By Reg Reynolds
Gibraltar has been featured in films for more than a hundred years, with notable examples being the James Bond movie The Living Daylights starring Timothy Dalton, Captain’s Paradise with Alec Guinness and Yvonne de Carlo and Operation Snatch featuring Terry-Thomas and the Barbary Apes.
The very first Gibraltar-based film was the silent film Inside the Lines, released in 1918 and based on the 1915 Broadway play written by American playwright Earl Derr Biggers. The film was remade in 1930 as one of the earliest talkies [cinema films with speech and sound made during the period when most films were silent] and I watched it recently on YouTube. It is billed as a spy thriller but is also a romance featuring stars Betty Compson and Ralph Forbes. Without giving too much away for those readers who would like to watch the YouTube version, the basic plot of the film has two spies sent to Gibraltar to assist in destruction of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet. There are some interesting twists and turns with a surprise ending. Compson and Forbes are fine in their roles but as can be expected from a movie released in 1930 the quality of the sound and filming is not of a high standard. Some of the best acting is provided by Montagu Love as Governor of Gibraltar Lord Crandall. The actual Governor at the time of the 1918 version was Sir Herbert Miles and in 1930 the Governor was Sir Charles Monro.
She was dubbed the ‘Prettiest Girl in Hollywood’.
Montagu Love, his real name, was born in Portsmouth and was a newspaper man and illustrator before turning to acting. He covered the Boer War (1899 – 1902) and his realistic battle sketches gained him popularity among readers. On his decision to turn to acting Love’s biography describes him thus:
“A robust man with a massive head of noble bearing and brooding lower lip, these ingredients well suited his goal. Love honed basic stage talents in London, and then made an early departure for the U.S. in 1913 with a road-company production of Cyril Maude’s Grumpy. An early stop was Broadway, and he returned to England many times to appear in a laundry list of important plays from 1913 to 1934. Silent film studios of the early days were originally based in the East, and Love started his film career at World Studios, New Jersey in 1914. His silent career alone was prodigious – nearly a hundred films. His look and bearing were perfect for authoritative figures. And, though certainly taking on a whole spectrum of roles (sultan, native chiefs, many a doctor and military officer, among many others) he became known for his bad guy characterizations through the 1920s. Some historians credit him as the best villain of the silent era.”
Compson was an attractive blue-eyed blonde who made 209 films in a career that lasted from 1915 until 1948. She was born Eleanor Compson on March 19, 1897 to a mining engineer and his wife. Her father left the family to prospect for gold in the Yukon Gold Rush of 1898 and returned with an impressive haul of $25,000, (worth more than $600,000 in 2020). He managed to blow most of the money, however, and died when Betty was in her teens. Betty had learned to play violin and launched her show business career with a vaudeville company at Salt Lake City. A producer of film shorts liked her look, and when she was eighteen, he signed her to a contract at $15 a week. Over the next five years she made more than forty short films before advancing to full length features. She was dubbed the “Prettiest Girl in Hollywood” but she also started her own production company and a line of cosmetics. She married three times but had no children. Betty died of a heart attack in Glendale, California on April 18, 1974 aged 77.
Forbes was a 6-foot tall, handsome leading man who worked Broadway before going into films and making 73 movies and acting in three television plays before his untimely death. Forbes was born Ralph Taylor in London on September 30, 1904. His family had planned for him to have a career in law or the Royal Navy, but he rebelled and chose acting for his career. He began with stage work in England before travelling to the U.S. to work in films. In the early 1920s he made movies in both Britain and America. He was recognised as potential star material in the 1926 version of Beau Geste where he played younger brother John Geste to fellow Englishman Ronald Colman’s Beau. From then on, he worked almost exclusively in Hollywood until his death on March 31, 1951 aged 46.
I enjoyed the 1930 version of Inside the Lines but was disappointed that there weren’t more pictures of Gibraltar. The film was made at RKO Studios in Hollywood and obviously there was no allowance in the budget for travel to Europe so there are only three shots of the Rock, and all three are stock shots of the Mediterranean Fleet anchored in Gibraltar Harbour. Still, during this time of pandemic and lockdowns it is worth viewing.