Fred Paul was born in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1880, but came to England in his teens, if not before, and worked as an actor in films such as The Stolen Heir (d. A.E. Coleby, 1910) and A Little Child Shall Lead Them (d. Alexander Butler, 1913) before turning his hand to directing. He specialised in reworking popular novels and plays, adapting Lady Windermere's Fan, The Lyons Mail and The Vicar of Wakefield, for example, in 1916, with a host of major stars from the London stage. By the '20s he was making, and sometimes starring in, adventure stories and melodramas.
Explaining the philosophy behind his 'Grand Guignol' series of short films (1921), he claimed in a article in Kinematograph Weekly that:
I attempt to show life as it really is, its sordidness and cruelty; the diabolical humour of the destiny we call fate, which plays with us as it will, raises us to high places or drags us to the gutter; allows one man to rob the widows and orphans of their all and makes a criminal of the starving wretch who in his misery has stolen a mouthful of bread.
These films were strong on atmosphere and often had interesting storylines and settings. The Gentle Doctor, for example, centres on a murder in the Russian émigré community in London's East End; The Last Appeal takes the ironic situation of a judge failing to recognise the man he has sentenced to death for murder as his own son.
Paul followed up with The Further Adventures of Fu Manchu, based on the stories of Sax Rohmer, with Harry Agar Lyons as the sinister Oriental and Paul as his adversary, Nayland Smith; and Dr Sin Fang, a similar series where, as Lt John Byrne, he confronts another Eastern threat, again in the form of Harry Agar Lyons. Paul's career, both as actor and director, barely survived the coming of sound, and in the 30s he was only able to make a few low-budget musicals. He died in 1967.
Low, Rachael, The History of the British Film 1906-1914 (London: Allen and Unwin, 1949)
Low, Rachael, The History of the British Film 1914-1918 (London: Allen and Unwin, 1950)
Low, Rachael, The History of the British Film 1918-1929 (London: Allen and Unwin, 1971)
Paul, Fred, 'Concentrated Production', Kinematograph Weekly, 24 March 1921, p. 53
'Early Days', News Review, 13 Feb. 1936, p. 26
Bryony Dixon, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors