Sunday, February 6, 2022

Study for Valentine's Day with the master, Rudolph Valentino, in 'Blood and Sand' (1922)

A poster for 'Blood and Sand,' in which Rudolph Valentino's name is spelled with an 'O.'

Nothing says 'Valentine's Day' like Rudolph Valentino risking his life doing battle with an angry charging bull.

And that's no ugly metaphor—it's the premise of 'Blood and Sand' (1922), a sizzling silent romantic drama I'm accompanying on Sunday, Feb. 6 at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

Showtime is at 2 p.m. Lots more detail in the press release below.

For now, a quick report on last night's screening of a Harry Houdini film at the Garden Cinemas in Greenfield, Mass.

The film was 'The Man from Beyond' (1922), in which our hero plays a sailor frozen on a ship trapped in Arctic ice floes for a full century.

Discovered and unthawed, he enters the modern world (of the 1920s) to search for his lost love from 1820, whom he believes is reincarnated.

The screening was programmed as part of Greenfield's annual Winter Carnival, which, like 'The Man From Beyond,' is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. (Hence the Houdini-on-ice film.)

We've tried running silents with live music at the Garden a few times, with mixed results. For some reason, however, this screening caught the public's imagination—about 60 people attended, enough to really fill the relatively small screening room we were using.

Because virtually everyone there was new to silent film, I went over some basics prior to the screening. That included giving people permission to react openly to what they were about to see: to cheer when something good happened, to boo the villain, and so on.

Well, the audience took that ball and ran with it. Right from the start, people engaged with the film as if it were a sing-a-long musical. Nothing like an energized audience to bring to life a film from the silent era!

(I have to observe: here we were, bringing back to life a film made a century ago, which was about bringing back to life a man frozen a century before that.) 

And yes, there were occasional moments when a few self-appointed smart-alecks felt compelled to yell wisecracks at the screen, a la Mystery Science Theatre 3000. 

But no harm done, and eventually the film's melodrama swept up everyone, just as actress Jane Connolly (playing Houdini's beloved Felice, both in the present and the past) wound up being swept toward Niagara Falls in her canoe. 

And I must say, it was hard to resist my own urge to shout a MST3K-style riff when Connelly decides to escape a pursuer by boarding a canoe and launching herself into a raging cataract just above Niagara Falls, f'rchrissakes!

Casting note: the major role of Gregory Sinclair is played by Erwin Connelly, a round-faced actor who pops up frequently in small roles in Buster Keaton's silent features—most notably as the butler in 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924).

Frequent Keaton screenings have made Connelly's face a familiar one to me. He plays the husband quarreling memorably with his wife in 'Our Hospitality,' and also an offended priest in 'Seven Chances.' 

So it was a treat to see him carrying a lead role outside Buster's world.

There's not much about this performer online, but it turns out we share the same birthday: Jan. 14. His sparse screen credits include 'The Fire Brigade' (1926), which has been newly restored and that I hope to accompany later this year.

And yes, the Jane Connelly in 'The Man From Beyond' turns out to be Erwin's wife. They had appeared in vaudeville together, and were both hired for major roles in the Houdini picture. With Erwin's vaudeville background, it's not surprising he turned up in Keaton's pictures.

Jane, who has no other known screen credits, died just a few years after 'The Man From Beyond'—in 1925, at age 42. Erwin followed her in 1931 at age 53. 

If all this sounds intriguing, I'll be accompanying 'The Man From Beyond' again in April, when it screens at the Town Hall Theater in Wilton, N.H.

But before that, we have Rudy Valentino to get you all hot and bothered for Valentine's Day. Hope to see you there for 'Blood and Sand' on Sunday, Feb. 6 at 2 p.m. Details in the press release below.

*     *     *

Smoldering sensuality, smoldering cigar: Valentino in 'Blood and Sand' (1922).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • 

Valentino's bullfighting epic 'Blood and Sand' to screen at Wilton Town Hall Theatre 

Top-grossing silent film to be shown with live music on Sunday, Feb. 6 to celebrate 100th anniversary of release 

WILTON, N.H.—Just in time for Valentine's Day! It's an intense romantic drama that helped catapult actor Rudolph Valentino to worldwide fame. 

