Cinefest in Syracuse

This past week I attended the 35th and last ever Cinefest.  I left on Wednesday the 18th and got there that evening to catch up with old friends.  It was a wonderful way to start off a film festival that began in 1981.  I didn’t start going until around 1992 or 1993 but had heard of it from one of Toronto Film Society’s past-presidents, the late Bill Sturrup.  I had to miss a few when my kids were young, but other than those years, I have been a loyal Cinefest-ite.

Thursday, March 19, 2015 – Day 1
The morning started out with one of the funniest films of the weekend, OUT ALL NIGHT (1933) directed by Sam Taylor.  It’s the story of a man, Ronald Colgate (Slim Summerville), who’s a mama’s boy.  His mother (Laura Hope Crews) runs every single aspect of his life, including giving him all types of meds for ailments we know he doesn’t have.  We meet Bunny (ZaSu Pitts) at her job, running a drop-off daycare at a popular department store.  She is the only one supervising and she must have something like 40 children to mind at one point.  Pretty crazy.  The dialogue is such fun with lots of double entendres.  When one mother comes in with five children, the youngest being an infant, Bunny asks her, “Are they all yours or is it a picnic?” and the mother retorts, “They’re all mine and believe me, it’s no picnic.”  At one point, Bunny is telling a group of children a story with a sad ending.  We all notice one particular child in the group, Shirley Temple, about a year before she became the biggest child star ever.  She twists Bunny in circles by debating the philosophy of adults telling “truth or lies”, which ends with all the children crying because the story must be “true”, which is the death of the princess, or some such thing.  Out All Night (2)

Meanwhile, Ronald is with his mother at the department store buying a winter coat.  What makes this relationship extra ridiculous is that mother and son look about the same age.  In fact, Crews was only 13 years older than Summerville and although he and ZaSu were 40 and 39 respectively, they looked somewhat older compared to people in this day and age.  After meeting with nervous store manager, Mr. Rosemountain (Alexander Carr) during the coat-buying negotiations, Ronald wanders off to stumble across the nursery.  He notices the lovely Bunny right away and sees she needs help with her many charges, especially the perverse “That’s-a-Trick” monster-child played by the unusual Billy Barty.  “That’s-a-Trick” is what he would say when he kicked someone, damage someone’s property or do anything that should have had punitive repercussions.  Barty, being a little person who started out in vaudeville at the age of five, was actually nine when he played this role and went on to play usually bratty children until 1937.

In Lawyer Man (1932), there was the tell-tale cigar going from a placid position to erect when William Powell notices an attractive female pass by.  The same trick was used here, but with a thermometer while Ronald is getting his temperature taken by his mother.  Out All Night (3)

Lots of fun with Ronald and Bunny succeeding in getting married and trying to have a private honeymoon—but mother is always in tow, even in the adjoining hotel room.  With arrangements made by his mother’s paramour Rollo Lloyd (David Arnold), Ronald is finally able to become a man and save Bunny from hired men acting as white-slavers who “kidnap” her and take her to an opium den.  The look on some of the “white-slavers” faces were pricelessly funny when they watched Bunny and Ronald do ridiculous things, believing they’re were in real peril.

The kid with the black eye is Billy Barty

The kid with the black eye is Billy Barty

All’s well that ends well with Rollo having become an expert at catching the fainting Crews as Ronald and Bunny head off for their second, and we presume successful, attempt at a honeymoon in Niagara Falls.

I watched some of the BEST OF MOSTLY LOST III presented by the Library of Congress, but decided to visit the dealers’ room so that hopefully I could stay alert when the next feature was on.  Here’s where I started piling up all the books that I planned on buying from my friend Doug who sells books for a living in his hometown of Deansboro, NY in his very unusual Berry Hill Book Shop. He’s been selling them for the past 33 years at Cinefest and I met him the first year I ever went.  He’s always had the best collection of mainly used film books I’ve ever seen. Yellow Fingers (1)

YELLOW FINGERS (1926) was the next feature film on the agenda and it was something I was really looking forward to seeing.  It was directed by Emmett Flynn and starred Olive Borden, an actress I was introduced to in the film The Joy Girl (1927) at Cinefest 34 (see my review below in 2014).

Olive Borden

Olive Borden

 There were a number of themes in my mind over the course of the four days.  Besides misogyny, a theme near and dear, there was also a fair amount of racism.  The title of this film expresses that sentiment.

Yellow Fingers (2)

Ralph Ince, Olive Borden and Claire Adams

Based on the 1925 novel by Gene Wright, it tells the story of Saina (Olive Borden), who is a native of the Malay Peninsula and the ward of Captain Brute Shane (Ralph Ince).  She is still a teenager and enjoys dancing as scantily clad as possible at the local bar to help make extra money for proprietress Toinette (May Foster).  Shane is against her showing off her body in this way, and she tries to please him (well, a little anyway; she still continues dancing) because she is in love with him and lets him know she wants to marry him when she’s of age.  But along comes Nona Deering (Claire Adams) who is rescued by Shane’s crewmen when she jumps in the water to escape Kwong Li (Edward Peil Sr.)  She and Shane fall in love much to the displeasure of Saina.  And to make matters worse, Saina discovers that she’s—horrors upon horrors—a half caste!  In the background, there’s Rajah Jagore (Nigel De Brulier, unless I’ve mixed up the characters) who appears to be the bad boy lusting after our Saina.  So the moral of the story seems to be that if you’re not a full-bred white person, you have to settle for second best—and that’s if you are lucky.

After the lunch break I watched TOWER OF TREASURES, RKO TRAILERS hosted by Ray Faiola.  Always fun. Life in the Raw (2)

Next came LIFE IN THE RAW (1933) directed by Louis King with handsome George O’Brien and was also excited to see Claire Trevor, famous for her Noir films, in this very early role and her feature debut.  It was the engaging story of Judy Halloway (Claire Trevor) out West to visit her brother Tom (Steve Pendleton) who has been writing to her claiming that he has purchased a ranch in Arizona.  This is all untrue as he’s gotten himself mixed up with and owing money to the unscrupulous Russian, Colonel Nicholai Petroff (Alan Edwards).

Petroff runs a saloon which features dance-hall girl Belle (Greta Nissen) who dances in Russian garb.  In fact, everyone who works there is dressed in Russian-style clothing including the one black waiter (Sam McDaniel).  How fun is that!  When Belle first appears in a dance sequence, I was surprised at how much she looked, to me anyway, like Claire Trevor.  I could tell them apart when they weren’t side-by-side by her beauty mark near her mouth.

Greta Nissen

Greta Nissen

Nigel De Brulier plays McTavish, the Bible-quoting old coot, who identifies Tom as the thief who stole all the town’s money.  Tom was forced into the robbery, but really, he’s just a young man who doesn’t know how to get out from under the thumb of his blackmailer, Harvey (H.B.) Lamson (Warner Richmond) who is a thug working for the Colonel.

Jim Barry (George O’Brien) comes to the rescue of Judy a number of times, the first time being when she is given a ride, molested and then deserted in the desert by low-down bad guy H.B.  But later, when she betrays Jim to save her brother, she redeems herself when she realizes that Jim is going to be hung for the murder of McTavish, who was actually murdered by H.B. so he wouldn’t be able to tell the sheriff what he saw.

Claire Trevor and George O'Brien

Claire Trevor and George O’Brien

These are the types of Westerns that I like because they aren’t real Westerns but stories that takes place in a rural setting.  And they used one of my favourite English sayings that would make no sense to someone learning the language, “Keep your eyes peeled.”

Last Man on Earth (7)

After this film came one of the most talked about silent films of the day!  THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1924) directed by J.G. Blackstone is a sci-fi film.  It begins in 1924 when Elmer Smith (Buck Black) is eight and Hattie (Jean Johnston) is six.  They are both attending a school picnic and although Elmer is smitten with Hattie, she is enjoying the advances of an older, more polished boy, who is very unkind to poor, awkward Elmer.

Time goes by, and now it’s 1940.  Elmer (Earle Foxe) and Hattie (Derelys Perdue) are both at a party but she is understandably still not interested in him since he’s grown up to become an awkward goof.  Elmer, being so unhappy and knowing that there’s no other woman for him, takes off in a plane and goes to live as a hermit on a remote island somewhere in the world.

Earle Foxe

Earle Foxe

In the meantime, the contagious disease “Masculitis” has become a worldwide epidemic, killing every adult male and boy once he’s over the age of 14.  So by 1950 all that are left are women but what fun the fashions have become!  It was very interesting to see what designers from 1924 thought the fashions would look like in the 50s.  They were actually about a decade ahead of their time, with women wearing mini-skirts, short shorts and stylish pants.  Everyone is chic although you really don’t see a woman overweight or over 40 until later on, but they’re few and far between.

Derelys Perdue

Derelys Perdue

Alice Pratt is the President of the United States and she owns lots of cats.  Dr. Prodwell (Clarissa Selwynne) is working on finding a cure for Masculitis in the hopes that there is still a male or two somewhere in the world and women be able to start breeding again.

Grace Cunard

Grace Cunard

Meanwhile there is a group of female gangsters—Gertie, (Grace Cunard), Frisco Kate (Gladys Tennyson) and Red Sal (Marion Aye) to name a few–called The Tea House Gang who hang out at a bar with the best cocktail shakers ever!  The bartender clips a strap around her chest, attaches the shaker between to holders on the strap and shimmies until the drink is mixed.  How cool is that?!

Gladys Tennyson

Gladys Tennyson

Gertie, though, hasn’t given up searching for a man.  She flies around in her plane, lands on what she thinks is a deserted island when she develops engine trouble, discovers Elmer and captures him.  When she gets back home, she has to keep a vigilant guard over her captive while sprucing him up because her gang are having a hard time keeping their hands and other body parts off of Elmer.  And Elmer’s thinking hasn’t changed any in the ten years he’s been living in isolation.  Instead of taking full advantage of his unusual situation, he is still pining away for his one and only love, Hattie.  All we can say is “lucky Hattie”.  She’s not so proud any longer and has reconsidered her attraction to Elmer.

Maryon Aye

Maryon Aye

But The Tea House Gang have other ideas.  They decide to sell Elmer to the highest bidder and invite millionaires to an auction.  These woman are older looking, figuring that it takes time to acquire wealth.  With the bidding about to begin, one of the auctioneers starts off with, “I’ve got a man and we’ll take the highest bid for him.”  When things get a bit chaotic, she comes back with “Just keep your brassieres on.”  As the bidding gets higher, two women decide to combine their fortune and share Elmer, but in the end Elmer is sold to the U.S. government for $10,000,000.

Then they have a party, where the women get him drunk and line up to dance with him.  Eventually, it’s decided that he has to marry someone so the world can be repopulated, and this is when two women are chosen to participate in a boxing match where the champion will win Elmer as her prize.  They are both unskilled boxers and at one point one of them punches the other below the belt, in her behind (which I know is illegal!), when her back is turned.

Last Man on Earth (6)

One interesting observation is that there were no other nationalities of women other than Caucasians, (at least none that I saw) other than the one black woman who was still–you may have guessed it–a servant.  So it was still hard for people of the 20s to imagine any sort of equality change happening in the future.

So who ends up with Elmer?  The winner of the boxing match, or Hattie, his childhood love?  And does he start procreating right away?  You can probably guess the answer to these important questions.

The last film before the dinner break was THE ROAD BACK (1937) directed by James Whale, based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, the sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front.  It appears Whale wanted to direct this film as early as 1932, but it was shelved until 1936 when he signed a new contract with Universal which owned the property.

As with All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), this is from the German point-of-view although at first it was hard to realize this with American actors in the roles.  Ernst (John ‘Dusty’ King), Ludwig (Richard Cromwell), Tjaden (Slim Summerville, reprising his role from All Quiet on the Western Front and in a very different role than the one we saw in the morning), Willy (Andy Devine, who has been paired with Summerville in comedies) and Weil, a Jew (Larry J. Blake).

The film opens on the night before the Armistice and Captain Von Hagen (John Emery) is not happy that the war has ended and they have lost.  But the men are happy that the killing has ended (when a duck is shot at for food, Tjaden says that that’s probably the only sensible shot made during the whole war) and they can go home to their loved ones.  We watch them head home on foot, dropping off a critically injured comrade at a roadside hospice, if you can even call it that.  We and they know the man is going to die shortly and they feel guilty for leaving him alone but know they have to move on.

When they get home, at first they are all so happy to see their families.  But it doesn’t take long for Ernst to feel out of place and depressed.  The men who were too old to join and the boys who grew up but were too young to fight, have contempt for the politics and the surviving soldiers and have started their own groups, some of them based on communism.

I can’t remember all the events that occurred in this film, but at one point Tjaden marries the Mayor’s (Etienne Girardot) daughter who I thought was played by Spring Byington but apparently she played Ernst’s mother.

Captain Von Hagen has now become the leader of a political group who were unhappy with the way things turned out after the war ended and start a confrontation with the men from his old troop.  When Ludwig (or was it Weil?) steps forward to question him with regard to his propaganda, he’s shot dead.

Road Back (1)

In the 1982 biography James Whale by James Curtis, I found some very interesting information about the making and finishing of this film:

“Upon entering the project, all involved expected to meet with widespread objection because of the strong, unrelenting anti-war theme it carried, but no serious concern was expressed.  Whale was assured that the studio felt no intimidation from foreign markets, although it was fairly certain that the picture would find itself banned in most countries.  The foreign gross accounted for a good 40 percent of a film’s earnings.  Some countries, such as Sweden, objected to ‘horror’ pictures like The Bride of Frankenstein; others including China, Spain, Mexico, and Italy censored films that portrayed their nationals as villains or objects of fun.  But no one theme was as roundly objected to as the antimilitaristic or anti-war message.  Generally speaking, this sentiment was usually strong enough to keep such distasteful movies to a minimum, but the great financial rewards seen in the domestic issues of a few top-flight titles like All Quiet on the Western Front and Journey’s End, plus the undeniable publicity value and prestige of such works, occasionally overrode their liabilities….”

“At the time of its initial screening, THE ROAD BACK was close to what Whale had desired to attain, and his principal concern was in keeping the film in that same condition until it was ready for release.  David Lewis (Hollywood film producer and Whale’s long-time companion) thought it was very good at that point, but not a great film.  ‘That was because it wasn’t a great story,’ he said.  ‘Remarque was a man with only one great story in him, and that was All Quiet.  Jimmy had done the best he could with it, as had (the writer) Sherriff.”

Life magazine previewed THE ROAD BACK in its uncut condition, and of the opening battle scenes, when the company was ordered to attack on the eve of the Armistice, it wrote, ‘The next twelve minutes of THE ROAD BACK are the most cruel war scenes ever filmed by Hollywood.’”

Life featured THE ROAD BACK as its ‘Movie of the Week’ in late June, but by that time the damage had been done.  After several sneak previews, the worst that Whale feared happened.  He was ordered to reshoot portions of the film that were too finely done—too strong for Nazi consumption.  The decision was made to try to gain German acceptance at all costs, and Whale, faced with a situation he never had encountered before, was outraged.  The studio commissioned writer Charles Kenyon to adapt some new scenes to replace old ones in the Sherriff script, and Whale thought them weak, unfunny (‘The idea was to show how much fun war really was,’ said David Lewis), and steadfastly refused to shoot them.  ‘He had a great hatred for the Germans,’ said Larry Blake.  ‘He never would have done that.’  In all, the studio deemed some 21 separate cuts to be necessary, most of them to be replaced with Kenyon’s lame comedy scenes featuring Andy Devine and Slim Summerville.”

“Whale stood his ground, but his reasoning attempts with Rogers (executive producer of the film)—that the Germans wouldn’t find the film acceptable under any conditions and that tampering could only hurt the domestic business it might do—fell upon deaf ears.  Rogers was Cowdin’s man, and Cowdin (financier of the film) was the one who determined that the film would be cut.”

“David Lewis was upset about the altering plans and wished he could do something to help.  He called David O. Selznick about the matter, who became furious at the thought of Adolph Hitler dictating policy to any American studio.  Immediately, he called Cheever Cowdin in New York to threaten him with public exposure and all the pressure that Selznick could muster.  Cowdin was unimpressed with Selznick, but angry that anyone would attempt to threaten him and blamed the troublesome, $75,000-a-picture Whale for the hassle.”

Road Back (2)

“On Sunday, June 6, 1937, Universal rushed a print of the newly emasculated THE ROAD BACK to New York for inspection by German ambassador Hans Luther before his return to Berlin, but to no avail.  Luther refused to view the film and it opened to its world premiere on June 17, minus its director, its punch, and its approval by the Hitler regime…”

After the dinner break, there were three shorts that I missed in the hopes that I could stay awake to watch the last three films of the evening.

Return of Peter Grimm (2)

THE RETURN OF PETER GRIMM (1926), directed by Victor Schertzinger featured a 20-year-old Janet Gaynor.  It’s the entertaining story of a controlling patriarch, Peter Grimm (Alec B. Francis), a cultivator of rare flowers, who pressures his ward Catherine (Gaynor) into promising that she will marry his nephew and heir Frederick (John Roche).

Alec B. Francis

Alec B. Francis

Catherine loves James Hartman (Richard Walling) but when Peter dies, she feels she must go through with her promise.  However, Frederick now shows the family that he is nothing like the likeable fellow he was pretending all along to portray, but a nasty, greedy bully who is looking forward to enjoying the wealth he was left and marry Catherine despite the fact she doesn’t love him.  But from the grave, Peter realizes he needs to right the wrongs that were of his doing, and comes back as a spirit to do just that.  In the end, everything works out just the way a good story should.

Janet Gaynor

Janet Gaynor

And it’s always enjoyable to see Elizabeth Patterson, who never seemed to physically change, play the role of the greedy Mrs. Bartholomey.

Captain Fly-By-Night (3)

CAPTAIN FLY-BY NIGHT (1922), directed by William K. Howard starred an actor who played in close to a hundred films, yet until this film was screened, I was only aware of his name-sake, Johnnie Walker.

Johnnie Walker

Johnnie Walker

It’s more or less a Zorro film, with the good looking Walker as the First Stranger fighting bad guy Sgt. Cassara (Eddie Gribbon) to save “the most beautiful girl in California”-NOT, Señior-ita Fernandez played by the unattractive (or at least in this film) Shannon Day.

Shannon Day looking much better than she did in this film!

Shannon Day looking much better than she did in this film!

The last film of the night was THE THIRD ALARM (1922) directed by Emory Johnson, also starring Johnnie Walker as Johnny McDowell and Ralph Lewis as his father, Dan McDowell, released the same month as the film above.

Third Alarm (1)

I tried staying awake for these last couple of films, but kept fading in and out.  The programmes always ran later than scheduled, so it would make for an extra, bleary-eyed late night.

Paris promoting  THE THIRD ALARM; see poster in the background

Paris promoting THE THIRD ALARM; see poster in the background

To quote the notes, THE THIRD ALARM is one of Johnson’s best productions, and tells the tale of a firefighting family struggling with the idea that horse drawn fire trucks are being replaced by motorized vehicles.

Third Alarm (3)

After only registering a few scenes from this beautiful multi-tinted original print, I said goodnight and headed off to my room.  The end of Day 1.  Stay tuned for Day 2.

Friday, March 20, 2015 – Day 2
I love pre-Code films and was looking forward to the first film this morning MEN ON CALL (1931) directed by John G. Blystone with Edmond Lowe and Mae Clarke.  Mae Clarke is most famous for getting a grapefruit slapped in her face by James Cagney in The Public Enemy (1931), but she was in over two dozen films in the pre-Code era with many more to follow.  In MEN ON CALL she plays showgirl Helen who is engaged to straight-laced railroad engineer Chuck (Lowe).  Chuck already has ideas of the type of woman a man marries—or doesn’t—and even though Helen is an actress, she’s still a “good girl” in his mind.  And of course she is, but she has had a past after all.   On the day of their engagement party, a newspaper reporter from New York, finds Helen, who’s changed her last name from Gordon to Harding (or vice versa) to escape a love triangle scandal that had ruined her reputation in the big city.  And of course, without ever hearing her side of things, Chuck breaks of their engagement.

Edmond Lowe

Edmond Lowe

While on the job, he is distracted from his driving duties by fishing out the picture of Helen that he carries in his wallet.  He tears it in half, and watches it flutter out the window.  So does the assistant engineer, both of them missing the signal that tells them to slow down because there is a problem up ahead.  After the crash, Chuck is let go of his job and he wanders the country as a hobo.  He eventually meets Cap (William Harrigan), a lighthouse coast guard, who first buys him a meal and then leads him to the enlistment centre telling him it’s time for him to take control once again of his life.

Meanwhile, Helen hasn’t forgotten Chuck and is obsessed with wanting to explain herself and the past situation to him.  After some time has passed and Chuck is now set up with a good position within the coast guard industry (if that’s what you call it), he and Cap are aware that there’s a woman in peril of drowning.  They rush out to rescue her and low and behold it’s Helen!  She’s loses consciousness and they end up deciding to bring her to one of the cottages that isn’t owned by the coast guards, so in that way they can legally house her and let her recover.

Mae Clarke

Mae Clarke

Chuck still has a soft-spot for her, making sure she is warm enough by bringing his own blanket from his bed to cover her up.  Helen is completely unaware of all his attentions and when she recovers he is distant, leaving Cap to befriend her and, therefore get to know her.  Of course this leads to him falling for her.  So who does she choose?  I will have to spoil it for you by saying that she stupidly chooses Chuck, in case you didn’t guess it, as after all this is usually how most romance films end, but in my opinion she has made a grave mistake.  When Cap learns about her past–and through no fault of her own was she made to look like a home wrecker–he understands.  When Chuck first learns about the scandal that befell his fiancée, he doesn’t give the woman he supposedly loves one second to explain herself.  And he should have as Mae plays Helen as a very intelligent woman.

That’s what I like about so many dramatic pre-Code heroines.  They are so mature, compassionate and highly intelligent.  The dialogue is written this way and these actresses can play the roles well.  So why are the men so stoic, but not able to understand the reasons beneath the actions of the women they “love”?  This is certainly the theme throughout most of the pre-Code dramas we watched this weekend and it’s certainly a theme I’ve written about in other pre-Codes films.  It’s frustrating but essential pre-Code theory, I suppose.  That’s what makes these films intriguing; that men seem to have a double standard of conduct, even when they’re mistaken–it’s ingrained into their DNA.

William Harrigan

William Harrigan

The always entertaining Warren Hymer plays the married coast guard Joe Burke, with Ruth Warren as his understandably churlish but plain wife.  There’s a funny scene where he’s met an attractive young woman at a party and swearing he’s single, he’s asked her to meet him at a nearby boathouse.  When she overhears his wife asking where she can find Joe, she sends him in her place to the boathouse where he gets his just desserts.

There’s a “colourful” remark I noticed: “I don’t mind telling you, you’re a white man,” which implies that one character is telling the other that he’s honest.

After that I skipped the shorts, visiting friends in the dealers’ room and just taking a break in the hopes I would be able to stay alert during the next film which I was quite looking forward to seeing.

Painted Woman (1)

THE PAINTED WOMAN (1932) was another film in the same vein as the first, also directed by John G. Blystone, starring Spencer Tracy, Irving Pichel (almost no one is as good an actor at sleazy!), and an actress I never heard of before, Peggy Shannon.

It’s the story of Kiddo (Peggy Shannon) who is also a showgirl being lusted after by many men but “belongs” to Captain Boynton (William ‘Stage’ Boyd) and he lets her know this in no uncertain terms.  He has to leave on his ship to somewhere in the South Seas and when he asks her what she wants, she says, “a roll in the hay.”  I smiled to hear her say this, and wondered if it meant the same thing back then as it does now (although what else could it have meant?) because she said it in a rather flippant tone, and certainly did not appear to be at all interested in having any sort of roll with him.

William 'Stage' Boyd

William ‘Stage’ Boyd

After he leaves and after her performance, she is followed up to her beautifully photographed room, with the short shadows of the slats on the door casting long shadows against the opposite wall, by one of the drooling customers and when he tries to rape her, she stops him by smashing a bottle over his head.  However, this more than stops him, it ends up killing him and as far as everyone else is concerned, she’s the one to blame for all that was and will happen to her.  Very discouraging indeed.

Peggy Shannon

Peggy Shannon

She escapes before being arrested by the police and manages to reach Boynton’s schooner before he’s set sail, convincing him she’s there because she suddenly realized she couldn’t have lived without him.  He’s self-centred (and dumb) enough to fall for it and with the help of Georgie, his Cockney mess boy, (Herbert Mundin) he hides her inside a box under his mattress as the ship is searched for her before leaving port.  Unfortunately, now she is completely in the molesting reach of Boynton and she’s not enjoying it one bit, so when there’s an announcement of an outbreak of cholera aboard the vessel, she’s more than relieved to have Boynton deposit her on a South Sea island while on his way to elsewhere.

Herbert Mundin with Peggy Shannon

Herbert Mundin with Peggy Shannon

The men here are different but still the same, and she is tired and repulsed at being mauled.  Upon arrival, one of the first people she meets is the sleazy Robert Dunn (Irving Pichel), a lawyer who is well-off enough to live an alcoholic, decadent life here on the island.  He’s the first to start seducing Kiddo by arranging the delivery of sweet alcoholic drinks to her room.

Kiddo tries to make herself useful by offering to act as an unofficial nurse to people, both native and tourists, who have become ill.  When she asks to specifically help one sick man, the response is, “No, he has a temperature already.”  Kiddo is attractive, but she really doesn’t act like a sex-diva, so it must be quite irritating for her to always be treated as such.

Painted Woman (6)

Kiddo befriends Tia Marquette (Winter Blossom aka Laska Winter’s last film) who shows her where the most private outdoor waters are for bathing.  When she disrobes for her swim in the lagoon, Tia casts an admiring glance and lets this white woman know that she finds her physically beautiful.  Tia then leaves, but the lagoon isn’t private enough, for along comes Tom Brian (Spencer Tracy), announcing his presence and being “playful” by moving her clothes out of arm’s reach until she has no choice to come out in her birthday suit.  After getting an eyeful, he gives her back her clothes piece by piece, starting with her lingerie, one he’s finished admiring it.  Then, when he asks her to join him for breakfast, she replies that “she wouldn’t join him for chloroform, never mind breakfast.”

But eventually, over a period of time, she warms to Tom and with the constant harassing of Dunn and then the news that Boynton has been lost to the sea, she and Tom marry and appear to enjoy a happy relationship.  But of course this doesn’t stay the course and after three months, the news of Boynton being found again brings fear back into Kiddo’s heart.

