By Sarah Kinney
In June 1927, Hollywood came to Berlin.
Pathe Exchange primarily filmed "The Masked Menace," directed by Arch Heath, in the area.
The company spent more than 10 days in the area getting an up close perspective on the New England milling districts for the setting of fictional Westminster, Conn.
On June 19, 1927, the Boston Sunday Post described local enthrallment with goings-on.
"Two school boys pedaling their bicycles along the back road toward the Brown farm, this afternoon, stopped to gaze with pop-eyed amazement at a group of 22 people in their path," Joseph Harrington wrote. "A young girl was fearfully backing away from a leering maniac, who tried to lure her to hem with a batter gold watch and chain.... The two youngsters dropped their wheels and fishing rods on the bank and sat down to watch the scene. This was 100 times better than seeing a picture at the local theater."
Heath selected several different locations in the greater Berlin area to film, including the Pontook Dam, Azlscohos Dam, Pinkham Notch, Glen Ellis Falls, Brown Company logging sites, and Boston & Maine Railway donated the use of an engine.
E. O. Brooks, Pathe's eastern production manager sent in a letter to the editor to thank Berlin.
"Before leaving Berlin, after our three weeks' work on exterior locations for the forthcoming Pathe serial production, "The Masked Menace," will you permit me the courtesy of your columns in order to express our heartfelt thanks for the really exceptional cooperation which has been accorded us in the hospitable city of Berlin," Brooks wrote.
"The Masked Menace" was also filmed in Whyckoff, N.J.; Scarsdale, N.J. and Coscob, Conn.
The movie was based on Clarence Buddington Kelland's "Still Face," a serialized story that had run in the Saturday Evening Post. Kelland was an award winning journalist, author, and screenwriter. His 1935 short story "Opera Hat" and 1936 Frank Capra film "Mr. Deeds goes to Town," were the basis for the 2002 Columbia Pictures film "Mr. Deeds" starring Adam Sandler.
"The Masked Menace" was a silent, black and white film, made in 10 chapters. Today, the film is considered to be lost.
It begins with two inciting incidents. Grandma Newton (Laura Alberta) decides to recoup the family fortune by reopening the logging mill, much to the dismay of her ward, Faith (Jean Arthur). Around the same time a stranger moves to town and is characterized by his attractive but unmoving face. "Still Face" and his side-kick, the intellectually impaired Job, begin terrorizing the mill and stealing nearly $200,000 in Liberty bonds from the Amassa Mill's safe. Meanwhile, Faith is bedeviled by the son of a rival mill owner, Oswald Maxwell. Keats Dodd (Larry Keat) comes to the aid of Faith and her grandmother and the villain's identity is discovered in the final chapter.
Stephen Prince wrote in a report on classical film violence that one of the final scenes of the film had to be censored. After Still Face kills Job's cat, Job turns on him. The filmmakers were directed to eliminate all distinct views of knife when Job attacks Still Face, because at the time, shots of knives were considered some of the most
frightening and disturbing.
The 10 chapters included "Against all Odds," "An Unknown Assassin," "The Enemy Strikes," "A Half-Wits' Fury," "An Attack at Midnight," "Checkmate," "By Hook or Crook," "Still Face Shows his Hand," "The Last Stand," and "The Menance Unmasked."
The full cast numbered about 30, with Alberta and Arthur the only women. During their time in Berlin, locals also got the chance to be in the film.
During one scene, Faith was supposed to jump 40 feet off a cliff into the Androscoggin River, in an area where the water is only six feet deep. The area was just above the Twin State Power House Dam in Gorham.
A stunt man from New York took one look at the water, determined it was "too dirty," and headed back to New York, according to the Boston Sunday Post.
Casting director, Gus de Well, walked to the drug store and got 13 local boys to volunteer.
Raymond "K.O. Kid" Ashley was paid $25 to dress as Faith, with wig and dress, and jump into the water.
The Berlin Reporter wrote on June 23, 1927, that Ashley hit the water feet first and almost immediately resurfaced. Aside from minor scrapes from the jagged rocks below, he was unhurt.
Outside of his brief acting career, Ashley was a professional boxer and won several ring decisions.
The Pathe Exchange company also filmed local city officials and businessmen, though these were not part of the scripted film.
The main actress who played leading lady Faith, Jean Arthur, was renown for a prolific acting career. Born Gladys Greene in New York, her father was from Vermont and she grew up in the Portland, Maine area. She was in over 50 screen plays from 1923 to 1929.
Larry Kent, who played the hero was also know for "Hangman's House" and "The Haunted House" both in 1928.
Job, also shown in some credits as "the half-wit," is played by John Hamilton. He was the lead in the prize-winning stage play, "Hell Bent for Heaven."
The titular character of Carl Phillips or "Still Face" was played by Thomas Holding. Holding was British and got his start on the stage at 14, performing in Shakespearean productions. In 1912, he played Ben-Hur.
"The Masked Menace" was finished and released in October of 1927 and shown in theaters in Berlin and beyond.
J. W. Kelley, manager of the Princess Theater at the time, told the Berlin Reporter jokingly that he was going to have to remove the paper from the walls to make room for all the people who want to see the film featuring local celebrities.
While it had local appeal, the film did not do very well.
A New York Times review said the film did poorly at the box office, despite an engaging plot.
Kalton Lahue wrote that Heath's four productions in this era were "among the poorest ever released by Pathe."