For those accustomed to the miniature pleasures of Asquith's later work A COTTAGE ON DARTMOOR (his last silent film, though a dialogue sequence was added during production) is a major revelation. It displays the director’s lively and sensitive imagination working at fullstretch before he succumbed to the visual and moral blandness of ‘quality’ cinema: theme and style are equally provocative – indeed, the movie’s intensity and bravura seem positively un-English. Perhaps the Swedish link-up inproduction explains some of this (the Swedish version is titled FANGEN 53):certainly audiences accustomed to the dramas of Sjöström would have relished the characters’ turbulent emotions and the striking use made of natural landscapes. [...]
At the time of their original releases. Asquith's movies were frequently criticised for being superficial and synthetic in style: Asquith himself was well aware of the deliberateness with which he planned his effects (“I am fond of sky shots and also of staircase scenes … I like shots of reflections in mirrors, too”, he wrote in 1931). Yet the stylistic tricks work perfectly well in context. Suitably for a tale which deals in passions screwed to the pitch of hysteria, the lighting time and again reflects expressionist practice: the scenes inside the cottage are played inhalf-darkness and shadows play about the characters, whenever they move. The image of prison bars constantly recurs — in the bars of the baby’s cot (behind which Joe crouches, an outcast from domestic bliss), in the shadows on the floor as Joe lies dying. Asquith also employs rapid-fire editing: objects and people in the boarding-house, barbershop and cinema are jostled around at a frenzied rate. More spectacularly, Joe’s tortured state of mind is conjured up by subjective montages: footage of sporting events is intercut with shots of him barbering, resulting in a surreal dislocation worthy of Bruce Connor’s A MOVIE. Other moments are more facile, yet still prove effective in puncturing the mundane setting and furthering the nightmare mood: the profile of a hen is juxtaposed (Eisenstein fashion) with the profile of a hen-like customer; in the seconds before Joe threatens with the razor, there are a few frames of a cannon firing and a rope snapping. Elsewhere, Asquith impresses with the sheer fluidity of his editing: we cut from scene to scene (with many jumps in time and place) unaided by titles. Interestingly, Swedish audiences never had a chance to sample the full range of Asquith’s effects: prints of FANGEN 53 apparently have a “straightened out”, chronological narrative, plus a few additional scenes, including establishing shots of London (though action takesplace in darkest Devonshire) and footage from a Harold Lloyd movie, supposedly shown at the Elite Cinema.
Geoff Brown in The Monthly Film Bulletin, No. 43, January 1976, p. 14
FÅNGEN N:R 53 (literally, “Convict No. 53”) –the Swedish version of Anthony Asquith’s A COTTAGE ON DARTMOOR – differs significantly in many respects from the British version. First of all, the events in the film are depicted in strict chronological order, unlike the British version, where the main character Joe is seen escaping from prison in the opening scene and the previous events are told in flashback.
The Swedish version of the film opens with newsreel-like footage of London, to inform the Swedish audience where the film was set (although the actual locale in the British version is never named).[...] The Swedish chronological narrative structure also calls for explanatory titles and images – not necessary in the British version – when the action isthen transposed to Dartmoor (the Swedish intertitles talk about the DartmoorHighlands, to confuse things even more). The escape from prison also includes images that are non-existent in the British version.
The film’s most famous scene is probably that in the movie theatre, which again differs significantly in the Swedish version. This scene is approximately 5 minutes long in FÅNGEN N:R 53, which is just half the duration of the scene in the British version, but on numerous occasions we get to see what the audience in the theatre sees on screen, images from the Harold Lloyd film HOT WATER (1924). In FÅNGEN N:R 53, since no talkie is included in the theatre’s programme, there are thus no images of the musicianspulling out a deck of cards, smoking, drinking, and eating sandwiches. (The exclusion of the talkie in the Swedish version may have something to do with the fact that, unlike in Britain, FÅNGEN N:R 53 was only released as a silent film.) The movie-theatre scene also has a completely different ending in the Swedish version: Joe picks a fight with Harry inside the theatre, and is actually thrown into the street. In the British version everyone simply leaves the theatre when the screening is over.
Other differences concern the intertitles, which in FÅNGEN N:R 53 are not simply translated into Swedish from the original English. [...] The montage leading up to the bloodshed in the Swedish version is also different; it is less rapid and is composed of different images.
FÅNGEN N:R 53 is thus not just a Swedish-language version of A COTTAGE ON DARTMOOR; the differences in chronology, imagery, intertitles, and editing make it a question of two different versions altogether. [...]
Jon Wengström, LeGiornate del cinema muto / Pordenone Silent Film Festival catalogue, 2013, p.44