Raul Roulien

Raul Roulien

When Tom and his hired assistant, native Jim (Raul Roulien) search for pearls, there’s an entertaining and primitive special-effects scene with Tom saving Jim from being attacked by an octopus.  But when they find a specifically rare, pink pearl, Jim sees Kiddo pocket it.  And the reason for her doing this is she has a plan to present it to Boynton with a story so that he stays on board his schooner and sails off without finding out about her marriage to Tom.

But of course everything backfires, with Boynton learning the truth, with Tom, first thinking it was Jim who stole the pearl, then deciding she’s a thief, a fallen woman and eventually a murderess.  And again, we are frustrated with the fact that he never gives the woman he claims to love and who he’s just had the happiest three months of his life with a chance to explain herself.  What’s also so interesting is that women (at least the writers of the novels and scripts thought so) had to confess all of their past misconducts.  And then the men, if they were big enough, could brush it aside as a life experience or at the least forgive and forget.  And of course these men like Tom Brian had pasts of their own but the stories never go into any of those eyebrow raising detail.

Irving Pichel

Irving Pichel

With a conclusion of a court scene and the lawyer Dunn prosecuting our heroine, Jim admits the truth of his involvement.  Tia and Jim don’t fare well at all; Tia dies (I believe) of TB and Jim kills Boynton when he tries to rape Kiddo while she’s lying unconscious, a consequence of his brutality.  Jim had a real soft-spot for our Kiddo and I could only think it was because she saved him from losing his arm after the octopus attack that he defends her.  He was actually the only completely decent man in the whole film.  But hey, he’s native so still expendable, and with this it works out that everything ends apple-pie happily for Tom and Kiddo.

I like Spencer Tracy no matter what era the film was made in.  He was always a fine actor even in roles he probably disliked having to make.  And of course, I especially like seeing him in these early roles even though these may have been the roles he complained the most about.  Born in 1900, he started movie making just after the end of the silent era.  I can see why men would have liked him for sure.  He wasn’t a matinee idol, yet he had a strong physical, almost sexiness about him that would have appealed to both men and woman.  I’ve had the opportunity to see John Ford’s Up the River (1930), Tracy’s first feature film (which was very entertaining by the way and also featured Humphrey Bogart), but nothing in between that and THE PAINTED WOMAN.  I have a very blurry copy of Goldie (1931), a picture he made with Jean Harlow, but until I can find a better print, I am putting off watching it.  If you like Tracy, but have only had the opportunity to see his later, more famous films, give some of his early ones a look see.  I recommend:  Up the River, THE PAINTED WOMAN, Me and My Gal (which I wrote about and collected notes for in my April 20, 2013 post), 20,000 Years in Sing Sing, Riffraff and Fury to name a few.

Spencer Tracy

Spencer Tracy

And who was Peggy Shannon?  In the book They Had Faces Then by John Springer and Jack Hamilton (1974), they wrote:

“Peggy Shannon was one of the girls (Sylvia Sidney was the other) who were introduced to the screen as replacements for an ailing Clara Bow.  Miss Shannon had the beauty of a Follies girl, which she had been—shapely, with red hair, large brown eyes and a tip-tilted nose.  Unfortunately, her personality and acting ability remained those of a showgirl.  Still she was extremely easy to look at, and as long as she didn’t have to worry about performance, she decorated pictures like The Secret Call, Touchdown, Society Girl, and Night Life of the Gods very prettily indeed.  But she was down to bits by the end of the thirties.”

Peggy Shannon

Peggy Shannon

After seeing her in this film and another later in the weekend, I have to disagree that she couldn’t act.  I thought she was just fine.  Unfortunately, it does seem that she was difficult to work with and she was unable to work in film and then on Broadway due to her alcoholism.  She died of a heart attack caused by her excessive drinking at the un-ripe old age of 34!  Another sad statistic.

I also think it’s interesting that she and Sidney were both groomed to replace poor Clara, because there is an elusive quality that Peggy Shannon shares with Sylvia Sidney as she certainly brought Sidney to mind when I was watching this film.

I missed the VITAGRAPH VARIETY one reelers and visited instead visited with people like Gary from Brooklyn and Earl in the dealers’ room.  It was also a time to catch up with other cinephiles who were also taking a break.

Second Floor Mystery (1)

Went back to watch THE SECOND FLOOR MYSTERY (1930), directed by Roy Del Ruth with contemporarily married stars Grant Withers (26) and Loretta Young (17).  It’s a very cute story, possibly innovative at the time, the novel written by Earl Derr Biggers, of two young people who connect through adventure.

How could Loretta be anything but gorgeous in this film?  She was always a beauty, even with her one flaw of a slight overbite, but in her pre-Code youth, she is just such a lovely eyeful.  Even more fun to watch when she’s bad, although in this one, she never goes that far.

Second Floor Mystery (2)

It starts off with Marion Ferguson (Loretta) and her Aunt Hattie (Claire McDowell) who are staying at a fabulously ornate hotel in London, taking breakfast in the dining room.  Marion tells her aunt how much she wishes something exciting would happen after her aunt reels off the plans for the day, such as visiting galleries and sightseeing statues in parks.  Sitting at the next table is Geoffrey West (Grant Withers of the same initials which comes up no matter what name his character takes in the rest of the story).  Both he and Marion are reading the more entertaining personal ads in the same London paper and when one ad is read out loud by her, he comments.  But of course, even though she is craving excitement, Marion still has to act standoffish by his interest, be somewhat rude in her aside response to his joking, which makes him feel a bit insulted.  But he’s interested enough to continue with the game, and so places an ad to be read again at breakfast the next morning, directed in no uncertain words specifically for Marion.  Then it’s her turn to respond.  This in turn, and to make things move along for the two of them, morphs into sending notes to each other’s rooms.  Of course, Aunt Hattie is a sour grapefruit and is always harping away at what is and isn’t proper behaviour for her niece.

Second Floor Mystery (3)

Although I watched this film and thoroughly enjoyed it, it goes through a lot of convoluted but well-worked out steps to get our hero to confide to the lovely Marion that he isn’t the killer Scotland Yard and Inspector Bray (H.B. Warner) are accusing him of being.  So who killed Captain Fraser-Freer who lives in the lavish room above Geoffrey’s?  Could it have been his younger brother (John Loder)?

Second Floor Mystery (4)

And as for these lavish rooms, they really were magnificent.  With ceilings that looked 30 feet tall, with books on bookshelves all the way up to the top, massive fire places and rooms that at least were 1,000 square feet each, I wondered how any ordinary person could possibly have stayed there!

There is also an early scene where instead of watching the lovely actress dressed in her lingerie, we get to see Withers in his underclothes while getting ready for the day.  He’s a good looking man, but so as not to make him look “sexy”, he is wearing sock garters which adds a sense of humour to the scene.

Second Floor Mystery (5)

When everything seems to have just worked out to prove Geoffrey’s innocence, suddenly a whole new set of serious problems arise for him with Marion becoming a damsel in distress.  A mystery and a lot of fun!

After dinner, we were treated to director Michael Schlesinger’s latest comedy short BRIDE OF FINKLESTEIN a sequel to It’s a Frame-Up! of two years ago.  In this entry Biffle (Nick Santa Maria) and Shooster (Will Ryan) meet up with the mad scientist Dr. Finklestein played by Max Davidson (Phil Baron) in his attempted talkie comeback on the very night he’s planning to create a new bride.  Michael was there to give an amusing introduction.

Heart to Heart (3)The next film was HEART TO HEART (1928), directed by William Beaudine.  As soon as the first shot started, I knew I had seen this film before, shown at Capitolfest in Rome, NY a couple of years ago.  It was a very enjoyable story of a princess, now the broke widow of a free-spending Italian Prince, who decides to head back home to her American hometown and family after being away for 13 years.  The town is all excited about her arrival, especially her relatives which consist of her Uncle Joe (Lucien Littlefield) and Aunt Kate (Louise Fazenda).  I think this is one of my favourite Lucien Littlefield roles.  I’ve seen him in countless other films, but this is the one that I remember him to be given a good, meaty role and where he had the opportunity to be natural and endearing.

Lucien Littlefield

Lucien Littlefield

Princess Delatoree (Mary Astor), or Ellen Guthrie to her friends and family, is mistaken as the husband-stealing steamstress, Mrs. Arden (who never materializes in the film) when she arrives at her aunt and uncle’s home dressed as a common citizen.  But her uncle recognizes her, and they both go along with the pretense with Aunt Kate thinking the reason they are so buddy-buddy is because the “Mrs. Arden” has a hankering for Uncle Joe.

Heart to Heart (2)

There’s also her childhood sweetheart, still unmarried, inventor Philip Lennox (Lloyd Hughes) who, we know, needs a good woman to help him become a success, since his day job is the town’s window washer.  There’s some fun scenes with Philip showing Ellen some of the unusual inventions he’s come up with over the years, but by either missing his chance, like prohibition being brought into law just when he’s invented a new type of wine opener (or something like that) to not interesting investors to finance his push-button car.

Mary Astor

Mary Astor

Finally, in the realization that it will thrill the townspeople, but especially her Aunt Kate, Ellen decides to make her grand entrance at the evening’s gala organized in her honour by dressing in regale attire she thought she could now do away with to be her real self.  A lovely, light comedy with a very pretty 22-year-old Mary Astor.

Lucretia Lombard (1)

The last film I watched that evening was LUCRETIA LOMBARD (1923), directed by Jack Conway.  The main reason I chose not to slink off to bed was because I want to see any Norma Shearer film when the opportunity arises, and I hoped that I wouldn’t sleep through this one.

Lucretia Morgan (Irene Rich) marries the elderly Sir Allen Lombard (Marc MacDermott), who is rather beastly to his kind wife.  He is a wheel-chair bound drug addict who is more than happy to allow his wife a night out, accompanied by the young son, Fred (John Roche), of his friends Judge and Mrs. Winship (Alec B. Francis and Lucy Beaumont).  Fred is rather her junior but he appears to be quite smitten with Lucretia although she treats him with only lady-like attention.  Before she heads out, MacDermott has exchanged the lids of two medicine boxes—one that contains aspirin, the other containing narcotics—tricking Lucretia into inadvertently give him a double dose of what she thought was aspirin for his pain.  When she arrives back home from her evening out, her husband is dead and she is blamed by the police for his misadventure.  But with the help of their older son, lawyer Stephen Winship (Monte Blue), she is cleared of any, escaping incarceration.

Lucretia Lombard (5)

The Winships are guardians to a teenage ward, Mimi (Norma Sherer, as she is listed in the credits) who is in love with Stephen which is a good thing in the eyes of the Winships as they are hoping that an engagement will transpire between the two.  Mimi is cute, energetic and pretty, but she’s also silly and sometimes a little annoying.  But one evening, when the flirting gets a bit out of hand, Stephen plants a kiss on her lips and before he even knows what’s happened, his parents rush in and the engagement is announced.

Monte Blue and Norma Shearer acting the "playful" Mimi

Monte Blue and Norma Shearer acting the “playful” Mimi

I had a hard time staying focussed, drifting a lot, but the gist of the story is that Stephen, being honourable, marries Mimi despite the fact that he really doesn’t love her as he has fallen in love with Mrs. Lombard.  She’s a frequent guest of the family and although I’m not sure if Fred concerned himself with any of this, I think it would have made more sense if Mimi ended up with him.  But that was neither here nor there.

Irene Rich

When I finally gained my senses, the film was nearing its dramatic end.  There was a terrible forest fire that consumed everything around it including the Winships beautiful home.  Lucretia was the honourable heroine who saved Mimi by pulling her out from under a fallen tree which damaged her legs (I think).  They ended up on a bridge between the forest and dry land, but the dam had been broken to stench the fire, which destroyed the bridge and sent our two fair maidens into the roiling waters.  Nearly drowned, Stephen, in the nick of time, comes to the rescue, saving both ladies.  But this was for nought for poor Mimi.  In her last dying breath asking why this has all happened, Mimi succumbs to her injuries, leaving the road clear for Lucretia and Stephen to live happily ever after.

The Wife, the Hero and the One He Loves

The Wife, the Hero and the One He Loves

After that, I chose to miss RISKY BUSINESS (1939) and head up to slumber-land.  The end of Day 2.  Stay tuned for Day 3.

Saturday, March 21, 2015 – Day 3
Since Westerns aren’t my favourite genre, I chose to miss the first film of the day SMOKING GUNS (1934) directed by Alan James.

