04 February 2013

Ralph Lynn

British actor Ralph Lynn (1882 - 1962) was a tweedy, dark-haired comedian who made a stage career out of playing monocled silly ass twits. He was a veteran performer of London's highly popular Aldwych Repertory Theatre farces, and he and fellow members Tom Walls and Robertson Hare successfully took many of their stylized productions to the big screen in the 1930’s.

Ralph Lynn
British postcard, no. 174. Photo: Capitol Films.

Ralph Lynn
British postcard in Ralph Tuck & Sons' Real Photograph Postcard Series, London, no. 92-S. Photo: Gaumont-British.

Ralph Lynn
British postcard in Ralph Tuck & Sons' Real Photograph Postcard Series, London, no. 30-S. Photo: Gaumont-British.

Monocled Silly Ass
Ralph (pronounced as Rafe) Lynn was born in Manchester, England, in 1882. His elder brother, Gordon James (born Sydney Lynn), would also become an actor and appear in several films with him. Ralph began his acting career in Wigan in 1900 in King of Terrors. After years spent touring regional theatres and a spell in America he made his West End debut in 1915 at the Empire theatre in By Jingo. He joined the popular London Aldwych Theatre, which specialized between 1925 and 1933 in a series of light social comedies. Lynn always played the monocled silly ass. Most of these farces were produced by Tom Walls and Ralph Lynn and written by Ben Travers. They were always performed in the Aldwyn Theatre in London's the Strand, and became immensely popular. The three regular main players - Walls, Lynn and J. Robertson Hare – became popular stars. During the 1930’s they successfully took their very English productions to the cinema. The first of the Aldwych Theater farces to hit the screen was the frantically hilarious Rookery Nook/One Embarrassing Night (1930, Tom Walls). The title refers to a country house where Gerald Popkiss (Ralph Lynn) heads for a good long rest, but then the complications and the fun begin… Hall Erickson notes at AllMovie: “Best bits include the lifeboat drill presided over by the scatterbrained Poppy Dickey (Doreen Bendix) and such dialogue exchanges as ‘I'm a man of peace’/‘You'll be a man of pieces in a minute’. Filmed exactly like a photographed stage play, Rookery Nook is hardly an advance in the art of the cinema, but that doesn't stop it from being unbearably funny.” For the rest of the decade, nearly all of Travers' classic farces were filmed. Lynn appeared in such comedies as A Chance of the Night-Time (1931, Herbert Wilcox, Ralph Lynn) opposite Winifred Shotter. Hal Erickson: “It's Ralph Lynn's show all the way, and he makes the most of every comic opportunity. It would be nice to say that the film's production values were on the same level as the star's performance - nice, and untrue.” Lynn sometimes also co-wrote the scripts or co-directed. For instance, he co-wrote the script of Tons of Money (1931, Tom Walls), in which he played an eccentric inventor opposite Walls and Robertson Hare.

Ralph Lynn, Tom Walls
Ralph Lynn and Tom Walls. British postcard.

Ralph Lynn, Winifred Shotter
Ralph Lynn and Winifred Shotter. British postcard in the Film Partners Series by Real Photograph, London, no. 81. Photo: British & Dominions.

Ralph Lynn, Winifred Shotter
British postcard in the Film Partners Series by Real Photograph, London, no. 81. Photo: British & Dominions.

Producer Michael Balcon wooed Tom Walls away from rival Herbert Wilcox to sign a contract with Gaumont-British. The three Aldwych Theatre farceurs combined forces again in The Cuckoo in the Nest (1933, Tom Walls), and Fighting Stock (1935, Tom Walls). Janet Moat describes on BFI Screenonline how director Walls worked: “Walls was a major theatrical figure and insisted not only on directing the films himself but also on having the choice and approval of both story and cast. This led to disputes with Balcon for a number of reasons, not least the fact that Walls was a poor film director and didn't always cast the most able players in the lesser roles. There was little attempt to make the films much more than photographed stage plays, and their rhythm and momentum remain theatrical rather than cinematic. The photography is mainly composed of medium and long shots and the close-up is hardly used, certainly in Cuckoo in the Nest (1933), and where a close-up does occur it rarely has the right impact. The action is seen as it would be from a good seat in the theatre stalls. What the film does do is to record three farceurs at the height of their popularity and abilities - the playing is immaculate and still raises the laughs in all the right places, even when the direction is often clumsy and unhelpful.” Lynn appeared again with Walls and Robertson Hare in Foreign Affairs (1935, Tom Walls), which was set on the French Riviera where two upper-class but broke British scroungers (Walls and Lynn) cause havoc in the high society. Pot Luck (1936, Tom Walls) was about a retired Scotland Yard detective (Walls), who harbors a deep resentment for his pompous successor Reggie Bathbrick (Lynn), and returns to take one final case. Hal Erickson about the latter: “As usual, Ben Travers' dialogue is chock full of familiar catch phrases, cleaned-up expletives and hilariously atrocious puns.” Cast as Lynn's pretty daughter was Diana Churchill, in one of her first important screen roles. Lynn’s last film was For Valour (1937, Tom Walls) for Capitol Film. Ralph Lynn died in 1962, in London. He was married to actress Gladys Miles who originally appeared with him in the 1915 production of By Jingo. They had a son, film and TV director Robert Lynn, and a daughter. Film actress Ann Lynn is his granddaughter.

Ralph Lynn
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 674 A. Photo: Gaumont-British.

Ralph Lynn
British postcard by Real Photograph in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 674.

Ralph Lynn
British postcard in the Film Weekly Series, London, no. 112.

Ralph Lynn
British postcard by Real Photograph, London, no. 174. Photo: Capitol Films.

Sources: Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Janet Moat (BFI Screenonline), Britmovie.uk, Wikipedia, and IMDb.

1 comment:

Evelyn Yvonne Theriault said...

Hello Bob,
I'm so glad to let you know that A Festival of Postcards (7th Ed.) - Light, was published Sunday (CDN time!) and your entry opens up the Lights! Camera! Action! section.
You can find it here:
Thank you for participating, and I hope to be able to fit you into some future themes as well!
Evelyn in Montreal