the protected market, or, in the case of the American producers, to fulfil their legal obligation in order to continue exporting their films to Britain.

The conception of these as merely films made to order and not considered highly even by those who made them, remained a pervasive one until very recently; Powell himself expressed an equal mixture of pride and disdain for them.

The second reason for the neglect of the over two-dozen films made by Powell before 1937 is the fact that most of them had been long thought lost. Of the first nine films Powell made as solo director, only three are known to survive, Rynox, His Lordship and Hotel Splendide, the latter two starring the comedian Jerry Verno, who appeared in four of Powell’s early films (as well as making a cameo as the Covent Garden stage doorman in The Red Shoes).

These films were all made at breakneck speed, and in quick succession. In ‘that incredible year’ as Powell put it in his autobiography, he was constantly working, so that by the end of 1932 a grand total of seven films had been released. Sometimes within one week of each other, so that My Friend the King was released on 4 April, The Rasp on 11 April; and once within two days of each other. Powell has said that ‘they couldn’t all of them be good and they weren’t’, but nevertheless his first two films were, to everyone’s surprise, extremely successful with the critics.

Rynox (1931) is the earliest surviving of Powell’s films and it benefits enormously from an interesting cast, stylish filming and an ingenious plot. The film was based on a novel by Philip MacDonald, one of the most popular thriller writers of his day (he published seven novels in 1931 alone). He and Powell eventually worked on five films together.

When first released, Rynox was greeted with extravagant praise by the British press. C.A. Lejeune in The Observer famously claimed that Powell’s Rynox shows what a good movie brain can do… this is the sort of pressure under which a real talent is shot red-hot into the world.’ John Grierson, writing a review in the Everyman, entitled ‘As Good as Hollywood’, boldly stated that ‘there never was an English film so well made.’

Powell’s direction already shows his characteristic energy and visual imagination, as well as his debt to the German Expressionist cinema of the 1920s. Rynox is full of quick cuts, tracking shots, unusual angles as well as montages, all of which help effectively to draw attention away from Benedik’s disguise as Marsh as well as the film’s small budget (it all takes place on only six main sets, with few location shots added). Although nowadays one of the film’s principal delights is seeing radio announcer Leslie Mitchell in an acting role, the film also boasts an excellent performance by Stewart Rome, who totally convinces in the dual roles of Benedik and Marsh.

In Hotel Splendide, Jerry Verno plays a character dear to the filmmakers and audiences of the quota/depression years: an impoverished go-getter trying to improve his station in life.

Before entering films, Michael Powell (like the Verno character) had worked in a boring desk job, and went on to live and work with his father, who owned a hotel, the Voile d’Or at Cap Ferrat, near Monte Carlo.

One can’t help but sympathise with Verno’s disappointment when he first lays eyes on the Hotel Splendide, and with the filmmakers too. The makers of this ‘quota quickie’ wanted to make real films, not simply enough celluloid to satisfy the legal requirements of the Quota Act. In this sense the hotel, and Verno’s enthusiastic attempts to help revitalise and refurbish it in order to attract as many customers as possible, echo the enthusiasm and ambition of its young director. Powell even appears in a small role as ‘Marconi’, one of the gang of thieves.

The script is often over complicated, with writer Philip MacDonald taking his characteristic interest in disguises and false identities to bewildering extremes. It can be seen in Rynox, in which the whole plot depends on a disguise, and reached its zenith in The List of Adrian Messenger (d. John Huston, 1963), with all the guest stars unrecognisable under heavy make-up. Practically every character in Splendide is not what they seem (even Verno is seen pretending to be his own boss at the beginning of the film). In addition, an almost camp quality is introduced, with the lead villain, named ‘Pussy’ Saunders for his trademark cat, spending practically the entire film in drag.

The film has a number of nice visual touches, especially in the last part, which is very atmospherically filmed, with an effective use of high angle shots and low-key lighting. This section also features Gounod’s ‘Funeral March of the Marionettes’, best known today as the theme tune of the American TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Sergio Angelini

Director: Michael Powell
Production Company: Film Engineering Company
Producer: Jerome Jackson
Screenplay: Jerome Jackson, Michael Powell, Philip MacDonald, J. Jefferson Farjeon *
Based on the novel by: Philip MacDonald
Photography: Geoffrey Faithfull, Arthur Grant
Editor: A. Seabourne
Art Director: C.C. Waygrove
Construction: W. Saunders
Sound: Rex Howarth

Stewart Rome (F.X. Benedik)
John Longden (Anthony X. ‘Tony’ Benedik)
Dorothy Boyd (Peter Rickforth)
Charles Paton (Samuel Rickforth)
Leslie Mitchell (Woolrich)
Sybil Grove (secretary)
Cecil Clayton
Fletcher Lightfoot (Prout)
Edmund Willard (Captain James)

UK 1931
48 mins
Digital 4K

Directed by: Michael Powell
Production Company: Film Engineering Co. Ltd.
Presented by: Gaumont-British Picture Corporation Ltd.
Produced by: Jerome Jackson
Screenplay: Ralph Smart *
Original story by: Philip MacDonald, Ralph Smart
Photography: Geoffrey Faithfull, Arthur Grant
Editor: A. Seabourne
Art Director: Charles Saunders *
Sound: Michael Rose
Recording: RCA Photophone
Studio: Nettlefold Studios (Walton-on-Thames)

