June 1 to 5, 2016
I had a wonderful time at this year’s four-day Cinevent film festival in Columbus, Ohio. I arrived on June 1st and was there early enough to see the two films that were being shown at the Wexner Center for the Arts, part of the Ohio State University. Each year, at least for the past three years that I have attended Cinevent, they invite their attendees to screen these films the night before the festival begins.
So the first film we saw was HOTEL SAHARA (1951) directed by Ken Annakin, featuring Yvonne De Carlo and Peter Ustinov. It was a somewhat black comedy (if we consider it’s about war) about a group of people who run a hotel in the Sahara during WWII. The hotel, in the middle of nowhere, was a place the elite could get away to, to while away the hours dancing, gambling, drinking and eating. It’s run by Emad (Peter Ustinov), his fiancée Yasmin Pallas (Yvonne De Carlo), her mother Mme. Pallas (Mireille Perrey) along with a couple of other Arab staff.
When the hotel’s lookout informs Emad that an Italian platoon is heading their way, everyone is evacuated. Emad and his male staff are also ready to split, but Yasmin and her mother are more practical minded and convince Emad to stay and make the most out of the situation. After all, the hotel is their bread and butter so why let it get destroyed by warring troops with no compensation. They just make sure to hide their silver.
When I was a youngster, I didn’t like Peter Ustinov for the simple reason that he didn’t look like a movie star. But since then, reading some of his writings and seeing him again in film, I find him totally charming. He doesn’t disappoint as Emad.
As well, I grew up only knowing De Carlo as Mrs. Munster but never found her as glamorous as Morticia Adams. In HOTEL SAHARA she not only shows off her talent for accents, singing, dancing and comedy, but she is absolutely stunning.
She is definitely the one you watch when she’s on the screen. Her and her mother’s role are to woo the Italian soldiers. Yasmin knows how to dress to “accommodate” whichever man she’s decided to ensnare.
Her mother, rather sweetly, charms any man who is interested in helping in the kitchen. They both take extremely well to their assignments, much to Emad’s chagrin with special regard to his fiancée’s amusement.
Just as the Italian troop is settling in, a British platoon is spotted heading through the desert their way and the band of hotel owners must find a way to send off their Italian guests by any ruse that comes to mind. They do, and in come Captain Puffin Cheyne (David Tomlinson) and Major Bill Randall (Roland Culver), both vying for the affections of Miss Yasmin. And she knows how to play them both.
Suffice to say that this continues on with the Germans (enjoyable to watch Yasmin easily figure out how to ensnare Lieutenant Gunther von Heilicke (Albert Lieven) when he first dismisses her as too provocative), the French who are sent on their way just as the American’s arrive.
Poor Emad, and even Yasmin may tire of the game, while Mme. Pallas seems to be enjoying the attention most of all.
The second film of the evening was ALBERT R.N. (1953), directed by Lewis Gilbert, with Anthony Steel and Jack Warner. If there is any link between these two films other than that they were British, it’s that they each featured Anton Diffring as a German officer in both but with a major role here.
It’s been many years since I saw STALAG 17, made in the same year, but it immediately brought the film to mind. There are the similarities—prisoners of war held in German barracks, tunnel digging (as in THE GREAT ESCAPE ) and men attempting to escape in other fashions, as well as the camaraderie. But of course there are differences too.
The major ploy for trickery in ALBERT R.N. is Geoff’s (Anthony Steel) idea of creating a papier-mâché replacement for any of the escapees. Capt. Maddox (Jack Warner) is the man who keeps the men in-line and sane. Texas (William Sylvester) is the only American prisoner, and a proud but at times obnoxious one that rubs some of the men some of the time the wrong way.
The villain is Hauptmann Schultz (Anton Diffring) who eventually replaces the more reasonable and fair Camp Kommandant (Frederick Valk) with deadly consequences.
A good beginning to Cinevent, which would start at 1:00 pm the following day. And the very much anticipated visit to the dealers’ room!
