TONIGHT'S PROGRAM: "POLISHING UP" (John Barry)
"HISTORY BROUGH TO LIFE" (one reel of spectacle)
"THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA" (a 30 minute condensation)
"A SHIP COMES IN" - First New York screening in many
years of a notable film by
William K. Howard
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We'd like to explain why we deviated from our announced program for this evening -
a double-bill consisting of "CAIN AND ARTEM" and "A SHIP COMES IN".
We had been anxious to play these two films together since both are from the same
year (1928), and both are forgotten works of great directors. However, when we
had our first trial run of the program, we realised what an impractical show it
was. For one thing, it gave us a total of 15 reels -- and at silent speed, plus
an intermission, that would have meant a program of some four hours' duration.
More importantly, both films are on the heavy side. Playing them together would be
a disservice not only to you, but to the films themselves. Certainly after one,
the spectator cannot be in too responsive a mood to the other, The films are too
good to be subjected to that handicap, and thus it seemed wiser to break them up
into two separate programs.
Thus "CAIN AND ARTEM" is being shown as an extra program in October, and will in
no way affect our regular October showing on the 18th. Be sure to note that
"CAIN AND ARTEM" is being screened on a Wednesday;program notes will be
circulated well in advance, in the usual way.
Finally, in response to requests and suggestions from many of our members, we
are switching our starting time - for the Fall and Winter at least - to 7.30 p.m.
This is effective as of our coming show on the 20th.
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"POLISHING UP" Vitagraph, 1914. Directed by George D. Baker, written by James
Oliver Curwood. 14 minutes.
John, the husband (JOHN BUNNY); Flora, his wife (FLORA FINCH);
De Reynolds (William Humphrey); Maude Elaine (Phyllis Gray);
Belle St. Claire (Emily Hayes); Bellboy (Paul Kelly)
The Vitagraph comedies of John Bunny are much rarer today than the Sennetts of
the same periods and this print - in first-class condition incidentally - is a
real find. The film is a charming little comedy of marital misunderstandings -
something like the two-reelers that Leon Errol turned out en masse at Rko Radio,
but without their suggestive nastiness. Bunny himself is at his lovable best, and
the whole film has a pleasing, friendly air to it all. Interestingly enough, it
was written by that old reliable of western adventures, James Oliver Curwoof --
and (recognisably) in a small juvenile part is the still-active Paul Kelly.
"HISTORY BROUGHT TO LIFE" (Paramount, 1948) 10 minutes.
We don't need to be too concerned with the "message" of this film, which purports
to show, via an unbelievably benevolent Cecil B. DeMille, how realism and accuracy
(!) are the keynotes of the movies' attempts to recreate history. What footage
from "Sitting Pretty" is doing in such a subject is a mute point, but the film
does offer wonderfully spectacular highlights from such films as "The Ten
Commandments", "The Last Days of Pompeii", "Mutiny on the Bounty", "Wells Fargo",
"Wilson", "The Great Waltz", "Abe Lincoln in Illinois", "Conquest", "Cleopatra",
"The Crusades", "Edison the Man" and several others. Strange how Hollywood
used this film, and others like it, to prove that "Movies Are Better Than
Ever" - and then filled them with old footage which seemed to belie their
point! Incidentally, DeMille somewhat churlishly overlooks Griffith in
favor of plugging his own pictures. The only Griffith footage in the entire
film is a quick flash from his last production, "One Million B.C.".
"THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA" (1925) A Universal Super Jewel, presented by Carl
Laemmle and directed by Rupert Julian, Starring
LON CHANEY with Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Cesar Gravina,
Arthur Edmund Carewe, Gibson Gowland. 30 minutes.
It's strange that one of the most famous films of all-time should be so
completely unavailable today; apart from occasional screenings at the George
Eastman House in Rochester, the film is never shown, and few prints seem to be
This film is of course a considerably condensed version of the original. It is
a series of highlights, arranged without much continuity, but in correct
sequence, The beginning is there, and the end - and a good deal of the
excitement in between. This version also contains the fine original main
title, which comes into focus from a blurred mass of vapors - a favorite
trick of Universal, who used the device in "The Old Dark House" and other
horror films. Included in this print are such great scenes as the Phantom's
kidnapping of the girl via the underground chambers of the Opera House, his
unmasking (a classic scene of terror, used by Universal fairly recently in a
projection room sequence of "The Hollywood Story"), his appearance at the
Grand Ball, the various "death chambers" into which an unthinking hero falls,
and the final chase through the streets of Paris (past the old Notre Dame set
incidentally!) ending with the death of the Phantom.
