The Twentieth Century train between Chicago and New York that was also the title of Carole Lombard's breakthrough movie rolled through Syracuse, N.Y., during its 65 years of operation, a few blocks north of "theater row" on South Salina Street (shown in 1959). For most of those years, however, it apparently never stopped there, because New York Central had many other Chicago to New York trains serving Syracuse. The Twentieth Century was a super-express train with relatively few stops.
Like the Twentieth Century, the Paramount and RKO Keith's shown in the foreground also expired in 1967, razed for urban renewal. Amtrak largely parallels the fabled route on its Lake Shore Limited, and trains now make their Syracuse stop at the northern edge of town.
But next month a fictional version of the famed train, with Lombard's Lily Garland on board, will make a cinematic stop in the Salt City, where I was born and raised.
Considering Syracuse is a medium-sized city, it and central New York have a surprisingly thriving classic film scene. Much of that results from Cinefest, the vintage film festival that's been operating for more than three decades, and Capitolfest, a similar endeavor held each summer in Rome, N.Y. But there are plenty of other events as well.
The Syracuse Cinephile Society will run films with food at 7:30 p.m. each Monday at the Spaghetti Warehouse, beginning this Monday with the Marx Brothers' "Monkey Business." "Twentieth Century" will be the Oct. 22 presentation, and among the others in the series (which ends Dec. 3) are "The Lavender Hill Mob" (Oct. 8), "You'll Never Get Rich" with Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth (Nov. 5) and Warren William as the Lone Wolf in "One Dangerous Night" (Nov. 26).
But that's not all. The ninth annual Syracuse International Film Festival is set for Oct. 11 to 14 at a variety of locations, including the 90-year-old Palace Theater, auditoriums at Syracuse University and Le Moyne College, and the Museum of Science and Technology (MOST) downtown. The festival's highlight is arguably a showing of Charlie Chaplin's "The Gold Rush" with a newly commissioned jazz score. (Oh, and the MOST auditorium was crafted from the large space once known as the Syracuse Armory, where my father worked during the 1960s.) MOST also includes an IMAX theater, where a festival of Harry Potter films are being shown this fall.
And the Capitol in Rome is getting in on the act with a series of vintage films, including a Sept. 22 double bill of Chaplin ("The Pilgrim") and Harold Lloyd ("The Freshman"), with pipe organ accompaniment.
If you're a central New Yorker or plan to be in the area sometime this fall, you may find some film fun beyond the multiplexes that, alas, have replaced the downtown movie palaces. A listing of all the showings, including links to several events, can be found at http://www.syracusenewtimes.com/newyork/article-6066-movie-mania.html.
To give you an idea of what the real Twentieth Century train was like, check out this 17-minute New York Central film from 1935: