On Walter Summers

I’d like to strongly recommend this Silent London blog post about the film director Walter Summers. He was the director of Mons, Ypres, and other films that reconstructed Great War  battles,  using many of the original participants. He also directed the first version of The Lost Patrol, the film of Patrick MacGill’s play Suspense, and The Return of Bulldog Drummond. Jo Pugh has looked at Summers’s war record, and discovered that he was in the east Surreys with R.C.Sherriff, but came out of the war with a very different attitude to the conflict than the author of Journey’s End. In 1920 he wrote to the War Office:

I have been demobilised since January last, but the Service, and all that campaigning means, has got into my blood, and frankly I want to come back: I want to join one of those minor Field Forces operating in odd corners of the Empire: Persia, West Africa, Russia or anywhere where men who know their business are wanted.

Jo Pugh perceptively compares him to Bulldog Drummond as someone who remained nostalgic for the war and the meaning it gave to life – a feeling that was, of course, reflected in his films of the twenties and later, and clearly found a response from the cinema-going public.
Of course, his version of The Lost Patrol is one of the multitude of lost silent films. Probably it got discarded when John Ford’s superb sound version appeared. But Summers’s film seems to have been truer to Philip Macdonald’s novel. It contained flashbacks to the British past, which suggests that, like the book, it clearly showed the patrol destroyed by the tensions and prejudices of peacetime society.
But is it really lost forever? Silent treasures do turn up occasionally, and this is one of the ones that I should most like to see.

4 Comments

  1. Lawrence Napper
    Posted January 9, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Walter’s ‘A Couple of Down and Outs’ is well worth seeing if you ever get the chance.

  2. Jon Lighter
    Posted January 9, 2014 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    George, I can’t share your good opinion of MacDonald’s pulpy “Lost Patrol.” Its nihilism really is of historical interest (to me at least) but the crudity of the style, the embarrassingly pasteboard characters, the contrived situation, MacDonald’s failure to do much more than generate suspense….Please!

    By dint of MacDonald’s temperament and raw dialogue, “The Lost Patrol” looks forward to the really bleak post-WW2 novels of WW2; other than that, it doesn’t do much for me. (Interesting glossary, though!)

    You may know that Tay Garnett’s 1943 hit “Bataan” was also inspired by Ford’s “Lost Patrol.”

    “Bataan” isn’t up to modern critical standards, but it’s a more pausible story and a better movie all round than either “Sahara” or “The Lost Patrol.” In my opinion, of course.

  3. IL
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 4:17 am | Permalink

    Anyone know where to find a collection of Walter Summers films on DVD. Checking torrents and youtube for any of the earlier silent things, but no luck, so far. Thanks.


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