If two heads are better than one, then two famous people from the 1920s whose names are still recognized a full century later must really something.
The two people: actor Lon Chaney and illusionist Harry Houdini. They're both performers who, alas, died at relatively young ages, but whose names live on today in the 21st century.
On Sunday, April 3 at 2 p.m., I'll accompany films starring Chaney and Houdini at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.
For Chaney, it's 'Flesh and Blood' (1922), a rarely screened crime drama made just before he tackled the title role in 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' the next year.
For for Houdini, it's 'The Man From Beyond' (1922), a very strange film about a man frozen in the Arctic ice for 100 years who's revived and brought back to civilization.
More info about both films is in the press release below. You may notice they're both from 1922, as they're part of an ongoing series at the Town Hall Theatre celebrating the 100th anniversary pictures from that year.
Starting last January, we've already screened the year's top five box office hits, culminating in last week's showing of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in 'Robin Hood' (1922) the year's top attraction.
Speaking of 'Robin Hood': the Fairbanks swashbucklers are often singled out for their lavish sets and production values, with Doug himself noted for his on-screen athleticism and forceful personality.
All of that's true. But I think Fairbanks doesn't get nearly enough credit for the true strength underpinning his most successful pictures, including 'Robin Hood': story construction.
Really! The sets and stunts are great. But no one would care if there wasn't a powerful story at work to pull an audience forward, then and now.
Fairbanks (who co-wrote 'Robin Hood' under the pseudonym 'Elton Thomas') had a knack for spinning a great yarn—one that hooks you right away, and which you just can't stop following until the inevitably satisfying conclusion.
With 'Robin Hood,' I can attest to the strength of the story because 100 years later, it still mesmerized our audience at the Town Hall Theater.
Here it was 2022, and people were cheering Fairbanks as he robbed from the rich to steal from the poor, and spontaneously hissing Prince John, the movie's principle villain.
That's engagement at a powerful level—enough to cause people to fall in love with the movies, then and now.
Just look at how the opening scenes in 'Robin Hood' establish the characters: we must root for Fairbanks as Lord Huntingdon for his prowess in jousting, his loyalty to King Richard, but most of all his disarmingly charming fear of...women!
For the bad guys, there's Sir Guy, clearly a sourpuss, already attempting to cheat at jousting and forcing himself on Lady Marian. And Prince John with his evil falcon—one look and you just know there's going to be trouble.
King Richard (in one of the better roles of the ubiquitous Wallace Beery) is firmly established as a life-loving and beloved ruler of his people, plus we meet Huntingdon's loyal squire and get to see Lady Marian in the most positive possible light.
There! In an opening scene of less than 10 minutes, Fairbanks establishes the relationships that will carry us through the next two hours. It worked in 1922, and it still works in 2022, and I imagine it will continue to work in 2122 and beyond.
Will audience response for Chaney and Houdini match that of Fairbanks? Only one way to find out—come join us on Sunday, April 3 and see for yourself.
* * *
MONDAY, MARCH 28, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • email@example.com
Films starring Lon Chaney and Harry Houdini at Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, April 3
Legendary performers return to the silver screen in double bill celebrating 100th anniversary of 1922 releases, with live music.
WILTON, N.H.—A century after their heyday, 'Houdini' and 'Chaney' are still known as the names of legendary entertainers.
See them both on the big screen again on Sunday, April 3 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.
Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.
The screenings will be accompanied with live music by Jeff Rapsis.
The double bill features Lon Chaney in the crime drama 'Flesh and Blood,' while Houdini stars in the adventure film 'The Man From Beyond.'
Released in 1922, both films celebrate their 100th anniversaries this year.
In 'Flesh and Blood,' a rarely screened crime drama, Chaney plays an escaped convict who hides out in Chinatown and plots revenge.
Chaney, known as the "Man of a Thousand Faces" due to his versatility with make-up, was a major star during Hollywood's silent era.
Iconic performances included the title roles in the blockbuster silent versions of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) and 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925).
In 'The Man From Beyond,' illusionist and escape artist
Harry Houdini plays an Arctic adventurer frozen for 100 years.
Discovered and thawed out, he searches for his reincarnated lost love.
Houdini was a Hungarian-born, American-Jewish illusionist and stunt performer noted for his sensational escape acts.
His repertoire included escaping from ropes slung from skyscrapers, from straitjackets under water, and from inside a sealed milk can with water in it.
Chaney began as a stage actor, but moved exclusively to films in the mid-1910s and remained before the cameras for the balance of his career.
Houdini, at the height of his fame, starred in a series of adventure films in the early 1920s, but continued to focus on live performance.
Both men died relatively young: Chaney from throat cancer in 1930 at age 47; Houdini from a ruptured appendix in 1926 at age 52.
music for both films will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff
Rapsis, who uses a digital synthesizer to create a traditional full
orchestra "movie score" sound.
Rapsis emphasized the unique value of seeing early cinema as it was originally presented.
"These films were designed for the big screen, live music, and large audiences. Put it all together, and you can get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.
The double feature is part of the Town Hall Theatre's ongoing series honoring the 100th anniversary of significant motion pictures that debuted in 1922.
Programs have included 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.
The Town Hall's 100th anniversary series will conclude with 'Othello' (1922) on Sunday, April 17 at 2 p.m.
The Bard's immortal tragedy is brought to the screen in this early German version starring legendary actor Emil Jannings. Silent Shakespeare in honor of the author's 458th birthday.
'Flesh and Blood' starring Lon Chaney and 'The Man From Beyond' starring Harry Houdini will be shown with live music on Sunday, April 3 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to defray expenses.
For more info, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com or call (603) 654-3456