- Below is a brief overview of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s July 14 movies: Stark Love, Padlocked, Three Ages, Flowing Gold, The Dragon Painter, and The Cat and the Canary. Among those featured are silent era celebrities Anna Q. Nilsson, Milton Sills, Sessue Hayakawa, Laura La Plante, Buster Keaton, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s muse Lois Moran.
San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) revisits F. Scott Fitzgerald muse Lois Moran and Paul Leni’s classic ‘haunted house’ comedy The Cat and the Canary
Mixing well-known and long-forgotten titles, this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) continues on July 14 at the Castro Theatre, with the screening of six features: Stark Love, Padlocked, Three Ages, Flowing Gold, The Dragon Painter, and the classic “haunted house” comedy The Cat and the Canary.
Settings range from North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains and North Texas’ oil fields to the streets of Ancient Rome and the foreboding hallways of a mansion overlooking the Hudson River.
Stars include Sessue Hayakawa, Laura La Plante, Anna Q. Nilsson, Milton Sills, Buster Keaton, and Lois Moran, who happened to be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s inspiration for the character Rosemary Hoyt in Tender Is the Night. Among the directors are Karl Brown, Allan Dwan, and Paul Leni.
Each show will feature live music accompaniment by Stephen Horne, the Masaru Koga Ensemble, the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and others.
Immediately below is a brief overview of SFSFF’s July 14 presentations. (See the day’s full schedule further down.)
Stark Love (1927)
The directorial feature debut of cinematographer Karl Brown (who had shot the blockbuster Western The Covered Wagon), the rural drama Stark Love, described in SFSFF’s notes as a “proto-neorealist” effort, depicts the flourishing romance between two youths in North Carolina’s impoverished Great Smoky Mountains.
Like Vittorio De Sica’s Shoeshine and Bicycle Thieves, Stark Love has nonprofessionals as the two leads: Forrest James as the enamored young man (also a victim of his abusive father) and Helen Mundy as the young woman from the hills.
Long thought lost, Stark Love was rediscovered in the late 1960s. SFSFF will be screening a 35mm print from the 2011 digital restoration by New York City’s Museum of Modern Art.
Directed by Allan Dwan, whose The Iron Mask was the opening night movie at this year’s SFSFF, Padlocked is notable for starring Lois Moran, who reportedly had a brief affair with F. Scott Fitzgerald and, as mentioned further up, was his inspiration for Tender Is the Night’s Rosemary Hoyt.
In Padlocked, Moran portrays a young cafe dancer whose life is nearly destroyed by her puritanical father, played by the silent era’s meanest villain, Noah Beery (The Mark of Zorro, Beau Geste).
Also in the noteworthy cast: Future Best Actress Academy Award nominee Louise Dresser (A Ship Comes In, 1927–28); busy supporting actress Helen Jerome Eddy; minor leading man/second lead Allan Simpson; soon-to-be Paramount leading man Richard Arlen (Wings, Beggars of Life); 1930s/1940s star Douglas Fairbanks Jr.; and veteran Florence Turner, one of cinema’s first luminaries.
Cinematography by future two-time Oscar winner James Wong Howe (The Rose Tattoo, 1955; Hud, 1963).
This SFSFF screening will possibly be Padlocked’s first since the mid-1920s. The festival will be presenting its own 4K digital restoration, in collaboration with the Czech National Film Archive.
Three Ages (1923)
In this parody of D.W. Griffith’s 1916 epic Intolerance, multitasking comedy superstar Buster Keaton and London-born beauty contest winner Margaret Leahy (in her sole movie appearance) experience romantic yearning and turmoil in three parallel settings separated by the space-time continuum: The first takes place somewhere during the Stone Age, the second in Ancient Rome, and the third in the roaring ‘20s.
Keaton co-directed Three Ages with Edward F. Cline. Also in the cast: As Keaton’s competitor for Leahy’s attention, future Academy Award winner Wallace Beery (The Champ, 1931–32*), who also happened to be the brother of Padlocked’s Noah Beery.
SFSFF will be presenting the Cineteca di Bologna’s recently restored print (in association with the Cohen Film Collection).
* Tied with Fredric March for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Flowing Gold (1924)
The names Anna Q. Nilsson, Milton Sills, and Alice Calhoun may not mean much in the 21st century – or, for that matter, at any time since the dawn of the sound era – but back in the 1910s and 1920s they were known worldwide.
