Two Lancashire Lasses in London (1917)
Two Lancashire Lasses in London was a typical British feature film made during the First World War. The film is lost, at the time of its release it was overshadowed by big American releases and yet a press book has survived that gives us a glimpse of what it was all about.
Originally a play written by Arthur Shirley and Sutton Vane, it was first staged at the Camden Theatre in London as A Path of Thorns in August 1903 but at some point was renamed Two Lancashire Lasses in London. Running very successfully for over ten years in London and then the regions it was a poignant drama about two sisters who travelled to London facing the temptations, snare and pitfalls of a great city and meet the wrong type of men.
It was adapted for the screen by David Aylott who also directed and appeared in the film for A.E. Martin Kinematography Company and it was filmed in the last part of 1916. Aylott had been in the film business for a long time and had started out working for James Williamson, a British film pioneer who opened a film production company based in Hove in about 1902. At the time Aylott was described as a music hall performer and presumably began acting and then progressed into production. From about 1906-1908 Aylott directed numerous shorts for Walturdaw and then began work for Cricks & Martin at Croydon, one of the oldest and most stable of firms founded by G.H. Cricks and J.H. Martin. By the outbreak of war J.H. Martin was operating independently at Merton Park and David Aylott did some of the production. He also did some work for B&C (British and Colonial) and then for A.E. Martin. The latter was an Australian who had been engaged in all sorts of entertainment including variety and freak shows, started film production in 1915 and in later life became a writer.
Aylott cast two young actresses – Lettie Paxton and Dolly Tree – in the lead roles. Lettie Paxton had started her film career in 1913 at B&C and had appeared in a previous Aylott film Yvonne (1915). She was cast in at least six other films thereafter but by 1917 disappears Dolly Tree also started her acting career at B&C in 1915 and appeared in From Shop Girl to Duchess and The Disorder of the Bath for Maurice Elvey, followed by four ‘Diploma Films’ once again for Elvey: Fine Feathers; Love in the Wood, A Will of Her Own and Motherlove. Aylott would have known both from his work at B&C. Dolly Tree abandoned her acting career for a more promising career first as an illustrator and then as a costume designer and after many years designing costumes for the stage and screen in London and Paris went to America. She eventually worked at MGM in the 1930s.
Scenes commenced in Lancashire, followed by dramatic and realistic glimpses of London life ranging from outside a church, a cheap eating house, a glimpse of a Mayfair drawing room in a Park Lane Mansion, a squalid court in Whitechapel, a Seven Dials Garret, a prisoners dock at the old Bailey and then finally happiness in a pleasant vicarage garden.
The brother of the sisters Sam Hallett (actor unknown) searches in vain for the sisters and on arrival in London luckily befriends John Edmonds (Wingold Lawrence), an unemployed and almost starving mechanic who helps him to track both lost girls with the help of a broad-minded parson the Rev Frank Selby (Frank Dane). Sam at first upsets the schemes of Jim, the burgler to rob the vicarage and then assists to bring home a charge of murder against Jonas who lured away his sister Connie and induces the repentant husband of the other sister (Nellie) to see the error of his ways and emigrate with the fixed determination to lead a better life.
Who exactly is murdered is not clear. Perhaps it was John Edmonds although there may have been an attempt to murder Nellie. In the press kit the captions state that Connie overheared Jim Price and Jonas Dean discuss a plan to silence her sister Nell (why is not revealed although perhaps it had something to do with the burglary or the murder), Connie pleads with two unidentified men to save her sister, Jonas Dean incriminates John Edmunds and an innocent man is sentenced to death but finally the true culprit Dean is arrested.
According to the Press Kit the ups and downs, the trials, the despair and final triumph of two orphan girls were shown in vivid detail and the simplicity of the story was its strength, its good moral its power and its truth to life it attraction.
The film was given a trade show on 10th January 1917 at the West End Cinema and was released in February 1917. It was announced several times in the trade press (Bioscope and Kineweekly) as an ‘all British Production’ but did not get one single review. There was only one pertinent comment that it gave ‘every indication of being a 1917 winner.’
Take a look at the fully illustrated biography about Dolly Tree (Dolly Tree: A Dream of Beauty). A long lost artistic genius of the Jazz Age, Dolly Tree was famous on both sides of the Atlantic, for her extravagant creations for the stage, cabaret, couture and film in the 1920s and 1930s. This illustrated biography, with over 600 images, captures her unique talent and achievements as a dress designer, including her Hollywood career at MGM.
Dolly Tree: A Dream of Beauty
Will be published 26th September 2017 in hardback and paperback.
Both versions contain over 600 photographs and is A4 – it is a big coffee table book.
The Hardback has 400 pages all in full colour — it is the deluxe package with an RRP of £75.
The paperback has 340 pages and is in black and white with 11 colour sections containing 44 pages and an RRP of £30.
View the digital sampler
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
Bioscope and Kineweekly
A History of British Cinema, 1914-18 by Rachel Low