Thursday, June 2, 2016 – Day 1
The first film was THE CRIME NOBODY SAW (1937) directed by Charles Barton, with Lew Ayres, Eugene Pallette and Hattie McDaniel. It’s the story of three playwrights huddled together in an apartment owned by one of them, Horace Dryden (Benny Baker), trying to work on the very first page of a draft for a murder mystery. Throughout the film, Horace, Nick Milburn (Lew Ayres) and Babe (Eugene Pallette) begin over and over again to come up with an acceptable “Page 1”. Babe is taken with the wife of the neighbour across the way, Mrs. Suzanne Duval (Vivienne Osborne) whose little pooch Toto(!) seems to seek Babe out. Theatre producer John Atherton (Ferdinand Gottschalk) isn’t fooled by the crazy off-the-cuff ramblings the three come up with on his first visit and he lets them know in no uncertain terms that they either come up with a first draft or return his $500 payment. Since they already spent the cash, they know what they have to do.
Inspiration comes when a highly intoxicated man enters their apartment, collapses on their couch with $15,000 discovered in his coat pocket and then shortly after is rediscovered dead, probably murdered! Others now enter the scene, William Underhill (Jed Prouty), a lingerie salesman, Dr. Randolph Brookes (Colin Tapley) and Robert Mallory (Howard C. Hickman) with his lovely daughter (and love interest for Ayers), Kay (Ruth Coleman) which happily gives us a number of suspects.
The three writers pretend to be a detective, a policeman and a doctor in order to solve this mystery and of course come up with a play to boot.
Where does Hattie McDaniel come in? Ambrosia (love her name) is the character to watch whenever she appears. She is funny when she eavesdrops and overhears the three playwrights come up with their murderous plots, acting as though she thinks it’s the real thing, and everywhere else ending when she trots out backwards through the door in the film’s final scene.
From the Cinevent notes, here are a few interesting tidbits by my friend Michael Schlesinger:
In the mid-to-late-30s, Paramount was second to none when it came to turning out smart, snappy Bs, and this genial knock-off of Seven Keys to Baldpate is a fine way to kick off the weekend. Based on a play co-written by Ellery Queen that literally closed in Philadelphia…there’s a pretty snazzy plot twist down the road, and as long as you don’t think too hard about everything—the story has more holes than a sieve, which is likely why it flopped onstage—you should have a nifty time.
…and best of all, there’s McDaniel as a maid named Ambrosia, who knows more than she’s letting on. (It’s actually a pretty sizable role, which must have given the famously bigoted Pallette fits.) Look quickly and you’ll also spot a young Ellen Drew as a secretary….
Next up was MELODY CRUISE (1933), directed by Mark Sandrich, possibly my favourite film even though it starred the—I have to pretend he is attractive, and can sing—Phil Harris. Certainly every woman on the cruise ship went gaga over him. What’s so interesting for me is that later on we watched a film with Alice Faye and I recalled that she was the wife of Jack Benny’s band leader Phil Harris until his death. I finally put two-and-two together. I guess “handsomeness” wasn’t all it was cracked up to be since she was first married to good-looking Tony Martin who later married and remained so to lovely Cyd Charisse.
Okay, back to MELODY CRUISE. It was a somewhat crazy and disconcerting story about a wealthy bachelor, Alan Chandler (Phil Harris) who’s travelling with his buddy Pete Wells (the wonderful Charlie Ruggles) on a cruise ship. The opening party scene in their luxurious state room is filled with all sorts of land lovers seeing them off. (An aside—I have been on many cruises and have never in my life seen any cabins like the ones that are portrayed in classic film. Were they really like that back then? They’re almost larger than most people’s apartments!) Everyone gets drunk and Pete comments to Alan that he is going to watch over him and protect him from ever getting married—ever! And to secure Pete to this promise while not having to avoid romantic liaisons with any woman who takes his fancy—even going as far as falling in love—Alan writes a letter to Pete’s wife listing all of Pete’s conquests. And this is not counting the ones before his marriage to Mrs. Wells (Marjorie Gateson) who is not on board, nor has attended the bon voyage party.