From the scenes of horror and gigantic spectacle featured in this condensation,
one may well form an overly-favorable impression of the film proper, which
actually left much to be desired. It was grand entertainment certainly, as
anything with that plot, and budget, would be automatically. But somehow it
missed fire, and had many dull moments. Rupert Julian was a very uneven
director, and with Tod Browning at the helm, "The Phantom" might really have
been a film classic as well as a boxoffice classic. However, the faults of
the whole are not apparent in these exciting and enjoyable thirty minutes of
- - - -
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"A SHIP COMES IN" (1928) A Cecil B. DeMille Studios film, released through
Pathe. Original story by Julien Josephson, scenario by
Julien Josephson and Sonya Levien. Photographed by
Lucien Andriot; titles by John Krafft; Edited by
A WILLIAM K. HOWARD PRODUCTION.
DIRECTED BY WILLIAM K. HOWARD
The Cast: Peter Pleznik (RUDOLPH SCHILDKRAUT): Mama Pleznik (LOUISE DRESSER)
Judge Gresham (Robert Edeson); Dan (Lucien Littlefield); Gregor (Louis
Natheaux); Eric Pleznik (Milton Holmes); Martha (Linda Landi); Evelyn Mills
and Virginia Davis (Katinka); Sokol (Fritz Feld)
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1928 ..... The top attractions on Broadway in July, all playing concurrently,
were WINGS, THE TRAIL OF '98, TEMPEST, THE END OF ST. PETERSBURG, THE MAN WHO
LAUGHS, UNCLE TOM'S CABIN and THE RED DANCE. Nobody thought very much about
this astounding array of great pictures. For one thing it was pretty common
to have such a concentration of top pictures in those days. For another thing,
the trade was in an uproar at the coming of sound. "A Ship Comes In",
reviewed by The Film Daily on July 1 of 1928, was rather lost amidst pages of
advertisements devoted to the new sound films. First National were promising
a minimum of 31 sound pictures for the new season. Mack Sennett had taken out
full page ads to plug his new sound comedies; Paramount, Universal and all the
other companies were splurging on big ads for coming sound films, and reissues
of silents with music and effects. Good old FBO had a double-page spread
warning exhibitors: "DON'T BE PANICKED BY SOUND -- THE SHOW MUST GO ON!"
The good reviews that "A SHIP COMES IN" collected didn't seem to do much good.
"Film Daily" reported: "A fine human interest story, expert direction, and superb
work by Schildkraut and Dresser .... a very sincere and realistic story of an
immigrant family, it is told without bunk and flag-wagging and therefore is one
of the strongest patriotic pictures ever screened ..... the family life of the
immigrant was never better portrayed on the screen". On its boxoffice potential,
the Daily commented: "A natural for the Fourth, will click any time with
intelligent audiences". From Motion Picture News: "Gripping human emotion....
splendid acting ... There is a wealth of pathos in its scenes, enough to moisten
the eyes of most any fan .... the story is wonderfully moving in its climax,
and wonderful too in the acting".
Presumably the good reviews didn't result in good bookings. A few weeks later
the trade papers carried big double-page ads for the film, not, as is usual,
crowing over broken records, but almost literally begging exhibitors to book
it. The banner line on the ad was: EVERY FIRST-RUN THEATRE SHOULD SCREEN
THIS PICTURE!" The ad went on to call the film "A soul-stirring drama of
powerful appeal", commented on "the genius of William K. Howard" and reminded
exhibitors of the money-makers that Howard had made in the past. Then it went
into this little spiel:
"Pathe steps out with one of the big surprises of the year ... an
inspiring production comparable only to the greatest masterpieces of the screen.
The same dynamic human elements that were responsible for the irresistable appeal
of such pictures as Herbert Brenon's "Sorrel and Son", F.W. Murnau's "Sunrise",
Frank Borzage's "Seventh Heaven" and Charlie Chaplin's "A Woman of Paris", are
combined to a superlative degree in "A Ship Comes In".
Needless to say, the film isn't THAT good. It isn't a great film - but it does
have fine moments. It's especially interesting today as one of the few silent
films available that were made by William K. Howard. Howard, one of the most
under-rated directors of them all, had made twenty films prior to this,
including his masterpiece "White Gold". "A Ship Comes In" was his last film for
DeMille, and be was just on the threshold of his "Golden Period" at Fox and
Metro - a period that ranged from 1928 through to 1935. It was in this
period that Howard established his mastery of melodrama, built up a skilled
retinue of selected cameramen, art directors and editors, and made the Edmund
Lowe-Bill Howard star/director team mean as much as Wayne and Ford did in later
But this was ahead. In 1928, after seven years as a director, Howard had made
a name for himself primarily as an action director -- one or two comedies, and
the classic "White Gold" excepted. If "A Ship Comes In" isn't Howard at his
best, it's because it isn't the sort of material that he liked best, or knew
best. Not that the film needs any apologies, but it should be established
here that this is second-drawer Howard.
