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Thursday, December 07, 2017

Could Paramount Sail Silent Ships Again?


Ancient Mariner Old Ironsides Gets A 1959 Encore

Among miracles of late is Kino Lorber releasing Paramount silent features I'd have sworn we'd not see again, including Old Ironsides, a 1926 pageant that's said to define sea-set spectacle. Clearly this is stuff of major anticipation for 2018, as minds naturally wander to just when and how often Old Ironsides was seen over  ninety years since it was new. I would have guessed seldom, and never in theatres once the talkie monster spat out silents. Wrong again, as evidenced by this shock of an ad for the Esquire Theatre in Chicago, a venue you'd figure for an artie, especially with Old Ironsides playing there in 1959, decked out with "Narration and Music Added" for this "Modernized Version." Here was a reissue new to me, but turns out Para put feet to pedal and pushed hard this bring-back, a test, said trades, to see if extreme oldies could still be viable in a modern market. Things got hopping in March '59 with hire of voice great Art Gilmore to narrate. Report from key bookings began in September, Old Ironsides doggy in Denver with a "poor" $5K for the 1,584 seat Denham Theatre, an independent house, then Baltimore clocked a "slow" $1,200 at a 300-seat art address. Chicago saw "drab" biz. Variety tried to help with a feature article on 9/9/59. "The Par tryout could abound in significance. If it shows that the heavy volume of silents in the vaults --- those which haven't deteriorated --- can make for audience satisfaction, it would mean extra millions for all studios." Remember, this was 1959, a time when many assume Hollywood used silents for kindling only. I wonder what Paramount minion came up with this idea --- someone inspired by Robert Youngson's try with Noah's Ark? Variety's piece claimed that "Paramount has over 1,000 talk-less features in its library." Like hell they did, even in 1959, but who writing for trades knew? "If even a small percentage of these can be made merchandisable, the money potential could be beaucoup." Follow-up article on 9/16/17 drove in the nail, Paramount's experiment declared a miss: " ... evidence so far is that "Old Ironsides," which was shown in three theatrical situations ... has been out of sync with public want-to-see," turnout in Chicago, Denver, and Baltimore labeled "below normal." Paramount said it would explore television as possible outlet for the relics. To my knowledge, however, Old Ironsides never played the tube, in 1959 or after. Question: Are there prints still around of the '59 reissue? Were any printed on 16mm? I'm guessing these then-freshened elements may have been used for the version that survives today, and will indeed be what we get in Kino's forthcoming Blu-Ray.

4 Comments:

Blogger lmshah said...


John, Paramount Video put out OLD IRONSIDES as one of it's 75th Anniversary VHS tapes back in the 1980's, with a lovely Gaylord Carter organ track to boot. I hope Kino uses the Carter track for the BD re-boot.

RICHARD M ROBERTS

12:36 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

While Paramount was reissuing OLD IRONSIDES, Salvador Sammaritano and Francisco Vigévano were rescuing the only known print of Chaplin's CRUEL, CRUEL LOVE. I have seen a lot of ads for silents reissues in Argentina from the late fifties and early sixties. Unfortunately, newspapers are almost not available online. Yet I still managed to find ads for Chaplin silent reissues from the forties and fifties. There are posters for silent film compilations that were not imported from the United States even though the movies were from Hollywood. Still exists a version of THE KID that was exhibited in Argentina in the fifties (prepared from the original release elements and not under Chaplin's control) but it is not available for obvious reasons.

1:29 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I saw OLD IRONSIDES maybe 12 years ago, presented by a regional theater-organ society at a 16mm venue. The print had all the main and interior title cards, so I gather this was not the reissue version from '59.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Len Power said...

I saw 'Old Ironsides' at Cinecon's festival in 2013 in Los Angeles. It was an excellent print and I don't recall any narration, so hopefully the original version will be released on Blu-Ray. I looked back tonight at my journal for that trip. At the time I wrote that the movie was the highlight of the festival for me.

8:18 AM  

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