The 1926 film “The Johnstown Flood” is a major achievement of the silent film era – and now, a newly-restored version of the film will have its premiere in Johnstown as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Johnstown Flood Museum.
The importance of “The Johnstown Flood” to film history is difficult to overstate. The special effects of the film combine miniatures and sets to depict the actual historic event of flood and its aftermath, pioneering complex techniques – as the distinguished film historian and preservationist Robert A. Harris notes, “it was the ‘Star Wars’ of its day.” “The Johnstown Flood” was also the first starring role for George O’Brien, who had achieved fame as a sports figure and model but had not yet become a major star – and the debut of a young ingenue named Janet Gaynor. Two future stars of Hollywood’s golden era have uncredited roles in the film – Carole Lombard and Clark Gable.
Only one original nitrate film print of “The Johnstown Flood” survived, preserved by the George Eastman Museum of Rochester, NY, but it was deteriorating and endangered. Nitrate film decomposes over time, and in fact more than 90% of all silent films are lost. According to Harris, who has restored such notable titles as “The Godfather,” “My Fair Lady,” and “Lawrence of Arabia,” “in the near future, the original nitrate print could have disappeared forever.” So Harris and his partner, the noted film archivist James Mockoski, took on the project of restoring “The Johnstown Flood.” They got in touch with JAHA to see if our archives contained any prints of the film.
JAHA was unable to provide the historians with prints of the film. But a discussion arose around the idea of premiering the restored version of the film in Johnstown at a movie theater that was new in 1926 — The State Theater – as part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Johnstown Flood Museum. JAHA also provided the historians with stereoptic photography from the 1889 flood, as well as other historic photography, that will be included on the Blu-Ray disc of the film that will later be made available for sale.
We invite you to join us for this thrilling event on Sunday, May 28 at 8:00 pm at The State Theater. We are honored to welcome Robert A. Harris and James Mockoski, who will introduce “The Johnstown Flood” before the screening, and lead a question-and-answer session afterward.