"A SHIP COMES IN" is a carefully made film. The sets are good, the lighting
meticulous. It takes its time, and builds up a genuinely convincing impression
of the difficulties of an immigrant family in this country. (Howard's parents
were themselves Irish immigrants incidentally). A plot motivation that lands
Schildkraut in gaol is possibly a trifle contrived - but otherwise the film is
honest, restrained, and free from false sentiment.
The plot contains a minor element of melodrama in that Russian radicals (among
them Fritz Feld) are planning a terrorist bombing. In these scenes, Howard's
not yet fully exploited talent for melodrama comes to roaring life, and some
of these scenes of menace in shadowy basements could hardly have been improved
upon by Fritz Lang in his prime.
Other scenes have a tremendous power and, real sense of visual beauty in
composition; the touching sequence of the mother's farewell to her boy leaving
for war - played largely off-screen - is a beautiful episode that bears
comparison with Walthall's homecoming in "The Birth of a Nation", and some of
the best moments of "The Big Parade". One can blame the fact that this scene
is never quoted by the historians on to the fact that the film was so completely
lost in the sound shuffle.
Howard uses the moving camera with care and discrimination - in a period when
the camera was beginning to run amok, it moves here only when there is a logical
reason for it to do so. (The cameraman, Lucien Andriot, also photographed "The
Southerner" and other distinguished films). Too, the film provides interesting
glimpses of the montage and fast cutting that were later, in more polished form,
to become such a trade-mark of Howard's. Twice, there is interesting and tense
cross-cutting between clocks - a device of which Howard seemed very fond, and
one that he used to the last, in films like "Klondyke Fury" (Monogram, 19142).
There are several other touches of visual imagination which it would be unfair
to reveal here. Another interesting, and quite unusual aspect of the production,
are the subtitles by John Krafft - written, but not condescendingly, in the
idiom of the immigrant-hero.
"A SHIP COMES IN" is a rare and interesting film, well worthy of a revival today.
This is the first New York screening in many, many years - and to the best of our
knowledge, no prints exist in New York at all. Our print, which is in very good
condition, was discovered gathering dust in a vault in Springfield, Mass. -- a
fate to which it must return tomorrow, unless we are successful in our attempts
to purchase it.
LITERATURE relavent to tonight's program will be on sale at the screening:
Back numbers of "FILMS IN REVIEW" at 50¢ each:-
December 1953 - LON CHANEY - a long and authoritative article on the actor by
George Mitchell, with a complete, hitherto unpublished, index
to his films and many fine stills.
May, 1954 - WILLIAM K. HOWARD - an article on the director, and a complete
index to his films.
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THOUGHTS IN PASSING: Our last show was VERY well attended and reduced the
national debt quite considerably. More serial material is being unearthed for
showing next Spring. We still have left a few copies of George Geltzer's fine
index to the silent serial, which we'll be happy to send free of charge to any
member who doesn't have a copy. Currently we (meaning the Messrs. Geltzer and
Everson) are working on a follow-up Index to the Sound Serial to complete the
Our reporting of financial woes in our last notes brought forth some very
generous gestures. One member sent in a five-dollar bill "to help out" and
others at the serial screening kindly contributed an extra dollar. Their
thoughtfulness is much appreciated - especially since it stresses that members
don't want to see the society go under. We'd like to go on record as saying
now that we don't intend - ever - to solicit funds from our members. When we
complain of being "in the red" it is only to bring to the attention of members
that by their failure to attend they are making it difficult to keep the
society on a self-supporting basis. Even if we lost constantly, we'd be
prepared to subsidise the society permanently. We like running it, and we
think it performs a useful function. So there is no danger of financial set-
backs closing us down. But we do think that a society of this type could - and
should - support itself. We think it will from now on, and are putting our
temporary set-backs down to Summer vacations and hot weather. If attendance at
our last show is any criterion, it should be plainer sailing from here on in.
At this time it is not practical (for good reasons other than financial ones) to
return to a definite two-a-month policy - but we intend (as we are doing in
October) to put in extra shows whenever possible. The day of the second show may
vary, depending upon availability of quarters, but we will try to have as many
extra shows as possible. One delightful item unearthed for a near-future
screening is 1929's "The Sophomore" with Lew Ayres!
Committee of the Society: Dorothy Lovell, Dick Kraft, Edward Connor, Wm. K. Everson
Program Notes & Enquiries: W.K. Everson Manhattan Towers Hotel, 2166 Broadway NYC
ERRATUM: In case members are wondering whether the whimsical Ed Connor has
taken over the program notes, we'd like to point out that the
reference on page one to James Oliver Curwoof was purely a typing