A Couple of Down and Outs  is the second known film to be directed by Walter Summers, a man who went on to direct a further 36 pictures between 1923 and 1941. Anyone who thought Steven Spielberg’s War Horse was lacking a certain je ne sais quoi should definitely give this film a look as it presents the story of an ex-soldier and his war horse with a great deal more power and feeling than last year’s winter blockbuster.
Danny Creath [Rex Davies] is a First World War veteran struggling against, like many others, the high unemployment rate in the post-war years. When Danny recognises his war-time steed: Jack amongst a line-up destined for the knackers yard he steals the horse, enrages the local law enforcement and seeks shelter in Molly Roarke’s [Edna Best] back yard- she has a stable that proves a handy hide-out for the stolen stallion. Molly, having lost her brother to the war, inevitably takes pity upon Danny and invites the hero-turned-pauper in to her home where he relays his experience on the battlefield.
Out of all the many films watched at The British Silent Film Festival, A Couple of Down and Outs was undoubtedly the most reverent and moving. The opening sequence, set on Remembrance Day, includes very pointed close-up shots of a war monument engraved with the words ‘The Glorious Dead’, and the endless sea of now-familiar crosses that mark the graves of those lost in the war. Furthermore the film includes some hauntingly realistic depictions of the front line that are sensitively shot, given that this film was released when feelings about the war were still very raw the sensitive handling of its subject matter is a key element of this film’s success. In addition to addressing the difficulty of moving on after the war this film also touches on the economic climate of the time and the moral dilemma nations faced when dealing with animals “broken by the war” covering a lot of scope in its modest run time.
The intertitles for this piece are actually in Dutch but at the festival we were fortunate enough to have them translated into English. This really did add to the value of this film as the wording was truly poetic. A touching, gentle and unexpectedly uplifting tale, A Couple of Down and Outs should be lauded for its subtle commemoration of one of Europe’s most horrific historical eras and for its triumph as an engrossing character-driven narrative.