Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Palace Theatre announces 2009-10 silent film series

Six early cinematic crowd-pleasers to be screened with live music in Manchester, N.H.

An epic John Ford western, a rare comedy starring W.C. Fields, a double-bill of horror films starring Lon Chaney, and a scandalous family drama are all part of "Silent Film Rediscoveries," a series of silent film screenings with live music scheduled for the 2009-10 season at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, N.H.

The series kicks off on Monday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. with John Ford's 'The Iron Horse,' a sprawling drama about the race to build the transcontinental railroad in the Old West. The film, starring George O'Brien and Madge Bellamy and a supporting cast of hundreds, set the standard for generations of Hollywood westerns and historical adventure flicks to come.

The program includes short comedies prior to the feature picture, and will feature live music to accompany the films. Tickets are $8 per person, general admission, with any proceeds to benefit the Palace Theatre.

All movies included in the "Silent Film Rediscoveries" series were major successes when first seen by audiences in the 1920s, but are rarely screened today. They were never designed to be shown on television; to revive them, organizers aim to show the films at the Palace as they were meant to be seen— in good prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with a live audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Jeff Rapsis of Bedford, N.H., who composes and performs original music for all the screenings. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life in ways that can still move audiences today. They all featured great stories with compelling characters and universal appeal, so it's no surprise that they hold up and can still speak to us."

It's the second year in a row that the Palace has offered a schedule of silent films. The new program follows the success of the inaugural season, which included seven films and attracted audience members from as far away as Boston.

"We often get comments from people who had no idea that these films can still retain such power, and be so entertaining," Rapsis said. "It's really a different experience than going to a modern movie."

Most screenings in the "Silent Film Rediscoveries" series take place on Mondays at 7 p.m. at the Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester, N.H. Admission is $8 per person, general admission seating. Tickets available at the door or in advance by calling the Palace Theatre box office, (603) 668-5588 or on line at

Here's a list of films in the Palace Theatre's "Silent Film Rediscoveries" series.

• Monday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m.: 'The Iron Horse' (1924) Director John Ford's epic Western about the building of the transcontinental railroad remains as one of the great Hollywood blockbusters of all time. Filmed with the actual locomotives used in building the railroad in the 1860s; filmed entirely on location among tremendous scenery.

• Sunday, Oct. 18 at noon: W.C. Fields in 'Running Wild' (1927). A younger, more active Fields stars as cowardly Elmer Finch, a man browbeaten by his wife, daughter, fat son and even the family dog. Hypnosis changes him into domineering dynamo, which then leads to some unforeseen and uproarious consequences. A rarely screened film that will surprise fans of the well-known Fields talkies.

• Monday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m.: Lon Chaney double feature, 'He Who Gets Slapped' (1924) and 'The Unknown' (1927). Join Lon Chaney, the "man of 1,000 faces," in two of the most disturbing mainstream films made in silent era. In 'He Who Gets Slapped,' Chaney plays an inventor who, suffering betrayal in life, makes a career of it by becoming a clown whose act consists of getting slapped. In 'The Unknown,' he's 'Alonzo the Armless' star of a circus freak show who harbors deadly secrets about his past.

• Monday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m.: Buster Keaton in 'Our Hospitality' (1923) plus Keaton short comedies. Buster, heir to an 1830s fortune, must travel to his family's mountain home to collect, but instead finds himself at the center of a clan feud that's been going on for generations. A beautifully photography period film climaxed by incredible waterfall rescue scene.

• Monday, March 8 at 7 p.m.: 'Greed' (1924), the 140-minute restored version of director Erich von Stroheim's drama about a dentist whose wife wins a lottery ticket, only to become obsessed with money. When her former lover betrays the dentist as a fraud, all of their lives are destroyed. Legendary film that was originally 10 hours long, prompting massive studio battle over control and final cut.

• Monday, April 5, 7 p.m.: 'The Sea Hawk' (1924) Follow the swashbuckling adventures of Oliver Tressilian, who goes from English gentry to galley slave to captain of a pirate ship, all the while trying to regain his lady love. Spectacular battle scenes that were so good, they were reused in a 1940 remake starring Errol Flynn.