The one film locals won't want to miss at this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival is The Last Edition, a 1925 independent production shot largely in The City by the Bay. It's full of local scenes and local color and local interest, but is also a worthwhile film that stands on its own..
The Last Edition is one in a series of films directed by Emory Johnson (1890-1964), a San Francisco born actor who worked behind the camera throughout the 1920's. (His mother, Emilie, wrote the script.) Many of Johnson's films were set in the Bay Area, and all of them feature blue-collar protagonists such as policemen, printers, postal works, sailors, railroad engineers and baseball players. In The Last Edition, the lead character, played by veteran actor Ralph Lewis, is a pressman at the San Francisco Chronicle.
Most of the exteriors shots in The Last Edition were filmed in the heart of San Francisco. Market Street plays an especially prominent role in the film, while other scenes take place on recognizable blocks of Geary, Kearny, Bush, Gough, Powell and California streets. There are also views of several landmark buildings including City Hall, the Ferry Building, the original San Francisco Chronicle Building, and the then new Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Building. Also seen is the still intact front of the old Anglo California National Bank and the still extant Pickwick Hotel.
A few key scenes were shot inside the San Francisco Chronicle Building, where we see the workings of a printing plant from the mid-1920s. It's remarkable thing, in effect, to step-back in time and observe workers inside a composing room and press room.
In its review of The Last Edition, the leading film journal of the time, Photoplay magazine penned this positive summary: "Emory Johnson, the glorifier of the underpaid wage earner, has again turned out an excellent and stirring story replete with thrills and heart interest. The story is woven around the difficulties that attend the printing of a daily newspaper. All the 'inside dope' is shown - from the telephone calls of the reporters to the actual distribution of the papers on the streets. This, in itself, should prove interesting to the average fan. Then for the excitement he has added some scheming grafters, a fire and an explosion. As a matter of fact there is everything in the picture for the amusement of an audience. Ralph Lewis is splendid as the foremen of the press room. Others in the cast are Frances Teague, Ray Hallor and Rex Lease. Take the whole family."
For years, The Last Edition was considered a lost film, as were most all of Emory Johnson's directorial efforts. However, in April 2011 Bay Area film preservationist Rob Byrne learned that EYE Film Instituut Nederland, the Dutch national film archive, held an original nitrate print of The Last Edition in their collection. With the discovery of a lone surviving print, Byrne began his quest to preserve its fragile nitrate material and restore the film to the screen.
Bryne's quest comes to a glorious conclusion at the Castro Theater when the San Francisco Silent Film Festival screens The Last Edition on Sunday, July 21 at 3:30 pm. Acclaimed British musician Stephen Horne will accompany the film on piano. [More about The Last Edition can be found on a website devoted to the project.]
Thomas Gladysz is an Bay Area arts journalist and silent film enthusiast. He is also the founding director of the Louise Brooks Society, an online archive and international fan club devoted to the legendary film star. Gladysz has organized exhibits, contributed to books, appeared on television, and introduced the actress's films around the world.