At the cinema, in the Very Early days. Image: Victorian Cinema

If we had a time travel machine, we’d take you on a random weekend in New York City in 1917.

We could shop for a clothing fad that’s all the rage, called the Trench Coat. Then we could visit Coney Island to ride the new “Top” roller coaster.

And in the evening? Why, the movies, of course. We could go to the premiere of Kidnapped (1917), and buy peanuts and popcorn from the guy who sells ’em in the aisles.

What’s this? You can’t imagine going to the cinema in 1917?

Well, thanks to Movies Silently, we can now enjoy an authentic Night at the Movies, the way 1917 audiences would have experienced it.

Movies Silently just released a DVD with a complete evening of films, exactly as it was shown at the premiere on September 8, 1917. The disk contains the feature-length action-adventure Kidnapped, plus four short films.

Kidnapped is based on the novel of the same name by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). The story takes place in Scotland, c.a. 1750, during the Jacobite Uprisings.

A teenaged boy (Raymond McKee) inherits a sizeable estate from his recently-deceased father. However, the boy has a greedy uncle (Joseph Burke), a man with Murderous Intent. When he fails to kill the boy, Burke sells him to a boat captain who will dispose of the lad, one way or another, in the Carolinas.

But! McKee escapes to the shores of the Hebrides with the help of a ship passenger (Robert Cain). Once on land, they battle the elements, the king’s soldiers and each other as they make their way to the town of Cramond where McKee can claim his inheritance.

It’s an exciting, faithful adaptation of the classic novel, and the quality is Top Notch. There’s also a new piano score, composed and performed by Ben Model.

Robert Cain (L) consoles Raymond McKee. Image: Movies Silently

Real snow! Image: Movies Silently

Happily, the shorts that accompany the feature are equally entertaining:

  • Friends, Romans and Leo – a comedy about “Mulius Caesar” and his travails with a bill collector.
  • Microscopic Pond Life – a fascinating look at parasites, magnified 10,000 times!
  • Quaint Provincetown, Cape Cod – a tour of this seaside town.
  • Little Red Riding Hood – an artistic retelling of the fable, done in silhouettes.

Edison shorts. Images: Movies Silently

(Can you imagine? If we could travel back to 1917, we’d have all this entertainment for 7¢, the price of a movie ticket.)

Inside the Edison Studios, Bronx, NY, c.a. 1910. Image: The Bowery Boys

The feature film and shorts were part of a series called Edison Conquest Pictures, released by the Edison Motion Picture Studio. The films on this DVD comprise Conquest Program No. 9.

“Basically, they were designed to be a family-friendly night at the movies with entertainment and education,” says Fritzi of Movies Silently. “The usual program consisted of a three-, four- or five-reel feature, a comedy, a dramatic short and some educational materials like travelogues, nature footage, puzzles, etc.

“There’s a belief that [the Edison studio] had lost its oomph in the feature film era,” she says, “but they were actually making some of the most creative movies in the business.”

You can read the genesis of the DVD HERE. To fund the project, Frizti created a Kickstarter campaign that was funded by 300+ backers in less than 24 hours.(!)

We hope you get the chance to enjoy this Night at the Movies. We personally found these films just as entertaining as the overpriced features at the local cinema.

  • The DVD is available at Amazon.
  • Thanks to Fritzi of Movies Silently for giving us online access to these films.

Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

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