Sunday, July 25, 2021

Coming up this weekend: Perfect weather for a Yakima Canutt double feature in Wilton, N.H.

'The Iron Rider' (1927), one of a pair of Yakima Canutt pictures we'll show with live music (by me) this afternoon at the Town Hall Theatre of Wilton, N.H.

We're blessed rainy weather this Sunday: perfect weather to take in a double feature starring everyone's favorite early cinema cowboy hero, Yakima Canutt!

Yakima Canutt!? 

Yes! It's pronounced YAK-i-mah Kah-NOOT. 

His given first name was "Enos," so appropriating the name of the Yakima Valley of his home state of Washington was probably a good idea, even if he'd never gone into the movies.

But he did, and we'll see two of his starring pictures, with live music by me on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, Wilton, N.H. 

So park that speedboat out of the rain today, then hop on your horse and canter on over to the thee-a-tar for a double dose of Yak! 

More info in the press release below, including a round-up of Yak's considerable off-screen contributions to Hollywood right up until the 1980s.

First, though, I had occasion to visit the Big Apple this past Thursday and found myself attending a screening of Buster Keaton's 'Our Hospitality' (1923) at the Museum of Modern Art.

Hearing live accompaniment by my colleague Ben Model was a treat. (How nice to enjoy a picture without worrying about the music!) And a pleasant surprise was to find fellow vintage film enthusiasts Karl Mischler and Rob Arkus in attendance. 

Rb Arkus, Ben Model, me, and Karl Mischler.

One unusual thing about New York in the summer of 2021: the Museum of Modern Art is the first venue I've attended that required proof of vaccination to enter.

But the real surprise was finding enormous billboards atop buildings along 8th Avenue promoting my home state of New Hampshire as a vacation destination. Wow!

Never thought I'd see idyllic images of the Granite State in the same view as the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Strange times indeed!

Also, this was my first visit to the new Moynhihan Train Hall, newly opened this year as part of the Penn Station complex. 

If there is an afterlife, and heaven exists, my version of it would probably look something like the original Penn Station, which was demolished in the 1960s and which I never saw except in pictures like this:

Well, here's the Moynihan Train Hall, which opened this past January in what used to be the mail sorting room of the James Farley U.S. Post Office, across the street from the original station:

It's a vast improvement over the existing Penn Station, most of which remains squished under Madison Square Garden. 

I don't know if the new Moynihan Train Hall is enough to make me think I've died and gone to heaven, but it did cause me to die of embarrassment.

How? Because going home, I somehow boarded the wrong Acela train and wound up heading toward Washington, D.C. instead of Boston!

I was able to get out at Newark and return to Penn Station to catch the next train to Beantown. So no big deal, other than the extra $5.25 I had to shell out to New Jersey Transit to get back to the starting line.

You'd think clear track assignments and boarding announcements would be basic things in $1.6 billion train station development. 

But they're not—departing trains aren't displayed at the gate until the last minute, and lines snake all around the concourse when it's time to board. Staff make no announcements down on the platforms or in the train prior to departure.

Not quite paradise just yet!

*  *  *

Yakima Canutt during the prime of his silent film starring career.

Contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Meet Yakima Canutt, Hollywood's pioneering master of horsemanship and stunting

Summer series of rare silent Westerns with live music continues with double feature on Sunday, July 25 at Town Hall Theatre

WILTON, N.H.—He's the most influential cowboy you've never heard of.

He's Yakima Canutt, a silent era Western star who later went on to a behind-the-scenes career working on some of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters.

Canutt, famous for his equine skills and stunting ability, will be featured in a pair of action-packed early features in the next installment Town Hall Theatre's series on the origins of the Hollywood Western.

'Branded a Bandit' (1924) and 'The Iron Rider' (1927), both starring Canutt, will be shown on Sunday, July 25 at 2 p.m.

The screening is free and open to the public; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film programming.

The program will feature live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

"In this series of early Westerns, many of these films are nearly 100 years old, and so they're not far removed from the 'Old West' depicted in them," Rapsis said.

