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Unfortunate Policeman, The (1905)


Main image of Unfortunate Policeman, The (1905)
35mm, black and white, 225 feet
Production CompanyPaul's Animatograph Works
ProducerR.W. Paul

A policeman chases two painters after one has tipped a pot of paint over him.

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This elaborate chase comedy is an example of the increasing use of real locations in R.W. Paul's work, perhaps thanks to the influence of rival filmmakers like James Williamson, who turned his native Hove into the location for everything from dramatic epics (Attack on a China Mission, 1900) to quasi-documentaries (Fire!, 1901) to knockabout comedy (Our New Errand Boy, 1905).

Paul's film begins in the studio, with a backdrop conveying a jeweller's shop, the front of which is being painted by two workmen, one clearly the master and the other the apprentice. The latter takes a shine to the jeweller's pretty female assistant, who serves them with tea, but quickly finds himself rivalled for her affections by a passing policeman. In a fit of jealous rage, the apprentice tips a pot of white paint over him, and a chase ensues.

At this point, the film cuts to actual and recognisable London locations, near Muswell Hill where Paul's studio was based, though the policeman might as well not have bothered, since every person he encounters ends up obstructing and usually beating him thanks to a series of misunderstandings. By the end, it's the policeman himself who is being chased, and the apprentice gets clean away by leaping into a well-placed horse-drawn cab, pushing the sleeping driver off the other side.

But, as the film historian Ian Christie pointed out, the irreverent and disrespectful treatment of the policeman would soon become impossible in British films, thanks to the notorious list of proscriptions laid down by the British Board of Film Censors shortly after its creation in 1912.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'R.W. Paul: The Collected Films 1895-1908', with music by Stephen Horne and optional commentary by Ian Christie.

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