Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Rio Grande Theatre – More History


The Rio Grande Theatre opened on July 29, 1926. The official announcment to the public was made in the July 24 issue of the Las Cruces Citizen newspaper:

RIO GRANDE THEATER OPENS JULY 29

At last we are privileged to announce the definite opening date of the new Rio Grande Theatre built by Seale and Dyne and operated by the Central Theatres Corporation of Denver as Thursday July 29th with the powerful Sea Drama “Mare Nostrum” as created by the masterful director, Rex Ingram with Alice Terry and Antonio Moreno in the leading roles. Mr. Ingram has directed such notable successes as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and may others. Mare Nostrum is conceded to be one of the outstanding successes of the year and the management was indeed fortunate in securing an attraction of this caliber as an opening production.

A treat indeed is in store for those who have anxiously awaited the opening of this truly wonderful institution which is a great credit to the Southwest, the builders who have had the foresight to visualize the future in their enterprise and the operators for the confidence they have placed in the community in the manner they have equipped the theatre.

Replacing the old style painted scenery, the stage is to be hung and decorated in a lavish manner with velvet drapes and curtains as is the Auditorium proper. The foyer and aisles are carpeted in a rich red and the lightning [lighting] is as modern as has yet been installed in even the larger theatres in the cities.

A washed air cooling system maintains any desired temperature with its clean pure air as distributed scientifically throughout the house, the mammoth organ will be operated by Miss Elsie Dean Bristol who comes direct from one of the corporation’s Denver theatres, which assures all lovers of accurately played pictures a treat in store for them.

– Las Cruces Citizen, July 24, 1926

The first advertisement for the theatre was published in the same issue of the newspaper:

The movie selected for the opening was the silent movie , directed by . The New York Times’ movie critic Mordaunt Hall had given the movie a mixed review on Feb 16, 1926. Even then, the movie critic’s basic stance of a haute attitude and a pseudo-intellectual tone is evident. Some quotes from that review:

“The German submarine and the Wilhelmstrasse spy system during the World War are the theme of Rex Ingram’s picturization of Blasco Ibanez’s “Mare Nostrum,” which was presented last night before an audience that appeared to be left slightly dazed by the weird delivery of the film. It is an effort that in the second half has its full quota of thrills, but in the end it reminds one of the Von Tirpitz edict—”Spurlos Versenkt!” The heroine and the hero have met their deaths and so have the villains; the comedian alone is left to drift back to his Spanish port aboard a flimsy raft.”

“Mr. Ingram goes about the unfolding of this narrative with a dislike of haste. He seems to tell you that you must gaze upon his story as he tells it or not at all, and therefore it is not until just before the first half has come to a close that interest in the picture is really awakened; that happens to be through a scene in which a stout German Frau Doktor of the German Secret Service, her faithful and beautiful aid, Freya Talberg, and a Spanish skipper, drink a toast to the Emperor Josef.”


Alice Terry and Antonio Moreno in Mare Nostrum

“The first sequence dealing with the sinking of a British vessel by a submarine is graphically filmed. The Mediterranean is a tame stretch of blue to a wireless operator. He had just said “Hello” to his colleague aboard the Californian. Then one perceives the submersible sneaking after its prey, and subsequently the Californian receives her death blow in an explosion of spray and fire. Aboard the other vessel all is tranquil; then the wireless operator gets the S. O. S., but gradually the sinking ship is covered by water. The commander of the submarine pushes his cap back over his shorn head and checks off the British steamship as having been sunk.”

“Freya is arrested as a spy and taken from Marseilles to the St. Lazare prison, in Paris. In the course of usual motion picture events Freya would have been saved at the last minute. One awaits it in this film. She is taken to Vincennes in the early morning, and the soldiers line up. The buglers sound “Taps” after making a flourish with their brass instruments. Freya had made a petition to be shot in furs, feathers and expensive clothes; it was granted. She had walked proudly to the white stake against which she rests. Her hands had been tied with rope. An officer winces before the order is given to fire. When that order comes the rifles blaze and nothing more is seen of Freya until a weird idea or nebulous figures under the sea is portrayed at the end of the picture.”

“Alice Terry is fair, but unconvincing in the rôle of the German spy. She is too phlegmatic for the part. Antonio Moreno figures as the susceptible Ferragut. Mr. Moreno has plenty of character in his countenance, but he does seem to be a ready victim to a pair of blue eyes.”

“Aside from the effective photography in Spain, Italy and France and the dramatic sequences concerned with the submarine’s deadly work and the shooting of a woman spy, this production does not do justice to the talent of the man who made “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and “Scaramouche.” His last production, “The Arab,” was lovely but a slow story that did not boast of much in the way of drama.”


Mare Nostrum Movie Poster

” is Latin for “Our Sea.” Beginning in Roman times it referred to the Mediterranean Sea. During World War I, it was common shorthand for the fight for control of the Mediterranean between the two sides.

Probably no one in Las Cruces at the time read the New York Times’ review. The opening was a big success:

NEW THEATER HAS GRAND OPENING

W. L. Gullett, manager of the new Rio Grande Theater got off to a good start Thursday night when he opened this fine new playhouse because the house was packed and the play was up to expectations, and then some.

It is needless to say that he will continue to have full houses as it is Mr. Gullett’s intention to bring only the best plays.

M. B. Stevens, the popular realty man, made an address that took big. If “Mo” decides to throw his old chapeau into the political ring, the La Estella will get right behind his candidacy.

Las Cruces Citizen, July 31, 1926

As was standard in those days, the Rio Grande Theatre changed its movies every week. Here’s the showing for the second week, July 31, 1926:

Here’s the newspaper ad for week three, Aug 7, 1926:

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Las Cruces Gets Talkies.

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2 Responses to “Rio Grande Theatre – More History”

  1. March 15th, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    Van Phillips said:

    We were the Theatre Consultants on the renovations, and will put a link to your web page on our project list under the Rio Grande Theatre.

  2. October 3rd, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    Cruces said:

    Thanks.

    I have considerably more to add to the history of the Rio Grande, which I hope to get too soon.


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