Capitolfest 15


Capitolfest 15 – August 11 to 13, 2017

The Capitolfest 15 Film Festival unofficially began Thursday, August 10th with a Meet and Greet and a screening of four rare shorts presented in 16mm by Ralph Celentano: Glorious Years (1930), Gigolettes (1932) directed by William Goodrich aka Fatty Arbuckle, The Hot Spot (1931) from the “Frank McHugh Comedies” and Waltzing Around (1928) with comedy team Bobby Clark and Paul McCulough.  It was a nice way to ease into the well-paced but steady flow of vintage film screened from Friday, August 11th through to Sunday, August 13th.  It was good to see old film friends including film bloggers Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled and Beth Ann of Spellbound who also love rare Silent and Early Sound film.  The Silent films were accompanied on the Möller theatre organ by Avery Tunningley, Bernie Anderson and someone I’ve known for years, Dr. Philip Carli.

Each year Capiotlfest chooses a feature star who made films both in the Silent and Sound Era.  This year it was the world famous but little seen Fay Wray.  Even people who aren’t into film, contemporary or otherwise, know Fay Wray was the girl that King Kong loved in the original 1933 spectacular spectacle.  I can’t imagine that anyone ever thinks of Jessica Lange or Naomi Watts as the big ape’s lady love.

As well, to the delight of us Capitolfest attendees, along with seeing seven early Wray films, we were treated to meeting her daughter, Victoria Riskin.  And not only is her mother the iconic Wray, but her father is the famous screenwriter Robert Riskin, writer for such films as Illicit (1931) and its remake Ex-Lady (1933), It Happened One Night (1934), The Whole Town’s Talking (1935), Lost Horizon (1937), Meet John Doe (1941) and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) to name his most famous.

In her own right, Victoria has a long list of achievements: she began her working career as a psychologist after receiving her Master’s degree in Psychology and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology.  She followed that by becoming a writer and producer for television, as well as taking the time to act as President for the Writers Guild of America, West from 2001-2004.  Add to that, she is a Human Rights Activist and was the founding member of Human Right Watch in Southern California.  It was a coup for us that the organizers of the festival were able to arrange for Ms. Riskin to take time out of her busy schedule to attend.

An eloquent speaker, Victoria introduced a couple of her mother’s films and treated us all to the personal DVD tribute that her family created for Ms. Wray’s funeral.  It was mainly made up of early photographs of Fay when she was young and the Wray family back in the early days of the 1900s.

During a lunch break, there was a question and answer session with Victoria Riskin which I attended with about 40 or 50 others.  She talked about her father’s relationship with Frank Capra, how she believed the rumours of their falling out with each other were highly exaggerated.  She didn’t know much about her mother’s Canadian roots other than that she was born in Alberta and her family moved to the States when she was three.  She talked about how she was brought to LA by a male friend of the family when she was just a teenager to seek her fortune in the movie business because she had acting talent and beauty.

Me with Victoria Riskin

She told the story how her mother met with von Stroheim when he was auditioning actors for roles in his film The Wedding March (1928) and after talking through most of the interview himself, he dismissed her with something like “It was nice meeting you Missy.”  And because the role Fay was auditioning for was named Mitzi, she threw her arms around his neck and thanked him for giving her the role.  It seems that even if von Stroheim wasn’t intending to cast her, he figured it was easier to give her the role than to untangle himself from this possible misunderstanding.

Film historian and collector Eric Grayson, who restored, released on DVD/Blu-ray and screened for us Little Orphant Annie (1918)—thought to be the earliest surviving film starring Colleen Moore–at Capitolfest over the weekend, also brought with him a Volkswagon car commercial from 1976 starring King Kong with his lady-love Ann Darrow, played by none other than Victoria, Fay’s daughter!  You can view it here.