This decidedly does keep Pete busy for the rest of the cruise where not only all the young, gorgeous females (and there are plenty of them) think Alan’s the cat’s meow and who they all talk about in rhyming couplets. There are, as well, two particular women who Pete has to really look out for and keep away from Alan.
One is Elsa Von Rader (Greta Nissen), a sophisticated old flame who just happens to be on board and the innocent girl, Laurie Marlowe (Helen Mack), who’s chaperoned by Miss Potts (Florence Roberts).
The most fun elements of the film are both technical and sub-story-wise. The technical are the creative dissolves from scene to scene. They don’t just fade; they are patterned in truly artistic ways. The sub-story element is when two of the party revelers who should have left the ship the night before, Zoe (June Brewster) and Vera (Shirley Chambers) are discovered awaking from their drunken stupors after having passed out under fur coats in Pete’s stateroom. How does he explain this to the crew and, it is also discovered, Miss Potts who is dear friends with Pete’s brother and sister-in-law? And learns of this only moments after he tells her that Zoe and Vera are his nieces! They are rather promiscuous young women, with the funniest scene ending with the realization that they have been parading around deck in their lacy lingerie.
Since seeing Chick Chandler in Blood Money (1933), I wondered why I hadn’t noticed this handsome man before. Here he plays Hickey, the “I can be of utmost service to you—for cash” steward.
The ending of the film is a visual joke, which I imagine is considered one of the special effects created by Vern Walker and Lyn Dunn.
Here’s some interesting info from Jim Lane in the Cinevent notes:
The plot of this RKO pre-Code may be tissue-thin, but the execution gives it a gloss of frivolous fun. We can detect the influence of the previous year’s Love Me Tonight (screened at Capiotlfest last August) (from over at Paramount) right off the bat, as passengers in a shipping office negotiate for their respective cruses in a sort of recitative of rhyming dialogue, while the underlying music suggests a melody for their words that would become a song if anyone wanted to sing (the songs are credited to Val Burton and Will Jason). It happens again later as the ship sets sail, with the activities of the crew carefully choreographed to Max Steiner’s music, and later still as the ladies aboard (look sharp and you’ll catch a glimpse of 16-year-old Betty Grable) gossip about Alan Chandler in “He’s Not the Marrying Kind”. And in the picture’s one full-fledged song, sung by Phil Harris to Helen Mack as their ship waits its turn at the moonlit Panama Canal, both the title (“Isn’t It a Night for Love?”) and the staging are redolent of “Isn’t It Romantic?” from Love Me Tonight.
Making his screen debut here (if you don’t count an uncredited background bit as a nightclub drummer in 1929’s Why Be Good? with Colleen Moore), Phil Harris is younger, sleeker and smoother than the big loveable galoot we all remember from Jack Benny’s radio program and movies…
When I go to these film events, my goal is to see all the feature films. However, at times I may be there in body, but not in spirit, and and even skipping the film shorts doesn’t always help. But regardless, I did decide to miss going to see the Fox Silent Shorts Compilation, instead heading to dealers’ room, upstairs for a rest and then out for a dinner.
I came back in time to see the Laurel and Hardy short, THE HOOSE-GOW (1929), directed by James Parrott which had our two heroes working and causing mayhem on a chain-gang, not least by pouring raw rice into a car’s carbonator to create the most messy of messes.
Writer Richard M. Roberts wrote in the Cinevent notes:
…One mishap that remains in the film involves Ollie being hit in the seat of his pants by Stan’s pickax while they are chain-ganging. The fake pickax looked fake on film, so a real one had to be substituted. When the gag was shot, Ollie misjudged his distance from it when Stan swung for comic contact and the scream you hear from Ollie turned out to be genuine, getting a big laugh from the crew when the camera cut and before they realized what had happened. Comedy is frequently neither pretty nor safe.
