Thursday, September 14, 2023

Coming Sunday, Sept. 17: 'Eagle of the Night,' partially lost silent aviation thriller, shown with live music in Wilton, N.H.

What does the Venus De Milo have to do with silent movies?

Like so much of cinema from the silent era, some key parts are missing!

And I think sooner or later, that's something you run into while exploring early film. 

First, remember that most films from the silent era have completely disappeared—something like 75 percent.

And of those that remain, many are missing significant footage.

Raymond Griffith's great comedy 'Paths to Paradise' (1925) is intact, but missing its final reel, or about the last 10 minutes. 

Same thing with Gloria Swanson's drama 'Sadie Thompson' (1928). 

Ditto some of the middle reels for 'Bardelys the Magnificant' (1926) starring John Gilbert. 

In each case, it would be great to have the entire picture as originally released. But we don't.

Yes, occasionally footage is found and restored. Some time ago, nearly a half-hour of footage missing form Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis' (1927) was recovered in Argentina. 

More recently, about 10 minutes worth of footage missing from circulating editions of Todd Browning's thriller 'The Unknown' (1927) was interpolated back into a version that will be released this fall.

But what about the hundreds of titles that are doomed to exist only in partial state—films with missing footage that's likely never to be recovered?

Well, we might start thinking in terms of the Venus De Milo. You could argue that the statue's missing arms prompts a viewer to imagine what they might really look like. 

And because of that—because of the need to collaborate with the sculptor to fill in what's missing—each of us imagines our own vision of perfection. And this makes the statue perhaps more perfect that it would ever be if the arms were still attached. 

Same thing with Schubert's 'Unfinished' Symphony, which contains only the first two movements out of what should have been four. It's more beautiful because of what's missing.

All of this is worth mentioning prior to a screening of 'Eagle of the Night' (1928), an aviation thriller which I'm accompanying on Sunday, Sept. 17 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

Originally released as a 10-chapter cliffhanging serial, a good chunk of the original material (including four whole chapters) has not survived.

What remains has been edited into a 110-minute movie that I'm told still holds the screen. Well, we'll find out together with we uncorked what's left of 'Eagle of the Night' this coming Sunday afternoon.

Hope to see you there! 

And I promise to bring my arms, as I need them to play the keyboard.

*     *     *

Car meets plane: a scene from 'Eagle of  the Night' (1928)

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Rare thriller 'Eagle of the Night' (1928) to screen with live music at Town Hall Theatre

Surviving footage of 10-part silent aviation drama starring stunt pilot Frank Clarke to run on Sunday, Sept. 17

WILTON, N.H.—Like the famous Venus de Milo sculpture, it's missing some parts.

But enough survives of 'Eagle of the Night,' a 1928 silent-era aviation adventure serial, for audiences to follow the story and enjoy the multi-part thriller.

What remains of the 10-chapter saga will be shown on Sunday, Sept. 17 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $10. Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

The screening is part of "Not Known to be Shown," a series of early films that never played at the Wilton venue when originally released.

'Eagle of the Night' is a 1928 American drama film serial directed by James F. Fulton.

Dismissed when released and completely forgotten in the modern era, the 10-chapter aviation serial starred real-life aviator Frank Clarke, a stunt pilot whose talents were featured in better-known films of the era, including 'Wings' (1927) and 'Hell's Angels' (1930).

'Eagle of the Night' was one of the last silent film serials produced by Pathé Studios. The entire serial is not known to exist, with half of chapters 3 and 6, all of 7, 8, and 9, and the beginning of the 10th and final chapter considered lost.

The surviving footage runs about 1 hour and 50 minutes.

In 'Eagle of the Night,' unscrupulous smugglers are attempting to steal the "Magic Muffler," a device that can make an aircraft practically silent. Flying at night would make the smugglers and their forays across the border, impossible to detect.

The smugglers led by rancher Paul Murdock (Earl Metcalfe), capture the inventor, Professor Payson (Josef Swickard), holding him hostage until they get the secrets to his invention.

Unable to get Payson to make another device, the gang then kidnaps Professor Payson's daughter (Shirley Palmer) to force her father to work for them. Even faced with torture, she refuses to help the smugglers.

Secret Service Agent Frank Boyd (Frank Clarke) is called in to confront Murdock and his gang. With the Professor and his daughter on a speeding train, Frank manages to land his Curtiss "Jenny" aircraft on a flat car of the moving train, in time to effect a rescue and win the girl in the end.

The 'Not Known to be Shown' series runs through October and features obscure dramas, comedies, and adventure flicks from the silent era.

"In putting together this series, we wanted to give audiences a chance to see some rarely screened titles from the first years of motion pictures," Rapsis said.

"Also, they're all movies I've never scored before," Rapsis added. "So it's also a chance to work with 'new' material, although the films themselves are about 100 years old," Rapsis said.

Upcoming films in the Town Hall Theatre's 'Not Known to be Shown' series include:

• Sunday, Oct. 8, 2 p.m.: 'The Red Kimona' (1925). A small-town girl finds escape from her cruel home life in the arms of a handsome stranger, a situation that leads her to work as a prostitute in New Orleans.

What remains of 'Eagle of the Night' (1928), a 10-part silent adventure serial starring stunt pilot Frank Clarke, will be shown on Sunday, Sept. 17 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $10. For more information, call (603) 654-3456.

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