by Grahame L. Newnham B.Sc.
In 1926 the Pathé company in France launched a new 17.5mm size, presumably as a competitor to 16mm, as their smaller 9.5mm gauge had already begun to sell rather well. The new Pathé 17.5mm gauge, launched as the "Rural" in France, used safety stock with a picture size of * 9mm x 12mm, and was shown at the Société Français de Photographie on 10 February 1926. Printed films were produced by printing in pairs on specially perforated 35mm safety stock by reduction from 35mm originals. It seems in France the size was intended for use in the smaller country district (hence 'Rural') cinemas on the Pathé circuit. Marketing in France began in earnest in 1927, but problems with equipment and film production, together with obtaining film distribution rights slowed business. However by 1932 Pathé were claiming that over 2000 French cinemas were equiped with 17.5mm.
The 17.5mm silent gauge seems to have been first mentioned in the UK in the April 1932 Pathéscope Monthly, when the French made silent projector and camera were advertised using the name of "Rex".
* according to a recent French book; (my 17.5mm Rex motocamera has a gate size of approx. 9.4mm x 12.8mm) but in the Pathéscope Monthly June/July 1932 it is quoted (incorrectly!) as 11mm x 15mm - 165sq mm!)
Although as far as we know it was really only Pathescope that supplied 17.5mm equipment in the UK, in Europe a number of other companies offered 17.5mm machines. Sadly I have little information at present but certainly Cine Nizo in the late 1920's produced a range of multi-gauge projectors including one that would run 17.5mm film. I have handled one of these, but the price asked was far too high!!
Another 17.5mm projector that has come to light is the French made Cinebloc Radius. It seems this company manufactured these machines in 17.5mm silent, a 22m model was also produced. Sadly the one in the photo has been converted to 16mm (as much 17.5mm equipment ended its days). I guess it dates from the early 1930's. A rather interesting design, in that the spools are mounted either side of the lamphouse / gate assembly rather than in line with it (either above & below or front & back). Looks like the capacity was around the 400ft mark.
Cinebloc Radius 17.5mm silent projector
17.5MM SOUND -
Pathé were not the only company to supply 17.5mm sound projectors in France where the gauge was used professionally in many cinemas in the French countryside ('Rural' as Pathé called these smaller venues).
A French cine friend took me in his garage a few years back and showed me a quite large 17.5mm talkie projector (he had it on a little trolley!), sadly I forget the name but I think it began with "C'. The top spool arm had been broken off, but even with that missing (it fitted at the top of the machine) the thing was still perhaps four foot high so I didn't bring it back to the UK (now I wish I had).
Maybe there were other machines - meantime if anyone has details of other non-Pathé 17.5mm equipment - please let me know, with a photo if possible so as to add to this rather sparse page!
17.5MM FILM STANDARDS
For 17.5mm sound the film image had been reduced slightly from the silent format and one row of perforations removed (like 16mm) to allow for the optical sound track. Here we begin to find variations in the claimed 'standards'. The sound picture gate aperture on my "Home Talkie" is approx. 8.5mm x 10.1mm. Pathéscope claimed the picture size was half 35mm (about right - 17.5mm is half the pitch of 35mm) and the sound track was the same as 35mm. This was a bit of an exageration and track widths seem to vary a little. In addition the specification for picture to sound separation on 17.5mm sound prints seems to differ between France and the UK! On my UK assembled Home Talkie it appears to be about 26 frames, whilst on a French made 17.5mm Super Rural it appears to be around 19 frames. However it is marked on the leader of my UK 17.5mm print of "Sing As We Go" as 19 frames, and a French feature reel leader shows it clearly marked as 24 frames - exactly opposite! However in practice my UK and French 17.5mm optical sound prints seem to appear in reasonable sync. at around 24/26 frames!
THE END OF PATHÉ 17.5MM
In the UK the last mention of 17.5mm equipment was in the 1938 Pathéscope catalogue and April/May 1938 Pathéscope Monthly magazine. Soon after in the August/September 1938 Pathéscope Monthly the "Super Talkie" projector was re-advertised as a 16mm machine.
17.5mm library films were still anounced in the magazine but evidently just 17.5mm prints of 9.5mm sound releases. The last library release "The Green Pack" was announced in April 1939. No further mention of 17.5mm was made by Pathéscope - soon after their 17.5mm film library was sold off to Illustra Enterprises of Wardour Street. It is said that after the war Pathéscope offered conversions of the 17.5mm "Home Talkie" to 16mm.
In France, Pathé continued running their 17.5mm equiped "Rural" cinemas until 1940 when the German Nazi's invaded France. Finding 17.5mm non-standard (at least to the Germans) the occupying authorities decided to ban the film size. Pathé were allowed to circulate their existing 17.5mm sound film programmes, then all film prints were ordered to be destroyed and most of the projectors were scrapped or converted to 16mm. According to French friends some equipment and films were hidden away, usually buried in gardens, but whether all this contraband was actually dug-up safely after the war remains a mystery! Certainly limited 17.5mm equipment and films do still turn up in France.
Order banning the 17.5mm film size in France on 30 June 1941
("All films in this format found in cinemas are to be returned to the distributors. It is forbidden for distributors to deliver films in this format. ........... to convert the 17.5mm cinemas to 16mm, the only authorised format, as quickly as possible.")
SOME REFERENCE SOURCES
Monthlies: April 1932; June/July 1932; Aug/Sept 1932; June/July
1934; March 1935; April/May 1938 (once 17.5mm sound was launched,
most issues carried new film titles added to the 17.5mm library)
"Home Movies & Home Talkies" April 1934
"Pathé Premier Empire du Cinema" a superb 'coffee table' book, published in Paris by Centre Georges Pompidou (in 1994 for the Pathé centenary exhibition) - pages 216/217 written by Jean-Claude Eyraud
"The Home Cinema - Classic Home Movie Projectors 1922-1940" - Gerald McKee - pages 67-70.
"Flickers" - number 88, Dec 1991 - Article "Ever Heard of a GBL517.5?" - John Cunningham
"The Amateur Cinema" 1977 - Val Randall - pages 14-15.
information, corrections etc. to:- Grahame Newnham at
presto @ pathefilm.freeserve.co.uk (no gaps in actual e-mail address)
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Last updated: 02 September 2016 ........................... 175equipother.htm ................... ©MMV1 Grahame Newnham