Starting May 30th the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will celebrate its 20th anniversary with five days of programs showcasing silent classics from around the world. The NFPF is honored to have played a part in the celebration by supporting the preservation of Soft Shoes (1925), which screens May 31 with live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin.
Directed by Lloyd Ingraham and photographed by Sol Polito, Soft Shoes was part of a series of Westerns produced by Hunt Stromberg and starring Harry Carey. Set in 1925, the semi-comedic story involves small-town western sheriff Pat Halahan (Carey) visiting San Francisco and apprehending the alluring burglar Faith O’Day (Lillian Rich), who had attempted to rob his hotel room. He convinces her to go straight, but when he attempts to return her stolen goods complications ensue, leading to a confrontation with gangster Quig Mundy (Francis Ford).
Soft Shoes was promoted for the novelty of having Harry Carey play comedy and met with a mostly positive response: “I believe this one made the best hit of the [Stromberg-Carey] series,” enthused an exhibitor in Motion Picture World. “Harry handles the comedy to good advantage. Can recommend this series to any exhibitor.” Variety was also enthusiastic and classed Soft Shoes as a “Comedy dramatic picture with a fast-moving, well written story which just escapes farce classification. Harry Carey looks better here than in any of his current releases. He is surrounded by an excellent cast and a leading woman, Lillian Rich, who should be heard from.” The critic decided the film’s “strongest assets” were its “speed and excellent continuity, despite the adventurous detail crowded in.”
For decades Soft Shoes was thought to be lost, until a nitrate print was discovered in Prague at the Czech National Film Archive (Národní Filmový Archiv). With financial support from the NFPF, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival embarked on the film’s preservation; its Board Chair Rob Byrne served as the project coordinator. A preserved copy of the film, along with original print, will go to Prague, while the other film materials will reside in the SFSFF collection at the Library of Congress. At the festival itself the film will emerge for its first screening in 93 years.
Soft Shoes was not only set (and partially filmed) in San Francisco but also played at the Cameo Theatre in the Mission district. That cinema vanished long ago, but Soft Shoes will re-premiere in another San Francisco movie palace, the Castro Theatre, which opened two years before the film’s original premiere. And so one survivor from the silent era will host another—we hope you’ll be there to see it.