Original silent film version of ‘Chicago’ to screen

BRANDON — Long before it became a long-running Broadway musical and then 2002’s Best Picture, the story of “Chicago” first achieved worldwide fame as hit silent film. Noted for its cynical humor and adult themes, early movie-goers loved how the original “Chicago” captured the anything-goes flavor of the jazz age at its height. See for yourself when the original 1927 screen version of “Chicago” is screened at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center on Saturday, June 15, at 7 p.m.
The program will be accompanied by live music performed by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with all proceeds support ongoing restoration of the Town Hall, which dates from 1860 and is being brought up to modern standards as funds allow. The screening is sponsored by local residents Nancy and Gary Meffe.
“Chicago” tells the jazz age story of gold digger Roxie Hart, a young wife who guns down her older lover and is then put on trial for murder.
With Roxie represented by a publicity-hungry lawyer, and with prosecution the hands of an ambitious district attorney, the courtroom drama hits the spotlight and scandalizes the country as the nation awaits an answer to the question: Is she innocent, or headed for the slammer?
The silent film version of “Chicago,” based on a hit 1926 stage play, was for many years thought to be one of the many silent films that were completely lost, with no copies surviving in any archive. But in 2006, a pristine original print of the film was discovered in the estate holdings of iconic director Cecil B. DeMille, who supervised its production.
DeMille personally supervised the shooting of “Chicago,” but refused to take directorial credit for the lurid melodrama because its message clashed severely with DeMille’s high-minded Biblical epic “King of Kings,” then playing in theaters.
The film stars veteran actors Phyllis Haver as Roxie Hart; Victor Varconi as her long-suffering husband; Eugene Pallette as her lover; and Robert Edeson as the lawyer who takes on Roxie’s case. Directing credit was given to Frank Urson.
The resurfacing of the original screen version of ’Chicago’ after eight decades was regarded as a major cinematic rediscovery.
The story was used again in “Roxie” (1942), a Hollywood remake starring Ginger Rogers, before being reshaped into “Chicago,” the hit 1975 musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb. A Broadway revival that opened in 1996 is still running, and was the basis for a film version that won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Picture.
In reviving the original “Chicago,” the Brandon Town Hall aims to show silent movies as they were meant to be seen — in high quality prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.
“All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience,” said Rapsis, who will improvise a musical score during the screening. “Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early cinema leap back to life. They all featured great stories with compelling characters and universal appeal, so it’s no surprise that they hold up and we still respond to them.”
“Chicago” (1927) will be shown on Saturday, June 15, at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall. The program is free and open to the public. Free will donations are encouraged. For more information, visit brandontownhall.org. For more about the music, visit jeffrapsis.com.

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