We saw a ten-year range of Wray’s films, from 1925 to 1935.   Beginning with her feature film, the 1925 The Coast Patrol, 17-year-old Fay played Beth, the daughter of rancher Captain Slocum (Spottiswoode Aitken), who dreams about living the more sophisticated life of the city folk who just live over yonder.  She gets herself involved with swindlers while trying to attract the attentions of wealthy Dale Ripley (Kenneth MacDonald).  Poor Beth lives in a muddy rural village where it appears all the folk are men folk—accept for her.  The other aspect of the story that had everyone talking was when Claire de Lorez, who played one of the swindlers, went waterskiing, she surprisingly didn’t know how to swim nor wears a lifejacket, although it was inevitable she was going to lose her balance.  Always nice when a life lesson is learned.

In chronological order, not viewing order, we saw The Wild Horse Stampede (1926), the story of ranchers Cross Hayden (Clark Comstock) and his daughter Jessie (Fay) who are initially stuck in the middle of a feud between honest Jack Tanner (Jack Hoxie) and villain Charlie Champion (William Steele).  Charlie wants to destroy all the wild horses—and there are thousands of them—in order to gain control of grazing land for cattle.  Tanner, with the help of his two best friends—his dog and horse—tells Champion to give him ten days to round up the herds of wild horses so he can save and sell them.  Both men want Jessie but her heart really belongs to Jack, even when she acts childish, scorns him and threatens to marry Champion.

Jack’s Best Friends

Jack Hoxie (1885-1965), an odd-looking dude, was a real-life cowboy and rodeo performer.  He got his start in movies in 1913, landing the title role in the 1919 serial Lightning Brice.  In the Capitolfest notes, Art Pierce writes that:

Fay Wray signed with Universal in 1926, and was leading lady in a half-a-dozen two-reel westerns that year, four of them starring Edmund Cobb….  She had been the leading lady in Hoot Gibson’s feature, The Man in the Saddle, earlier in the year, making this only her second feature in which she tackled the leading lady part.

The late James Cozart, of the Library of Congress, who facilitated the initial digital transfer of their print from nitrate materials, mentioned one scene in particular after screening the movie, “It looks like the shot went wrong and Fay, instead of her stunt double, was on the wagon at the time of the crash.”  Her daughter, Victoria, related, “I don’t remember her mentioning this particular film but I do know that in one of those Westerns she suffered a broken nose.  This might have been the film.  She pointed out to me that her nose was slightly misaligned, something I had never noticed until she mentioned it because her features seemed quite perfect.  After that, I saw her imperfection of a symbol of her spunk…doing her own stunts.”

There’s was one scene in particular that had us wondering who was doing the stunt, and that’s when one of Jessie’s legs gets caught in a stirrup and her horse gallops—and I mean gallops!—away  with Jessie hanging there by one leg until Jack is able to save her.

We skip a couple of years and see her last Silent film, The Four Feathers (1929), directed by Fay’s two favourite directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack (along with Lothar Mendes).  This was the third remake of the film, while two more, I believe, were made, one in 1939 and the other in 2002.  I felt more than remembered that I had seen this film many years before in Toronto Film Society’s Silent Series programme, but I wasn’t certain.  The reason I thought so was I did see the 1939 version and have this memory of comparing the two, thinking I liked the Silent version better.  But memories are tricky things and I don’t want to place a bet on it.

Richard Arlen played the main character and the one who receives the four white feathers.  For those of you who don’t know what that signifies, white feathers imply that you are a coward.  Born into a military family, Harry Feversham (Arlen) is told from day one that he will grow up to be a Colonel like his father.  But some of the stories frighten the young lad (played by Philippe De Lacy), the thought of killing being the most prevalent.

When next we meet him as a soldier, he is best friends with Lieutenant Durrance (Clive Brook), Captain Trench (William Powell) and Lieutenant Castleton (Theodore von Etz).  He’s engaged to Ethne Eustace (Fay Wray) and when he shirks his duty of being sent back to war in Africa, his friends and fiancée send him the four feathers.

