I was recently introduced to a delightful Seattle tradition: Silent Movie Mondays at the iconic Paramount Theatre downtown. This ornate theater was built in 1928 and features a Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ. Only three of this type are extant. I can think of no better place to see a silent movie, accompanied by authentic period organ music performed live. I felt transported in time.
The movie we saw was The Cat and the Canary, a horror film from 1927, which was perfect, considering it was just two days before Halloween. It was your basic murder mystery that took place in a dark, creepy mansion. The director also injected a fair amount of humor into the film, but I suspect our modern, more jaded audience probably laughed in a few more places than was originally intended.
Still, it was a fascinating experience, especially since I kept thinking about the fact that the movie came out the same year my mother was born. We’ve come a long way, baby. (For one thing, writers of today can’t rely on that old trope, “The phone is dead! The lines have been cut!”)
The organist was amazingly talented. He even reliably reproduced the sound of the knocker on the big mansion door, and the arrhythmic chime of the clock. I kept forgetting that the sound wasn’t a sound track.
Another thing I found fascinating was that they listed the cast at the beginning of the film, but they also listed them at the end, with this explanation: “This is repeated at the request of picture patrons who desire to check the names of those players whose work has pleased them.” So apparently closing credits were not standard at the time, and required an explanation. Imagine that.
I highly recommend Silent Movie Mondays, but if you can’t make it to the Parmount Theatre, you can still see The Cat and the Canary, albeit without the organ accompaniment, here.