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Old Movies New Again at Niles

The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum has a great line-up of films scheduled for 2013.

This year should be a big year for the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont. In addition to the annual Charlie Chaplin Days and Broncho Billy Film Festival held later in the year, Niles Essanay will mark the 100th anniversary of the building of the Essanay Film Studio. A century ago, Niles, a small hamlet located in the East Bay, hosted what was one of the major studios on the West Coast. The local film museum also celebrates its eighth year of showing silent movies every Saturday night at its historic Edison Theater (which is also marking its 100th anniversary).

Niles Essanay starts the new year with a great line-up of films in January. One highlight is Anna Christie (1923), the first film adaption of Eugene O'Neill's famous Pulitzer Prize winning play. Notably, it was produced by Thomas Ince (the subject of a major new biography) only two years after O'Neill's stage drama debuted on Broadway. That film is part of the weekly series "Saturday Night at the Movies." There is also the monthly "Comedy Short Subject Night" and "Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee." Notably, each silent film is presented with live musical accompaniment featuring some of the Bay Area's leading accompanists. All together, it's a great month of early cinema in the East Bay. Here's what's playing.

"Saturday Night at the Movies" with Bruce Loeb at the piano
Saturday January 5 at 7:30 pm

Today, we think of Wallace Beery as a memorable character actor who often played the "heavy." But in the 1920's he was one half of one of the most popular comedy teams of the silent era. His screen partner was Raymond Hatton, and together they appeared in a series of so-called service comedies (army, navy, air force, fire department, etc...) which included the now lost smash hit, Now We're in the Air (1927). In Behind the Front (1926, Paramount), Beery and Hatton join the army and head off to France to fight in this WWI comedy directed by Eddie Sutherland. The film also features Mary Brian, Richard Arlen, Chester Conklin, and Gertrude Astor. This seldom screened silent feature will be preceded by two shorts, One Is Business, the Other Crime (1912, Biograph) with Edwin August and Blanche Sweet, and Pink Pajamas (1929, Mack Sennett) with Billy Bevan and Natalie Joyce.

"Saturday Night at the Movies" with Frederick Hodges at the piano
Saturday January 12 at 7:30 pm

In Power (1928, Pathe), William Boyd and Alan Hale are friends and rivals for the affections of the lovely Jacqueline Logan in this light comedy with wisecracks penned by future director Tay Garnett (best known for The Postman Always Rings Twice). Beauties Joan Bennett and Carole Lombard are also featured, as is the fluid camerawork of J. Peverell Marley. The feature will be preceded by the comedic shorts Hale and Hearty (1922, Hal Roach) with Snub Pollard, and Many Scrappy Returns (1927, Hal Roach) with Charley Chase and Eugene Pallette.

"Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee"
Sunday January 13 at 4:00 pm

This month's "Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee" is themed "The Sounds of Silents." It's comprised of four late silent short films originally released with Vitaphone soundtracks containing music and sound effects. Each of the four shorts -- Liberty (1928) and Bacon Grabbers (1929) with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and Barnum & Ringling (1928) and Cat, Dog & Company (1929) -- will be screened with their original, vintage soundtracks.

"Comedy Short Subject Night" with Greg Pane at the piano
Saturday January 19 at 7:30 pm

If you love to laugh, then don't miss this monthly program of shorts featuring some of the most famous comedians of the silent film era. On the bill are The Pawnshop (1916, Lone Star) with Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance, The Paleface (1921, Comique) with Buster Keaton, Among Those Present (1921, Rolin) with Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis, and Putting Pants on Philip (1927, Hal Roach) with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

"Saturday Night at the Movies" with Judy Rosenberg at the piano
Saturday January 26 at 7:30 pm

Blanche Sweet and William Russell star in Anna Christie (1923, Ince), the first film adaption of Eugene O'Neill's play about a troubled young woman who comes to live with her estranged father on the New York waterfront. Anna Christie has been remade many times as a film, most famously with Greta Garbo in 1931. This earlier version features Eugenie Besserer, Chester Conklin and Fred Kohler. The feature will be preceded by two shorts, A Ten-Minute Egg (1924, Hal Roach) with Charley Chase, and The Cry of the Children (1912, Thanhouser), starring future director James Cruze. This latter short was based on a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

"Mary Pickford Short Film Program" with Bruce Loeb at the piano
Saturday February 2 at 7:30 pm

Looking ahead to February, Niles Essanay celebrates Mary Pickford at the beginning of her career with a selection of her Biograph and IMP films in 35mm prints from the Library of Congress. Christel Schmidt will be on hand to talk about the films and sign copies of her big new book, Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies (University Press of Kentucky).

The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is located at 37417 Niles Blvd. in Fremont, California. For further information, call (510) 494-1411 or visit the museum website at www.nilesfilmmuseum.org/.

Thomas Gladysz is a Bay Area arts and entertainment writer and early film buff, as well as the Director of the Louise Brooks Society, an internet-based archive and international fan club devoted to the silent film star. Gladysz has contributed to books on the actress, organized exhibits, appeared on television and radio, and introduced Brooks' films around the world. 

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