‘Old Ironsides’ to Screen at Custom House Maritime Museum

Sea-faring epic recreates early years of USS Constitution, built to battle pirates; presented with live music at historic Newburyport venue

Relive the early days of the USS Constitution, when the ship was launched by a young nation to battle pirates off Africa’s Barbary Coast.

‘Old Ironsides’ (1926), an epic silent adventure film, will be screened with live music on Friday, April 29 at 6 p.m. at the Custom House Maritime Museum, 25 Water St., Newburyport, Mass.

Admission is $15 per person. Live music for the sea-going tale will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist.

The film tells the story of the early days of the USS Constitution, today the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat. Launched in 1797, she was one of six original frigates authorized by the Naval Act of 1794 and the third constructed.

Nicknamed ‘Old Ironsides,’ the vessel was originally scheduled to be broken up in 1830, the end of her normal service life. But the ship was saved that year by a poetic tribute published by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The poem supplied the story for the movie ‘Old Ironsides’ nearly a century later.

Directed by James Cruze, ‘Old Ironsides’ is an action/adventure film that traces the story of the USS Constitution on an early rescue mission.

The crew member, a gunner, is shanghaied while ashore in Boston and forced to serve on another ship, the Esther, a commercial vessel bound for Italy.

Among those on board are a young boy running away from home, and the daughter of the ship’s owner.

After crossing the Atlantic, the Esther is attacked by pirates off the coast of Algiers in the south Mediterranean Sea, with the crew and passengers taken captive.

Will the USS Constitution arrive in time to save the ship’s daughter from being presented as a gift to a Sultan in Algiers?

The film, a big-budget extravaganza from Paramount Pictures, boasts an all-star silent era cast that includes Wallace Beery, George Bancroft, Charles Farrell, and Esther Ralston.

Among the crew members is Boris Karloff, famous later for his starring role in ‘Frankenstein’ (1931) and as the narrator of the animated version of the classic Dr. Seuss tale ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’ (1966).

‘Old Ironsides’ was filmed at sea off the coast of California’s Catalina Island, using a full-scale replica of the original ship. The movie was praised for its authenticity and commitment to historical accuracy. Only a handful of scenes used small-scale models, a rarity for the time.

In addition to its elaborate battle scenes, the film is notable for its high quotient of comedy. At the time, Hollywood was first starting to make motion pictures with stories that delivered all-around entertainment. Cruze was among the directors becoming adept at integrating comedy, drama, romance, and action all into one spectacular audience-pleasing package.

In its original release, ‘Old Ironsides’ sank at the box office. Critics praised the film, but Jazz Age audiences failed to flock to the historic epic, which was released at the height of the Roaring ‘20s.

See the sea-faring epic ‘Old Ironsides’ (1926) on Friday, April 29 at 2 p.m. at the Custom House Maritime Museum, 25 Water St., Newburyport, Mass.

Admission is $15 per person. Tickets will be available to museum members first. Remaining tickets will go on sale starting Monday, April 25.

For more information, call (978) 462-8681 or visit www.customhousemaritimemuseum.org.

For more about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

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