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Daring Daylight Burglary, A (1903)


Main image of Daring Daylight Burglary, A (1903)
35mm, black and white, 258 feet
DirectorFrank Mottershaw
Production CompanySheffield Photo Company

Cast: Members of the Sheffield Fire Brigade

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A burglar throws a policeman off a roof and is chased across country, river and cliffs but escapes on a train. The police wire ahead and catch him at the next station.

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Daring Daylight Burglary (1903) was a fast-paced crime thriller that was the first of many chase films with which the Sheffield Photo Company established an international reputation.

Compared with other British films of the period, the pacing is unusually rapid and the narrative is surprisingly sophisticated - particularly its use of a revenge motive (the policeman avenging his badly injured comrade), which viewers of just about any current action thriller will immediately recognise as a key ingredient of the genre.

Admittedly, this in itself is not much of an advance on William Haggar's Desperate Poaching Affray (made the same year), but this and other elements, such as the use of a wide range of contrasting locations, show that director Frank Mottershaw was keen to make his film as visually and dramatically appealing as he could given the limitations of the basic story.

While R.W.Paul was making use of the jump cut as the main focus of films like Extraordinary Cab Accident (1903), here it's just one technique among many, as the policeman is quickly substituted by a dummy as he's hurled off the roof by the burglar. Camera placement and editing are consistently intelligent, with Mottershaw often cutting on action to ensure maximum dramatic impact.

The film was shot in three days at a cost of £25, and the British rights were sold to the Charles Urban Company for £50. It was enormously successful both in Britain and abroad: between 500 and 600 copies were sold, including an American order for 100 copies (it was extensively pirated in the US). It was also a major influence on Edwin S Porter's classic The Great Train Robbery (1903), the film said to have originated the American action movie.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Early Cinema: Primitives and Pioneers'.

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Complete film (2:44)
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British Pioneers