At eighteen minutes, THE HOOSEGOW is the second shortest Laurel and Hardy comedy (County Hospital takes first prize at seventeen minutes), but every minute is comedy gold.
To view this short online, click here.
I was really looking forward to seeing the next film, THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD (1934), directed by Alfred Werker, with George Arliss, Boris Karloff, Loretta Young, Robert Young and C. Aubrey Smith. I have a friend who is an actual descendent of the family and he has been doing research into his background. Well, now I know a bit about that family, although this is a Hollywood version and I don’t expect it to be too accurate but I’m sure George (my friend, not Arliss) would be delighted to fill me in on the differences.
George Arliss plays both the founding father, per se, Mayer, as well has his grown son, Nathan. A pious Jew who believes in making a profit while not charging exorbitant prices, he also does his best to hide his earnings from the taxman who demanded more from the people living in the Jewish ghetto than anywhere else in 1780 Frankfurt, Germany.
Arliss was 65 years old when he played these two roles. It was easy to see him as the patriarch Mayer, but I had to sustain my belief that he was, at the most, the 50-year-old Nathan. But I enjoy Arliss as an actor and so I sustained. And I believe it was an important film to be made at the time against major anti-Semitism, especially with Hitler and the rise of Nazism in Germany.
The Rothschilds were portrayed as a descent family who were smart bankers. Honestly, I didn’t understand many of the deals that they made or the scene where Nathan bet his and his brothers’ livelihood on buying up all stocks that came onto the market. But that knowledge isn’t important to have to enjoy the story. And the majority of us aren’t financiers.
Nathan was one of five brothers and their father instilled in them the bond of love and trust and the teaching that they would be more powerful and independent of being robbed by any middle-men transporting the money if they each set up a bank in the most important European cities of the time. So the family’s international banks were established by: Nathan in London, Solomon (Paul Harvey) in Vienna, Amschel (Ivan Simpson) in Frankfurt, Carl (Noel Madison) in Naples and James (Murray Kinnell) in Paris.
The personal part of the story revolves around Nathan and Hannah’s (George’s real-life wife Florence Arliss) daughter Julie (a gorgeous Loretta Young) and her love for a Gentile officer in the Duke of Wellington’s army, Captain Fitzroy (Robert Young).
Nathan has a hard time with his beloved daughter wanting to marry a man “not of their race” but eventually love won out, at least in the movies, since in real life Nathan had seven children, not one of them being a Julie. There was a Hannah, however, who did marry an Hon. Henry FitzRoy, so this must have been who Julie was based on.
I enjoyed seeing some of the more common religious Jewish rituals being performed, especially the kissing of the Mezuzah every time one of the Rothschild’s exited a Jewish home.
One of the historical episodes of the film was Nathan Rothschild’s involvement in the Napoleonic Wars, with him almost single-handedly financing the British war effort as well as being in the position to pass on important news to the government.
Boris Karloff played the tall, menacing, silver haired and eye-browed Count Ledrantz of Prussia.
The ending of the movie was filmed in Technicolor. And at a huge reception just after Nathan is honoured by the King himself, he complains to Hannah that he kneeled on the wrong knee. Hannah breaks out in a laugh, which only emphasized to me that one is born into this world to any random sort of station, but in the end we’re all just people who have to make the best of where we arrived.
