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Home Classic Movies Topeka Movies: Rudolph Valentino + John Gilbert at Kansas Silent Film Festival

Topeka Movies: Rudolph Valentino + John Gilbert at Kansas Silent Film Festival

Bardelys the Magnificent by King Vidor
Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

The 13th annual Kansas Silent Film Festival (KSFF) will be held on Feb. 27 and 28, 2009, at the White Concert Hall on the Washburn University campus in Topeka, Kansas. Sponsored by Washburn, admission is free.

This year’s KSFF highlight is the American premiere of the restored 1926 swashbuckler Bardelys the Magnificent, which until recently was thought to be a lost film. Based on a novel by Rafael Sabatini, and starring John Gilbert and Eleanor Boardman, Bardelys the Magnificent is set in 17th-century France, where a local Don Juan steals female hearts but is unable to conquer the one woman he truly loves. Directed by King Vidor, Bardelys was a major hit for MGM (formed a mere two years earlier), and helped to catapult John Gilbert into the realm of superstardom. Boardman also did quite well for herself, later marrying her director and starring for him in the classic The Crowd.

Film restoration expert David Shepard (who worked on Bardelys the Magnificent) will be present to introduce the film. Musical accompaniment will be provided by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra of Boulder, Colorado, on the Concert Hall stage.

Also of particular interest: a screening of Nicholas Eliopoulos’ 2008 documentary Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies, which uses narration – some of which is Pickford’s own, by way of old recordings – images from her films, photos, and interviews to paint a portrait of the movies’ first international superstar, and whose first film appearance took place 100 years ago.

Constance Talmadge, Ronald Colman in Her Sister from Paris

I’d also recommend Sidney Franklin’s Lubitsch-esque Her Sister from Paris, a sophisticated 1925 comedy written by frequent Ernst Lubitsch collaborator Hanns Kräly, and starring the delightful Constance Talmadge as a woman who pretends to be her worldly sister so as to win back the affections of her blasé husband, played by Ronald Colman.

Colman, who’d become one of the greatest film actors of the 1930s and 1940s is just okay here, but Talmadge proves herself a wonderful comedienne. It’s really too bad she opted to bow out of films right at the dawn of the talkie era; had she kept on going, she might have become a top screwball-comedy star. By the way, if the Her Sister from Paris plot sounds vaguely familiar it’s because Hanns Kräly’s screenplay was the basis for Greta Garbo’s cinematic swan song, Two-Faced Woman in 1941.

Of note, among the German-made Ernst Lubitsch-Hanns Kräly collaborations are Madame DuBarry (1919), The Doll (1919), The Oyster Princess (1919), and Sumurun (1920).

In Hollywood, they worked together on, among others, Rosita (1923), Three Women (1924), Forbidden Paradise (1924), The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927), and The Patriot (1928).

Away from Lubitsch, Hanns Kräly’s movie credits include the Greta Garbo melodrama Wild Orchids (1928), the Ramon Novarro musical Devil-May-Care (1929), and the adaptation of Noël Coward’s stage comedy Private Lives (1931), starring Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery.

Cobra and Go West will bring great pleasure to Rudolph Valentino and Buster Keaton fans, I’m sure. Cobra, for instance, is Alt Film Guide contributor Danny Fortune‘s favorite Valentino film. (Now, as far as I’m concerned the only good moment in Go West comes courtesy of a whole bunch of cows running amok through the streets of a Western town.)

And finally, The Great K & A Train Robbery, starring cowboy legend Tom Mix, sounds like a hoot, while The Poor Little Rich Girl is a must so you can check out the young Mary Pickford – then in her mid-20s – at work.

Schedule and synopses from the Kansas Silent Film Festival website:

Introductions by Denise Morrison

Music provided by Marvin Faulwell, Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, Greg Foreman, Kathy Combs and Jeff Rapsis

Special guests: Film preservationist David Shepard,
Documentary filmmaker Nicholas Eliopoulos

The event is free and open to the public. The KSFF is underwritten by donations

Friday, Feb. 27 ’09

Begins: 7:00 p.m.

Short: Rowdy Ann (1919) Fay Tincher (20 min.)

This brash short film is one of the few silent movies to depict a heroic, rough-hewn leading character who is also a woman. She lassoes steers and men with equal ease and is just as handy with a six-gun as the guys. Her name is Rowdy Ann and she’s sent off to a boarding school where she rescues just about everyone she meets.

Organ music by Greg Foreman


Short: Go West (1925) Buster Keaton (70 min.)

Kansas-born Buster Keaton is the unlikely hero of this impressive feature film in which he takes Horatio Alger’s famous saying (‘Go West, Young Man’) to heart. He heads out west to work at a dude ranch and (as often happens) everything there is given the Keaton-esque twist. There are procedures for milking cows, riding mules and playing cards. Keaton must even save the day when a shipment of cattle heads into downtown Los Angeles. He dons a red devil suit to attract them and succeeds… way more than he expected.