Theodore von Eltz as Lieutenant Castleton

What we learn is that Harry isn’t a coward, just a right-to-life advocate.  Harry isn’t afraid to meet danger face to face; he’s reluctant to kill.   He heads off to Africa and ends up saving his friends from dreadful deaths!  Quite an adventure which includes Noah Beery as a vicious slave trader.  One of the scenes, when Harry finds Trench in a hut filled to the brink with sleeping bodies—an early precedent in my mind of the trains crammed and carrying Jews off to concentration camps during the Holocaust—was quite disturbing.

William Powell as Captain Trench

Victoria Riskin remarked in her introduction that her mother loved these two directors who also worked with her on two other films, The Most Dangerous Game (1932) and the iconic King Kong, because they were such wild and adventurous people.  There was never a dull moment.  Although they wanted to film on location in Africa, the studio forbade it because they were worried what might happen to their cast and crew there.  (That brought to mind for me that only several months later W.S. Van Dyke brought his crew and actors to film on location for the making of Trader Horn.  And there were consequences.)

Richard Arlen and William Powell

In the notes by Jack Theakston for the Capitolfest program, he writes that:

Famed producers Ernest B. Schoedsak and Merian C. Cooper went on an expedition in Africa during 1928 and brought back footage to be incorporated into The Four Feathers, the third filmed version of A.E.W. Mason’s novel of the same title.  Principal photography began in late September 1928 and went into production as part of Paramount’s all-sound season.

Production was struck by tragedy early.  Arnold Kent, the 28-year-old leading man from Italy who was cast as Captain Trench, was in the midst of filming when, after the day’s shooting, he was tragically struck down by a car driven by a film extra.  William Powell, then working on what would become Chinatown Nights, was pulled out of production and place in Kent’s role.  (I can’t say I know who Arthur Kent was and although it was certainly sad that he lost his life in this tragic way, Powell is really quite wonderful in this role.)

Originally conceived to have talking sequences, producer Jesse Lasky pulled the plug on dialogue at the last moment, announcing that The Four Feathers would carry a music and effect track only.  “Dialogue can augment the dramatic passages of many subjects,” Lasky said, “but it certainly cannot help, and it might impair, a production of such sweeping action and emotions as this story.”

Photography was completed by the end of the year and editing took place in January and February 1929.  A young John Farrow supplied the titles, uncredited.  William Frederick Peters, of the Sam Fox Music Company, was hired to write and record an all-original score.

The Four Feathers opened at the Criterion in New York on June 12, 1929, where it played until at least October.  Reviews were generally very positive.  Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times praised the acting in the film, but also singled out the location photography.  “The few actual scenes Messrs. Cooper and Schoedsack did photograph are magnificent, especially those with hippopotami and baboons and others in which the Fuzzy Wuzzies are beheld in great hosts.”

One last comment; there is one animal scene in the film that still makes me laugh whenever I think of it.  It’s from the African footage and there’s a shot set up behind a big pit in the ground.  Suddenly dozens of monkeys come rushing out of the pit, heading towards trees.  It was kind of a weird, disturbing shot.  Afterwards when we were talking about the film, I asked my mother (who is a great watcher of animal documentaries) what kind of monkeys live in the ground.  With an incredulous look on her face she said that NO monkeys live in the ground; that someone had dug the pit, put a whole bunch of monkeys in there, and those monkeys couldn’t wait to escape.  Smart thinking on the cinematographer’s part to shoot it from behind.  It was a flying stampede of monkeys!

It looks like Fay and Richard Arlen made eight films together, this being their first, followed by von Sternberg’s Thunderbolt, also in 1929, The Border Legion (which we viewed two year’s ago at Capitolfest 13), Paramount on Parade and the film we saw this weekend, The Sea God, all in 1930.  They also made The Conquering Horde (1931), The Lawyer’s Secret (1931) and Murder in Greenwich Village (1937).