Welcome Danger (5)

But I certainly didn’t want to miss the silent version of Harold Lloyd’s WELCOME DANGER (1929) directed by Robert Florey also starring Barbara Kent.  This film was introduced by Harold Lloyd enthusiast and researcher Annette D’Agostina Lloyd (apparently no relation) and this is what she had to say:

“The terms ‘hybrid’ and ‘crossover’ are all the rage in the automotive world.  Well, in the classic cinematic world, the one we love, our screening of Harold Lloyd’s WELCOM DANGER can best be described as just that—a pure hybrid/crossover.  It’s not exactly Lloyd’s first sound film, released in the US on October 12, 1929, with the sound turned off.  And it’s not exactly the original silent version, begun as Lloyd’s 12th silent feature.  It’s actually a bit of both—and something new to you.  This pioneering film began shooting in August 1928 as a silent, co-starring leading lady Mary McAllister, and directed by Speedy chief Ted Wilde, who was replaced (due to illness) by Malcolm St. Clair.  The film was completed, and initially previewed in a whopping 16 reels, set up with a music track on disc (for equipped theatres), but still a pure silent film.  Then, the sound revolution took hold, and Lloyd (fearful of ‘missing the boat’ by sending another silent into a sound-happy market) reacted aggressively.  He scrapped most of what had been shot, reworked the story (stills do survive which suggest factions of the silent version that did not make it to the sound offering), and introduced new cast/crew members (most notably female lead Barbara Kent, and veteran comedy gagman/director Clyde Bruckman).  At great personal financial expense (close to $300,000 over original budget), Lloyd essentially started the film all over again in the new sound vogue—it would prove a quite bumpy crossover for Lloyd and his team.  Sadly, most of the abandoned version is lost.  However, what is extant—and most of what we will see—is the silent version of the reworked sound film (simultaneously shot for domestic houses which had not yet converted to the new sound technology_, comprised of a 35mm nitrate original negative and a duplicate negative, from Lloyd’s film vault at Greenacres.  Remember that the familiar sound version is partially comprised of dubbed footage from the scrapped silent version.  This offering, however, has a bit of visual newness: some ‘business’ (as Harold liked to call comic sequences) is lengthier; there are perhaps too many titles (chiefly meant to reproduce the dialogue missing from silent theatres), and you will have to do without one of the sound version’s saving graces, Edgar Kennedy.  That being so noted, the end result, for the most part, is a tighter, snappier and seemingly funnier hybrid crossover picture…chances are, you will emerge from this screening wanting to revisit the sound version one more time, and then find yourself reluctantly lamenting that WELCOME DANGER was Lloyd’s inaugural talkie, instead of his 12th silent.”

I have never seen this film before in any form.  This silent version was charming and one of the highlights of the festival.  To hear that this film didn’t work as a talkie, only interests a film buff like me to see it to understand why.  What is also of interest is that the direction for this second silent version is credited in the Cinefest notes to Robert Florey (The Cocoanuts, Murders in the Rue Morgue, Smarty) although I haven’t read that anywhere else at this time.

Harold plays Harold Bledsoe, a botanist, easily distracted by little details who is summoned by the San Francisco police, where his late father had been the police chief, to help them put a stop to the crime wave that’s taken over the city.  Of course this is funny right off the top, because we can only imagine that Harold is anything but a chip off the old block.

Welcome Danger (2)

While at a train station stop, we meet Billie (Barbara Kent) who is heading to see the famous Doctor Chang Gow (James Wang) in the hopes that he can help her handicapped younger brother Buddy (Douglas Haig).  Billie sees a photo machine, deposits a coin, poses but alas no photo emerges nor is her money returned.  She gives up and enters the station’s store.  Along comes Harold, sits himself in the spot Billie’s just vacated, deposits his coin, poses and out comes the photo, a composite of him and a girl.  He falls instantly in love but is so wrapped up with the photo that he fails to recognize Billie when he practically bumps into her coming out of the store.  Harold boards the train and Billie continues on her way with her brother in their jalopy.

Welcome Danger (9)

When the train stalls, Harold heads off for a foray into the fields and becomes so engrossed with picking botany specimens that he misses the train.  As he starts walking along the dusty road, it eventually leads him to Billie’s car.  We (and Harold) find her under the car, dressed in overalls and a cap, trying to figure out what’s wrong with it.

Barbara Kent, Harold Lloyd and Douglas Haig in 'Welcome Danger', 1929

Of course, Harold thinks she is a boy and treats her like one, even becoming abusive at one point by giving her a swift kick in the pants when they realize Billie has left the carburetor on the running board of a passing car.

Welcome Danger (8)

This passing car has stopped to see what the trouble is, and of course it’s discovered that it’s the simple fact that their car has run out of gas.  The kindly saviour gives them some, but then, too late, he’s taken off and they are stuck.  After a night of camping in the wilderness, Harold figures that Billie is a girl and that a wandering cow can replace the missing part and off they go to San Fran.

Welcome Danger (4)

Once there, Billie, who surprisingly has also fallen for Harold, with Harold even happier that she’s the girl of his dreams.  What’s interesting about seeing this in the silent version, is that every scene is entertaining and the characters are likeable.  In the 1977 book Harold Lloyd by Adam Reilly, he writes, “The constant haranguing and mistreatment of the girl is, needless to say, an embarrassment and could hardly be justified even if it really were a boy.  One wonders whether the original audiences found that genuinely funny.  Perhaps mimed in silence it may have worked well, but the realism of sound bestowed Lloyd’s character with a very questionable, unlikeable personality.”  So obviously it does work because we find Harold is more silly than unlikeable, as we do in virtually every scene in this silent version.

When Harold visits the police station, of course, he’s nothing like his father and after some time goes by the cops soon find him annoying rather than helpful.  Also, we know who the crime menace is; it’s one of the city’s leading citizens, John Thorne (Charles Middleton) who is not only blaming police ineptness for not stopping the crime and drug activities that are going on in Chinatown, but he is the head criminal, The Dragon, and is plotting to eliminate his enemy Dr. Gow.

Welcome Danger (7)

Because Harold is always absorbed in the smaller details, he becomes obsessed with fingerprints.  He takes them from everybody including Thorne’s, even after Thorne assures him he will eat his hat, the brim of which Harold has managed to get them from.  While Harold is searching out “clues” in Chinatown, all kinds of silliness ensues.  When he runs into Billie (who up till now he’s lost track of), he draws the attention of traffic cop Patrick Clancy (Noah Young).  When Clancy gets knocked out by a falling flowerpot, has his gun stolen by a Chinese hoodlum, Harold retrieves the gun in a restaurant brawl with Harold as the last man standing.  When asked why he went after everyone there, he said that all Chinamen look alike”.  I wonder if the audiences of the day then wondered why the Chinese could then recognize the faces of the white folk.  Nah, probably not.

Welcome Danger (3)

Clancy and Harold become buddies and when Harold accidently discovers how opium is being smuggled and finds the whereabouts of the kidnapped Dr. Gow, he gives the evidence to Clancy.  They must figure everything out in the labyrinth-like netherworld of the opium den with Harold eventually being able to figure out who The Dragon is by matching the sooty finger print Thorne places on his forehead with the print on the hat brim.  It was entertaining to see this supposed disguised Chinese bodega where beneath was built never-ending staircases leading further and further into underground caverns.

Welcome Danger (1)

The actor Charles Middleton had the type of looks that were really well suited to playing villains, dishonest snobs, lawyers and even funny but serious bad guys.  He had close to 200 film credits and may be best known as Emperor Ming in three of the Flash Gordon serials.

Charles Middleton

Charles Middleton

Next was THE DAWN OF TECHNICOLOR presentation by authors of the same titled book, James Layton and David Pierce using rare stills, documents and film clips to illustrate Technicolor’s turning point during the coming of sound.  Technical, but it gives us the idea of how colour morphed from early two-strip, the problems of fading and the coloured film’s stabilization.  James and David will be at Capitolfest in Rome, NY this coming August to present a different time period of Technicolor history.

New Klondike (2)

In the afternoon I watched THE NEW KLONDIKE (1926) directed by Lewis Milestone with Thomas Meighan and Lila Lee.  It was the story of Tom Kelly (Thomas Meighan) a professional baseball player who, even though he was told that his contract wasn’t being renewed, takes a ship from New York to his training camp in Florida.  Onboard he meets and falls in love with Evelyn Lane (Lila Lee).  Although Tom is popular with both the other ball players and the team owner (or someone in that type of position), the manager let him know that he’s been dropped as he fears Tom’s superior knowledge of the sport will jeopardize his position.

Lila Lee

Lila Lee

This is where the real plot comes into play, the buying of real estate in Florida.  Tom is invited to join a free bus tour and BBQ that hard sells potential buyers to invest in Miami property.  Once a seller realizes Tom doesn’t have any cash to invest, he pins a button on his jacket which will indicate to other sellers not to waste their time on this guy.  But Tom becomes interested when real estate is explained to him in baseball terms and goes to his ex-teammates, who are unhappy with what the manager did to Tom, and decide to invest all their money into Florida real estate with Tom as the fund manager.  But little does he know that he’s going to be scammed.  He thinks he’s meeting up with Evelyn’s mother but really it’s a crooked realtor and his cronies who sell swamp land in the guise of land already owned by other people.

New Klondike (4)

Tom and his baseball pals have divided up the land they think they bought into plots and start selling to the public.  However, when they discover that it’s really useless swamp land that they own, Tom does the only honourable thing he can, and pays the public back their money, leaving his ex-teammates broke.  But this is a story where good triumphs over evil with Tom taking over as the team’s baseball manager once everything else is resolved.

New Klondike (3)

The Cinefest notes indicate that the film was released six months before the September 18, 1926 Great Miami Hurricane—which effectively ended the land boom and would have a lasting negative effect upon Florida until the 1940s.  Filmed on location and with art direction by Walter E. Keller—the Floridian footage documents the paradise that the Miami area was before the most devastating storm hit the state.  Interesting information especially for us Canadian snowbirds.

My Lips Betray (6)

The next film was MY LIPS BETRAY (1933) directed by John Blystone with Lilian Harvey and John Boles.

My Lips Betray (7)

I was looking forward to seeing this Lilian Harvey film as I have only seen two others also made in 1933.  I Am Suzanne!, her most famous American film was the first one I saw many, many years ago when Bill Everson screened it for Toronto Film Society, followed by My Weakness not too long ago I believe at Capitolfest.  She was an usual looking actress of English and German decent and worked in Germany until she was lured to America, at least for a couple of years.

My Lips Betray (3)

It’s the story of a vivacious girl who tries any kind of act—dancing, singing, sword swallowing!–to get her foot in the show business door, just so she can pay her rent, in a tiny make-believe European kingdom.  She performs and then gets fired from singing in a beer garden.  And why does she get fired?  The manager Weininger (Herman Bing) and even the men in the orchestra are just so rude to her (which I guess is meant to be funny), that she doesn’t have a chance.  So when King Rupert’s (John Boles) chauffeur, Oswald Stigmat (El Brendel) offers Lili (Lilian Harvey) a ride home in the world’s most fabulous car, she can’t say no.

This is NOT the car!

This is NOT the car!

She’s all alone and it’s a dream come true: it has a car phone, makeup and lipstick drawers, a TV which is playing a clip of Mickey Mouse and all sorts of other switches and gadgets.  Although apparently she’s a foreigner, it’s now rumoured that she’s also the King’s mistress.  She’s the only one in the whole village who is unaware of this.  Her disheveled landlady, Mamma Watscheck (Canada’s Maude Eburne), who’s thrown her out for not being able to pay the rent, instead takes over as her manager (in a whole new crazy getup) and gets Lili rehired at the beer garden.  With all the publicity, the King becomes interested in meeting her.

Maude Eburne

Maude Eburne

Meanwhile, we learn that the King, whose job is really to act as the kingdom’s Accountant, and his nation are facing bankruptcy and the only way out of this catastrophe is for him to marry a rich but undesirable Queen.  But his true passion in life is to be a composer.

My Lips Betray (2)

When he finally meets Lili, masquerading as Captain von Linden, he starts composing songs for her and then, due to a lost sixth reel of the film, we find she’s slipped away from him.  He follows her home, only to pound on the landlady’s door, then seeing Lili’s reflection in the mirror where she looks like a very pretty dancing fairy.

My Lips Betray (4)

So I’ll leave it to you, if you weren’t at Cinefest, to decide how you think this story ends.

Next we were supposed to see TESS OF THE STORM COUNTRY (1914) but there were problems with the digital projector so it was postponed until Sunday.  Instead I visited the dealers’ room and met with one of my favourite DVD providers, Gary McNerney.  I had placed an order with him as well as browsed the films that he brought.  Here’s what I ended up coveting:

70,000 Witnesses70,000 WITNESSES (1932) directed by Ralph Murphy with Phillips Holmes, Dorothy Jordan and Charles Ruggles

AS YOU DESIRE ME (1932) directed by George Fitzmaurice with Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas and Erich von StroheimAs You Desire Me

Bad CompanyBAD COMPANY (1931) directed by Tay Garnett with Helen Twelvetrees, the very bad Ricardo Cortez and Harry Carey

BIG BUSINESS GIRL (1931) directed by William A. Seiter with Loretta Young, Ricard Cortez and Joan BlondellBig Business Girl

Big City BluesBIG CITY BLUES (1932) directed by Mervyn LeRoy with Joan Blondell, Ned Sparks and Guy Kibbee

BROADWAY BAD (1933) directed by Sidney Lanfield with Joan Blondell, Ricardo Cortez and Ginger RogersBroadway Bad

CaravanCARAVAN (1934) directed by Erik Charell with Charles Boyer, Loretta Young and Jean Parker

CENTRAL PARK (1932) directed by John G. Adolfi with Joan Blondell, Wallace Ford and Guy KibbeeCentral Park

ChatterboxCHATTERBOX (1936) directed by George Nichols Jr. with Anne Shirley, Phillips Holmes, Lucille Ball and Margaret Hamilton

THE CHIEF (1933) directed by Charles Reisner with Ed Wynn, Charles ‘Chic’ Sale and Dorothy MackaillChief

Child of ManhattanCHILD OF MANHATTAN (1933) directed by Edward Buzzell with Nancy Carroll, John Boles and Betty Grable

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE (1931) directed by David Butler with Will Rogers, Maureen O’Sullivan and Myrna LoyConneticut Yankee

Famous Ferguson CaseTHE FAMOUS FERGUSON CASE (1932) directed by Lloyd Bacon with Joan Blondell, Grant Mitchell and Leslie Fenton

