The Glasgow man who made a movie of Les Miserables ... 95 years ago

NEARLY three decades after it was first staged in London, the musical Les Miserables finally made it to the big screen.

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  • Author Brian Hannan said Frank Lloyd's Les Miserables was a big success
    Author Brian Hannan said Frank Lloyd's Les Miserables was a big success
  • Author Brian Hannan said Frank Lloyd's Les Miserables was a big success

Thousands queued last weekend to see the film starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried. However, very few realised this was not the first big screen version.

What many of the audience may not have known, is that the first full-length film of Les Miserables in English was completed by Glasgow film-maker Frank Lloyd.

And while Jackman and Co. prepare for Oscar glory, Lloyd even beat them to that by more than 80 years.

Frank Lloyd, who was born in the city in 1888 and died in 1960, made the epic film about the Paris Rebellion, in 1917 and it premiered at the Lyric cinema in New York, that November. A silent film, it would have been very different from this winter's all-singing epic.

But Lloyd's film starred top actor of the time, William Farnum, and, according to film-writer Brian Hannan, was considered a "big success".

Lasting for 90 minutes – more than an hour less than this year's epic – the film was considered unusually long in its day.

Brian, 58, from Johnstone, said: "The main thing is, if you ever see any old silent films they are short, they are only the length of what was called a 'reel', which was the main way movies were shown.

"They were counted by the reel, so you would go see a one reeler or a two reeler, and this was about 10, or however many.

"This was a much longer movie, so you were asking your audience quite a lot.

"It would be like asking someone, if you only ever watched Coronation Street, to go and watch The Godfather or Gone with the Wind.

"This was at the beginning of movies becoming longer and people starting to tell longer stories and more involved stories."

The son of a shipyard worker, Frank took to the stage early and found work as an actor and a singer in London.

At the aged of 21, he emigrated to America and found work in the silent movies as an actor.

No great actor, his career could have failed, but he showed a talent for writing and wrote 20 short films, with titles such as Fate's Alibi and Little Mr Fixer.

Soon after he became interested in movie-making and began working for the Morosco company before being snapped up by the William Fox company, which later became 20th Century Fox.

There he mostly wrote and directed westerns adapted from popular Zane Grey novels such as Riders of the Purple Sage, until, in 1917, he began working on the classics.

The first of these was the earliest full-length version of A Tale of Two Cities.

Les Miserables, which was based on a book by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862, appeared later that year.

Brian is currently researching and writing a book about Frank, titled Frank Lloyd – Scotland's Cinematic Genius.

The title shows Brian's respect for the unsung talents of the silent film director.

He said: "Of the first three Oscars awarded to directors, he won two of them.

"There are only two British directors who have won two Oscars since the Oscars began, one is David Lean, who directed Dr Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia, and the other is this unknown Scotsman Frank Lloyd."

Brian's first published book – Darkness Visible: Hitchcock's Greatest Film – was released last week and rocketed to No.5 on the Amazon film and video art book charts.

Brian said: "I just feel amazing.

"I just thought the book would go out and nobody would hear about it."

l Darkness Visible: Hitchcock's Greatest Film, is published as an ebook by Endeavour Press and is available online for £1.99.

matty.sutton@ eveningtimes.co.uk

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