The Sea God had mixed reviews among Capitolfest goers.  I enjoyed it immensely while others thought it was a not-so-interesting or even a silly story and that Richard Arlen was better off to have stayed in the Silent era.  I thought the two of them were very cute together.

The story begins with the introduction of two rival sea-traders, the young, good-looking Phillip Barker (Richard Arlen) betting his wages against villainous Big Schultz (Robert Gleckler), losing them all.  He’s had a bad day.  Not only the losing of his bankroll, but earlier that morning his girl, Daisy (Fay Wray) has just told him it’s quits.  (My immediate reaction was to say that if this is his regular behaviour, she’s made a wise decision!)  And of course, Big Schultz wants her and she’s left herself wide open for an unwanted entanglement with him, especially when she discovers he’s crooked.

In one last ditch effort, Barker wages his ship and its cargo against Schultz’s by challenging him to a race-at-sea, but loses when he rescues a man in distress.  This kind-hearted deed—and Barker is all too miserably aware of what it is going to cost him—ends up bringing him fortune!  For the man he rescued, Pearly Nick, knows where to find a hidden bed of oysters—and with them, their pearls!

Eugene Pallette as Square Deal McCarthy, Ivan Simpson as Pearly Nick and Richard Arlen as Phillip Barker

And this is where Richard Finegan writes in the Capitolfest program:

For any fans of Fay Wray who may be disappointed that Capitolfest is not including that popular adventure classic in which Fay is kidnapped from a ship by nasty natives in this year’s Fay Wray tribute, we have good news: we will be running that other Fay Wray adventure in which she is kidnapped from a ship by nasty natives.

Pearl Diving

Forgetting just how Daisy ends up on his ship—she was running away to escape the clutches of Schultz and, I think, stows away on Barker’s ship and is found sometime after it’s at sea—she and Barker’s faithful sidekick Square Deal McCarthy (Eugene Pallette) are captured by the cannibals.

He rescues them when the natives believe that Barker is a Sea God.  A totally cool scene in my books!

Lots of action follows since Big Schultz is not far behind with the goal of getting the pearls and the girl for himself.

The 1932 film Stowaway was the last film of Fay Wray’s screened over the weekend.  Leon Ames who played the hero Tommy, was still being billed as Leon Waycoff.  He made seven more pictures under Waycoff before he changed his name to Ames in 1933 when acting in an uncredited role in Parachute Jumper.

Mary Foster (Fay), a sweet and lovely girl is working as a taxi-dancer somewhere.  Why and how she got there isn’t explained.  She resists when First Mate Groder (Montague Love) paws at her, ripping her dress in the honky-tonk she works in.  Madge (Betty Francisco) doesn’t have any qualms showing Groder a good time while Tony (Paul Porcasi), the manager of the joint, fires Mary on the spot, citing that she has no wages coming to her since the dress she was wearing, property of the house, is ruined.  So Mary has no money and nowhere to spend the night.  She walks the streets but won’t stoop to being a streetwalker; however when a detective sees Mary being approached by a man, he automatically assumes she is soliciting him and takes off after her, even while Mary is rebuking the john.

To avoid getting caught, Mary heads towards the docks and ends up stowing away in the bowels of a cargo ship, which just happens to be the same ship that Groder works on.  She hides herself between two piles of heavy boxes and when the ship sets sail and the cargo shifts, she is almost crushed.  That’s when her screams are heard by Tommy (Leon Waycoff) and he rushes down to save her.  He hustles her into his room, and although tests her by trying to kiss her, he realizes he has a good girl on his hands.  As it turns out too, the ship is heading for San Francisco and that just happens to be where Mary wants to get to—apparently, it’s her home town and there is a job there waiting for her.  And what a nice coincidence, since that’s also Tommy’s home town as well.  They already have so much in common.

