Friday, April 15, 2016

Celebrate Tax Day with gangster movie
'Underworld' at Red River on Friday, 4/15

Clive Brook and Evelyn Brent on a poster for 'Underworld.'

When programming a silent film series, I sometimes look for occasions to celebrate.

If a screening is around July 14 (Bastille Day), then that's a good reason to run 'Orphans of the Storm' (1922), D.W. Griffith's French Revolution epic.

So in putting together this year's schedule for Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H., I saw one of the dates was April 15.

April 15? Well, there's a day that's well-known to all U.S. residents, as it's the deadline for federal income tax filings.

What silent film would be appropriate for that? There's none about IRS agents that I can think of.

So I settled for a picture that would be something of a catharsis: a movie in which people battle government agents.

It's 'Underworld' (1927), a Josef von Sternberg drama set in the world of 1920s urban gangsters.

They're always one step ahead of the law, of course. What's more, the movie has extended shoot-outs with federal agents.

So what better way to blow off some steam after ponying up to the federal government to pay your share for all it does?

Clive Brook and Evelyn Brent in 'Underworld.'

Plus, it's one of those pictures I put in the category of "mature" silent film: the really polished productions that were hitting theaters in the last three or four years before talkies took over.

Well worth a look see. So pull the trigger and come join us this evening at Red River Theatres for 'Underworld.' You're sure to get a bang out of it.

More details? Check out the press release I've included below.

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A color-enhanced still for 'Underworld.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'Underworld' to screen with live music at Concord's Red River Theatres on Friday, April 15

Oscar-winning silent crime drama directed by Josef von Sternberg was forerunner of Hollywood 'gangster' movies

CONCORD, N.H.—'Underworld' (1927), a silent drama that spurred a boom in 'gangster' movies, will be screened with live music on Friday, April 15 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H.

The film will be accompanied live by silent film musician Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person.

'Underworld,' directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring George Bancroft, is notable for being the first major motion picture to portray a criminal in a sympathetic light instead of as a villain. Its popularity touched off a Prohibition-era boom in Hollywood gangster pictures that reached its peak following the stock market crash of 1929.

"We figured a fitting way to mark the date our taxes are due was to screen a picture full of people battling federal agents," Rapsis said.

The story of 'Underworld' follows gangster Bull Weed (George Bancroft), who becomes entangled in a love triangle involving a reformed drunkard, “Rolls Royce” (Clive Brook) whom he takes on as his right-hand man, and Bull’s girlfriend “Feathers” (Evelyn Brent). Bull Weed's imprisonment leads to a dramatic climax.

Bancroft's performance in 'Underworld' set the stage for memorable characterizations of gangster protagonists by Jimmy Cagney ('Public Enemy,' 1931), Paul Muni ('Scarface,' 1932), and Edward G. Robinson ('Little Caesar,' 1930), which all follow directly on from the model created by 'Underworld.'

The film's script, by Chicago newspaperman Ben Hecht, earned an Oscar for Best Screenwriting at the first-ever Academy Awards. The film is also noted for director von Sternberg's innovative use of black-and-white photography, which presaged many film noir techniques in following decades.

Director Von Sternberg was obsessed by light, and developed methods of “painting” his compositions with the arrangements of lamps, scrims, and reflectors on the set. Today he is remembered most for having used that skill in a series of films he made with Marlene Dietrich, starting with 'The Blue Angel' (1930) and continuing in six more star vehicles made in Hollywood, including 'Morocco' (1930) and 'Shanghai Express' (1932).

'Underworld' will be accompanied by live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs at venues across the region and beyond.

Using a digital synthesizer to reproduce the texture of the full orchestra, Rapsis will improvise the score on the spot during the screening.

"Films such as 'Underworld' were created to be shown on the big screen and in a theater as a shared experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, they still come to life in the way their makers intended them to.

"So Red River's silent film screenings are a great chance for people to experience films that caused people to first fall in love with the movies," he said.

'Underworld' is the latest in an monthly series of great silent films with live music at Red River. Upcoming programs include:

• Friday, May 13: 'The Golem' (1920), a pioneering German fantasy in which a rabbi brings a statue to life protect the Jews of 16th century Prague from persecution.

• Friday, June 10: 'The General' (1927), Buster Keaton's classic comic adventure epic of an Southern engineer and his locomotive during the U.S. Civil War.

• Friday, July 15: 'Bardelys the Magnificent' (1926) starring John Gilbert in a big MGM historical swashbuckling adventure thought lost for decades until a print was found recently in France.

Red River Theatres, an independent cinema, is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to screening a diverse program of first-run independent films, cult favorites, classics, local and regional film projects, and foreign films.

The member-supported theater’s mission is to present film and the discussion of film as a way to entertain, broaden horizons and deepen appreciation of life for New Hampshire audiences of all ages.

'Underworld' (1927) will be shown at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H. on Friday, April 15 at 7 p.m. in the Jaclyn Simchik Screening Room at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H. Admission is $10 per person; for more info, call (603) 224-4600 or visit For more information about the music, visit

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