Jerry Verno (Jerry Mason)
Anthony Holles (‘Mrs LeGrange’)
Edgar Norfolk (Gentleman Charlie)
Philip Morant (Mr Meek)
Sybil Groves (Mrs Harkness)
Vera Sherbourne (Joyce Dacre)
Paddy Browne (Miss Meek)
Michael Powell (Marconi, bugging device operator) *
Frank Hubert *

UK 1932
53 mins
Digital 4K


The remastering of Rynox, Hotel Splendide, His Lordship, The Fire Raisers, Red Ensign and The Night of the Party has been supported by Matt Spick and the Charles Skey Charitable Trust

Rynox + Hotel Splendide
Mon 16 Oct 18:10; Fri 10 Nov 18:10
A Matter of Life and Death
Mon 16 Oct 20:45 (+ intro by Thelma Schoonmaker and Kevin Macdonald); Sun 29 Oct 12:10; Sat 4 Nov 15:00; Tue 7 Nov 18:10 (+ intro by academic Lucy Bolton); Sun 19 Nov 18:30
Farewell (Abschied)
Tue 17 Oct 18:40 (+ intro by filmmaker Kevin Macdonald); Wed 1 Nov 20:40
His Lordship
Tue 17 Oct 20:50; Sat 4 Nov 12:20
The Fire Raisers
Wed 18 Oct 18:40; Sat 11 Nov 12:30
Black Narcissus
Wed 18 Oct 20:50; Sun 22 Oct 18:30; Wed 8 Nov 18:15; Sun 12 Nov 18:50; Thu 16 Nov 20:50; Sat 18 Nov 20:50; Mon 20 Nov 20:45 (+ intro by author Mahesh Rao)
The Edge of the World + Return to the Edge of the World
Fri 20 Oct 18:20; Wed 8 Nov 20:30; Wed 15 Nov 20:50
The Thief of Bagdad: An Arabian Fantasy in Technicolor (aka The Thief of Bagdad)
Fri 20 Oct 20:30; Tue 24 Oct 14:40; Sat 28 Oct 15:00; Sun 26 Nov 12:00
The Spy in Black + Smith
Sat 21 Oct 15:30; Sun 29 Oct 15:30 (+ intro by Bryony Dixon, BFI National Archive Curator)
The Boy Who Turned Yellow + Heavenly Puss
Sun 22 Oct 12:00
49th Parallel
Sun 22 Oct 12:20; Mon 6 Nov 20:30
One of Our Aircraft Is Missing!
Sun 22 Oct 15:10; Tue 31 Oct 20:40 (+ intro by film historian Ian Christie)
Mon 23 Oct 17:50 (+ intro by Miranda Gower-Qian, BFI Inclusion Lead); Mon 30 Oct 20:30
Red Ensign + The Night of the Party
Tue 24 Oct 20:30; Sun 5 Nov 14:40
A Canterbury Tale
Wed 25 Oct 20:20 (+ intro by academic Thirza Wakefield); Sat 11 Nov 14:50; Fri 24 Nov 20:35
Library Talk: The interior life of an archive: an evening with the Michael Powell Collection
Mon 27 Nov 18:00
The Elusive Pimpernel
Sat 28 Oct 12:20; Mon 13 Nov 18:00 (+ intro by Bryony Dixon, BFI National Archive Curator)
Gone to Earth
Sat 28 Oct 18:20; Wed 22 Nov 20:45; Sat 25 Nov 17:50
Silent Cinema: The Magician + The Riviera Revels + intro by Bryony Dixon, BFI National Archive Curator
Sun 29 Oct 15:00
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Sun 29 Oct 17:20 (+ intro by Kevin and Andrew Macdonald); Sun 5 Nov 17:45; Thu 23 Nov 17:45; Sun 26 Nov 14:00 (+ pre-recorded intro by Stephen Fry)
Paths to Partnership: Powell + Pressburger before The Archers
Tue 31 Oct 18:30
Projecting the Archive: The Queen’s Guards + intro by Josephine Botting, BFI National Archive Curator
Thu 2 Nov 18:20
Twice upon a Time
Mon 6 Nov 18:10 + extended intro by James Bell, BFI National Archive Senior Curator
Talk: Philosophical Screens: A Matter of Life and Death
Tue 7 Nov 20:20
Talk: Centre Stage: The Leading Women of Powell + Pressburger
Thu 16 Nov 18:20
Ill Met by Moonlight
Fri 17 Nov 20:40; Sat 25 Nov 12:40
The Battle of the River Plate
Sat 18 Nov 18:20; Mon 27 Nov 20:30
Behold a Pale Horse
Sun 19 Nov 11:50 Wed 22 Nov 17:50
The Wild Heart
Sun 19 Nov 15:10
Miracle in Soho
Mon 20 Nov 18:10; Sun 26 Nov 18:30

Course: The Magic of Powell + Pressburger
Wed 25 Oct to Wed 22 Nov 18:30

With thanks to

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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