Thursday, September 10, 2015

Tonight: John Ford's silent 'Hangman's House'
at Flying Monkey theater in Plymouth, N.H.

Okay, here's one I've been looking forward to.

Tonight (Thursday, Sept. 10) our monthly silent film series in Plymouth, N.H. takes a turn for the dramatic with 'Hangman's House' (1928).

It's the final silent film from young director named John Ford, who would go on to win four Academy Awards for his later work.

'Hangman's House' isn't regarded a masterpiece. But that's what I find exciting about it.

Unencumbered by legend or expectations, it's a picture that simply shows silent film at the top of its expressive power.

To me, it's a prime example of how filmmakers had learned how to naturally use the motion picture medium to tell a story visually, and for maximum effect.

And it helped that German director F.W. Murnau had come to Hollywood to make 'Sunrise' at Fox studios at the same time Ford was working there.

'Sunrise,' widely regarded as one of the most beautiful pictures of any era, set new standards for what a silent film could look like.

'Hangman's House,' set in Ireland, shows Murnau's influence in the scenes played out amid the ground-hugging fog and shadows.

A fireplace becomes a window into terrifying visions for a dying judge in 'Hangman's House.'

There's also a terrific visual fluidity to 'Hangman's House.' Although the story proceeds naturally, Ford is able to weave in vivid fantasy images that show the inner feelings of characters and underscore the drama.

'Hangman's House' is one of those late silents that came and went quickly, released when talking pictures were already the rage.

At the time, I think few people appreciated how absorbing even a non-masterpiece silent could be.

So it's a special pleasure to present a film such as 'Hangman's House' to audiences today. Uncorked after all these years, it's a time-capsule of drama that plays just as strongly as when it was new—perhaps even more so, because silent film is such an unusual experience for modern audiences.

People are often surprised to find a well-made movie with all the techniques of silent film story-telling at its disposal, and a director who knew how to use them.

And I'm so pleased to do accompaniment that I hope helps facilitate this discovery. The music will definitely be of the "less is more" school, with just a hint of Irish coloring.

Another attraction of 'Hangman's House' is that it includes one of the earliest on-camera appearances by a clearly identifiable John Wayne.

There he is!

Wayne shows up in a crowd of lively villagers watching a horse race. The Duke's response is so exuberant that he destroys the fence holding back the crowd!

It's a perfect cameo for Wayne, who indeed would not be held back. He'd later work with Ford on 14 major motion pictures, including classics such as 'Stagecoach' (1939) and 'The Searchers' (1956).

One major Ford/Wayne collaboration would be 'The Quiet Man' (1952), taking the pair back full circle to a story set in Ireland.

So join us tonight for a rarely screened movie that you may never have heard of—but which you surely won't forget.

Showtime is 6:30 p.m., so you'll be out in time for the Patriots kick-off.

More info is in the press release below. Hope to see you there!

* * *

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent drama 'Hangman's House' with live music at Flying Monkey on Thursday, Sept. 10

Early John Ford horse-racing story set in Ireland features prominent cameo by very young John Wayne

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—The silent film era returns to the big screen at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center with a showing of 'Hangman's House' (1928), a classic silent drama accompanied by live music.

Showtime is Thursday, Sept. 10, at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey, 39 Main St., Plymouth. All are welcome to this family-friendly event; admission is $10 per person general admission.

The screening, the latest in the Flying Monkey's silent film series, will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating scores for silent films.

Set in Ireland, 'Hangman's House' follows wanted man Denis Hogan (Victor McLaglen) who returns in disguise to his Irish homeland to seek revenge.

Once back, he becomes embroiled in an intense romantic drama involving a local judge (Hobart Bosworth), his daughter (June Collyer), a forced marriage and surprising revelations about his own sister.

The film is highlighted by a high-stakes horse race. Among the spectactors is a very young John Wayne, clearly visible as an extra who gets so excited he single-handedly destroys a fence.

The story culminates in a spectacular fire sequence that mesmerized the film's original audiences and still maintains its power today.

'Hangman's House' is praised for taut story-telling and evocative camerawork. Ford returned to Ireland as a setting in his later film 'The Quiet Man' (1952), this time starring John Wayne.

The screening of 'Hangman's House' is the latest in the Flying Monkey's monthly series of great silent films shown on the big screen with live music.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis will improvise an original musical score for 'Hangman's House' live as the film is shown.

"When the score gets made up on the spot, it creates a special energy that's an important part of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of a full orchestra for the accompaniment.

The Flying Monkey originally opened as a silent film moviehouse in the 1920s, and showed first-run Hollywood films to generations of area residents until closing several years ago.

The theater has since been renovated by Alex Ray, owner of the Common Man restaurants, who created a performance space that hosts a wide range of music acts.

But movies of all types are still a big part of the Flying Monkey's offerings, and the silent film series is a way for the theater to remain connected to its roots.

‘Hangman's House’ (1928), a classic silent drama directed by John Ford, will be shown with live music on Thursday, Sept. 10 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth. Admission $10 per person. For more info, call (603) 536-2551 or visit For more on the music, visit

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