The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont has an October schedule worth checking out - especially if you don't mind a little fright. There is an early Douglas Fairbanks comedy - before he turned swashbuckler, a quirky, forward-looking 1925 film featuring a Tele-Visionphone (think smart-device), a downright creepy Lon Chaney movie before Halloween - as well as a couple of Koko the Clown cartoons for good measure. Each is presented with live musical accompaniment. Along with their regular "Saturday Night at the Movies" programming, there is also the Comedy Short Subject Night, a Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee, and special Halloween themed programs. All together, it is another fine 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, October 6 at 7:30 pm
Douglas Fairbanks and Constance Talmadge team up in The Matrimaniac (1916, Triangle), a romantic comedy written by the legendary husband and wife team of John Emerson and Anita Loos. The film tells the story of young lovers who elope but are separated before they can secure a minister and marry - all the while, the bride's irate father and a group of lawmen are in hot pursuit. Among the noted actors in uncredited parts in support of Fairbanks and Talmadge are Monte Blue, Mildred Harris, and Carmel Myers, while future great Victor Fleming (Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz) served as cinematographer. This rarely screened feature will be preceded by two shorts, The Dumb-Bell (1922, Hal Roach Studios) with Snub Pollard, and The Surf Girl (1916, Keystone) with Raymond Griffith and Ivy Crosthwaite.
"Saturday Night at the Movies" with Frederick Hodges at the piano
Saturday, October 13 at 7:30 pm
Loosely based on a Broadway play by Owen Davis, Up the Ladder (1925, Universal) is something of a curiosity, with a plot involving the invention and use of a Tele-Visionphone. Directed by Edward Sloman, the film stars former Essanay Chicago studio actress Virginia Valli and Margaret Livingston (two of the era's striking beauties), as well as Forrest Stanley. The remarkable in-camera special effects are by cinematographer Jackson Rose, who also got his start at Chicago Essanay.
Also in the cast is Olive Ann Alcorn, another beauty, who despite small roles in Chaplin's Sunnyside (1919) and Phantom of the Opera (1925), is best remembered today for the stunning nude photographs of her taken by the Alta Studio of San Francisco. Those images are still in circulation today. Up the Ladder will be preceded by two shorts, Koko’s Field Daze (1928, Out of the Inkwell) with Koko the Clown, and Mystic Mush (1920, Hank Mann Comedies) with Hank Mann and Vernon Dent.
"Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee"
Sunday, October 14 at 4:00 pm
This month's Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee includes four fine shorts, Oliver the 8th (1933) and The Live Ghost (1934) with the immortal duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and Bedtime Worries (1933) and Spooky Hooky (1936), featuring Our Gang.
"Comedy Short Subject Night" with Bruce Loeb at the piano
Saturday, October 20 at 7:30 pm
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 Cure (1917, Lone Star) with Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance, Convict 13 (1920, Comique) with Buster Keaton, The Dome Doctor ( 1925, Educational) with Larry Semon, and Habeas Corpus (1928, Hal Roach) with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
"Saturday Night at the Movies" with Jon Mirsalis at the Kurzweil
Saturday, October 27 at 7:30 pm
On the Saturday before Halloween, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum screens The Monster (1925, Roland West Productions), a comedy horror mystery with legendary Lon Chaney as the mad Doctor Ziska in charge of a strange sanitarium on a dark and stormy night. The film, which also features Gertrude Olmstead, tells the story of a meek clerk who doubles as an amateur detective and investigates strange goings-on at the sanitarium.
The evening's entertainment includes three short films perfect for the occasion, The Ouija Board (1920, Bray) with Koko the Clown, The Thieving Hand (1908, Vitagraph) with Paul Panzer, and the hand colored film, The Red Spectre (1907, Pathe), in which a demonic magician attempts to perform his act in a strange grotto, but is confronted by a Good Spirit who opposes him.
"Creature Features Matinee"
Sunday October 28 at 7:30 pm
This special Halloween Show features a brand new edit of a complete 1975 Bob Wilkins Creature Features program with original show segments, TV commercials, and a feature film, and all on the big screen! Not seen in 37 years, this is the second Bob Wilkins show to be reassembled. The program will be hosted by John Stanley and Tom Wyrsch; Ernie Fosselius will also present Hardware Wars.
"Kiddie Cartoon Halloween Cavalcade"
Wednesday, October 31 at 4:00 pm
This Halloween matinee for children of all ages features silly and slightly spooky vintage cartoons, retro commercials and funky film shorts.
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.