B. T. Rogers Family Silent Film

Duke (Duncan Bell-Irving) and Duchess (Irene Rogers) of Faversham are in a tizzy, as their breakfast is interrupted by news that the Duke’s ‘bachelor brother’, Claud, has married and will be coming to Faversham Towers (the ‘Tawse’). Screen capture.

This is an atypical post about an unusual item at the City of Vancouver Archives.

The item is a silent film. That in itself is not uncommon among CVA’s holdings – they have several early silent films. But most of them are non-fiction-oriented (e.g., the construction of a bridge, gas stations of the Lower Mainland, etc). This film, however, is a silent fictitious film which includes several of the B.T. Rogers family and their friends among the actors. The play was called “Bastard Love” and was produced around 1928. This was not an undertaking for people with very limited budgets – and the Rogers family, who bankrolled the venture, certainly weren’t strapped for cash; this is the family that built B.C. Sugar, after all.

Who were some of the prominent players in “Bastard Love”? Duncan Bell-Irving, who played the Duke, was a Great War hero and his parents were neighbours of the B.T. Rogers family. Ernie Rogers, a son of B.T. was in the role of Claud Faversham and his real-life wife, Irene Rogers, was in the role of the Duchess of Faversham. Captain Tucker was played by Reggie Tupper; and Tupper’s wife, Isobel, played Millicent (Claud’s wife). Harold E. Molson (aka “Moley”) played the ”son and heir” (although it isn’t clear to me whose son he was playing; Molson’s future wife, Lila Malkin, played the maid. Elspeth Cherniavsky (who was a daughter of B.T.) was in the part of the native girl; her husband, Jan Cherniavsky (who became an internationally-acclaimed concert pianist), played the parts of the butler and minister. There were several other players, but the pattern is, by now, clear. Those acting in the film were offspring of B.T. Rogers, their spouses, or others of distinction who were likely friends of the Rogers clan.

Plot

Faversham Tawse (aka Shannon Mansion). Screen capture.

The play opens with the Duke and Duchess of Faversham sitting down to breakfast. They are supposedly in London at Faversham Towers (‘Tawse’), but in fact they are dining at the Rogers’ Shannon mansion (at Granville and 57th Avenue). Most of the scenes, like this one, are set outdoors, presumably due to the low light indoors which would no doubt have resulted in poor film quality. The Duke opens the morning mail, to find a letter from his ‘bachelor brother’, Claud, in which he notifies the Duke of his recent marriage to Millicent. Claud describes the wedding as having been “more sudden than is perhaps proper for a man in my position”, thereby hinting broadly that their wedding had something of the shotgun about it.

“What can be done?” the Duke and Duchess ask themselves. To which the Duchess points out that “not all the Favershams died in their beds,” thus hinting at fratricide as a solution.

The recently married Claud and Millicent pay a visit to Faversham Tawse. The Duke and Duchess invite Claud and Millicent to join them on a trip to the Swiss Alps, to which they reply with Bertie Wooster-like enthusiasm: “How perfectly ripping!”

The two couples climb Swiss Alps. Screen capture.

The scene shifts to the mountains of Switzerland, one of which the two couples are climbing. (I suspect that the location at which this was shot was one of the local Vancouver mountains).

The title card reads: “Ambitious wife inspires fratricide.” The Duchess produces a knife for the Duke to stab Claud to death. But the Duke, to his credit, proclaims “I can’t!” However, fate steps in and the rope which was holding all of them together on the mountain breaks — just above Claud’s position at the end of it. Claud went tumbling down the mountain to his death. Millicent is inconsolable in her loss.

It’s at this point in the play that I think the plot begins to unravel.

The ciggie-to-ciggie snogging scene. Screen capture.

Two characters who have not hitherto been introduced, a Captain Tucker, and a lady wearing crown-like head gear, spend a nuit d’amour, prior to Tucker leaving for Africa for an unspecified reason. (This is the only scene filmed indoors and is notable for ciggie-to-ciggie snogging!). Tucker sails for Africa aboard a North Vancouver ferry, the next day! A real puzzler was a brief scene of a baby pram being pushed by a nun. In the pram is an adult male!

Bear scene. Screen capture.

The scene changes to Africa, where a man is being mauled by a North American black bear! Whether the bear is a real (presumably, tame) bear or a person in a bear suit, isn’t clear. The bear’s hoped-for luncheon escapes from it by jumping into a pool.

Scene change, still in Africa, but now in the jungle. Here, the guy who had the lucky escape from the bear happens upon a native girl to whom he is abusive (he kicks her repeatedly).

GWHs with dead birds. Screen capture.

Scene change, apparently still in Africa, but in a sort of plain (likely filmed somewhere in Stanley Park) where two gents are out with long guns to shoot birds. They successfully bring down a bird apiece. The great white hunters stumble across a n’er-do-well who is striking a young white girl. The GWHs cannot allow this and so intervene, rescuing said girl from the clutches of the n’er-do-well.

We seem now to be back in London, apparently at the home of the Favershams. Judging by appearances, the Duke and Duchess have aged considerably. It’s possible that one of the GWHs is their son.

The girl rescued from the African plains is in this scene. She is introduced to a matriarch (perhaps the mother of GWH?) and curtsies multiple times. The girl next appears in a maid’s uniform, presumably in the employ of GWH’s mother. GWH gets into hot water (with his mother?) on a couple of occasions for snogging with the now-maid.

Scene change to what appears to be a drug den. What the point is of this scene is utterly beyond me.

The many kids of about the same age. Screen capture.

The play ends with a wedding . . . apparently of GWH to the maid. A title card claims that the union was a very fruitful one and then shows a few frames of about 12 children — all of whom seem to be of about the same age. Fruitful, indeed!

Conclusions

It would be unfair of me to be hyper-critical of this wee movie/play, since, to the best of my knowledge, it was never intended to be anything serious. Given that, I’d make one principal critique of “Bastard Love”. It would have helped viewers to hang onto the plot thread if there had been more title cards throughout. After we moved out of Switzerland, there were very few titles in the film. Having more title cards would have gone a long way toward helping the viewer follow what was going on.

The big and probably unintentional mystery of this film is “who is the bastard love child” and whose child is he/she? If, upon watching “Bastard Love”, you think you know the answer, please comment!

I should note that in January 1979, “Bastard Love” and another film produced by a prominent lower mainland family, “Done by the Son,” were shown at Centennial Theatre (North Vancouver).

I was all prepared to dislike this film; but I found the acting (for an amateur production) to be pretty good, and the “production values”, as they would be called today, weren’t bad at all. In fact, aside from the fact that the plot seemed to meander aimlessly part way through, it was an entertaining way to spend 45 minutes!

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