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Desperate Poaching Affray (1903)


Main image of Desperate Poaching Affray (1903)
35mm, black and white, 172 feet
DirectorWilliam Haggar
Production CompanyHaggar and Sons

Two poachers are pursued and apprehended by gamekeepers and policemen.

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The best known of the three films that survive from William Haggar's prolific output (thirty-four films are documented, his family claim he made as many as sixty), Desperate Poaching Affray (1903) is very typical of the fast-paced, action-packed melodramas that thrilled working-class audiences both in Wales (where Haggar spent much of his career) and beyond.

It develops the film grammar first introduced by the Sheffield Photographic Company's Daring Daylight Burglary (1903) by making use of similar techniques - for instance, cutting on action as characters run past the camera, using pans to convey a sense of speed and urgency - but in a much more controlled and coherent way.

That said, there is little attempt at realism - despite the rural setting, the gamekeepers seem able to summon the policemen instantly with just a casual snap of the fingers, and in narrative terms the film consists of little more than a series of chases and fights in a variety of attractive Welsh locations. It is clear that these were the film's main attraction, as the bookending opening and closing scenes are perfunctory in the extreme, the film ending almost as soon as the poachers are finally collared by the law.

Hugely popular with audiences of the time, Desperate Poaching Affray's greatest legacy may well be that when it was released (and widely pirated) in the US, it was apparently the major inspiration for Edwin S Porter's The Great Train Robbery (US, 1903), the film generally regarded as having defined the American action thriller.

Michael Brooke

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

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Video Clips
Complete film (2:16)
Haggar, William (1851-1925)