All three performers are seen in Joseph De Grasse’s Flowing Gold, a sort of precursor to George Stevens’ Giant: Featured in this adaptation of Rex Beach’s 1922 novel are vast expanses, oil wells, great fortunes, romance, betrayal, a bit of vamping, a heroine named Allegheny Briskow, and a calamitous flood in which water and burning oil intermingle.
Allegheny is played by the tall, statuesque Anna Q. Nilsson,* an early Swedish import who, with the coming of sound, became relegated to small supporting roles and bit parts, most notably as one of the card-playing has-beens in Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic Sunset Blvd. (The other three: Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond, H.B. Warner, and Three Ages’ Buster Keaton.)
Like Padlocked, Flowing Gold has possibly not seen the darkness of a movie theater since its initial release in the mid-1920s. SFSFF will be presenting a restored 35mm print, in another collaboration between the festival and the Czech National Film Archive.
* Anna Q. Nilsson is the female lead in Raoul Walsh’s landmark 1915 crime drama The Regeneration. And she is fantastic as H.B. Warner’s self-centered ex-wife and Nils Asther’s incestuous mom in Herbert Brenon’s Academy Award-nominated 1927 drama Sorrell and Son (shortlisted for Best Director of a Dramatic Picture).
The Dragon Painter (1919)
Cinema’s first East Asian international star – a feat achieved after (literally) branding reckless heroine Fannie Ward in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Cheat – Sessue Hayakawa plays the title character in the deliberately paced The Dragon Painter, the story of an emotionally disturbed artist whose creativity stems from his belief that his fiancée has been kidnapped and transformed into a dragon.
Hayakawa’s real-life wife, Tsuru Aoki, is the flesh-and-blood woman who brings the painter some much-needed happiness as well as an end to his artistry. The now largely forgotten William Worthington – in his day, a prolific actor and director – guided the proceedings.
Nearly four decades after The Dragon Painter, Hayakawa would be nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as the Japanese prison camp commander in David Lean’s World War II epic The Bridge on the River Kwai.
The Cat and the Canary (1927)
In order to receive the fortune a mad (and dead) relative has left her, comely blonde Laura La Plante must spend one full night in a decrepit mansion overlooking the Hudson River – without going insane in the process. The catch: There’s someone else who wants that money and they’re ready to frighten her to either death or distraction.
Even if not as funny (or creepy) as it could have been, The Cat and the Canary is a generally amusing “haunted house” comedy, while the capable La Plante – who, unfortunately, didn’t have much of a talkie career – is an appealing heiress-in-distress.
This Universal release was directed by German expressionist master Paul Leni (Waxworks), who would go on to guide the star in another late 1920s classic, The Last Warning.
Directed by former actor Elliott Nugent, Paramount’s 1939 remake of The Cat and the Canary stars Paulette Goddard and Bob Hope, while Carol Lynley has the lead in a less famous 1978 reboot handled by XXX filmmaker Radley Metzger.
See below SFSFF’s July 14 schedule.
SFSFF schedule – July 14
Stark Love (1927) | 14 Jul at 11:00 AM
Director: Karl Brown.
Cast: Helen Mundy, Forrest James, Reb Grogan.
Live music by Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius
Flowing Gold (1924) | 14 Jul at 1:00 PM
Director: Joseph De Grasse.
Cast: Anna Q. Nilsson, Milton Sills, Alice Calhoun, Crauford Kent.
Live music by Utsav Lal
Padlocked (1926) | 14 Jul at 3:00 PM
Director: Allan Dwan.
Cast: Lois Moran, Noah Beery, Louise Dresser, Helen Jerome Eddy, Florence Turner, Richard Arlen, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Live music by Stephen Horne
Three Ages (1923) | 14 Jul at 5:00 PM
Director: Buster Keaton & Edward F. Cline.
Cast: Buster Keaton, Margaret Leahy, Wallace Beery.
Live music by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
The Dragon Painter (1919) | 14 Jul at 7:00 PM
Director: William Worthington.
Cast: Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki, Edward Peil Sr.
Live music by the Masaru Koga Ensemble
The Cat and the Canary (1927) | 14 Jul at 9:00 PM
Director: Paul Leni.
Cast: Laura La Plante, Forrest Stanley, Creighton Hale, Flora Finch.
Live music by Utsav Lal
“SFSFF Movies: F. Scott Fitzgerald Muse + ‘Haunted House’ Comedy” notes
San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) website.
Images of Lois Moran and Noah Beery in Padlocked and Anna Q. Nilsson in Flowing Gold via the SFSFF site.
“SFSFF Movies: F. Scott Fitzgerald Muse + ‘Haunted House’ Comedy” last updated in September 2023.