‘Barbed Wire’ and Hall Caine


This is just a quick note to recommend the film Barbed Wire (1927), available from Grapevine Video.

Pola Negri plays a Frenchwoman whose family’s farm is commandeered by the authorities as a prison camp for captured Germans. At first she is prejudiced against them, because her brother has been reported killed in action. Gradually, though, she gets to respect Oskar, played by Clive Brook.

When a French soldier tries to rape her, Oskar comes to the rescue. He is arrested for attacking a Frenchman, but she speaks up for him at the trial, incurring the anger of the locals, especially the women. She is branded a collaborator.

Both Negri and Brook are convincing in their roles, and the film is directed effectively by Rowland V. Lee.

It is based on the novel The Woman of Knockaloe (1923) by Hall Caine. The text is online. During 1914-18, Caine had been a vocal and uncritical supporter of the war effort, but a few years later was drawn to describing the pathos of the conflict. His novel (like most of his books) is set on the Isle of Man, where the British authorities interned German nationals. The film not only transports the action to France, but also changes the ending. In the novel the two lovers, having been rejected in both their countries, commit suicide; the movie manages a Hollywood ending.

Hall Caine was an odd character. As a young man he had part of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, and had acted as secretary to Dante Gabriel Rossetti. After Rossetti’s death, Caine quickly published his Recollections of Rossetti, a book that many, including Max Beerbohm, felt to be self-serving. Later he established himself as a best-selling novelist, but was widely mocked. Oscar Wilde claimed that in some gatherings you could get a laugh just by uttering the two words, ‘Hall Caine’. .

Beerbohm caricatured Caine’s enthusiasm for self-advertisement in caricatures like this:

hall caine

Beerbohm’s description of Caine is worth quoting:

That great red river of hair which, from its tiny source on the mountainous brow, spread out so quickly and flowed down so strongly and gushed at last in such torents over the coat-collar… His eyes, in their two deep caverns beneath the lower slopes of Mt. Brow, shone wondrously when he talked. his whole body seemed to quiver as though too frail for the powerful engines installed in it.

His novels seem to have been highly melodramatic, but they were the basis for two good films, this one and Hitchcock’s last silent movie, ‘The Manxman’.


  1. Doug Schoppert
    Posted July 12, 2015 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Interesting post. You may know that PG Wodehouse joined wholeheartedly in the mockery of Caine. There are many examples at the Madame Eulalie website in the section devoted to Wodehouse’s work on the Globe By the Way column. I really enjoy your blog. Best of luck.

  2. Posted July 12, 2015 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this. I shall look up the ‘By the Way’ articles.
    In Love among the Chickens, Wodehouse asks: ‘ If, for instance, Mr. W. W. Jacobs had toothache, would he write like Mr. Hall Caine?’
    Good question.

  3. Jonathan Lighter
    Posted July 13, 2015 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    “When a French soldier tries to rape her, Oskar comes to the rescue.”

    A _French_ soldier-rapist! Isn’t this a startling reversal for so early as 1927?

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