Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Monday, Nov. 6: Lillian Gish plus some Puritan-era hanky panky in 'The Scarlet Letter' (1926)

An original lobby card promoting Lillian Gish in 'The Scarlet Letter' (1926).

With Halloween in the rear view mirror, time for a break from the annual marathon of spooky silent film screenings. 

But not for long! 

The pace resumes again on Monday, Nov. 6, when I'll accompany the MGM's big-budget adaptation of 'The Scarlet Letter' (1926) at the Garden Cinemas in Greenfield, Mass. 

Showtime is 6:30 p.m. Lots more info about the film and the screening is in the press release pasted at the end of this post.

Then on Tuesday, it's Chaplin's 'The Gold Rush' (1925) in Newport, R.I., then 'The Three Musketeers' (1921) in Plymouth, N.H., then a total of four shows on the weekend around Veterans Day, including three biggies: one 'Wings' (1927) and two screenings of 'The Big Parade' (1925).

But before any of that, this weekend I have the privilege of sitting in as accompanist at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Niles, Calif. 

On Saturday, Nov. 4, I'll do live music for a program highlighted by the 1925 feature film 'Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman.' 

By the way, what a film this is for names. It stars "House Peters," which sounds like a name out of Monty Python's Flying Circus. And it's directed by "King Baggot," who was actually quite a big name in early cinema. 

The cast also includes Hedda Hopper and stalwart character actor Walter Long, a New Hampshire native.

It's the first time since the pandemic that I've gone out to Niles, which is in on the east side of San Francisco Bay, about halfway between Oakland and San Jose.

Prior to everything shutting down, I'd generally go out there twice a year to accompany programs. It's the only venue I know of that runs silent film programs each week all year round, so it's worth the pilgrimage to do my part. 

Let's hope this weekend's screening marks the resumption of this ritual. I like going out to San Francisco to do this. The whole area reminds me of the model railroad layouts I dreamed about as a child. And the ramen is much better than anything you can get in New England.

Speaking of which: I invite you to join me for MGM's adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel set in 1600s Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony on Monday, Nov. 6 at 6:30 a.m. 

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Lillian Gish stars in 'The Scarlet Letter' (1926)

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Greenfield's Garden Cinemas to screen 1926 silent film version of 'The Scarlet Letter'

Early adaptation of Nathanial Hawthorne classic tale of old New England features Lillian Gish in lead role; shown with live music on Monday, Nov. 6.

GREENFIELD, Mass.— It was a picture that MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer didn't want to make, fearing the scandalous story of adultery in old New England would offend the movie-going public.

But silent screen star Lillian Gish, then at the height of her fame, insisted that 'The Scarlet Letter' by Nathaniel Hawthorne would be her next film.

Gish prevailed, and the result was MGM's splashy big budget adaptation of a classic literary tale anchored by Gish's landmark performance as Hester Prynne.

See it for yourself when 'The Scarlet Letter' (1926) will be shown with live music on Monday, Nov. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Greenfield Garden Cinemas, 361 Main St., Greenfield.

The screening will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.

Admission is $10.50 adults, $8:50 for children, seniors, and students. Tickets are available online or at the door.

Adapted from Hawthorne's 1850 classic novel set in the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1642 to 1649, 'The Scarlet Letter' featured Lillian Gish in the leading role as Hester Prynne.

Hester is married to Roger Prynne, whom she does not love. During her husband's long absence she walks in the woods with her pastor, the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale, and they soon fall in love.

When a child is born to her, she is condemned to wear upon her breast the brand of Adulteress and is shunned when she refuses to divulge the name of the child's father.

The situation leads to a shattering climax in which a community is forced to confront its own hypocrisy and double standards.

'The Scarlet Letter' was directed by Victor Seastrom, a Swedish filmmaker brought to Hollywood by MGM.

Seastrom's talent for memorable visuals is evident throughout 'The Scarlet Letter.'

Film critic Paul Malcolm observed that “early in the film Gish, as Prynne, loses her bonnet chasing a songbird through a summer glade. When the wind catches her waist-long tresses, Gish appears for an instant as if she had stepped into a painting by Botticelli."

The film was the second that Gish made under her contract with MGM and a departure from the ingénue roles she had performed in service to director D.W. Griffith. 

Her first MGM picture was an adaption of 'La Bohème' with co-star John Gilbert, in which she played the pathetic consumptive Mimi.

Although 'The Scarlet Letter' cost MGM nearly $500,000 to make, it proved a solid box office hit, earning a profit of just under $300,000.

An exhibition trade ad promoting 'The Scarlet Letter' (1926).

In screening 'The Scarlet Letter,' the Garden Cinemas aim to recreate all essential elements of silent film experience: high quality prints shown on a large screen, with live music and an audience.

"These films caused people to fall in love with the movies for a very good reason," said Jeff Rapsis, who will improvise a musical score during the screening. "They were unique experiences, and if you can recreate the conditions under which they were shown, they have a great deal of life in them.

"Though they're the ancestors of today's movies, silent film is a very different art form than what you see at the multiplex today, so it's worth checking out as something totally different," Rapsis said.

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

The Garden Theatre's silent film schedule features vintage Hollywood dramas, thrillers, and adventure flicks, all with live music. Upcoming shows include:

• Monday, Dec. 4 at 6:30 p.m.: 'Robin Hood' (1922). Douglas Fairbanks Sr. stars in the original big screen adaptation of 'Robin Hood,' one of the biggest box office hits of the silent era.

• Monday, Jan. 1 at 6:30 p.m.: 'The Gold Rush' (1925). Charlie Chaplin's beloved 'Little Tramp' character tries his hand at prospecting in the Yukon, finding romance instead. All-time classic comedy!

• Monday, Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m.: 'Flesh and the Devil' (1926). Just in time for Valentine's Day! Garbo and Gilbert steam up the camera lens in this torrid romance set in 19th century European high society.

• Monday, March 4 at 6:30 p.m.: 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928). Danish director Carl Dreyer's intense recreation of the trial of Joan of Arc set new standards for cinematography and expanded the language of film in new directions.

• Monday, April 1 at 6:30 p.m.: 'Safety Last' (1923). The iconic image of Harold Lloyd dangling from the hands of a downtown clock is only one small piece of a remarkable thrill comedy that has lost none of its power over audiences.

The silent film version of 'The Scarlet Letter' (1926) will be screened with live music on Monday, Nov. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Greenfield Garden Cinemas, 361 Main St., Greenfield.

The screening will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.

Admission is $10.50 adults, $8:50 for children, seniors, and students. Tickets are at the door; advance tickets are available at For more information, call the box office at (413) 774-4881.

Karl Dane provides some comic relief in 'The Scarlet Letter' (1926).

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