Here are some interesting Cinevent notes by Jim Lane:
…George Arliss was, like his contemporary Marie Dressler, one of the most unusual movie stars of the 1920s and ‘30s—neither handsome nor young, but charming and witty, with a twinkling eye that nicely complemented and softened his typically English stiff upper lip. Born Augustus George Andrews in 1868, Arliss cut his teeth as an actor on British provincial stages in the days of Henry Irving and Herbert Beerbohm Tree. He made the transition from stage to screen with remarkable ease, and, thanks to his orotund elocutions, he moved just as easily from silent to talkies when sound came in. His signature stage role was as Queen Victoria’s favorite prime minister in Disraeli, which he filmed twice, as a silent in 1921 and a talkie eight years later (winning an Oscar the second time). Historical figures were a bit of a specialty–Disraeli and Alexander Hamilton before Nathan Rothschild, the Duke of Wellington and Cardinal Richelieu afterward—but, with appropriate changes in costume and hair style, they all seemed to look and sound pretty much like George Arliss. That was good enough for audiences in the 1930s, and time hasn’t dimmed the old boy’s charm; it’s good enough for us today.
…Written by Nunnally Johnson from a play by George Hembert Westley (real name George Hippisley, a humor writer and editor for the Boston Evening Transcript), HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD has the distinction of being one of the first movies (probably in fact the very first) to deal with the subject of anti-Semitism—this, mind you, just as the Nazis were coming to power in Germany. Nathan and his brothers deal with Jew-haters again and again, epitomized by Boris Karloff as the reptilian Count Ledrantz of Prussia and personified by the rioting mobs Ledrantz sets on the Jews in their ghettos all across Europe—until Napoleon’s escape from Elba puts Nathan once more in the financial driver’s seat. The picture was a powerful argument for tolerance in 1934, and it looks even more powerful today in light of what we now know as to come.
…THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD was a major hit and a success d’estime for 20th Century, Oscar-nominated for best picture (it lost to It Happened One Night). Reviewers hailed it as one of the best pictures of George Arliss’s career, maybe even the very best—a judgment that holds up today….
To view this film online, click here.
Next up was THE CROWD (1928), directed by King Vidor, starring his wife at the time, Eleanor Boardman and James Murray.
It’s basically the story of the life of John Sims (James Murray) who we meet at his birth which falls on July 4th, 1900. Unless my eyes deceived me, there is no mistaking that the baby is boy when viewing the scene where we see him taking his first breath to being transferred to the swathing blanket!
Several years pass when tragedy strikes for 12-year-old John with the death of his father. There is a decidedly gorgeous shot of a crowd of people standing at the foot of the entrance to the apartment building door where the Sims family live with John slowly making his way up towards the something he is hoping isn’t so.
Now John is 21 and arriving in New York City, a place with 7,000,000 inhabitants. There is a wonderful shot travelling up a skyscraper with the camera zooming in on a window. Unlike Greg Toland’s continuous shot in Citizen Kane, there is a cut and now we are inside a huge office space with rows and rows of desks where we finally end up at John’s. He’s one of hundreds of drones doing some sort of tedious office accounting work; a contemporary reminiscence of 1927’s Metropolis workingman scenes.
But here is where the story really begins. In the amazingly huge wash-up lavatory, his workmate Bert (Bert Roach of Mack’s Sennett’s Keystone Cops) easily entices Jim to break from his evening studies and go on a double date with him and two “wrens”. And this is the core of John’s problem. His father told him he was going to grow up to be a somebody but he isn’t willing to put in the work. He thinks he stands out in a crowd and that failure won’t befall him. He and his date, Mary (Eleanor Boardman) hit it off pretty well right from the get go. I have seen Boardman in a number of films but what was striking to me in this one is that she so closely resembled Jane Curtain, only softer looking. With only myself to blame, it was odd and somewhat annoying to continue to be thinking this throughout the film.
There was a grand time to be had by the foursome at Coney Island: sliding down on magic carpets; merry-go-round horse racing; and ending in the tunnel of love. There’s a crowd standing around the disembarking area where a canopied sign saying “DO THEY NECK” rolls up to expose the kissing couples to the delight of their audience. Afterwards a proposition of marriage by John is accepted by Mary. Did people really decide to get married that fast back in those days?
