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Diamond, The (1938)

Courtesy of Chris Hunter

Main image of Diamond, The (1938)
16mm, 14 min, black & white, silent
DirectorVernon Hunter
Production CompanySummit Productions
ProducerKenneth Hunter

Cast: Claude Hunter (Mr Norman); Philip Fry (Mr Lester); Anne Hunter (Mrs Norman); Barbara Hornsey (Mrs Lester); Kenneth Hunter (Jake); Bill Hornsey (Smiler); Vernon Hunter (Denis Norman); Phyllis Hunter (Jean Norman)

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A father gets involved in diamond smuggling

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The Diamond is a fascinating example of amateur fiction filmmaking in the 1930s, which balances the pleasures of genre filmmaking with the kind of family intimacy that is unique to home movies. Produced and directed by brothers Kenneth and Vernon Hunter, the film was an ensemble effort, featuring family members in the main roles and calling in favours from many friends. The result is a pulpy diamond smuggling story which switches from moments of universal recognition (the chase and action scenes) to uniquely personal ones: who, for example, is the young woman who Mr Norman embraces and who gets him into trouble with the smugglers? Her identity - a mystery to modern audiences - may well have been perfectly familiar to the people making the film.

What is clear to all audiences is that the Hunters had a firm grasp of filmmaking. Their film grammar harks back ten years to the tail end of the pre-1930s silent era and delights in a judicious use of parallel montage; iris close ups; dissolves and long fades to keep the storytelling buoyant. They also make full use of their 16mm equipment, avoiding the artifice of the studio (the only set designed scenes are the car interiors) and getting out into Richmond and Kew. As a result, the film offers a great snapshot of life in 1938 West London - rare for fiction material.

The single 16mm copy - preserved at the BFI National Archive - was accompanied by a handful of other films made by the Hunters throughout the 1940s and a handwritten notebook, from which a few images are included. The meticulous care and attention the brothers had for their film project is clear. Among the stills and annotation it is also possible to see the accounts including a sum of money paid by each actor in order, presumably, to help pay for the expensive filmmaking equipment.

The Diamond's follow-up film, Fight For Freedom (c.1939), was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War and never completed. One of the brothers, Vernon Hunter, died later in the 1940s, but Kenneth went on to make several amateur documentaries, while the youngest sister, Phyllis, enjoyed some time on the stage. Accidentally, The Diamond captures a warm moment in a family's life - free of the difficulties and demands of the war - as well as being an entertaining yarn.

Dylan Cave

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