THE FLAME OF LOVE (1930) directed by Richard Eichberg and Walter Summers with Anna May Wong (her first English talkie)Flame of Love

Goodbye AgainGOODBYE AGAIN (1933) directed by Michael Curtiz with Warren William, Joan Blondell and Genevieve Tobin

INSPIRATION (1931) directed by Clarence Brown with Greta Garbo, Robert Montgomery and Lewis StoneInspiration

Love AffairLOVE AFFAIR (1932) directed by Thornton Freeland with Dorothy Mackaill, Humphrey Bogart and Hale Hamilton

MEN MUST FIGHT (1933) directed by Edgar Selwyn with Diana Wynyard, Lewis Stone and Phillips HolmesMen Must Fight

My WomanMY WOMAN (1933) directed by Victor Schertzinger with Helen Twelvetrees, Wallace Ford and Claire Dodd

NANA (1934) directed by Dorothy Arzner and George Fitzmaurice with Anna Sten, Phillips Holmes, Mae Clarke and Lionel AtwillNana

Perfect SpecimenTHE PERFECT SPECIMEN (1937) directed by Michael Curtiz with Errol Flynn, Joan Blondell and Edward Everett Horton

RAFTER ROMANCE (1933) directed by William A. Seiter with Ginger Rogers, Norman Foster and Laura Hope CrewsRafter Romance

Silver DollarSILVER DOLLAR (1932) directed by Alfred E. Green with Edward G. Robinson, Bebe Daniels, Charles Middleton and Aline MacMahon

SMART WOMAN (1931) directed by Gregory La Cava with Mary Astor, Robert Ames and John HallidaySmart Woman

Stage MotherSTAGE MOTHER (1933) directed by Charles Brabin with Alice Brady, Maureen O’Sullivan, Franchot Tone and Phillips Holmes

STOLEN HEAVEN (1931) directed by George Abbott with Nancy Carroll, Phillips Holmes and Louis CalhernStolen Heaven

Under-Cover ManUNDER-COVER MAN (1932) directed by James Flood with George Raft, Nancy Carroll and Lew Cody

THE VIRTUOUS SIN (1930) directed by George Cukor and Louis J. Gasnier with Walter Huston, Kay Francis and Kenneth MacKenna (Kay’s soon-to-be husband)Virtuous Sin

WaywardWAYWARD (1932) directed by Edward Sloman with Nancy Carroll and Richard Arlen

THE WOMAN ACCUSED (1933) directed by Paul Sloane with Nancy Carroll, Cary Grant and Irving PichelWoman Accused

Woman of AffairsA WOMAN OF AFFAIRS (1928) directed by Clarence Brown with Greta Garbo, John Gilbert and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Okay, I know you think I’m crazy but I choose to spend my extra cash on films (and film books) over most other things any day.  Hey, we all have to spend our money on something!

I got back in time to watch TEA MAKING TIPS (1941), a serious short (but that made it amusing) from the collection of William K. Everson on how best to brew tea by British standards.  So now I know the six steps!  No. 1 is use boiling water!

Synthetic Sin (6)

Next was Colleen Moore’s Home Movies and then the feature film SYNTHETIC SIN (1929) directed by William A. Seiter, also starring Antonio Moreno.  This segment of the program was introduced by Joseph Yranski who met Miss Moore when he was a young man and through his friendship with and fan-ship of her, worked on getting this film restored for our pleasure.  Although I certainly understand the desire to show Miss Moore’s home movies, they weren’t all that interesting to me.  She was in the early shots with her pooch and then it switched to having (hopefully proper-see above) tea with her grandmother in the garden.  The last 5 or so minutes was a close up of her grandmother’s face and I know I would have been more interested in watching a close up of Colleen’s instead.

Synthetic Sin (2)

But SYNTHETIC SIN was a real treat!  It starts off in a family setting, Betty Fairfax (Colleen Moore) lives with her mother (Edythe Chapman) and sister Margery (Kathryn McGuire).  The latter two are no-nonsense while Betty is anything but.  Donald Anthony (Antonio Moreno) is a playwright and close friend of the family and while he is there for a visit, Betty does a couple of imitation for him.  The second is particularly hilarious, where she impersonates a famous concert pianist (I think she said Rachmaninov) but she looked more like a crazed Einstein.  Anthony finds her funny while her family thinks she’s a bit embarrassing.

Synthetic Sin (3)

Later on, there is a big backyard party in honour of Donald and Margery entertains by performing a classical dance.  Poor Margery; while still in the middle of her act, Betty appears behind her in blackface, dressed in baby-dolls and mimics her sister to the audience’s delight.  At first Margery is confused as to why the laughter, but soon realizes that Betty has spoiled (and upstaged) her performance.  Mrs. Fairfax, sitting next to Anthony, shakes her head and wonders what she’s ever going to do about Betty, and with Anthony still laughing, he declares she should let him marry her.

Synthetic Sin (1)

This story was based on the play be Frederic and Fanny Hatton and may have been altered somewhat by writer Thomas J. Geraghty.  I had recently read Colleen Moore’s autobiography Silent Star and noticed the similarity between Colleen and Betty.  Both had acting on their minds since forever and started professionally acting in their teens.  (Hence the possible interest in her grandmother in the home movie as she was the one who travelled with, chaperoned and supported Colleen’s pursuit of an acting career.)

Synthetic Sin (4)

But back to the story.  Donald doesn’t really want Betty to have an acting career.  Even though he has fallen in love with her and finds her performances charming, in his mind a profession is not something a married woman should have.  But of course Betty feels differently and she begs for him to give her a part in his new play (before they are married), which he does.  It’s a serious role and Betty bombs.  Of course it made no sense for someone like her with no real acting experience, to be put in a dramatic role for her first time on stage.  She obviously would have been better in something comedic.  But then if she was a success the rest of the story wouldn’t have worked or been as much fun!

Synthetic Sin (5)

Betty decides to move to the big city and asks Sheila Kelly (Gertrude Astor) where she lived when she was working there—we’re too assume that when Sheila was between acting jobs, she took on the world’s oldest profession.  Sheila gives her the name of the apartments but tells her that it’s a busy place with lots of comings and goings.  But Betty takes a lot of what is said literally; inexperienced with the sexual banter of the more sophisticated, she misinterprets all kinds of signals not realizing how often she comes to almost getting herself in perilous jeopardy.  There’s a scene where she goes for walk, against the landlord’s advice, where she has to kick and scream to get herself out of very serious trouble.  When she overhears Anthony speaking with Sheila how to scare Betty into leaving the apartment and marrying him, she misses the rest of the conversation and doesn’t realize that the gangster, Frank (Ben Hendricks Jr.) is really just that and his guns, and gang members, are no act.

Synthetic Sin (7)

You may be able to envision the rest, but if you get a chance to see this film, you will be glad you did.

The next film was a digital copy of THE DANGER GAME (1918) directed by Harry Pollard with Madge Kennedy and Tom Moore.  I have, I believe, only seen one Madge Kennedy film and was looking forward to seeing another but there were too many problems with the projector and I knew it would just put me to sleep so I left.

Back Page (3)

But I did come back for a second film starring Peggy Shannon, THE BACK PAGE (1933) directed by the mysterious (and probably pseudonym of) Anton Lorenze.  I really, really enjoyed this film.  It was a very interesting story and the oldest, truly complete feminist film I have ever seen, written by two men, Harry Chandlee and Douglas W. Churchill.

Back Page (5)

It’s the story of Jerry Hampton (Peggy Shannon), a New York City newspaper woman whose article about a woman’s suicide is killed with no explanation.  She argues with her editor and is fired, when her good friend and fellow newspaper man Brice Regal (Russell Hopton) tells her about his (I think) uncle’s troubled small town newspaper.  She decides to go for the job with an introduction sent ahead by Brice to old man Sam Webster (Claude Gillingwater).  When she gets there, she finds the office has two other employees, the very odd Bill Giddings (the great Sterling Holloway) and a young woman (I’m not sure who the actress was.)  When Sam finds he’s got a woman named Jerry, not a man, applying for the job, he dismisses her in his curmudgeon way but she lets him know that she’s not leaving.  Instead she strikes a deal–a chance as editor and if things don’t improve, she’ll leave with no financial loss to the small company.  But she’s smart and things do improve, especially with Jerry’s skill of attracting advertisers to help keep the paper going, and Sam and Jerry grow to respect and care about each other.  In the meantime Brice comes for a visit and ends up staying for good.

Sterling Holloway and Peggy Shannon

Sterling Holloway and Peggy Shannon

There are the town politics to contend with and this part is quite interesting and ties the whole story together.  (I’m sorry but I don’t remember the names of the characters so can’t tell you who played who here.)  The town has invested in a local oil well; well at least they’re hoping there’s oil.  But when the lawyer of the main shareholder tells Jerry that there’s no oil but they’re willing to buy up the deeds from the townsfolk at something like 25 cents on the dollar, Jerry smells a rat.  After studying the document the lawyer gave her, she realizes that by the owner doing this, he will actually own the very oily oil well outright and then will announce he was wrong—there was oil after all.  So instead, she tells the people not to sell, especially because the majority of them have invested their life savings and would be ruined if they sold, including the young woman who works in her office.

Russell Hopton

Russell Hopton

And the story ties up the loose end of why Jerry’s article of the suicide was killed; the story involved the man who was trying to buy up the deeds for the oil well and he had the clout to buy off the editor of the big city newspaper.

Claude Gillingwater

Claude Gillingwater

A real delight and again proved that Peggy Shannon was no slouch in the acting department.  I think a remake of a movie like this—newspaper, smart woman, small town community, ethics, politics and greed, would make a good modern film.

And with that, it was the end of Day 3.  Stay tuned for Day 4.

Sunday, March 22, 2015 – Day 4
Although I wanted to see it, I ended up missing the first film of the day, THE BIG BROADCAST (1932) directed by Frank Tuttle with a great cast including Bing Crosby, Stuart Erwin, Leila Hyams, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Cab Calloway and The Mills Brothers.  Hopefully I’ll be able to find a good copy and will have a chance to see it on the smaller screen.

Big Broadcast

Afterwards, there was THE AUCTION hosted by Leonard Maltin.  Every year dealers and just plain film folks bring their movie-related “trash” which becomes another film buffs “treasure”.  Okay, “trash” is too harsh a word, but you get the point.  Anyway, here’s a photo I took at some earlier Cinefest—the approachable Mr. Maltin with my sister who has attended this event with me over the years.

Leonard Maltin

I wanted to make sure I was back in time to see the 1931 Dorothy Mackaill film ONCE A SINNER.  However, today was the last chance to screen anything where there had been technical difficulties over the weekend and that meant we were going to get to see TESS OF THE STORM COUNTRY (1914) directed by Edwin S. Porter with Mary Pickford.  This is the original as it was remade in 1922 by a different director but with Mary recreating her favourite role (I quote from Kevin Brownlow’s beautiful book Mary Pickford Rediscovered).  If I got this right, the digital copy we saw was a new preservation from a 35mm nitrate print, with digital tints to closely match the original.  (It would be a really interesting evening to screen both the 1914 and 1922 TESS films especially for the reason that there was a world of technical advancements made in those 8 years.)

Tess of the Storm Country (1)

The story is about destitute people living in a fishing village, considered squatters, and when all their nets are burned by the tyrannical rich man/Deacon, Elias Graves (W.R. Walters), they are led by none other than Tessibel Skinner (Pickford), the petite, young whirlwind of the Storm Country to fight back.  She lives with her poor (in both senses) father (David Hartford) when he’s not in jail for questionable crimes.  But despite the fact that they are poverty stricken, this never stops Tess from doing the right and ethical thing, even if it’s to her own personal detriment.  So when the Deacon’s daughter Teola (Olive Golden) finds herself with child, she hides the fact from everyone except Tess, who saves Teola from disgrace by taking in the baby as her own.  This leads to Tess being abandoned by the man she loves, and whose feelings are supposed to be reciprocal, the Deacon’s son and theological student, Frederick Graves (Harold Lockwood) when he discovers her in her shack with the child.

Tess of the Storm Country (3)

One of the scenes sees Tess ironically stealing and reading a Bible to help her understand Harold better.  She’s also denied the milk she steals from the baby’s grandfather’s home, where she is caught, with him spilling it on the floor rather than see her have or “her” brat have it.

Mary's dress is kind of retro

Mary’s dress is kind of retro

hen the baby is on the verge of death, Tess fears he will never get to heaven if he isn’t baptized, so she scandalizes the churchgoers by marching up to the front with the nearly-dead infant.  When the Deacon prevents the vicar from baptizing the godless child, she does the job herself which prompts Teola to come forward and claim the baby as her own.  Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it?

Tess of the Storm Country (5)

You come away with the understanding that the people of this village would have been much worse off without the embodiment of this strong, spirited young woman.  The home of Tess and her father was especially stark and dreary.

Tess of the Storm Country (6)

The next (and for me, last) film on the agenda was ONCE A SINNER (1931) directed by Guthrie McClintic with Dorothy Mackaill, Joel McCrea and George Brent, in his second screen role.

