Monday, March 14, 2022

Today's puzzler: What happens when you promote 'Smilin' Through' (1922) for St. Patrick's Day but then find out the film is not set in Ireland?

A poster for 'Smilin' Through,' a top box office attraction of 1922.

A few months ago, I scheduled the Norma Talmadge drama 'Smilin' Through' (1922) for this past Sunday in honor of St. Patrick's Day later this week. 

After all, what better way to mark the occasion, and honor my heritage (I'm one quarter Irish!) than a film set in the Emerald Isle?

And that was all great, except there was one little problem—it turned out the film wasn't set in Ireland!

To quote unsuccessful presidential candidate Rick Perry: Oops! 

Yes, a short flashback near the beginning of the film takes place in Ireland. But the bulk of the story happens in Dunstable, England, just north of London. 

I discovered this only after all the press releases had been out, and we'd gotten some nice exposure in the local media, promising everyone a fun and memorable way to mark St. Patrick's Day.

Faith and begorrah—I was off by only a couple of hundred miles!

What to do? Of course I fessed up to yesterday's audience, which was understanding and found the mix-up amusing. No pitchforks or lighted torches were evident. Whew!

But how to make up for this? The screening of 'Smilin' Through' was part of a series we're running celebrating the 100th anniversary of pictures released in 1922. ('Smilin' Through' was the No. 3 box office attraction that year.)

And for some programs, we liven things up with short films, newsreels, and other oddities from the same year.

So for Sunday's program, I took an "All in the Family" approach, inserting a short comedy starring Norma Talmadge's brother-in-law, Buster Keaton.

Lucky for me, one of Keaton's 1922 comedies was 'My Wife's Relations,' which contains a significant quotient of what I would call "Irish ethnic humor," which was fairly common at the time. 

So THAT was how we made good on the St. Patrick's Day crisis: Buster to the rescue!

'Smilin' Through,' although complete sentimental hogwash, proved to be very effective on the big screen. 

You can see why people bought tickets in such quantity in 1922: it's very well put together and has a great multi-hankie uplifting ending.

Ultimately, the film's message is quite dark: for many of us, the only real happiness we will ever experience is in the afterlife. Until then, we have to go "Smilin' Through" our earthly existence, knowing that a better time awaits in the great beyond.

Thinking about it, I'm not so sure I can buy into that whole idea.

Norma Talmadge, one of the silent era's most popular stars—and sister-in-law of Buster Keaton.

But to its credit, 'Smilin' Through' never really asks us to think. It's all about feeling. It's a 90-minute warm bath in emotion and sentiment—and a century after its release, maybe that's something we now need more than ever.

Alas, the film hasn't been reissued or ever been given a decent transfer. Of 1922's top five movies, 'Smilin' Through' proved to be the most difficult to source.

But because the film is public domain, leave it to low budget purveyor Alpha Video to have released the film on DVD as part of their "Lost Silent Classics" series. 

Surprisingly, Alpha's version looked pretty good on the big screen. In the print they used, two stretches showed evidence of serious decomposition, and whites were really blown out in some parts of the transfer. 

But way better than other Alphas I've seen, so we were fortunate it came out so well.

Next up in our 100th anniversary series: starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., it's 1922 box office champ 'The Adventures of Robin Hood,' which will screen on Sunday, March 27 at the Town Hall Theatre.

Press release below. And with this one, I know it's set in England (mostly), so no geographic slip-ups expected.

*    *    *

Original poster art for 'The Adventures of Robin Hood,' the top-grossing film of 1922.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'Robin Hood' leaps into action at Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, March 27

It's off to Sherwood Forest for the 100th anniversary of legendary silent blockbuster, screened with live music

WILTON, N.H.—He robbed from the rich, gave to the poor, and was the top box office attraction of 1922.

He was Douglas Fairbanks Sr. starring in 'Robin Hood,' the original movie adaptation of the legendary tale.

See it for yourself on the big screen on Sunday, March 27 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

The screening will be accompanied with live music by Jeff Rapsis.

Set in medieval England, 'Robin Hood' tells the tale of the Earl of Huntingdon (Fairbanks), a dashing nobleman who joins King Richard the Lion-Hearted (Wallace Beery) on a Crusade to the Holy Land.

Huntingdon later returns to England to find Richard's cruel brother, Prince John (Sam De Grasse), falsely claiming the throne, enriching his aristocratic cronies and tyrannizing the citizenry.

Huntingdon takes to the woods and becomes 'Robin Hood,' soon joined by a band of merry men who undermine Prince John's reign by robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in the title role as 'Robin Hood.'

Can Robin Hood and his men vanquish their enemy, the High Sheriff of Nottingham (William Lowery)? And can they rescue Lady Marian Fitzwalter (Enid Bennett), Huntingdon's betrothed, from the evil clutches of Prince John?

Along the way, Fairbanks has ample opportunity to demonstrate his skills in archery, fencing, and acrobatics.

Directed by Allan Dwan, 'Robin Hood' amazed audiences with its enormous sets that recreated in full scale the castles and villages of medieval England.

At a time when $200,000 was a hefty movie budget, 'Robin Hood' cost $1 million to produce.

Directing 'Robin Hood': a big megaphone for a big production.

But the film proved an enormous hit, becoming the top box office attraction of 1922 and earning $2.5 million in its initial release through United Artists, the distribution company Fairbanks formed with fellow stars Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, and his wife, Mary Pickford.

Fairbanks, among the most popular stars of the 1920s, was the inspiration for the character of George Valentin in the Oscar-winning Best Picture 'The Artist' (2011). Fairbanks was known for films that used the then-new medium of motion pictures to transport audiences to historical time periods for grand adventures and athletic stunts.

He's often referred to as "Douglas Fairbanks Sr." to avoid confusion with his son, the actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Also in the cast for 'Robin Hood' is Alan Hale Sr., who made such an impression at Little John that he was cast in the same role in the 1938 remake starring Errol Flynn. (Hale's son, Alan Hale Jr., played the role of the Skipper on the 1960s television series "Gilligan's Island.")

Live music for 'Robin Hood' will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, who uses a digital synthesizer to create a traditional full orchestra "movie score" sound.

"Seeing a Fairbanks picture in a theater with live music and an audience is a classic movie experience," Rapsis said.

Rapsis emphasized the 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 again, and you get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

The screening of 'Robin Hood' 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 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.

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

• 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' (1922). The Bard's immortal tragedy brought to the screen in this early German version. Silent Shakespeare in honor of the author's 458th birthday.

'Robin Hood' (1922) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., will be screened with live music on Sunday, March 27 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 or call (603) 654-3456. 

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