Friday, June 3, 2011

Rin Tin Tin Returns to the Big Screen

He was Hollywood’s original canine hero, a photogenic German shepherd who rose to big screen fame in the 1920s. He not only rescued his human co-actors, but his pictures proved so successful, they rescued the nearly bankrupt Warner Brothers studios, as well.
He was Rin Tin Tin, and two of his best starring silent pictures will be shown in a double feature on Sunday, June 5 at 2 p.m. at the historic Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St./Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine. Admission is $5 per person. The screenings will be accompanied by live music.
The two Rin Tin Tin films, “Clash of the Wolves” (1925) and “Lighthouse by the Sea” (1924), will be accompanied live by New Hampshire-based silent film musician Jeff Rapsis. Rapsis provided music for a series of silent films last summer at the Leavitt Theatre; the shows proved so popular that the theater’s owners, Peter and Maureen Clayton, scheduled more screenings this season.
The Leavitt, a 600-seat single-screen summer-only movie theater, opened as a silent film house in 1923 and retains much of its original decor even today. The Leavitt, now in its 88th year, screens first-run movies from Memorial Day through the end of September.
Rin Tin Tin was in the vanguard of canine motion picture megastars whose exploits thrilled early movie-goers. The original Rin Tin Tin was a puppy who was rescued in 1918 from a bombed-out kennel in Germany near the end of World War I. He was named for a puppet called “Rin Tin Tin” that French children gave to American soldiers for good luck.
U.S. Army Corporal Lee Duncan brought Rin Tin Tin to America and trained him, then got the talented dog into the then-new field of motion pictures. Rin Tin Tin, with his dashing looks, athletic prowess, and acting chops, starred in a total of 26 adventure films for Warner Brothers.
The original Rin Tin Tin died in 1932, but his offspring continued to star in films and television shows even today.
The two films programmed at the Leavitt Theatre’s double feature show the original Rin Tin Tin at the height of his popularity. They also show the dog’s versatility, as they take place in two very different settings—one of which is coastal Maine—and each makes unique demands on the canine star.
“If you love animals, you’ll love watching Rin Tin Tin,” said Rapsis, accompanist for the screenings. “There’s nothing like rooting for a canine star to save the day in pictures that are full of action and great stunts, all performed for real, without the aid of computer-generated special effects. And to show a film set on the Maine coast right here in the area is a real thrill.”
“Clash of the Wolves” (1925), set in the old West, has Rin Tin Tin portraying Lobo, a half-wolf and untamed leader of a wild pack menacing a small town. When Rin Tin Tin is injured and then rescued by a stranger, the stage is set for a dramatic showdown with the townspeople and a run-in with a claim jumper. “Lighthouse by the Sea” (1924) sees Rin Tin Tin playing a castaway dog from a shipwreck off the coast of Maine who gets washed ashore, where he plays a key role in an aging lighthouse keeper’s battle to keep his job, and in foiling efforts of rumrunners offshore.
Both films are packed with action and adventure and were made at a time when the movies were first learning to tell stories in cinematic terms. They hold up well today, especially if the right conditions are present for silent film to be seen at its best: good restored prints shown at the correct speed, a big screen, live music, and an audience.
The Rin Tin Tin double feature is first in a summer series of silent film screenings at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit. The series aims to recreate the lost magic of early cinema by reviving the elements needed for silent film to be seen at its best: superior films in best available prints; projection on the big screen; live musical accompaniment; and a live audience.
For each film, Rapsis improvises a music score using original themes created beforehand. None of the music is written down; instead, the score evolves in real time based on audience reaction and the overall mood as the movie is screened. For more information on silent film music, visit
For more information, call (207) 646-3123 or visit
Photo caption: Silent film musician Jeff Rapsis will accompany two Rin Tin Tin adventure classics, “Clash of the Wolves” (1925) and “Lighthouse by the Sea” (1924) on Sunday, June 5 at the Leavitt Theatre. (Courtesy image)