Once a Sinner (2)

Solely because of Cinefest, I became a Mackaill fan and am always interested in seeing any of her films—even if it’s not one of the best, like this one.  It’s not that the premise wasn’t interesting or that Dorothy isn’t good in it; she always is—it’s just by now I was tired, and tired of these stories where the woman has a past and her fellow has a hard time coming to terms with it.  Although I can barely remember the details of the story, my notes included the following:

Once a Sinner (3)

It’s the story of a gold digger, Diana (Mackaill), who reforms herself for love.  She gives up luxuries like jewels and furs which were given to her by her sugar daddy Richard Kent (John Halliday) to become the fiancée of inventor Tommy Mason (Joel McCrea).  She is compelled to explain that she has had a hard life when she was orphaned at the age of 14, and the audience knows she needed to do what she needed to do to survive.  Her greatest desire is to be understood and accepted for who she is.  Tommy is working on a device that would transmit pictures and sound through telephone wires (kind of cool, that) and when James Brett (George Brent), a potential buyer meets the inventor, we (and Diana) discover that he works for Kent.

Once a Sinner (4)

What does Diana do?  Tell Tom the truth, fudge it or go to Paris?  She does all three at one point or another.  There’s a clever “inventor” line in their conversation when talking about having kids where one of them says, “One thing about kids, you don’t have to apply for a patent to get one.”  I’ve written this out of context, but I think it may have been said as sarcasm in a heated argument between the two.  But eventually it all comes out right in the end for our Diana, as it should.

Once a Sinner (1)

At this point, the festival was running way behind—instead of ending at 6:00, I heard it ended at 9:00—which was fine for those staying over another night, but we needed to hit the road.

Code of the Sea

So we missed CODE OF THE SEA (1924) directed by Victor Fleming with Rod La Rocque and THE SEA LION (1922) directed by Rowland V. Lee with Hobart Bosworth and Bessie Love.  But what can you do?

Sea Lion

It was a wonderful four days and it was great seeing all the people I have met over the years:  Kyle A., Adam W., Doug S., Gary M., Karen E., Tex and Nancy W., Michael M., James and Cynthia C., Michael S., Toronto film friends, dealers and many more.  I’m looking forward to meeting many again at Cinevent in Columbus, Ohio, TFS in Rochester, NY and Capitolfest in Rome, NY.  Check these film festivals out!

It was a pleasure listening to all the wonderful pianists who have played for the silent films over the years and were here for this final event: Dr, Philip Carli, Makia Matsumura, Jon Mirsalis, Ben Model, Jeff Rapsis, Judith Rosenberg, Dr. Andrew Simpson and Gabriel Thibaudeau.

So a last big THANK YOU to the Syracuse Cinephile Society who have worked with the founder, the late Phil Serling so hard over the years putting Cinefest together.  They are:  Paul Doherty, Andy and Lois Eggers, Steve Herwood, Robert Hodge, Terry and Margaret Hoover, Dick Kowell, Fritzie Kucinski, Robert Oliver, Barbara Omicinski, Gerry Orlando, Mark and Mary Phlip, Sue Stinson, Vu Pham, George Read and the late John Weber.  It’s been a wonderful 35 years!

Cinefest comes to an end after 35-year run

*******************************************************

I attended Cinefest 34 in Syracuse, New York (March 13-16) and it was a marvellous four days of rare, vintage film.  I left on Wednesday during the blizzard and it took 8 hours to get there instead of 4.  But at least I had the time and there was very little traffic on the road.  The poor, bored US Customs Officer tried to think of all kinds of things to ask me in the hopes that he could find something that would keep him busy for more than just a few minutes, but alas, the car was my own and I didn’t bring my guns with me.

Thursday, March 13, 2014 – Day 1
The first film Thursday morning was MAIN STREET TO BROADWAY (1953) directed by Tay Garnett.  It’s a story about a young playwright (Tony Monaco) who has the opportunity to sell his first play if (the real) Cornel Wilde likes it.  The actress (Mary Craig) playing the scene with Wilde is Tony’s love interest.  What made this film especially interesting is that not only was it about Broadway but there were cameos of many famous actors and actresses playing themselves.  Besides Cornel Wilde, there was also Shirley Booth, siblings Ethel and Lionel Barrymore, Louis Calhern, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, spouses Rex Harrison and Lili Palmer (in the loveliest domestic chit-chat of a scene), Helen Hayes, Joshua Logan, Mary Martin and, believe it or not, the most humorous Tallulah Bankhead.  She was actually very funny!

Main Street to Broadway

This was followed by SATURDAY NIGHT (1922) directed by Cecil B. DeMille with Leatrice Joy (John Gilbert’s second wife) and Conrad Nagel.  This was a story about people and their social standing in society.  Leatrice and Conrad are engaged to each other but both of them would rather be married to one of their servants; Leatrice to her chauffeur and Conrad to the family’s laundress; which is what they end up doing.  However, if I’m remembering correctly, it seems that the moral is that you are better off and happier to marry within your class.

Saturday Night

Edith Roberts as Shamrock O’Day, the laundress and Conrad Nagel as Richard Prentiss

CASEY AT THE BAT (1927) was a pure delight!  It was so entertaining and so funny.  Directed by Monty Brice, the cast included Wallace Beery (as Casey), Ford Sterling, the fabulous Zasu Pitts and Sterling Holloway (famous for being the original voice of Winnie the Pooh).  From the little I’ve read of Beery, he didn’t sound like he was a particularly nice person, but he really was such a wonderful actor.  He is so good at being a goof in this film.  Really everyone was so funny whether their role was villainous or virtuous.  The story is based on the Ernest Thayer poem “Casey at the Bat” written in 1888 and we can thank Library of Congress for this new restoration, notably for inserting full titles which greatly enhances the laughs. Zasu really was quite lovely-looking in this film and her style reminded me of a well-dressed hippie from the 1960s.

Casey at the Bat

Wallace Beery, Sterling Holloway and Ford Sterling

I started to watch a film called SWING HIGH (1930) directed by Joseph Santley which starred Helen Twelvetrees, an actress I really like but just couldn’t get into the film so left about a third of the way through.  It was a circus-based drama about Maryan, a sweet young woman (Helen) who’s father runs the circus.  She’s keen on Garry (Fred Scott) who does a lot of singing of romantic tunes to our starry-eyed Maryan. Vamp Trixie (Dorothy Burgess) joins the circus and I could see from the beginning that she was going to entice all the men and get what she could out of them.  She does some nasty deeds, such as seducing the small man, Major Tiny (“Little Billy” Rhodes) and steal all his savings.  But I was assured by some friends that she got her comeuppance in the end.

Swing High

Helen Twelvetrees is first on the left

THE JOY GIRL (1927) directed by Allan Dwan with Olive Borden, Neil Hamilton and Marie Dressler was an entertaining story but at times a bit difficult to follow because the inter-titles were in Czechoslovakian.   It was about a pretty young woman with the unlikely name of Jewel Courage (Olive Borden) who rejects the man she really likes, John Jefferey Fleet (Neil Hamilton) because she wants to marry a rich man and she believes he is a chauffeur.  She ends up meeting the actual chauffeur (Jimmy Grainger Jr.) who pretends to be a millionaire because he believes she is wealthy.  They are both conning each other.  Jewel has him drop her off in front of an estate while he presents her with an engagement ring that was actually given to him by the older woman, Mrs. Heath (Marie Dressler) who is his “benefactress”.  Or in other words, he is her gigolo.  He compromises Jewel by asking her to go away with him before they’re married (at least we think this is the case as nobody’s Czech is very good) and that’s when they both discover they aren’t what they say they are.  But of course it all ends happily–she with John, the real millionaire and the chauffeur and the ring go back to Mrs. Heath.

Joy Girl

Olive Borden and Jimmy Grainger Jr.

FANCHON, THE CRICKET (1915) was directed by James Kirkwood with Mary Pickford.  This film was considered lost and we were all very fortunate that Cinefest had permission to host the premier American screening after close to 100 years of it being originally shown.  James Kirkwood was one of Mary Pickford’s favourite directors at that time and they were most likely lovers as well.  I understood that this is also possibly the only film that her brother Jack and sister Lottie also act in together along with Mary.  That’s quite something.  Mary plays Fanchon, a young woman who lives in the woods with her grandmother (Gertrude Norman) who the villagers believe to be a witch.  It’s based on the 1863 novel “La Petite Fadette” by George Sand.  She plays a wild girl, socially inept and not afraid to rumble–she has a fist fight with one of the young men played by her brother. Mary really looked beautiful in this film.  She has beautiful bone structure and with her fabulous hair it was hard to take your eyes off her tiny stature.  A highlight.

Fanchon, the Cricket

An unflattering image of Mary as Fanchon

There were two more films but it was time for me to turn in.  The first one was THE DARKENING TRAIL (1915) directed by and starring William S. Hart.  I’m not a big Western fan so it wasn’t a big deal for me to miss it.  The last film was LOVE FROM A STRANGER (1937) directed by Rowland V. Lee with Ann Harding and Basil Rathbone.  A few years ago TFS showed the 1947 version of this film with Sylvia Sidney and John Hodiak and because I was interested in seeing the earlier version, I bought a copy.  This was the only film of the whole weekend that I had seen before.  The end of Day 1.  Stay tuned for Day 2.

Friday, March 14th, 2014 – Day 2
The first film in the morning was ALWAYS GOODBYE (1931) directed by William C. Menzies with Elissa Landi, Lewis Stone and Paul Cavanagh.  It’s the story about a beautiful young woman living in London who spends her entire inheritance in a year, has one last society-party fling and then goes into bankruptcy.  She can’t marry the man she loves because he’s just as broke as she is and while they’re at tea is overheard by a man (Paul Cavanagh) who convinces her to go to Italy with him, pretend she’s his wife so he can get back a diamond that he claims is rightfully his from his relative (Lewis Stone).  However, a Scotland Yard detective arrives at the Villa first and informs Stone that they are thieves and that Cavanagh is not the man he claims to be.  Stone, who is craving excitement, never lets on that he knows anything different from who they say they are, and treats them with much hospitality.  But he ends up falling for Elissa Landi who he eventually discovers isn’t truly a dishonest soul.  All’s well that ends well.

Always Goodbye

Elissa Landi and Lewis Stone

FOR THE DEFENSE (1916), directed by Frank Reicher with Fannie Ward and Jack Dean was a really interesting and entertaining film.  It was the story about a young French woman, Fidele (Fannie Ward) while en-route to a Montreal convent is kidnapped in New York by white slavers.  She and her pet squirrel are taken to a dive where she is locked in a room while her kidnappers go through her trunk.  In the meantime, two wealthy, drunk men (Jim and Richard) who Fidele briefly ran to for help before her kidnapper re-kidnapped her, are heading to Jim Webster’s house (Jack Dean).  While Fidele is escaping her room by climbing out the window and braving the unsteady trellis, Jim and Richard are let into the house by the maid who awoke hearing them trying to use the key to unsuccessfully unlock the front door.  Jim passes out but Richard starts to sexually attack the maid.  The valet comes to her rescue and while the two men are fighting, the Richard falls and dies when he smashes his head against a hard brick attached to the fireplace.  Fidele, who happens to pass by their window after escaping her kidnappers, sees the whole thing.  Instead of doing the right thing, the servants decide to put the blame on Jim and tell him and his parents that he killed Richard while they were in a drunken fight.  Then they convince Jim that he should run away before the police can arrest him.  This is when he and Fidele meet and they both head off to Canada.  In the end, she’s the one who saves him when he is finally captured by the police and they end up living happily ever after.  It was interesting to learn that Ward and Dean were married during the making of this picture and that Ward was tirelessly devoting herself to appearing perpetually youthful–she was 43 when she made this film but looked quite a bit younger–an occupation that made her famous.  It was Ward whom Anita Loos immortalized in her story “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes!  Later in the 1920s, Ward opened the Fountain of Youth Parisian beauty salon.

Fannie Ward

Fannie Ward

One particular cosmetic treatment that she used on her husband didn’t go very well.  She disliked her husband’s weak chin and convinced him to undergo a procedure to grant him the lantern jaw he had in this film.  Unfortunately it was only a temporary fix as mortician’s wax was used for the stronger jaw line but excessive exposure to hot lights and the sun melted the wax, depositing it as globules in his jowls and neck that could not be removed!

Jack Dean

Jack Dean and his new chin

Next we were shown a number of shorts that had been included in a film identification workshop that the Library of Congress hosts titled BEST OF MOSTLY LOST II.  These workshops are organized so that reels of unidentified film can hopefully be given their correct titles by film experts who may notice something that will enable recognition.  We were told that there were 109 titles shown during the Mostly Lost II workshop and 40% of these were identified.  Anyway, of the five that were screened for us, the most interesting one was an early talkie, 1927, called VENTRILOQUIST with the youngest looking William Frawley that I’ve ever seen.  It’s a vaudeville act that he and a young woman (possibly his wife at the time, Edna Louise Broedt) perform, one part being where he’s the ventriloquist and she’s the dummy.  She was very, very funny!

William Frawley

A photo of a young William Frawley

After lunch break, we watched PARTNERS IN CRIME (1928) directed by Frank Strayer with (again) Wallace Beery, Raymond Hatton and Mary Brian.  I know I really liked it when I saw it but now I’m having a hard time remembering most of it.  Beery plays a bumbling detective, another goofy role which he is so good at.  Can’t tell you much more–my mind’s a blank!

