When you write a history you need to make sure you are not simply repeating facts without establishing the truth of them. This involves lots of enjoyable detective work hunting down primary sources. One established “fact” was that Pola Negri, a very famous, silent film star, had featured in a film called The Woman He Scorned and that it had been filmed in Mevagissey. Got to admit, I thought this was very exciting as we would have moving images of Meva from the 1920s not just frozen images caught in postcards, so I started to try and track down a copy.
First problem was the name, back in the day films were often distributed under several different names depending on the country. This one was also known as:
The Way of Lost Souls
The Street of Abandoned Children
Rue des âmes perdues
Die Straße der verlorenen Seelen
Kadunud hingede tänav
Son dernier tango
Az elveszett lelkek utcája
Ulica potepionych dusz
Which made tracking it down a chore in the search engines.
The next problem was that apart from a newspaper article in the 2000s, I couldn’t find any evidence that it had actually been filmed in Mevagissey. The first reference to Mevagissey being given as the location, was in an article in The Independent in 2005
“This year’s festival looks at Britain’s cinematic relationship with continental Europe. “The films give a rare insight into the European film industry and alliances before the domination of Hollywood,” says Porter. Features will include the melodrama The Woman He Scorned (1928), in which the European actress-turned-Hollywood star Pola Negri plays a prostitute in a love triangle with a boyfriend and a lighthouse keeper. “It’s a masterpiece, which, despite being set in France, was filmed at Mevagissey!” says Porter.”1.
All articles since then name Mevagissey as the filming location and then Wiki said it was so, and it became some sort of established fact.
Well that was all well and good but I still wanted to see a copy and it seemed that it had been lost to the mists of time.
Suddenly after a year of searching I found a distributor that had re-released it without any fanfare, in a back catalogue over in Arizona. I sent off my money and eagerly awaited the film. Well, it was fabulous, lots of over the top dramatic acting, hands to foreheads, furrowed brows, clasped bosoms and placards describing the action. It was great fun but nothing looked like any angle of Mevagissey that I had ever seen. There were a few distinctive shots so I decided to go from there. The first shot was very clearly Godrevy Lighthouse. Not a promising start. But with the help of Google and Google Street view (what an incredible tool that is) I began to track down various locations; Mullion, Helford, St Ives and Penzance. Oh dear. Not promising.
Next stop to the local newspapers. Sure enough in 1929 Pola Negri had been in Cornwall staying in The Queen’s Hotel in Penzance. Both the Cornishman and the Western Morning News reported that she was filming in the area for her new film. She even put on a free show for the residents of Mullion.
So, not Mevagissey at all. I think what had happened was that Laraine Porter, when speaking to The Independent, had become confused with the filming of Johnny Frenchmen. A film that was supposed to be set in both a French harbour and a Cornish one. In fact both harbours were Mevagissey.
And there we are, fact checked. Not true. Which is a shame but there are some other great films filmed in the village including Next of Kin, 1942, Johnny Frenchman, 1945, Never let Me Go, 1953 & Bad Education, 2015.
p.s. I have amended the Wiki page. 😀