A rarely seen gem from Czechoslovakian silent cinema, Battalion (1927) tells the story of a lawyer who becomes a champion of the Prague underclass. It was remade in 1937 as a sound film, but the 1920s version is considered superior: gritty and emotionally affecting.
A much loved novel and play in its day, Josef Hais Tynecky’sBattalion was based on the fortunes of a real-life reluctant hero who took on the legal system. Popular Czech singer Karel Hasler stars as the disillusioned lawyer who swaps his home for the ill-famed pub Battalion after finds his wife with a lover. Living among the poor and drop-outs of Prague he becomes their patron, and when one of them is shot during a police raid, he stands as a key witness in the trial. Raw and effective, director Premysl Prazsky imbues his 14th film with an intellectual and emotional depth exceptional for its time.
The film’s star Karel Hasler, was a very popular Czech musician, director and actor who appeared in several film. Tragically, he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1941 for “crimes” including singing patriotic songs, taken to a concentration camp, and tortured to death.
Battalion screens at the Barbican on 20 November 2011 at 4pm, with a live piano score from Jiří Hradil, a Czech rock musician who is also known for his silent film accompaniments. Tickets start at £7.50 and are available here, on the Barbican website.