Organ music by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

–Brief Break
Intermission Slides from the Dave Stevenson Collection featuring Jeff Rapsis (of New Hampshire’s Wilton Town Hall Silent Film series) on piano

Feature: The Great K & A Train Robbery (1926) Tom Mix (54 min.)

A surprisingly short, but astounding silent western featureone of the best (if not THE best) silent film Tom Mix ever made. Tom and his wonder horse (Tony) do some awesome stunts and many scenes in the film were actually filmed on location in Glenwood Springs, Colorado back in the 1920’s. If you have never seen a Tom Mix western, this is the one you should see! The plot is rather old hat. The hero wears a mask to hide his identity, but this was before the Lone Ranger and several other masked heroes. It was all new in 1926.

Organ music by Marvin Faulwell & percussion by Kathy Combs

Mary Pickford in The Poor Little Rich Girl
Mary Pickford in The Poor Little Rich Girl

Saturday – Feb. 28, 2009

Morning – starts at 9 a.m.

Feature: The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917) Mary Pickford (65 min.)

This is the feature film that put little Mary Pickford on the map as a star. She was known before, but this one put her name above the title and fans came to see her pictures after this no matter what the title was. It was also a role that typecast her forever as a child afterwards. Even when she was 33-years old, she was still playing little girls and was known as ‘America’s Sweetheart’. This delightful yet important story is about family and the importance of family. The little girl here (Mary Pickford) has everything that money can buy except time with her parents. It was just what a war weary nation needed at the time.

Organ music by Marvin Faulwell

Special Kansas Premiere: Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies (2008 documentary by Nicholas Eliopoulos 101 min.) Film-maker will be here in person for introduction and Q & A
This new documentary traces the life and work of the legendary silent film star, movie pioneer, and keen business woman who co-created United Artists Studios. Pickford’s life (1892-1979) also parallels an even larger story, the telling of the “birth of the cinema” itself. Mary, known as “America’s Sweetheart” was the first actress to earn one million dollars during a single year, and the only star to ever receive a 50 percent profit share of her movies. Through restored vintage audio recordings, Pickford narrates her own story along with actor Michael York. Cameo interviews with Adolph Zukor, famed aviator Amelia Earhart, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Buddy Rogers, Lillian Gish, and rare home movies give the viewer an in depth look into the early world of American cinema.

Afternoon – starts at 1:00 p.m.

Short: Fatty & Mabel Adrift (1916) Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle & Mabel Normand (30 min.)

One of the best in a series of very funny three-reel comedies featuring Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle (who was born in Smith Center, Kansas), Mabel Normand and Al St. John. Fatty and Mabel are trying to enjoy their wedded bliss while Al (her former suitor) is trying to mess things up. Of course, their cabin slides out to sea in a thunderstorm and their world is set topsy-turvy for a night!

Music by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

Feature: Cobra (1925) Rudolph Valentino & Nita Naldi (75 min.)

Who was the icon of seductive charm, Hollywood glamour and irresistible sexuality? Rudolph Valentino, of course and here’s proof. COBRA is Valentino’s first independent production released less than a year before his untimely death. Here, he plays the suave Rodrigo Torriani whose affairs with various women have caused his retreat from his native Italy to New York where he becomes an antique dealer. Things start to heat up again when the bosss’ new wife takes an interest in Rudy. She’s played by one of the great femme fatales of the silent era – Nita Naldi and her snake-like gaze may lead to Rudy’s downfall. Handsomely produced with sets by William Cameron Menzies, gowns by Adrian and shimmering cinematography by J.D. Jennings and Harry Fischbeck, this is a grand silent movie with lots to say about the ‘Battle of the Sexes”. Ms. Naldi has inspired an internet group of media savvy business women, whom we will salute at the beginning of this film.

Music by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

–Brief Break
Intermission Slides from the Dave Stevenson Collection featuring Jeff Rapsis (of New Hampshire’s Wilton Town Hall Silent Film series) on piano

Short: Kidding Katie (1923) Dorothy Devore (20 min.)

Another light weight, but delightful comedy short featuring a woman in the lead. Co-stars include Babe London and Billy Bletcher. Devore was one of the great silent screen comediennes of her day.

Organ music by Marvin Faulwell

Feature: Her Sister from Paris (1925) Constance Talmadge & Ronald Colman (74 min.)

Another KSFF coup is this impressive rarely-shown comedy featuring Constance Talmadge. Part of a family of movie stars (that included Constance, Norma and Natalie), the Talmadges were a prominent force in Hollywood movies for many years. Few of their movies survive, but this is one of Constance’s very best. She plays a troubled housewife whose husband seems to take her very much for granted until she gets a visit from the title character (to whom she bears a striking resemblance). The Parisian sister teaches her American sister how to win back her husband using her ‘vampy’ techniques. This could almost be described as a Ernst Lubitsch movie without Lubitscha top-notch sophisticated romantic comedy.

