Film: 5854

Feature Drama | 1920 | Silent | B/W

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Synopsis:

Words of poem, "In Flanders Fields" over picture of crosses and battlefield. Caption tells us that many men in South Africa call themselves "Brown". Man sits at table covered in rubbish and bottles. He laughs. He takes up his glass and drinks. He looks tired and drunk. He stands up: "Parade! 'Shun". He bows to the bottles and talks to himself. He is hot in his open necked shirt and mops his neck. He looks at a still photograph of soldiers in bearskins at attention. Before his eyes they change to a row of bottles of whisky and back again. He looks up looking haggard. He turns page of the photo album again and looks at a picture of himself in ceremonial dress. Angrily he stands up and throws album at bottles. He runs to pick up the album again and looks at it.
The same man in a suit reading a letter. Flashback? Close up of letter which indicated he will be cashiered (thrown out of the army). Older man paces up and down in large room. Wife enters and runs to him. In close up they embrace. He unhappily shakes his head. She sinks her head onto his chest unhappily. They separate and she stands with bowed head. Husband paces up and down. Panelled doors open and their son (the drunkard) enters. Mother rushes to son, but father talks and scrunches up a piece of paper which he throws to the floor. His son has disgraced himself? His father is displeased. Portraits of son and father in dress uniform. The father points to the door, he banishes his son. Son turns on his heels and leaves. Mother and father go to door. Father comforts the mother. Son with the letter which he scrunches up as he clenches his fist.
Back in present day South Africa, man holds his brow.
Another middle aged couple sit on sofa, he is smoking, she is reading newspaper. Article says their son will return home shortly from a hunting trip. Husband points at article. Their niece, Beryl enters room. She laughs and wears horse riding clothes. She sits on the end of the settee. She leaves room.
The drunkard 'Brown' walks towards a bottle. A huge tarantula like spider is on it. He knocks the bottle to the ground and stamps on something (the spider). He is smoking. Beryl rides horse. He reaches for matches to light cigarette. Beryl leads horse up to his hut. He lights cigarette. He walks onto verandah and bows politely. They talk and banter with one another. He leans on a post. She points at him with her horse crop. She makes him ask her in. He flings his cigarette away and follows her inside. She checks the netted door. She nods knowingly at the bottle on the table. She tells man to leave as she is about to clean room. She becomes very domesticated. He leaves. She sees his photograph in the photo album. Realization hits her - he has come down in the world because of drink. She knocks the bottle off the table with her crop and rolls up her sleeves. She reaches for a broom and starts sweeping. Brown shaves in the mirror. Beryl stands on a chair to sweep the table top. Beryl is disgusted to find a rat caught in a trap, which she holds high in the air. She holds her nose as she talks to Brown, because of the smell of the rat. Brown laughs, then looks around in a worried manner. She is shy and fiddles with the buttons on her jacket. He points and her face is dirty. She pulls a handkerchief and mirror out of her jacket. Close up of Brown. She folds the handkerchief. He asks for his drink. She points to a group of bottles on the floor. He wrestles with his conscience and she anxiously hopes he will stop drinking. He turns the pages of the photo album over, but she stops him. He is ashamed and turns his back on Beryl. Beryl offers to help Brown give up being an alcolholic. They each indicate themselves by pointing at their own chests. Brown looks out of the window and rests his head on his hand, his arm on the window frame. Brown says giving up drink will be difficult, but she laughs and taps him on the shoulder with the crop. They shake hands and she leaves.
Vignette of hand reaching for bottle of whisky, then as picture becomes full, Brown's hand withdraws from bottle and Beryl comforts Brown's hands. She encourages him. Brown and Beryl sit on verandah, she resting her hand on his shoulder. He takes her hands and kisses them in her lap. He tells Beryl he loves her, close up of her face looking concerned. His image changes from the new, fresh Brown, to the old haggard Brown, and back again. She takes his hand and he kisses hers. He puts a ring on her wedding finger and asks her to wear it as a token of her faith in him.
Brown opens a suitcase. It is dusty. He covers up a stain on a white shirt with white chalk (?). He checks himself in a small mirror as he puts on a dinner jacket. He straightens it.
