The Eagle: A Night at The Kennington Bioscope

The Kennington Bioscope presents The Eagle (1925) at the Cinema Museum on November 17, 2021

The Kennington Bioscope is a silent film exhibition group founded in September 2013 and is based in The Cinema Museum which is in Kennington, close to Elephant and Castle. They present regular screenings of early and silent films on 35mm prints with live piano accompaniment.

Owned by the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, the Cinema Museum building has an important cinematic connection because it is situated on the former administration block of the Lambeth Workhouse where Charles Chaplin was sent when he was seven years old.

The Kennington Bioscope presented the Rudolph Valentino classic The Eagle at the Cinema Museum on November 17, 2021 at 7.30 pm.

The Cinema Museum may seem off the beaten track, but it does not take long to find. As I entered the front door of this remarkable building, I was immediately taken back by the early projection equipment as well as the movie memorabilia, film posters, photos, and cinematic art. This place is an Aladdin’s Cave for classic film enthusiasts.

As I was handed my traditional entry ticket, I could not help but notice the colorful 1956 epic The Ten Commandments poster spread high just before the poster-laden stairway to the screening room. The Ten Commandments was the first movie I had ever watched on the big screen back at the Scala in County Donegal many years ago.

The screening room was worth the visit alone. It is small, darkly lit, and atmospheric but it is also friendly and inviting. The screen is situated on the right-hand side of the bookshop and tea stand, partitioned by a metal silhouette of Chaplin. Various pictures of the star of the event, Rudolph Valentino, were shown in rotation on the big screen. I knew then that the Kennington Bioscope experience could not possibly disappoint, and it certainly did not.

Following an enjoyable and informative introduction by Bioscope Film programmer, presenter and researcher Michelle Facey, the proceedings began with archival footage of the funeral of Rudolph Valentino. This impressive short was followed by a four-minute cartoon Cleopatra and Her Easy Mark (1923) which is a take on Valentino and is one of the earliest color cartoons. Colin Sell provided the piano accompaniment.

The cartoon was quickly followed by a humorous comedy short The Boyfriend (1928), starring Max Davidson, Bill Elliott, Marion Bryon. Bryon, and Edgar Kennedy, about a bank clerk’s daughter (Bryon) who eventually falls in love with a clumsy handsome man (Elliott) and brings him back to meet her eccentric parents.

After the interval, it was time for the big event. The legendary film historian, filmmaker and author Kevin Brownlow was meant to introduce The Eagle but could not attend. He had sent his apologies but provided a small introduction speech.

Then the lights were faded down and you could feel the intense excitement as the group anticipated the great Valentino picture presented in glorious 16mm print. John Sweeney provided the piano accompaniment.

The Eagle (1925)

The Eagle is a 1925 silent film starring Rudolph Valentino, Vilma Bánky, Louise Dresser, and Albert Conti. Written by Hans Kraly and George Marion Jr. and based on the 1841 novel Dubrovsky by Alexander Pushkin, and directed by Clarence Brown for United Artists, The Eagle was undervalued critically and commercially on release but is now held in much higher regard.

The story begins with Vladimir Dubrovsky (Valentino), who is serving as a lieutenant in the Russian Imperial Guard, becoming an immediate favorite of Czarina Catherine II (Louise Dresser) after he rescues the beautiful Mascha (Vilma Bánky) and her aunt trapped in a runaway stagecoach. Then the czarina wants to promote him as general, but Dubrovsky refuses her advances by not accepting the offer and flees. The czarina issues a warrant for his arrest, to be taken dead or alive.

Dubrovsky receives a letter from his father that evil nobleman Kryrilla Troekouroff (James A. Marcus) has confiscated his property and is terrorizing the countryside. Learning that his father has died, Dubrovisky seeks vengeance by wearing a black mask and calling himself becoming the Black Eagle.

Dubrovsky soon realizes that Mascha is the daughter of Kryrilla but he is falling in love with her. What is he to do?

With nods to Robin Hood, Zorro, and The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Eagle is an enjoyable swashbuckler and a perfect vehicle for Rudolph Valentino. His performance as Dubrovsky is more mature and natural than his earlier work. Valentino is a more believable dashing hero because he brings sensitivity, wit, and humor to the role.

Hungarian star Vilma Bánky is a revelation as Mascha. Displaying a gentle beauty and touching elegance, Bánky produces a splendid performance in her Hollywood debut.

Dubrovsky (Valentino) and Mascha (Vilma Bánky)

The supporting cast is also impressive, especially Louise Dresser as the Czarina.

Although the film is well directed and has excellent production values, it is the stunning cinematography from George Barnes (and Devereaux Jennings) that stands out, especially the remarkable extended tracking shot of the table in the banquet scene.

The Eagle is an entertaining swashbuckler that never takes itself too seriously and is one of Valentino’s finest movies.

This presentation by the Kennington Bioscope at The Cinema Museum was a complete joy. To watch this wonderful movie amongst so many like-minded film fans in such a perfect setting is simply unforgettable. This was an experience like no other and is without question the best night I have had at any cinema for many years.

Thank you to everybody at the Kennington Bioscope. I cannot wait to return.

The Future of The Cinema Museum and the Kennington Bioscope

However, it is incredible to think that the celebrated and award-winning The Cinema Museum is under threat of closure. Following the 2018 sale of the building and the surrounding site to property developers, the future of the Cinema Museum is not secure.

The running of the cinema relies on volunteers and needs more support.

This important museum and the impressive Kennington Bioscope must be around for future generations to enjoy.

Please support this magnificent cinema and the impressive Kennington Bioscope. Please go online, donate what you can and sign the petition on the link. The Cinema Museum must not be allowed to close.

Thank you.

The Cinema Museum
2 Dugard Way (off Renfrew Road)
London SE11 4TH
Tel.: +44 (0)20 7840 2200

Please add like to the Kennington Bioscope Facebook Page for regular updates.

Kennington Bioscope: Website

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