Organ music by Greg Foreman
(DVD Presentation of a Restored Film)

5:15 to 6:45pm


Bradbury Thompson Alumni Center (17th & Jewell) – Washburn University campus

This special Dinner Event will begin with a reception followed by a buffet. Guests will be seated and have dinner in the Thompson Center’s banquet room on the main floor.

Special guest David Shepard – film restoration expert will be speaking about his recent film projects including our main feature for the evening – the previously ‘lost’ BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT. Attendees will receive a special gift before departing for White Concert Hall and the Cinema Event of the Season – the first U.S.A. screening of the newly restored BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT and the conclusion of KSFF 13

PLEASE NOTE: This is an informal dinner, but reservations with appropriate fees are required. Since this event is scheduled tightly between the afternoon shows and the evening performances, we want to do it as efficiently as possible. We would like for everyone to meet our special guests and musicians, but please respect their time constraints by letting them get back to the Concert Hall before they have to ‘go on’.

Total cost: $20 per person (non-refundable)
(a portion of this fee will go to the KSFF)
Send your reservation requests to:
KSFF Cinema-Dinner
P.O. Box 2032
Topeka, Kansas 66601-2032
(We must receive your check for reservations no later than February 10th, 2009)
Tickets are first come, first served

Evening – starts at 7:00 p.m.

Short: A Flash of Light (1910) Directed by D.W. Griffith (15 min.)

We continue a multi-year tradition of always running a short film or feature by the Father of Film, D.W. Griffith. Uniquely talented in many ways, Griffith discovered and created the ‘language of cinema’ in many of his short films (often less than 10 minutes long) which usually had a moral and a lesson built in. This wild melodrama deals with the issue of the ideal wife in an era of successive divorces. Mary Pickford has a small part in the supporting cast.

Organ music by Marvin Faulwell

Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy in That's My Wife

Short: That’s My Wife (1929) Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy (20 min.)

It is amazing to note that the primary output of what was arguably the greatest comedy team ever assembled in the history of the movies or popular media – Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy – lasted only a decade (from 1927 to 1937). They did make several feature films after 1937, but their core development as comedians came out of this prime ten-year period. Here is one of their best short films in which Ollie’s wife leaves him at the beginning (because he spends too much time with Stan). In comes rich Uncle Burnel, who wants to make sure that Ollie is happily married before he writes him into his will. Who can play Mrs. Hardy for a night? Well, Stan of course. The whole incredible story is a wild mixture of gags and routines that Stan and Ollie may have polished in the future, but rarely outdid.

Organ music by Greg Foreman

Feature: Bardelys the Magnificent (1926) John Gilbert (90 min.)

This classic was recently discovered in the cellar of a building in France. It was restored by Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange of Lobster Films in Paris. David Shepard and Jeffrey Masino of Flicker Alley Films assisted and are handling both the movie’s U. S. theatrical and DVD release. Shepard and Masino used various sources including the English title list and continuity log to reconstruct an English version of the movie (when it was recovered, all of the inter-titles were in French). This reconstruction also utilizes a U.S. promotional trailer which luckily contained the original English main title artwork. The print is missing approximately ten minutes (equating one reel) which has been recreated using continuity and production stills. A new score is being assembled by KSFF’s own Rodney Sauer and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra; Mont Alto has been a long time favorite at the Kansas festival, playing every year since 1997. It was with the support of Sauer and the blessing of Shepard, both friends of the Kansas festival, that got the U.S. premiere event slated for Topeka. And both will be on hand at the festivalShepard to introduce the film and Mont Alto to perform their score live.

A New York Times review from November 1, 1926, described the main character as “a composite of d’Artagnan, Don Juan and that millionaire cowboy, Tom Mix. Nothing is too daring for the Marquis Bardelys, a French noble of the seventeenth century and one is almost impelled to pity the churls foolish enough to level their steel against him.” The film is based on the novel of Rafael Sabatini. MGM, formed only two years prior to the film’s release, was already known for its elaborate (and expensively produced) period films and placed its top star and director on the project to insure its success. King Vidor was one of the most famous movie directors of the silent and sound film eras. His silent films include innovative masterpieces like The Crowd, The Big Parade and Show People. Leading man John Gilbert was a versatile dramatic actor who had been around Hollywood for many years, but had just gotten his big break in 1925’s hugely popular Big Parade. Gilbert’s leading lady is Eleanor Boardman, an actress who benefited greatly from her relationship with her new husband, director Vidor. Her greatest silent screen credits came in Vidor’s films. Bardelys also holds the distinction of marking the first credited screen appearance of a lanky kid from Iowa who would change his name from Marion Morrison to John Wayne.

Music by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
(DVD Presentation of a “Lost” Film)

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