The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont has a festive December schedule. In time for the holidays, there's the classic Babes in Toyland and the great epic Ben-Hur, as well as a classic Buster Keaton comedy filmed in Northern California, an action-packed Western, and a seldom shown, quirky comedy about a rich, hypochondriac heiress. Each is presented with live musical accompaniment.
Along with their regular "Saturday Night at the Movies" programming, there is also a "Comedy Short Subject Night," and the above mentioned special holiday themed Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee. All together, it is a great month of early cinema in the East Bay. Here's what's playing.
"Saturday Night at the Movies" with Judy Rosenberg at the piano
Saturday December 1 at 7:30 pm
The Great K & A Train Robbery (1926, Fox Film) is an action-packed Western starring Tom Mix, Dorothy Dwan, and Mix's famous horse, Tony. (Future star John Wayne reportedly worked as a property assistant on the film, and also appears as an extra.) The film, based on the story of an actual train robbery, was mostly shot on location in Colorado and is notable for its stunts, action scenes and use of breathtaking locations. This seldom screened feature will be preceded by two shorts, Felix Busts a Bubble (1926, Sullivan) with Felix the Cat, and Mum’s the Word (1926, Roach) with Charley Chase.
"Saturday Night at the Movies" with Bruce Loeb at the piano
Saturday December 8 at 7:30 pm
In Feel My Pulse (1928, Paramount), a rich, hypochondriac heiress inherits a sanitarium. What she doesn't know is that it's a front for bootleggers, and a hideout for criminals on the run from the law. Directed by Gregory La Cava, the film stars Bebe Daniels, Richard Arlen and William Powell. This quirky comedy, considered La Cava best silent, will be preceded by two shorts, The Life and Death of 9413, a Hollywood Extra (1928, an experimental short directed by Robert Florey and photographed by Gregg Toland, and Crazy Like a Fox (1926, Hal Roach), a comedy with Charley Chase.
"Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee"
Sunday December 9 at 4:00 pm
Laurel and Hardy star in Babes in Toyland (1934), a Christmas favorite of storybook characters come to life with Ollie Dee and Stanley Dum battling the evil Barnaby (played by Henry Brandon). Also on the bill are Laughing Gravy (1935) starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and Our Gang Follies of 1938 (1938), with Our Gang.
"Comedy Short Subject Night" with Judy Rosenberg at the piano
Saturday December 15 at 7:30 pm
If you love to laugh, then don't miss this monthly program of short films featuring some of the most famous comedians of the silent film era. On the bill are His New Job (1915, Essanay) with Charlie Chaplin, The Goat (1921, Comique) with Buster Keaton, High and Dizzy (1920, Rolin) with Harold Lloyd, an Big Business (1929, Hal Roach) with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
"Saturday Night at the Movies" with Jon Mirsalis at the Kurzweil
Saturday December 22 at 7:30 pm
Ramon Novarro (as Judah Ben-Hur) and Francis X. Bushman (as Messala) lead a big cast of stars (May McAvoy, Betty Bronson, Carmel Myers, Claire McDowell) in Ben-Hur (1925, MGM, part color), Fred Niblo's Biblical epic that rivals and some say surpasses the popular 1959 William Wyler remake. The film is notable for many reasons, especially the chariot race. Ben-Hur marked a comeback for Bushman, who got his start at the Essanay studio in Chicago. No shorts will be shown beforehand for this program due to its length. There will also be an intermission.
"Saturday Night at the Movies" with Frederick Hodges at the piano
Saturday December 29 at 7:30 pm
Buster Keaton filmed Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928, Buster Keaton Productions), a Mississippi riverboat comedy, in and around Sacramento. The film, which includes one of his most famous and dangerous stunts, tells the story of the effete son of a cantankerous riverboat captain who joins his father's crew. This classic feature will be preceded by two shorts, The Stagecoach Driver and the Girl (1915, Selig Polyscope) with Tom Mix, and Fluttering Hearts (1927, Hal Roach) with Charley Chase.
For more info: 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's 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.