In 'Branded a Bandit,' Canutt (pronounced "kah-NOOT") is accused of murdering a miner whose family he was trying to aid; in 'The Iron Rider,' Canutt cheated in a poker game, and later learns the card sharks are wanted men, prompting a pursuit for justice.

In 'Branded a Bandit,' Canutt broke his nose in a 12-foot fall from a cliff. The picture was delayed several weeks, and when it resumed, all of Canutt's close-ups were shot from the side. A plastic surgeon reset the nose, which prompted Canutt to remark that the fall actually improved his looks.

But Canutt's starring pictures were only a small part of a long and influential Hollywood career.

Born in 1895 in rural Washington state, Canutt started out as a rodeo cowboy and then became a stuntman in silent westerns. Canutt later doubled for such stars as Clark Gable and John Wayne.

Canutt, whose given first name was Enos, later adopted the nickname "Yakima" after the Yakima River Valley in Washington.

Canutt was known for his proficiency in dangerous activities such as jumping off the top of a cliff on horseback, leaping from a stagecoach onto its runaway team, being "shot" off a horse at full gallop and other such potentially life-threatening activities.

During the golden age of the Hollywood studio system, Canutt became expert at staging massive events involving livestock, such as cattle stampedes and covered-wagon races, as well as Indians-vs.-cavalry battles on a grand scale.

Canutt's most noteworthy achievement as a second-unit director came in his staging and direction of the chariot-race sequence in William Wyler's Ben-Hur (1959) which, from initial planning to final execution, took two years.

Films on which Canutt served as second unit director include 'Stagecoach' (1939), 'Ivanhoe' (1952), 'Old Yeller' (1957), 'The Swiss Family Robinson' (1960), 'El Cid' (1961), 'The Fall of the Roman Empire' (1964), and 'Rio Lobo' (1970).

Canutt was awarded a special Oscar in 1966 for his contributions to film. He died in 1986 at age 90, widely regarded as the most respected stuntman of all time.

Upcoming titles in the Town Hall's summer series of silent Westerns include:

Sunday, Aug. 8 at 2 p.m.: The first Westerns directed by a young John Ford, these two films feature popular cowboy star Harry Carey as 'Cheyenne Harry,' the outlaw with a heart of gold. In 'Straight Shooting' (1917), Carey plays a hired gun of cattle rustlers; in 'Hell Bent' (1918), Carey rescues a virtuous woman from banditos. A rare chance to see early Ford learning his craft.

Sunday, Aug. 22 at 2 p.m.: Set in western Canada, 'Mantrap' (1926) tells the story of a New York divorce lawyer on a camping vacation to get away from it all, but gets more than he bargained for with Clara Bow, then fast on her way to becoming Hollywood's 'It' girl. Directed by Victor Fleming, who would go on to helm 'Gone With the Wind' (1939) and 'The Wizard of Oz' (1939).

Sunday, Aug. 29 at 2 p.m.: Our look at silent-era Westerns concludes with the genre's lighter side. In 'Womanhandled' (1925), Richard Dix tries to win his girlfriend by taking up the rugged cowboy life, only to find it not so rugged. In 'Go West' (1925), Buster Keaton sends up the legends of the West with his timeless brand of visual comedy; includes perhaps the most unlikely love story in any mainstream 1920s Hollywood film.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis will create musical scores for each film live during its screening, in the manner of theater organists during the height of silent cinema.

"For most silent films, there was never any sheet music and no official score," Rapsis said. "So creating original music on the spot to help the film's impact is all part of the experience."

"That's one of the special qualities of silent cinema," Rapsis said. "Although the films themselves are often over a century old, each screening is a unique experience — a combination of the movie, the music, and the audience reaction."

'Branded a Bandit' (1924) and 'The Iron Rider' (1926), two early westerns starring Yakima Canutt, will be screened on Sunday, July 25 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Free admission; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

For more information, visit or call (603) 654-3456.

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