Okay, all joking aside, Tommy is sweet on her and very protective.  But it doesn’t take long for Groder to figure out that Mary is on board, as well as the cabin boy—or is he?—played by Rosco Karns.  Tommy does his best to protect Mary, and almost succeeds until a fight breaks out between him and Groder.  Groder owes money to shipmate Mackie (Lee Moran) so there’s more than one person who would like to see Groder dead.

By the end of the film, all’s well that end’s well, with the two lovers heading off the ship to get hitched.  Like so many stories, it’s surprising to think that they’ve known each other for maybe 24 hours.  Still, I felt the dialogue made the film worthwhile and interesting.  The director, Phil Whitman, was someone I didn’t know.  He was formerly a Secretary of the American Society of Cinematographers, the director of 24 shorts and six features who died at the age of 42 on January 10th, 1935.

On Saturday, we saw The Countess of Monte Cristo (1934) which gave Fay a real chance at playing the lead character.  Janet Krueger (Wray) and her friend Mimi Schmidt (Patsy Kelly) are good friends and movie extras working in the Austrian film industry.  The opening of the film is cute.  You think a gangster has entered a speakeasy of some sort and in a secret door at the back of the tavern, there’s another drinking room.  When the “gangster” starts asking for certain types, you think he’s asking for people to play roles in a staged robbery.  But you soon find out he’s a film director ordering up extras for a film he’s shooting.  And the people sitting there are drinking coffee, not alcohol.  Janet and Mimi get small parts; Janet is playing a countess and Mimi, her maid.

Fay Wray and Patsy Kelly

This is Patsy Kelly’s second feature film and it’s a bigger role than she had in Going Hollywood.  But Kelly has her shtick right from the beginning.  She sticks out like a sore thumb, but an entertaining thumb at that.

When their scene is shot, both Janet and Mimi goof it up somewhat.  After the second take, Janet, as the countess, doesn’t stop the car she’s driving at her mark, but instead, continues driving past it, past the barrier of the set and out onto the open road.  She doesn’t stop until she arrives at an exclusive mountain hotel.  And with an Italian licence plate on the car, she’s able to get away with truly being mistaken as a real-life Countess, since it says so on her fake luggage.

Eventually she meets Rumowski (Paul Lukas) a suave millionaire and gets mixed up with a Baron (Reginald Owen) who may not really be what he presents himself as.  In the end, Janet and Mimi prove to their director (Richard Tucker) that they are really fine actresses after all.

Jack Theakston wrote in the Capitolfest program:

Universal paid $25,000 for the rights to Walter Reisch’s The Countess of Monte-Christo, a film Karl Hartl directed for UFA in 1932, starring Brigitte Helm in the title role.  The studio originally planned their version as a vehicle for Gloria Stuart to be directed by Kurt Neumann, but the production of this comedy rapidly changed after Neumann was admitted to the hospital for appendicitis.  Ernst L. Frank was initially announced as Universal’s second choice if Neumann wasn’t available, but by the start of production in January 1934, cinematographer-turned-director Karl Freund was at the helm.  Paul Lukas had broken his arms in an accident and many of his scenes were done with both arms in splints.  Stuck on another picture, Stuart was replaced with Fay Wray.

The story was remade under the same title as a musical in 1948 with Sonja Henie (in her last movie) and Olga San Juan.

One of the more comic scenes which could have had a bit of sexual edge to it was when Janet is taking a bath in her luxurious bathroom.  Since she’s a Countess, she got the regal suite, while Mimi, as the maid, got some small, cramped room in the servant’s quarter of the hotel.  Mimi announces to Janet that when they are in the presence of others, she will act her part, but when they are alone together, what is Janet’s is hers.  Then she strips off all her clothes and slides herself into the other end of the bathtub.  Considering that Patsy was admittedly gay, it was a fun little moment.

