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The Silent Film Project: The Midnight Message (Goodwill Pictures, 1926)

It’s a good week for silent film lovers at the Packard Campus Theater with four consecutive programs starting Wednesday. And as usual, all will be accompanied by live music. We welcome London favorite Stephen Horne for two WWI related-screenings on Wednesday (On the Firing Line with the Germans, about which I wrote last week) and Thursday for the rarely seen silent version of All Quiet on the Western Front, Lewis Milestone’s brilliant 1930 adaptation of Maria Erich Remarque’s classic book. We’re always glad to have Ben Model down from New York, and he’ll be playing for the Constance Talmadge charmer  Her Night of Romance (1924) on Friday and a program of comedy shorts on Saturday afternoon.

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Exhibitors Herald and Moving Picture World, 28 May 1928

Both these fine musicians have also scored online films for us. In addition to accompanying the first silent film we ever showed in the Packard Campus Theater—A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929) back in 2009—Stephen also scored the first silent film we ever posted on Now See Hear, The Light That Came (1909). Ben has scored several, the most recent being The Immortal Voice (1923).

A couple of months ago my colleague Amy Jo Stanfill introduced the Silent Film Project where we’re borrowing 16mm prints of silent titles believed only to exist in private collections. Since Stephen is with us for a few days, I thought this would be a good time to present his accompaniment for The Midnight Message, a crime melodrama released by Goodwill Pictures in 1926.

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The Educational Screen, May 1927

Goodwill typically used “states rights” distribution to market its films, which were always low budget affairs. Unlike major Hollywood studios that owned the means of production, distribution, and exhibition, outfits such as Goodwill would typically sell prints of its films to territorial distribution companies. Goodwill’s profits came on that initial sale while the distributor made money by placing the film in local theaters.

States rights distribution wasn’t always a straightforward proposition and piracy was a constant concern. For example, Goodwill published a notice in the 28 May 1928 issue of Exhibitors Herald and Moving Picture World stating that International Pictures and Distributing Company was the sole company authorized to distribute its titles, including The Midnight Message. Obviously some of Goodwill’s prints had fallen into the hands of unauthorized distributors, necessitating the need for the public notice.

I can’t resist including a review of The Midnight Message from The Educational Screen, which in addition to articles examining pedagogical uses of film, also rated titles based on suitability for “intelligent adults,” youth (defined as 15-20 years old), and children. With characteristic subtlety, The Midnight Message was deemed “worthless.” Judge for yourself!

The Midnight Message (Goodwill Pictures, 1926)