At the neighbours house, (the Merricks) Merrick suggests a drink to his wife and niece. Close up of Beryl. Merrick pours glass and hands it to Beryl who passes it to her aunt. She accepts the next glass. When Brown enters the husband and wife hastily hide their glasses. Brown shakes her hand. He takes the hand of Beryl and spies Merrick hiding his glass. He smiles. Beryl pours Brown a glass from the decanter. Brown nods and sniffs it. His eyes open wide then close. He takes a sip successfully. She taps her glass with hers and takes both their glasses away as Merrick downs his glass. Merrick pats his mouth with his handkerchief, and looks a bit sheepish. Black servant calls the people to dinner. Brown holds the door open. The men hold the chairs for the women in the dining room, before sitting themselves. Beryl smiles. Brown sees the neatly laid table in front of him dissolve into an image from his hut of a messy table. It dissolves back again. Brown shakes himself alert, and opens his napkin. Beryl smiles. Black female servant brings food in.
At the hut Brown puts a couple of whisky bottles on the table, takes aim with a rifle and shoots them.
Beryl and her aunt are at home. Aunt is sewing, Beryl reading. Aunt tells Beryl not to marry Brown, he will never make good. Aunt gets up and kisses Beryl on the head. She leaves through a curtain. Beryl looks concerned. Aunt is arranging flowers in a vase when her husband introduces young man Bob Standish who laughs. Bob and Mrs Merrick shake hands. She sits on sofa, he on the arm. Beryl puts a book down, primps her hair and leaves via the curtained partition. Bob is telling a story and pointing when Beryl enters. Bob and Beryl are introduced. They shake hands and stand facing each other. She coyly lowers her eyes. "A growing friendship sometimes brings forgetfulness".
On another occasion when Bob is wearing a dinner suit and smoking, Bob and Beryl sit side by side. Both smile and he talks. Both laugh. She catches some material on her ring. As he tries to free her, she remembers and thinks deeply. He becomes aware she is distracted. Merrick brings a tray of drinks. Bob smells one of the glasses. The image dissolves to Beryl's memory of the time Brown had smelled the drink, and it dissolves back again. Bob gives Beryl a drink. Beryl sits quietly as the other three stand and drink. As the Merrick's leave, Bob sits down next to Beryl. He draws out his wallet and shows Beryl photos.
At night Brown sits outdoors near a fire. Two other men are nearby. Brown calls one over, and he comes running. Brown writes a note. He takes a pipe out of his mouth and looks happy.
Meanwhile Beryl is looking at Bob's photos, of big game he has shot. Close up of Beryl's hands, pulling petals off a white rose (He loves me, he loves me not). Bob and black servant enter room. Beryl drops the rose, Bob picks it up and places it in his wallet. Beryl looks unhappy. Bob and Mrs. Merrick talk and Beryl rushes out of the room distressed. Merrick and Beryl enter. Bob shakes hands with Mrs. Merrick and then Beryl. Mr and Mrs Merrick and Bob walk past window. Beryl looks out through open window. Black servant enters and gives letter to Beryl. The letter from Brown says he will be back soon. Beryl looks shocked.
Brown returns to shed looking very happy, and holding rifle over his shoulder. He slings his hat to a hook on the wall, puts down his gun and stretches. He beats his chest and clenches his fist triumphantly. He claps his hands.
Beryl and her reflection in the mirror. She looks scared as the image of Bob appears in the mirror and disappears again. She lowers her head. Aunt enters and pushes Beryl down by the shoulders onto the stool by her dressing table. They talk about how Beryl does not love Brown, but that she must marry him to keep him on the straight and narrow. Brown approaches outside of house and overhears the conversation. Brown is distressed. He falls against the house, he bites his fist. Aunt says she wishes he would have another outburst and prove to Beryl that he is a hopeless case. Brown nods slightly and walks away. Aunt leaves room.
Distraught Brown back at the hut. He still wears dinner suit. Bottle appears next to him.
At the Merrick's, Merrick enters dining room and says that as it is so late they should start dinner. He looks at his wristwatch. Merrick closes curtains as ladies sit down. Mrs Merrick undoes her napkin.
At the shed, Brown is highlighted with very good shadows behind him. He clutches at his head and hair. He spies the six bottles on the floor and takes one. He uses a corkscrew to take cork out of wine bottle. He stands still for a while thinking. He smells the bottle then empties it into the sink. He takes a teapot out of the sink and places it on the kitchen table.
At the Merrick's, Brown appears as a ghostly apparition opposite Beryl as she is eating. He disappears. The Merricks do not see Brown. Beryl stands up and walks away from the table. Aunt and uncle try to persuade Beryl not to go to Brown. Merrick pats Beryl on upper arm. Brown has lined up five (presumably empty) bottles on the table. He is opening the sixth and final bottle. Brown opens bottle, pours most of it down sink and pours a little into a glass. He puts the glass and bottle down, and sits down. He leaves Beryl and her uncle outside. Uncle holds Beryl by the shoulders. Brown starts to play drunk and shouts 'Parade! 'Shun!". Merrick and Beryl look shocked. She enters hut and Brown appears drunk, he waves hands and smiles. Beryl reprimands Brown and he giggles. He tells Beryl that one bottle is the commanding officer of the other bottles. She writes a short note as Brown pretends to be drunk. She leaves the note on he table, receives a consoling tug from uncle Merrick and they leave. She leaves her ring on the card. Brown gets up and picks up the ring which he puts back on his finger. He picks up Beryl's card, "I am leaving for England, every man is entitled to a second chance". In total despair Brown clutches his head and collapses on the table.