Later that same night, we saw the latest Fay Wray film, the 1935 White Lies.  Here she plays Joan Mitchell, the daughter of powerful and ruthless newspaper publisher John Frank Mitchell (Walter Connolly) who doesn’t care who he hurts as long as it sells papers.  When Mitchell is stopped for speeding by honest police officer Terry Condon (Victor Jory), his first impulse is to use his position to get Condon demoted.  But his daughter, Joan, instead convinces him that he has the power to also build people up.  So he does.

Condon is happy with how his career is going and eventually he meets Joan, and they develop a friendship.  In the meantime, Mitchell has published a front-page news story about embezzler Dan Oliver (Leslie Fenton) who admits to losing his mind and has already paid back over half of the money he took.  But no matter how he pleads, Mitchell won’t give him a break, saying that the public needs to know “the truth”.  His girlfriend, Mary (Irene Hervey) stands by him, but eventually Oliver falls apart and murders Joan’s boyfriend Arthur (Robert Allen) and frames Joan for the murder.  Suddenly Mitchell sees what his lack of compassion for others has wrought for him and his daughter.  He’s suddenly not so eager to print this story as front-page news.

It was an entertaining story until the ending.  Walter Connolly is an actor who is good at acting bitter or loud or comic but shouldn’t necessarily portray these qualities all in one character.  His remorse at the end was ill-fitting and unbelievable for the kind of person he was supposed to be.

And of course, with Arthur out of the way, it made it possible for Joan and Terry to let their attraction go beyond a friendship.

Victor Jory as Terry Condon and Fay Wray as Joan Mitchell

Victoria Riskin wrote in the Capitolfest program:

From 1933 to 1935, Fay Wray worked almost non-stop, starring in 23 films that included her legendary role in King Kong (1933).  It was the height of the Depression and, as sole support of her family, Wray was grateful to work, never turning down an offer, barely finishing one film before starting the next, The Countess of Monte Cristo, Cheating Cheaters, Below the Sea, White Lies among them.  When Paramount, facing financial crisis, did not extend her contract in 1933, she had been relieved to find herself in demand at other studios.  Columbia came calling and she was soon touted in the press as “Columbia’s favorite star.”  She loved making White Lies and before that, Mill of the Gods (1934) largely because her co-star in both films was Victor Jory, whose energy and high spirits were infectious, she said, and provided a special chemistry.

Jory had been a rough Alaska kid growing up, belligerent and quick with his fists, who had transformed himself into a polished stage actor with wide range.  Later in his career he often played the villain, but in White Lies, as Wray’s romantic lead, he has a warmth and kindness, and also a slight edge.  Wray is the beautiful and spirited daughter of a ruthless publisher (Walter Connolly) who, to her distress, is willing to destroy a man’s life to sell newspapers.  Jory plays a decent policeman whose integrity she admires; not surprisingly, love and complications follow.

Thematically the movie reflects elements familiar in other Columbia pictures of the Depression era—the rich against average Americans, integrity versus venality, generosity versus avarice—those being written to great popular acceptance by Robert Riskin and directed by Frank Capra.  The successful Riskin-Capra partnership had catapulted Columbia out of “Poverty Row” to the status of a first-class studio beginning in 1933 with the success of Lady for a Day—the picture was nominated for three Academy Awards and someone said, ‘money came into Columbia so fast that a very short time later pencils and paper clips became available all over the studio’—followed by the stunning success of It Happened One Night (1934), the first film to sweep the top five Academy Awards.  These films, which included White Lies, were all championed by the studio chief, Harry Cohn, who decided everything at Columbia.  Although often criticized for being tyrannical and personally uncouth, he was also admired for knowing what audiences liked—and for seeing that his and his studio’s fortunes were tied to it.

The human values at the heart of White Lies, with their echoes of Robert Riskin’s scripts at Columbia, appealed to Wray, so perhaps it’s no surprise that in 1941 when she finally got to know Riskin, she fell in love with him.  They were married a year later.

