Review: The Cheaters (1930)

Written and directed by Paulette McDonagh, the daughter of the head of a criminal gang falls in love with the son of her father’s most bitter enemy. Starring: Marie Lorraine, Arthur Greenaway, John Faulkner, Josef Bambach, Nellie McNiven, Elaine de Chair and Frank Hawthorne.

It’s hard to imagine how difficult it must have been to be a woman writing and directing a film in the late 1920s, let alone when making a film about a headstrong, independent woman. One of the first things to notice about it is its comedic timing, getting that perfect within a silent film is an incredibly difficult task but this film does exceptionally well. It’s funny from the get to, its initial reveal of our lead’s criminal side is well done and sets off the film with a light-hearted, playful and mischievous note.

Marie Lorraine manages to instil Paula with a great deal of personality, she does fall into some of the classic stereotypes of its time but she’s funny, likable and sympathetic. The relationship that she develops with Lee (Josef Bambach) is very typically fast, overly sentimental and sweet but they do have a strong chemistry, their longing looks are plenty romantic. Although the relationship they create between Paula and her father (Arthur Greenaway) feels a little overly close, they almost seem like a couple themselves rather than relatives. However, this is quite possibly another factor affected by its time, families are frequently much more affectionate in classic cinema versus modern media.

The story moves at a good pace, there are twists and turns to it but they can be fairly predictable, it follows quite a typically dramatic path and the melodrama isn’t hard to guess what direction its headed. The restoration work is impressive, it creates a crisp visual to really bring everything the film has to offer to the table and may not make it feel like brand new but in comparison to others of its time, it’s sparkling.

The Cheaters would be a great feature to introduce someone to silent film, it has a great sense of humour and its comedic timing is extremely well done considering the challenges that the format brings. They create slightly silly but sympathetic characters and its easy to get swept along in their romance and melodrama.

Verdict: ✯✯✯

Selected as part of London Film Festival’s ‘Treasures’ strand

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