"August 1914". Man rides up to the hut and gives Brown a newspaper. The headlines say "War". Brown reads paper and hands it back to man. Brown throws glass in his hand down. He sees image in the broken glass of a bugler. Brown thinks he can hear the 'Fall-In' sounding. Purposefully Brown walks indoors saying he will sail to England.
Poor models of ships at sea and railway trains.
People going up gangplank of ship. On lower bunk in ship, monkey sits on suitcase as man plays with it. Brown enters and is amused. Brown taps man on the shoulder and they talk good naturedly. Brown asks if monkey has fleas. Man says no and scratches himself. He shakes his head. Brown takes the card with Beryl's message on it from his pocket.
In another part of the ship, Bob is in a cabin. A huge man enters room. Bob who is smoking looks aghast at sharing room with fat man. Fat man sits down having introduced himself. He mops his head with handkerchief. Bob tests the mattress and smiles. He tosses a coin. Fat man gets stuck in chair. Bob points at lower bunk and indicates it for the fat man. They both laugh and fat man sits down. In bar on ship men sit at tables smoking. Brown's room mate pokes Bob's room mate in stomach.
Brown leans against wall and imagines gun in his hand which appears and disappears. Brown and Bob talk. Brown refuses a drink, but smokes. Bob takes a drink, he toasts with the two room mates. The four men all agree to join up together.
On the day of their enlistment. Brown walks along a pavement in Britain. He stops on seeing a large entrance porch. He takes Beryl's card from his pocket. A car pulls up outside porch. Beryl gets out and enters the house. Brown thinks about following. Inside house Beryl enters a room to find Bob waiting. She drops her parcels. They hold their hands out to each other. Bob picks them up and gives them back to her. She puts them on the table and turns her back. He wants to hold her and cannot pluck up the courage. He smiles and tells her he has enlisted. Brown walks by camera. Camera shot concentrates on his feet as he enters porch. Porch has tiled floor. Close up of his hand with outstretched finger reaching for the bell push. He lacks the courage to ring the bell. He reaches for the card again. Brown walks off. Bob fidgets with ring on his finger and then his wrist watch. They shake hands and Bob departs. Beryl takes an envelope off the mantelpiece, opens it and reads it. It is a letter from home saying Brown is drinking heavily again. Beryl rushes to the window. She sits down smiling, clutching her hand to her bosom and looking into the distance.
Close up of woman's and man's feet under a bar stool. Her feet are playing footsie with his feet. We see it is Brown's cabin mate and woman who looks coyly at him. He looks adoringly at her. They kiss and she pushes his face away. Wider shot of the couple in a cafe / bar sitting at a table.
Marching in time, civilian legs doing it badly, then soldiers legs being co-ordinated and doing it in time. Soldiers filmed from waist down walking along duck boards in trenches to camera and turning sharply to our right just in front of camera. World War One soldiers carry rifles. Soldiers at observation point which is sand bagged. They look through a gap in the sand bags through a telescope. No man's land, mud, broken wire fences, explosion. Troops sitting in shelter of line of sand bags outside dug outs, one called "Ozone Villa" in the street "Rotten Row" with a sign saying "Please keep off the Grass". Bob reads a letter (from Beryl). A beetle crawls in ear of soldier, then apparently down his back. Brown laughs. The soldier, Bill, feels his neck, he pulls out the beetle and pulls a strange face. He throws beetle away and laughs. He scratches. The soldiers get up, all except Brown. Post or mail is given out. Everyone seems to get a letter or package. Bill reads letter from his girlfriend Rose. He has a happy look, but the P.S. on the letter says she has knitted him a pair of socks, but that the wool had run out. One sock is much smaller than the other. The socks are white. Bill talks to Brown, and hands him the letter. He also shows him the socks. Brown smiles. Bill rolls socks up and Brown hands folded letter back to him. As men talk, Brown punches his knee. Bill (Shorty) points at Bob. Bob reads letter and takes his wallet out. In it is the white rose Beryl dropped.
Shorty nudges Brown.


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