It's 'Blood and Sand' (1922), a bullfighting epic with sadomasochistic overtones to be screened on Sunday, Feb. 6 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. 

Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $10 per person to help support the theater's silent film series. 

The classic drama will be shown with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. 

The No. 3 box office hit of 1922, 'Blood and Sand' combined exotic Spanish locales with Valentino's iconic performance as a bullfighter. 

The film tells the story of Juan Gallardo (Valentino), a village boy born into poverty who grows up to become one of Spain's greatest matadors. Gallardo marries a friend from his childhood, the beautiful and virtuous Carmen. 

But after achieving fame and fortune, he finds himself drawn to Doña Sol (Naldi), a wealthy, seductive widow. They embark on a torrid affair. 

But then Gallardo, feeling guilty over his betrayal of Carmen, tries to free himself of Doña Sol.

Gallardo's troubles spill over to the bullfighting arena, where he becomes reckless. Can he cope with the gravest challenges of his young life—both in romance, and in the arena? 

The movie's immense popularity helped establish Valentino as one of the megastars of the silent film era. 

Directed for Paramount Pictures by Fred Niblo, the cast includes leading ladies Lila Lee as Carmen and Nita Naldi as Doña Sol. 

The large ensemble of supporting players includes actor Walter Long, a Milford, N.H. native who frequently played "tough guy" character roles in early Hollywood. 

'Blood and Sand' was based on the 1909 Spanish novel "Sangre y arena" (Blood and Sand) by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and the play version of the book by Thomas Cushing. 

Unusual for Hollywood at the time, women played key roles in the production of 'Blood and Sand.' 

The story was adapted by June Mathis, the screenwriter credited with first recognizing Valentino's appeal, and edited by future director Dorothy Arzner. 

The film inspired the 'Blood and Sand' cocktail, a Prohibition-era mixed drink. 

The screening is part of the Town Hall Theatre's ongoing series honoring the 100th anniversary of significant motion pictures that debuted in 1922. 

Programs will include all of 1922's five highest-grossing titles, each shown on the big screen with live music, as well as century-old oddities, short films, cartoons, and more. 

"Putting these films back on the big screen is a great way to celebrate the 100th anniversaries of some terrific motion pictures," said Rapsis, the silent film accompanist who will create live music for all screenings. 

"These are films that set the standard for Hollywood, and still retain their power to entertain, especially when shown in a theater with live music and an audience," Rapsis said.

Upcoming programs in the Town Hall's 100th anniversary series include: 

• Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022 at 2 p.m.: 'When Knighthood was in Flower' Marion Davies goes medieval in this epic big budget costume picture from 1922 that put her on the map as a top Hollywood star. 

• Sunday, March 13, 2022 at 2 p.m.: Norma Talmadge in 'Smilin' Through' In honor of St. Patrick's Day, a 1922 romantic drama set in the Emerald Isle. 

• Sunday, March 27, 2022 at 2 p.m.: Douglas Fairbanks in 'Robin Hood' Celebrate the 100th anniversary of this blockbuster adaptation. Massive sets, great action, and Doug Fairbanks in the lead made this the top grossing film of 1922! 

• Sunday, April 3, 2022 at 2 p.m.: Chaney/Houdini Double Feature. In 'Flesh and Blood' (1922), escaped convict Lon Chaney hides out in Chinatown and plots revenge. In 'The Man From Beyond' (1922) illusionist Harry Houdini plays an Arctic adventurer frozen for 100 years! 

• Sunday, April 17, 2022 at 2 p.m.: Emil Jannings in 'Othello' The Bard's immortal tragedy brought to the screen in this early German version. Silent Shakespeare in honor of the author's 458th birthday. 

‘Blood and Sand' (1922) will be shown live music on Sunday, Feb. 6 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. 

Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $10 per person to help defray expenses. For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit

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