The Fire Brigade. 1926. USA. Directed by William Nigh. Screenplay by Kate Corbaley, Robert N. Lee, Lotta Woods. With May McAvoy, Charles Ray, Holmes Herbert. 35mm preservation by The Library of Congress and The Film Foundation, with funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation; courtesy Warner Bros. Classics. World Premiere. Silent. 90 min.
MoMA hosts the world premiere of the Library of Congress’s newly restored The Fire Brigade on 35mm, a forgotten gem of two-color Technicolor and Handschiegl spot coloring not seen since its theatrical release nearly 100 years ago. Heather Linville, the Library’s Motion Picture Laboratory Supervisor, will provide an introduction, touching on the film’s use of different color processes and on contemporary efforts to recreate Max Handschiegl’s diaphanous, atmospheric color effects—in this case, flames and smoke that engulf an orphanage—through the painstaking application of hand-painted masks to black-and-white film frames, a technique he developed and patented after a successful career as an engraver and lithographer in St. Louis. Leading the fire brigade in MGM’s blockbuster production is Terry O’Neill (Charles Ray), the youngest in a long line of fearless Irish American firefighters, who falls in love with the daughter (May McEvoy) of a crooked building contractor.