After a long search, a relatively unknown British film featuring air racing, made in 1932 at Brooklands, finally got its public airing at London’s inimitable Cinema Museum recently. Two feature films were made at Brooklands within a few years of each other in the early ‘30s and both starred Dorothy ‘Chili’ Bouchier. Hailed as Britain’s first ‘It Girl’, Chili starred in countless films, made several television appearances and enjoyed a theatre career for many decades until she passed away just days before her 90th birthday in 1999.
Death Drives Through (made in 1934), surfaced a few years ago; the plot centres around a racing driver who loses his nerve after an accident. With a story by John Huston, later a famous Hollywood writer-director, It offered a tantalizing view of racing in the mid ‘30s and the cinematic setting featured crowd scenes, the pits, race bays and some busy Paddock footage. The King’s Cup, made in 1932, concentrates on the famous air race of the same name but has always remained more elusive. Through an association with the Cinema Museum in Kennington and their connections with the British Film Institute, an original print of The King’s Cup was sourced and a public screening at the Kennington cinema hall on was arranged for Saturday 12th December 2015, utilising the appropriate period projection and sound equipment they have there. The 1hr 16min film stars Chili as Betty Conway and Harry Milton, to whom Chili was married at the time, as Dick Carter along with René Ray (Tiger Bay, with Anna May Wong, 1933) and his rival, Captain Richards – played by William Kendall. Shots of the airfield, flying school and hangars and the magnificent aero club building feature heavily in the film as the two rivals compete in the famous air race. The bi-planes take off and finish at Brooklands and, as well as overhead shots of the track and surrounding area, various English localities, such as Crystal Palace in London, the Shell refinery on Canvey Island, Blackpool Tower and the Clifton Suspension Bridge are all shown in their pre-War glory.
There are also scenes depicting the inside of the aero club in a dazzling art deco style so evocative of the era where top entertainer of the time, Lew Stone with his band play to the dancing guests. A ‘live’ commentary of the race is fed back to a captivated crowd by a chap in his best BBC news announcer-style voice from the top of the aero club with a giant pole-mounted microphone. The climax scene sees the two rivals cross over the banking and into the confines of the track with the hero, Dick Carter, just finishing first. This film may or may not be released on DVD like Death Drives Through, now available to stream or buy on Amazon UK; but for now, it’s back on the shelf. Finding a complete print would certainly help, as the one shown in London several years ago is missing a few minutes of the culminating aerial sequence, perhaps snipped for use as stock footage long ago.
by Mr Decko