Victoria Riskin has written a memoir about her parents, Robert Riskin and Fay Wray, tentatively titled Roses in December: A Love Story Set in the Golden Age of Hollywood.  It will be published in 2018 by Random House/Pantheon Books so keep your eye open for it.  I know I’m looking forward to reading it.

The Capitolfest weekend is more than its featured star, although this year it did feel extra special because of the presence of Victoria Riskin.  But there still was the dealers’ room where I scored some great books, mostly biographies and a few DVDs, some rare.

Besides the Fay Wray films, there were plenty of others such as Cheer Up and Smile (1930) with a delightful cast featuring Arthur Lake (best known for playing Dagwood in the Blondie films), Dixie Lee and always the entertaining Olga Baclanova.  I am not big on comedy but the short Hunting Trouble (1933) directed by James W. Horne, with Louise Fazenda, Walter Catlett, Charles Coleman and Louise Beaver was hilarious!  I actually laughed out loud and long when Beaver’s character Lucy, the maid, went flying down the stairs in the most insane manner.  You must see it to understand.  We saw an early short with Yiddish actress Molly Picon (1929).  There was One Hysterical Night (1929) which was not quite that but was written by and starred Reginald Denny.  There was a Walter Winchell short, I Know Everybody and Everybody’s Racket (1933); the banana peel slipping and most amazing pie fight ever in the Laurel and Hardy short Battle of the Century (1927)–Mayhem ensues!; and a very platinum Alice White with Thelma Todd in Naughty Baby (1928).   Maurice Chevalier plays Maurice in his usual but still charming way in Innocents of Paris (1929).  Then the modern vs moralistic Hail the Woman (1921) family saga.  The newly restored Corporal Kate (1926), produced by DeMille, was the last film of the festival.  I had just seen it at Mostly Lost 6 in Culpeper, Virginia in June and this allowed us to get a head start back home.  For me, the most interesting aspect of the film was seeing Julia Faye, one of DeMille’s long-time lovers in a major role.  She was good, the story, not so much.


But the non-Fay-Wray film that was the highlight of the weekend for some of us was Disorderly Conduct (1932).  It was directed by John W. Considine Jr. and starred an eclectic and interesting cast.  The ever-splendid Spencer Tracy was in the lead role, with an excellent Sally Eilers, El Brendel (always playing the same character), Ralph Bellamy, Ralph Morgan, Allan Dinehart and the most adorable Dickie Moore; the film was a gem.  It was a very similar story to White Lies, but because the protagonist isn’t promoted, but demoted, the story takes a different turn, and very interesting it is.  Tracy plays Dick Fay (his last name is a tribute to Wray-ha!), an honest and by-the-book motorcycle cop who persists in giving a speeding ticket to Phyllis Crawford (Sally Eilers) who knows nothing will touch her since she’s the daughter of criminally inclined and politically powerful James Crawford (Ralph Morgan).  When Fay finally hauls her bottom into the police station to be detained in a jail cell, it doesn’t take long for her to be released with the blessings of Fay’s Captain.  And to add insult to injury, Fay is demoted to a beat cop in a small station in the outskirts of the city.  With this turn of events, Fay no longer believes in an honest law enforcement agency and when his new Captain, “Honest” Dan Manning (Ralph Bellamy) insists his force is, Fay openly listens to what he considers malarkey with a smirk across his face.  And with that, he becomes a corrupt cop.

Fay is the breadwinner for his little family which includes a mother, two nieces and his beloved nephew Jimmy (Dickie Moore).  One of the most adorable of children actors, Dickie Moore definitely falls into the category of children you could “just eat up”.

So when things go really wrong for Fay, tragedy strikes close to home as well as almost losing his own life.  The ending is much more realistic than it was in White Lies.  The villain doesn’t ever feel remorse but his daughter does.  There’s not necessarily a “happy ever after” ending, but there certainly is a satisfying one for Dick Fay.