Partners in Crime

I took a break when a whole slew of shorts were shown and wandered into the Dealers’ Room.  At Cinefest, there are people who rent tables and sell movie-related merchandise.  This ranges from film, projectors, bulbs, posters, DVDs, videos, books, lobby cards and more.  Everyone has their favourites and as most of the vendors have been there for years, I have gotten to know a number of them.  I don’t remember what year I started going to Cinefest, but it’s got to be over 20 years ago.  I met Doug then who sells mainly books about film and actors but also has an impressive collection of signed photos as well.  I bought a half-dozen books including my most exciting purchase, a 1969 book on The Films of Nancy Carroll by author, Paul Nemcek, who signed the book for the original purchaser, someone named Sheila.   I also bought the book The Man You Loved to Hate: Erich von Stroheim and Hollywood (1983) by Richard Koszarski.  When I brought my books into the screening room and showed what I had coveted to my friend Kyle, he said, “Why don’t you get the author to sign your book on von Stroheim.  He’s sitting just next to you.”  So I did!  Small world.

The last film before dinner break was THE WALTZ DREAM [EIN WALZERTRAUM] (1925), released in the US by MGM in 1926.  It was a very good film.  The story is about a sheltered princess whose father wants her to get married already.  No acceptable suitor is interested and she is pawned off to a lowly lieutenant to accompany her on a sight-seeing tour of Vienna.  They end up at a wine garden and she has the time of her life.  The lieutenant kisses her and on the spot she decides he’s the man she’s going to marry.  Her father reluctantly agrees and the poor groom, not of royal blood, has to go through something like 535 rituals from the beginning of the wedding ceremony until the consummation of the marriage and that’s where he stops short.  He’s fed up with feeling like an unimportant cog in the scheme of things and heads off to a beer garden in the bride’s hometown (which is NOT Vienna).  Here he makes eye contact and flirts with the cute violinist and ends up walking her home.  So as the days (and nights) pass, he spends time with Steffi (Lydia Potechina) and avoids his wife Princess Alix (Mady Christians).  He and Steffi are falling in love and although Princess Alix doesn’t know this, she knows she has to do something or her marriage will be forever ruined.  So what she does is hire a worldly young woman (and who do you think that is?) to teach her the tricks of being seductive and alluring.  Steffi is thrilled to have this illustrious position but eventually runs into her lieutenant Niki (Willy Fritsch) and has her heart broken.  But they know they are doing the “right thing” by breaking it off and when Nicholas sees how adorable his wife has become and that she’s gotten rid of the rule that says she’s no longer the boss of him, we now know that they will live happily ever after.  So sweet.  One of my film friends said that he didn’t like the husband because he was so nasty to the princess, but I felt that he didn’t have an easy time of it at the beginning with all the exacting rules as well as not really ever having any choice about marrying her.  This film was remade as the charming THE SMILING LIEUTENANT (1931) directed by Ernst Lubitsch with Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins.

Waltz Dream

Mady Christians and Willy Fritsch

After the dinner break I watched THE NEW MOON (1919) directed by Chester Withey with Norma Talmadge.  This was a story that took place during the then-recent Russian Revolution.  Although it was not the same story as KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOR, it had some similarities of course.  There was rape, murder and all sorts of nastiness taking place.  Norma Talmadge as Princess Marie Pavlovna was quite dignified and brave.

New Moon

Pedro de Cordoba, Norma Talmadge and a dead Charles K. Gerrand

The next film was SANDY (1926) directed by Harry Beaumont with Madge Bellamy, Leslie Fenton,  Harrison Ford (not THAT Harrison Ford) and Charles Farrell.  It started out so promising, about a very cute, teenage flapper–Sandy (Madge Bellamy) who is rebellious and fun loving.  Her parents want her to marry a wealthy but kind of creepy young man named Ben Murillo (Bardson Bard) but she’s really not too interested.  She sneaks out of the house to party with her friends and beau Tommy (Charles Farrell) until the girls realize it’s getting late and they’ll get whooped if they don’t get home by midnight.

Sandy

Teens at a House Party

Sandy and Tommy are the last to leave and to their misfortune, Tommy’s car won’t start and they are left stranded at the empty house.  They end up sleeping there but Sandy wakes due to worry in the middle of the night.  Tommy tires to comfort her in an innocent embrace and just at that moment her father and Ben walk in.  Not good.  She ends up marrying Ben and immediately suffers through being touched by a man who she is repulsed by.  He’s also physically abusive and when she learns that she is pregnant she ends up losing the baby by what we can only assume is through one of his beatings.  To make amends, Ben sends Sandy and her mother to Hawaii for a rest and there she meets Ramon Worth (Harrison Ford).  A romance develops and when she returns home, she runs away from her possessive husband with Ramon where they live together in sin…until she decides that she doesn’t want to be that type of girl and leaves him and goes to live with her only friend in the world, her cousin Judith Moore (Gloria Hope).  Now this is where I could no longer stay awake and I slept through the rest of the film.  I was told bits and pieces by other people who may also have had a hard time staying awake, but it seems that although her cousin was her only friend, she seduces her boyfriend anyway.  Then somehow her husband dies, I think by committing suicide, but he made it look like the boyfriend killed him and Sandy is the only one who is able to exonerate him.  Something like that.  Most people told me though that it just went on and on from bad to worse and they wanted her to die just to escape her misery (or maybe theirs!)  Still, it started off quite interesting, with infidelity, spousal abuse, greedy parents not looking out for the best interest of their daughter and female spunkiness.  Why Sandy seduces her only friend’s boyfriend seems at odds from how I perceived her character to be before I fell asleep.

Sandy

Although I heard the last film BUCK PRIVATES (1922) was good, I escaped to bed before it started.  Stay tuned for Day 3.

Saturday, March 15th, 2014 – Day 3
The first film on Saturday morning was MAN TROUBLE (1930) directed by Berthold Vietel.  I didn’t want to miss this as it stars Dorothy Mackaill, an actress that really interests me.  It’s the story about a singer, Joan (Mackaill) who is down on her luck and ready to end it all down by the docks.  Tough guy gangster Mac (Milton Sills) eggs her on to do and it and when she does, he declares what guts she has and jumps in right after to save her.  He then gives her a job in his Speakeasy.  Here she meets and falls for newspaperman Graham (Kenneth MacKenna) and at the same time he invites her to visit with his aunt and uncle out at their country home, Mac has decided that she’s the girl for him.  He accidentally-on-purpose stops by the home on Christmas day and although everyone else thinks he’s a stranger, he menacingly lets Joan know in no uncertain terms that bad things will befall her if she doesn’t return to the Speakeasy and to him.  When she does, Joan learns that much of his staff and his “boys” are going to “take him out” and warns Mac that he’s heading for a trap.  He doesn’t believe her and keeps her locked up with a loyal henchman with the instructions to let her go if he doesn’t return within the hour. He outsmarts his betrayers, but is mortally wounded.  He returns to the club only to let her go because “she was the only dame who ever was on the level with him.”  Some interesting information that we learned was that this was the fourth and last film Mackaill and Sills made together.  Milton Sills died of a heart attack on his tennis court 21 days after the film opened in theatres.  Kenneth MacKenna was at one time married to Kay Francis.

Man Trouble

Milton Sills and Dorothy Mackaill

The next film, BACHELOR’S AFFAIRS (1932), was directed by Alfred Werker starred Adolphe Menjou.  What is interesting for me is that I was never much of a Menjou fan ever though he’s been in many silent and talkie films that I’ve seen throughout the years.  But just this past couple of months I have seen him in two films and thought he was quite wonderful, the first being SING, BABY, SING (1936) which we showed at TFS, and the second being this.  When he plays a man of his true age in a comic role, I’ve got to tell you, he’s funny.  In this film he plays Andrew Hoyt, a middle-aged playboy millionaire who believes he is finally ready to settle down.  Of course he wants to marry a young’un and when he meets Stella Peck (Minna Gombell) and her 20 years (at least) younger sister, the bubble-headed Eve Mills (Joan Marsh), cupid strikes.  Eve is so not interested in older men, regardless of their wealth, but her sister, the true gold digger of the story, is.  Stella has Eve memorize the line, something like “I hate young men, they’re dull and boring” which she repeats almost every time she has a conversation with her fiancé-soon-to-be-husband, Andrew.  She loves to party, stay up all night and make out with good looking, young men.   Hoyt tries to keep up with her going as far as trying to learn the tango in his bathrobe.  Stella tries to keep Eve under control as she doesn’t want to lose what has become her “livelihood” and home in the mansion.  Hoyt has three loyal employees, his very wry and hilarious butler, Jepson (Herbert Mundin), his right-hand-man Luke Radcliff (Allan Dinehart) and his secretary Jane Remington–Stella keeps calling her Miss Underwood; it’s easy to mix up all those typewriters.  Jane (Irene Purcell), a much better age match, has always been in love with Hoyt and at first misinterprets his engagement telegram sent from the ship, thinking it’s a proposal to her.  Luke schemes to find a better suitor for Eve and to everyone’s relief including Hoyt’s (only Stella is not happy), Eve succumbs to interior designer Oliver’s charms (Arthur Pierson).  The light bulb finally goes off and Hoyt and Jane live happily ever after.  A film worth seeing!

Adolphe Menjou and Joan Marsh

Adolphe Menjou and Joan Marsh

After lunch we saw WHAT’S-HIS-NAME (1914) a very early Cecil B. DeMille film, co-directed with Oscar Apfel and starred husband and wife team Max Figman and Lolita Robertson.  It’s the story of a couple who first start courting in the pharmacy at the soda fountain that Harvey (Max Figman) works behind.  They marry and Nellie (Lolita Robertson) becomes infatuated with the stage.  Three years after their marriage and with a young daughter at home, Nellie meets a few actresses and has the chance to join them on the stage in New York.  Harvey agrees and he gives up his work at pharmacy, sets up house about an hour out of New York and becomes a stay-at-home dad.  Meanwhile over the next couple of years, Nellie has become the belle of Broadway and has many wealthy admirers.  Harvey eventually learns he has no real power in his household as all the staff have been hired by Nellie and when he and his daughter make a surprise visit to Nellie at the theatre, she makes up an excuse to not dine with him because she already has other plans.  Harvey bursts in on the dining party and is confronted by Nellie’s lover.  Harvey loses and Nellie leaves him although she wants to take her daughter.  Harvey fights hard to keep her and in the end the couple are reunited when the life of their daughter is threatened by a serious illness.  The woman-as bread-winner-spouse-as-house-husband theme was “modern” in 1914, although this sort of role reversal was common in popular culture at the time as women pushed for the right to vote.

What's-His-Name

Max Figman

THE SKY HAWK (1930) directed by John G. Blystone with Helen Chandler and John Garrick was a highlight.  It was the story of a Canadian woman, Joan (Chandler) who is living in England with her army-connected father during World War I.  She meets ace-flyer Jack Bardell (Garrick) and they fall in love.  In the meantime, Bardell’s superior, Major Nelson (Gilbert Emery) is also interested in Joan.  Joan and Jack decide to marry but the day before the wedding Jack is informed that he has to fly in a special mission to France.  He tries calling Joan but her phone is engaged and so against regulations, he flies a plane over to her estate to let her know what is happening.  Joan isn’t there but he sees her father.  He can’t wait a minute longer and heads back to the army base.  Joan pulls up seconds later and her father tells her to drive over so maybe she can catch him before he leaves for his mission.  Major Nelson learns that Jack has illegally taken out a plane and as Jack begins to land, something goes wrong and he crashes.  He is very badly injured and is rushed to the infirmary.  Major Nelson and a committee of two others decide that it was in Jack’s power to land safely and that his crash was intentional to get out of his mission.  Jack is wheelchair bound.  Only Joan (and their families and close friends) believe Jack is not a coward; he even receives white feathers in his mail.  He gives up Joan against her wishes and moves back into his father, Lord Bardell’s (Lennon Pawle) home.  The German’s, in the meantime, have launched a Zeppelin with the mission to bomb London.  It is quite a spectacular scene and while there are no subtitles when the German’s speak, we get the gist of what they are saying.  Jack’s mechanic friend at the base is secretly repairing a plane that was to be scrapped and refitting it to Jack’s personal specifications.  With the Zeppelin hovering overhead, Jack goes up as the solo warrior and in the end defeats the enemy single-handedly.  He is now proved a hero.  The last scene has him walking down the aisle with the aid of a cane.  Adversity can be overcome!

Sky Hawk

Special Effects designer Ralph Hammeras with a miniature of the London Set–this is what they used for the bombing scenes–it was very effective!

The next film ANKLES PERFERED (1927) was also directed by John G. Blystone and starred once again Madge Bellamy with Lawrence Gray.  I was much taken with Madge Bellamy in the two films she was in over the weekend.  In this one she plays a department store clerk who is determined to win her advancement by means of her brain power, rather than her shapely legs and body.  She rises in her career after being hired by modistes McGuire (J. Farrell MacDonald) and Goldberg (William H. Strauss), as their chief model.  Their severe wives, played by Mary Foy and Lillian Elliott would sternly tweak their husband’s ears, whenever they looked too longingly at any of their shapely staff!  But the good girl eventually forsakes the world of commerce and riches for the love of her more modest boyfriend Barney (Lawrence Gray).  There are some very entertaining scenes in the boarding house where she shares a flat with two other young women.  One of them is when she “meets” Barney, who’s been following her, when he accidentally comes falling down the dumbwaiter.  Turns out he lives in the flat above them.  Then there’s the young man, most likely with a foot fetish, who lives across the hall and is in love with the roommate who is looking for a sugar daddy.  He cleans her mucky shoes and any other foot apparel she throws at his door.  Some interesting side notes are that in 1927 the admission to a film was 50 cents and this film grossed somewhere in the figure of $115,000.00.  Because of Bellamy’s draw, this picture made more for Fox studios than Tom Mix’s picture released the same time, yet he made $10,000 a week while she made significantly less.

