Trent’s Last Case, Half Sheet

Trent’s Last Case

E.C. Bentley’s novel, Trent’s Last Case, was written on a dare in 1913. The British humorist and originator of the clerihew* decided to satirize current detective conventions. The end result is what is universally considered the first modern detective novel.  Hollywood and the UK film makers fell in love with it and seemed determined to remake the thing until they got it right. So far there have been 3 film adaptations of this quirky drawing room mystery/detective novel.  This poster features version number three, shot in 1952. Orson Welles makes an appearance as a dead man in this one and sports some real creepy make-up. But, the Howard Hawks version, shot in 1929 has a really funny back story.

Howard Hawks Shoots a Crappy Movie

In the late 1920’s Howard Hawks was breaking out. He had proved himself adept at handling silent films and was eager to take on the new medium — talkies.  Hawks leaped at the chance to film Trent’s Last Case film it as a talkie, it had been done as a silent earlier without much success. He dove in to production. . . UH -OOHH. Someone at Fox only negotiated silent rights to the book, not sound. That means more money. Darn!

Hawks had to re-shoot the film as a silent. He later claimed he decided to have some “fun with it”. The finished result was panned. No one came to see it**. And it was never released in the US. The film ultimately led to him getting canned by Fox, but in the long run no harm done. The film vanishes into cold storage. One of the greatest directors in the world went on to film such classics as Scarface, Bringing Up Baby, Ball of Fire, The Big Sleep and Rio Bravo.

Forty years later, the “lost” film turns up in literal cold storage in Alaska along with a bunch of other old Fox films. In 1974, The Pacific Film Archive decided to include it in their special Howard Hawks retrospective. Imagine the excitement, a special viewing of an early lost Howard Hawks film never seen on US soil. Cinephiles were quaking with delight. Hawks was quaking in horror. He called up the director, “You really aren’t going to play this are you?” Yes, they were.

Hawks sat in the audience. He couldn’t take it anymore. It was so bad! He walked up to the projection room and demanded that the projectionist destroy the film. But the great director’s demand could not be granted. Howard Hawks worst film would be preserved for posterity.

*Clerihew: A 4-line comedic biographical poem.Example:

There was a director named Hawks

His goal: a detective movie that talks

The result was a mess, that caused much distress

A teeny tiny blemish on a life of success!


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