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Vintage films on big screen

With college being out of session what classic films are being shown in the next two months is entirely given over to the Allen Theater in Annville. And the good news – for some of us at any rate – is that both date from the pre-talkie era.

On Sunday, May 31, at 2 p.m. Douglas Fairbanks will appear in the first of his swashbuckling films, "The Mark of Zorro." Fairbanks is best remembered for these adventure films but he started out in films as a comedian, generally spoofing some current trend and always incorporating athletic stunts. By 1920 he was beginning to feel the approach was wearing thin and decided his career needed a new slant. He latched onto some recently published fiction ("The Curse of Capistrano" by Johnston McCulley) about a Robin Hood figure in old California.

I'm guessing there's no need to explain Zorro to you after numerous movie and TV incarnations. But just in case you've been napping he was a Spanish nobleman who fought corrupt authorities by donning a black costume and a mask and taking on the name of Zorro (Spanish for fox) in pre-statehood California. Intriguingly choosing a heroic character in a period setting meant Fairbanks was turning his back on the present for the romantic past.

Fairbanks played things safe however and there is plenty of humor in this transition film. And naturally there are lots of dangerous – or at least dangerous looking – stunts. Not all of them are performed by Fairbanks, though publicity of the time would have you think so. After all you don't risk the life of your star, not to mention the man who is part-owner of the studio that employs you. (Fairbanks, his wife at the time, Mary Pickford, director D. W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin had the previous year formed the United Artists company.)

The Allen's presentation is part of a series by the Susquehanna Valley Theater Organ Society and has Don Kinnear tinkling the keyboards of the mighty Wurlitzer. He returns on Sunday, June 28, again at 2 p.m. for 1927's "It," starring Clara Bow.

Bow may take some explaining because, unlike Fairbanks, she has become pretty well forgotten by the general public. She was wildly popular at the time, the Marilyn Monroe of her day, the personification of, well, IT (aka sex appeal). At least the was the assessment of novelist Elinor Glyn (also wildly popular in the 1920s but justifiably forgotten today). Although she did make some talkies the height of her fame was over by then; she was the personification of the Roaring Twenties and as such her popularity waned after the stock market crash.

"It" – based on one of Glyn's novels that was initially serialized in "Cosmopolitan" (a very different publication then than it is today) – presents Bow as a shop girl who sets her cap for the owner of the store where she works. Naturally she lands him but only after a series of the kind of complications that only Glyn could conceive – such as having Bow's character pose as an unwed mother to prevent meddling social workers from taking the baby away from her roommate. Bow also vows to teach her boss a lesson after he suggests an "arrangement" that omits a trip to the altar (the cad!).

The film made Bow a star and is considered by many as one of her best films. It was a huge success back in my grandma's day but I suspect its morality might play comedically now. Yet as socially creaky as it might be, I'm betting you still won't be able to take your eyes off Bow.