Ankles Perfered

I started to watch the next film DANCING PIRATE (1936) directed by Lloyd Corrigan with Frank Morgan, Steffi Duna and Charles Collins.  It was a rare screening of a film made in the newly-perfected three-strip Technicolor process.  I had by now, as you  realize, seen so many films, most with good or interesting story-lines, that after watching about 30 minutes of this film, had to leave.  The story was just so ridiculous and unappealing to me.  It begins on parallel with TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE, where a Royal Court-hired dancing instructor Jonathan Pride (Charles Collins) is kidnapped by trickery and made to serve on a pirate ship run by the toughest, meanest, scariest bunch of villains.  Our hero manages to escape months later when they dock, I think near San Francisco.  The towns people, along with their bumbling mayor (Frank Morgan), capture our hero and decide to hang him.  He makes no protest, which drove me nuts, and is saved because of the instant love of the mayor’s daughter Serafina (Steffi Duna).

Dancing Pirate

Charles Collins and Steffi Duna

So instead, I wandered into the Dealer’s Room and visited one of my favourite DVD vendors, Gary, who sells a lot of the hard-to-find but pretty good copies of films that I need to covet, mostly pre-Code.  Here’s what I now own:

Behind the Make-upBEHIND THE MAKE-UP (1930) directed by Robert Milton and, uncredited, Dorothy Arzner, Henry Hathaway and Rollo Lloyd (hmmmm-so many directors) with William Powell, Fay Wray and Kay Francis

Confessions of a Co-edCONFESSIONS OF A CO-ED (1931) directed by David Burton and Dudley Murphy with Phillips Holmes and Sylvia Sidney

CrowdTHE CROWD (1928) directed by King Vidor with Eleanor Boardman (Vidor’s wife)

Flirting WidowTHE FLIRTING WIDOW (1930) directed by William A. Seiter with Dorothy Mackaill, Basil Rathbone and Leila Hyams

Kiss Before the MirrorTHE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR (1933) directed by James Whale with Nancy Carroll, Frank Morgan and Paul Lukas

Make Me a StarMAKE ME A STAR (1932) directed by William Beaudine with Joan Blondell,  Zasu Pitts and cameos of many of the stars of the day

Lilly TurnerLILLY TURNER (1933) directed by William A. Wellman with Ruth Chatterton, George Brent and Frank McHugh

Only YesterdayONLY YESTERDAY (1933), a film I had been thinking about in the past few weeks, directed by John M. Stahl with Margaret Sullavan, John Boles and Billie Burke

Secret Life of Madame BlancheTHE SECRET OF MADAME BLANCHE (1933) directed by Charles Brabin with Irene Dunne, Lionel Atwill and Phillips Holmes

Strangers in LoveSTRANGERS IN LOVE (1932) directed by Lothar Mendes with Fredric March, Kay Francis

Tree Grows in BrooklynA TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYLN (1945) directed by Elia Kazan with Dorothy McGuire and Joan Blondell

World ChangesTHE WORLD CHANGES (1933) directed by Mervyn leRoy with Paul Muni, Aline MacMahon and Mary Astor

After dinner we watched the extremely entertaining film NOT EXACTLY GENTLEMEN {aka THREE ROGUES} directed by Benjamin Stoloff with Victor McLaglen and Fay Wray.  It was the story of three bandits Bull (Victor McLaglen), Ace (Lew Cody) and Bronco (Eddie Gribbon) who are wanted for bank robbery but befriend the young woman Lee (Fay Wray) whose father has just been murdered.  She has a map for a gold mine her father was aiming to claim and these three amigos want it for themselves.  However, they grow to care for this young lass and she for them and there is the funniest scene where all three of them take turns proposing to her.  In the end, she is reunited with her young beau, Bruce (David Worth) and the villain Layne (Robert Warrick) gets his comeuppance.

Not Exaclty Gentlemen

Victor McLaglen, Fay Wray and David Worth

THE LIVE WIRE (1925) directed by Charles Hines starring Johnny Hines, was just fantastic.  A very versatile vaudevillian, Johnny Hines played the circus performer The Great Maranelli who goes on the road with his buddy Sawdust Sam (Edmund Breese).  The things that Hines can do are quite remarkable.  He can slide down a wire on his head, become a quick-change artist and con a store owner into giving him free cans of food, pretend to be a rough and tumble bouncer to get a job in a bar, just to name a few.  All hilarious stuff.  Of course there’s a love interest, Dorothy (Mildred Ryan) whose father (J. Barney Sherry) she and Maranelli eventually convince, and rightly so, that they will “do good” in the business world.  All’s well that ends well.

Live Wire

A DANGEROUS WOMAN (1929) directed by Rowland V. Lee with Olga Baclanova, Clive Brook, Neil Hamilton and Leslie Fenton was the weirdest film by this time of night.  It had a great title, sounded interesting and featured a top-notch cast.  What a worthwhile watching disaster!  It takes place in the African jungle where the British army has sent husband Fred (Clive Brook) and wife Tania (Olga Baclanova) and her very strong Russian accent to live.  Tania is bored to tears living there, but the sexually charged African atmosphere doesn’t give her pause to seduce any young soldier that comes to live with them in the depths of this steamy, savage place that we all know Africa is (!?)  The story begins with young Peter (Leslie Fenton) taking his life when Tania won’t say that she loves him.  Oh well, c’est la vie–or not.  Next soldier, Fred’s handsome brother Bobby (Neil Hamlton) comes to live with them.  The same story begins to repeat itself and the dialogue becomes more and more over-the-top with “I love yous, can’t live without yous, the fever in the jungle, etc.”  With Fred so worried about Tania destroying the soul of his younger brother Bobby, he decides the only thing he can do is poison Tania’s night-time drinking water.  And she does die that night.  But, we learn, not from ingesting poison, but poison from a snake which slithered into her bed.  And the punch line is that the snake was put there by Fred’s man,Tubbs (Clyde Cook), the watcher of the goings-on of all, black and white.

Neil Hamilton, Clive Brook and Olga Baclanova

Neil Hamilton, Clive Brook and Olga Baclanova

I had to miss the last film of the night DANGER ON THE AIR (1938) which sounded like an entertaining mystery B picture.  Stay tuned for Day 4.

Sunday, March 16th, 2014 – Day 4
Okay, I decided to sleep in and miss the first film Sunday morning. It sounded like a good one but you gotta make tough choices in life. It was called THANKS A MILLION (1935) directed by Roy Del Ruth with Dick Powell, the lovely Ann Dvorak, Fred Allen, funny Patsy Kelly, and orchestra leader Paul Whiteman. Here’s the notes we received written by Gerry Orland:

THANKS A MILLION was one of the last films to be produced by Joseph Schenck and Darryl F. Zanuck’s 20th Century Pictures. By the time the film was released, 20th Century had merged with the Fox Film Corporation to form the new studio of 20th Century-Fox. This musical-comedy is a snappy satire of the political scene, with Dick Powell as a crooner who is enlisted by a corrupt political party to be their candidate for governor…mainly because of his charisma and popularity with the public. Powell was loaned to 20th Century y his home studio, Warner Brothers for this film…an arrangement that would be repeated two years later when Warner loaned him to 20th Century-Fox for 1937s musical hit, ON THE AVENUE. Ann Dvorak was also under contract to Warner Brothers, but was on “loan-out” status for her role of Powell’s leading lady in THANKS A MILLION. While mainly considered a dramatic actress, it’s fun to see Ann Singing and dancing in stage numbers with performing partner Patsy Kelly. The big news at the time of this film’s release was the feature film debut of radio comedian Fred Allen. The opening credits even feature a special title card “Introducing” Fred to the movie audience. Fred had previously appeared in comedy shorts for paramount and Vitaphone, but this was his first role in a feature. Fred would appear in films sporadically throughout the 1930s, 40s and early 50s, preferring to live in New York City and concentrate on his broadcasting career, but he gives an impressive performance in THANKS A MILLION. Raymond Walburn is at his blustery best as an inept, hard-drinking politician and it’s a treat to see and hear Paul Whiteman, his orchestra dn vocalists (including piano-playing Ramona and the King’s Men) provide their special brand of music that was popular with listeners on radio and RCA Victor records during that time. THANKS A MILLION is a lively, witty and tuneful musical-comedy that we’re sue you will enjoy.

Thanks a Million

On the Sunday after the first film, there is always the auction hosted by Leonard Maltin. Any person attending Cinefest, dealer or viewer, can offer movie-related items up for bid. Mr. Maltin is always entertaining, very quick-witted and keeps the auction rolling. Some of the items included a brand new DVD/Video projector that went for a $100, a box of film books starting at $15, two 16mm films (I forget what they were but they were full-length features) that started at $23 and went for $85–still a good deal. Some things don’t sell at all, like a 16mm print of LITTLE BIG MAN, the Arthur Penn-directed, Dustin Hoffman-acted film.

Afterwards, I did my last round of the Dealer’s Room and bought some 60s English band DVDs from the other Gary who sells mostly music-related film items. I had bought a couple of films from him last year, TIGER BAY (1959)–Hayley Mill’s excellent screen debut, THAT’LL BE THE DAY (1973) and its sequel STARDUST (1974). Gary generously treated me to Andy Warhol’s BAD (1977), the only movie I’ve ever seen that features Caroll Baker playing someone who’s an electrologist! (That’s what I do.) Thanks Gary. I also bought a couple of DVDs for TFS from Earl who always has some interesting store-bought and home made selections.

Bad

Caroll Baker sure looks like she’s enjoying her work!

The first film of the day for me was THE DEVIL HORSE (1926) directed by Fred Jackman with Yakima Canutt, his horse Rex, Gladys McConnell and Robert Kortman. It was a Cowboys and Indians story about a young boy who befriends a wild and starving colt just after his parents have been massacred by Indians. The horse and boy bond, but soon after, the colt is roughed up by Indians, and although he escapes, he develops a life-long hatred of anyone who smells Native. He grows into a beautiful, wild horse while the boy grows into a strapping young man (Yakima Canutt). The horse has become a legend throughout the county, known as The Devil Horse and the Indians are afraid of him. When they capture our hero, they tie him together within reach of the horse and they believe he is done for. But the horse, somewhere in the back regions of his mind, recognizes his long lost pal and they become instant friends once again. In the meantime, the young woman (Gladys McConnell) who lives with her father in town and Canutt begin to ride together and a their romance begins. However, the very wiry but muscled and unusual looking Indian (Robert Kortman) has designs on Gladys and eventually kidnaps her so he can force her to become his wife. She is not happy. But the Devil Horse and her beau save the day. A typical but entertaining Western. And it’s always fun to see a horse act.

Devil Horse

And the last film for me was WOMEN EVERYWHERE (1930) directed by Alexander Korda with J. Harold Murray and Fifi D’Orsay. Can’t say I loved this film. I saw Fifi D’Orsay only recently in a small role in WONDER BAR (1934) and was intrigued to see her in a feature role. However, I wasn’t all that impressed so I would still like to see her in something else just to see what she can do and how she acts in a different role. In this film, she spoke with a French accent and even though she was born in Montreal, Quebec, her accent sounded fake. In WONDER BAR, she had no discernable accent even though that story takes place in France. She also slouched a lot and I wondered if it was intentional for her character or she just had bad posture. I didn’t remember the actor Clyde Cook, even though he’s been in 139 films and in quite a number that I’ve seen, and here he was in another role with that same, very memorable Cockney accent as he had the night before in A DANGEROUS WOMAN. This story was about a gunrunning legionnaire who falls in love when he is saved by our heroine, Lili La Fleur (Fifi), the headliner at The Squinting Cat speakeasy. She awaits his return when he heads off to wherever while staving off the bad guy.

Women Everywhere

Two more films followed, THE CRAB (1917) and FLYING LUCK (1927) which I would have loved to have seen as it featured Jean Arthur in a silent role which I rarely get to see. But it was time to head home. The end of another wonderful Cinefest Four Day Film Festival.

Thanks to all the great people who put this event together, the people who brought the films in and the wonderful piano accompanists for the silent features. This year there were four pianists: Jeff Rapsis, Makia Matsumura, Judith Rosenberg and Cinefest’s long time accompanist, Jon Mirsalis.

To find out more about this annual film event, go to http://www.syracusecinefest.com/

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5 thoughts on “Cinefest in Syracuse

  1. Great reading this! I used to attend Cinefest almost every year, but due to time constraints (and eye problems) I haven’t attended in at least five years. Great to read about this year’s festival – Cinefest has given me some of my favorite movie experiences.

    Interesting to read that you bought “The Films of Nancy Carroll.” I bought a copy at the Strand Book Store in NYC sixteen months ago. They had two copies, each $20, and one was autographed (and inscribed to a “John”). The author had beautiful penmanship, didn’t he?

    • Thanks for reading and glad you liked what I wrote. We’ve probably crossed paths there as I’ve been attending for a long time. I agree, it’s a great experience. Yes, the author did have nice penmanship. It was interesting to read about Nancy Carroll’s life as I really knew so little about her yet have enjoyed a good handful of her films. I plan on watching a few more in the upcoming months. Regards.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read it Scopi! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I’m also anxiously awaiting Cinefest 2015. So sad it will be the last. Looking forward to meeting you there.

  2. Pingback: The Love Light (1921) and Only Yesterday (1933) | CarensClassicCinema

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