Epic silent drama with live music

  • ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’, starring Rudolph Valentino, will be shown with live music on Sunday, Dec. 29 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre. Courtesy photo

  • ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’, a ground-breaking multi-generational family drama set during World War I starring Rudolph Valentino will be shown with live music on Sunday, Dec. 29 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre. Courtesy photo

  • ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’, a ground-breaking multi-generational family drama set during World War I starring Rudolph Valentino will be shown with live music on Sunday, Dec. 29 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre. Courtesy photo

Published: 12/17/2019 11:52:20 AM

An epic drama that launched the career of silent film heartthrob and megastar Rudolph Valentino will be shown this month at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre.

“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (1921), a multi-generational family saga that climaxes during World War I, will be screened with live music on Sunday, Dec. 29 at 4:30 p.m.

Based on a novel by Spanish author Vicente Blasco Ibañez, “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” tells the story of an extended Argentine family with mixed ethnic background: one side is German, while the other is French.

The family gets drawn into World War I in far-off Europe, with members ending up on opposing sides. With brothers pitted against one another on the battlefield, the destruction of war changes lives forever.

“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” had a huge cultural impact, becoming the top-grossing film of 1921, beating out Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid”, and going on to become the sixth-best-grossing silent film of all time.

Also, the film turned Valentino, a then-little-known actor, into a superstar, associating him with the image of the Latin Lover. In addition, the film inspired a tango craze and fashion fads such as gaucho pants.

Directed by Rex Ingram for Metro Pictures (an ancestor of MGM studios), “Four Horsemen” grew into a mammoth production: over $1 million was spent in making it and more than 12,000 people were involved. The film was hugely successful at the box office, grossing nearly $5 million during its initial run, an enormous sum at the time.

The film was notable as one of the first major Hollywood productions to include World War I (then known as the ‘Great War’) in its storyline, and also in that it did not glorify the recent conflict or look past the tragedy that it brought. It’s also among the first U.S. feature films to make full use of the unlimited visual power of the new motion picture medium.

Although Valentino dominates the film, other actors of note are featured. Alice Terry, the billed star as well as Ingram’s wife, was a popular actress of her day. She would be cast in the next Ingram/Valentino flick rushed out in the same year before Rudy’s jump to Paramount, “The Conquering Power” (1921).

Alan Hale Sr. appears in a supporting role; he was perhaps best known as Errol Flynn’s sidekick in numerous films, his role of Little John in several Robin Hood flicks, and as the father of Alan Hale, Jr., who played the Skipper on the television series “Gilligan’s Island”.

“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” was the brainchild of Metro screenwriter June Mathis, who went on to become one of the most powerful woman in early Hollywood, helping Valentino manage his career until his untimely death of peritonitis at age 31 in 1926.

The film was remade as “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse” in 1962, with the setting changed to World War II.

In 1995, the silent version of “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Regarding the title: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are mentioned in the Bible in chapter six of the Book of Revelation, which predicts that they will ride during the Apocalypse. The four horsemen are traditionally named War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death.

“This is a big sprawling drama, and a great chance to see Rudolph Valentino in the picture that launched his celebrity,” said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who will create live music for the screening.

Rapsis will improvise live musical accompaniment during the show, using a digital synthesizer to recreate the sound of a full orchestra and other more exotic textures.

“Creating the music on the spot is a bit of a high-wire act, but it contributes a level of energy that’s crucial to the silent film experience,” Rapsis said.

Admission is free; a donation of $5 per person is suggested to defray expenses. For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.


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