Here’s what Louie Despres wrote in the Capitolfest program:

Disorderly Conduct tells a story about the sinister side of a police department wrapped up in political turmoil and graft.  An honest cop (Spencer Tracy) tries to stay on the straight and narrow but ultimately gets ensnared by the corrupt machine.  The first words on the production of Disorderly Conduct started trickling through the gossip columns in late 1931, when it was announced that the team of Edmund Loew & Victor McLaglen would be returning to their roles of the rough and tumble military characters, Sergeants Flagg & Quirt, form the highly successful series of films bade by Fox.  Beginning in 1926 with Raoul Walsh-directed silent What Price Glory, these screen grunts were rude and saucy, always trying to steal each other’s “girls,” starting a bust-up at the drop of a hat, or trying to embarrass the other.  But—when the credits rolled, they would always be joined arm-in-arm in the name of duty for the glory of military fight. El Brendel would join the team of Walsh, Lowe & McLaglen to make The Cock-Eyed World in 1929.  The same foursome would reunite in 1931 with Women of All Nations, all retaining the characteristics and flavor from their previous appearances.

It is surprising, given the success of the previous pictures, when it was announced that Disorderly Conduct was to be the final entry in the “Flaggs & Quirt” oeuvre.  This time, they would be in the uniforms of New York City policemen, “tougher, smarter, funnier than ever…with a dame on every beat.”  However, it was not to be.  Raoul Walsh decided to direct The Yellow Ticket instead, and Edmund Lowe, then in contract dispute with Fox, decided to head to Europe.  McLaglen was also out shortly after, with Spencer Tracy and Ralph Bellamy being cast and the picture went into production with John W. Considine Jr. in the directors’ chair.  Interestingly enough, shortly after Disorderly Conduct was released, Fox announced their intended remake of What Price Glory with Tracy, Bellamy, and Brendel in the lead roles!  That picture, of course, never left the idea stage.

Reviews of Disorderly Conduct were pretty positive with The Hollywood Reporter stating, ‘”he outstanding part of the production in our judgement was the dialogue.  It was rich, racy, salty, and had a spontaneous quality that made the excellent work of the actors appear even better than it was.”  Harrison’s Reports said, “Fox has not produced a picture with so much realism in a long time.  One is made to feel as if present in a sensational real-life occurrence.”  Motion Picture Herald: “A New York Roxy audience gave every evidence of deriving much in the way of entertainment from the fast-paced film.”  It also noted the actors’ performances, “Individually and collectively they contribute a swell performance with the result that after seeing it your audience should feel highly satisfied.”  The normally stodgy Mordaunt Hall from The New York Times also caught the film at the Roxy and noted, “Through its racy dialogue and highly commendable performances (the film)…affords a fair measure of entertainment, but, unfortunately, the story as a whole is disappointing.”

Spencer Tracy as Dick Fay and Ralph Bellamy as Captain Dan Manning

As you can see, this last review does not agree with my take nor many other Capitolfest goers.  It was a very good film and Spencer Tracy was his usual perfect self.  Such a fine actor.

Another Capitolfest has come to an end.  Thank you Capitolfest organizers.  Looking forward to Capitolfest 16 and its feature star Ronald Colman.


2 thoughts on “Capitolfest 15

  1. Hello Caren, I really enjoyed reading your post. I am thinking of attending next year I would be very grateful if you could give me any information on booking. I did send an email enquiry to Capitolfest no reply yet. Many thanks in advance. Sheila

    • Thank you Sheila!

      Check out Capitolfest’s website It may be a while before they start posting the schedule for next year, but click on the List of Hotels. The rates may change slightly, but you can still call to book ahead for next year. The Quality Inn is the closest I believe and you can actually walk from the hotel to the theatre if you aren’t driving or just feel like a walk after watching so many films! If you do attend, I hope we will have a chance to meet.

      I’m confident someone from Capitolfest will get back to you. They’re a good but busy bunch of people!

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