Without going into too much detail, the rest of the film is the ins-and-outs, ups-and-downs of a young married couple, followed by two children. In one of their earlier fights, John heads off to work while Mary starts to pack threatening to move out. But of course that’s not what she really wants to do. Instead, she hangs out the window, calling him back up–she has something to tell him. He comes running back up and we see her mouth the words “I’m pregnant.” Interesting that the “P” word was not allowed to be said when talkies came out until, oh, maybe the 1960s.
We meet Mary’s mother (Lucy Beaumont) and two very, very older brothers Dick (Dell Henderson) and Jim (Daniel G. Tomlinson). She was definitely the baby of the family. None of them ever seem to approve of John and on their first Christmas Eve, he certainly does a good job of fermenting that impression, pun intended.
John has one success of creating a commercially successful slogan which garnered the family a much-needed windfall but which sadly leads to the tragedy of the death of their little girl (Alice Mildred Puter).
That’s the only time I have great sympathy for John, when he has his breakdown that results in his losing his job. Otherwise, as likeable as he was when things were going well, he was basically lazy at heart with Mary doing all the detailed work of keeping the family together and making ends meet. No matter that this film was made in the late 1920’s, it’s a timeless story that people will always be able to relate to.
The story ends on an ambiguous note with John coming full circle with regards to learning to face his truth. Will John finally be able to pull himself together and support the family? Like Mary, we’re decidedly rooting for him!
Here are some excerpts from Cinevent organizer Michael Haynes and my friend Samantha Glasser:
…THE CROWD brought director King Vidor the first of three Oscar nominations in four years. Though he was nominated a total of five times, he was never handed one of the shiny gold statues until receiving a 1979 Academy Honorary Award. He cast his then-wife Eleanor Boardman as Mary in THE CROWD. Boardman had aimed for an acting career on the stage before catching Vidor’s eye as an “Eastman Kodak Girl.” After this film, she appeared in only a handful more movies, ending her career with 1935’s The Three Cornered Hat.
“I didn’t care about ordinary people. I thought when you went into movies you wore curls and beautiful hats and gorgeous clothes, and [were[ glamorous,” Eleanor Boardman said. “Suddenly I was cast in this downtrodden Mary Doe meets John Doe story of boy and girl going through life, no money, no education, no knowledge of what they were doing. It was a job I had to do. I didn’t like to be so drab and unattractive. As I say the hair was hanging down with no makeup on. I didn’t object to it. I mean, inwardly I did, but I made no objection about it. I had confidence in Vidor and he knew what he was doing.”
For James Murray, his role as John Sims could have been a breakout role, but—much like his character in THE CROWD, personal issues including alcoholism haunted him and Murray’s career quickly faded into a series of bit parts. In 1936, he drowned in the Hudson River after falling from a pier. …
The last film of the evening was the little seen British film TOMORROW AT 10 (1962). Definitely worth staying up for. Directed by Lance Comfort, with a young-looking Robert Shaw.
It’s the story of an off-balanced man, Marlowe (Robert Shaw) who devices a devious plan to make a pile of money and escape his life in the UK. He kidnaps a rather sweet youngster, Jonathan Chester (Piers Bishop), a boy of about five years or so. Jonathan lives with his wealthy, widowed politician father, Anthony Chester (Alec Clunes) and is taken care of by his governess Robbie (Helen Cherry). When a new driver shows up to take Jonathan to school, Robbie accepts the explanation and sends the tyke on his way. Marlowe never scares the boy while leading him to an abandoned home where he’s set up a child-friendly room but with one sinister toy. It’s a golliwog, with a bomb inserted into the centre stuffing, metaphorically replacing Marlowe’s heart. His scheme is to demand, face to face, £50,000 from the frantic father, be allowed to leave the country on a prearranged flight, and with no exception to have the police involved. When he’s safely away, he’ll give the location of where the boy is hidden. This must all occur before 10:00 a.m. on the following day as that’s when the bomb is set to go off.
The exception is the first thing to fall through the cracks when the governess disobeys her employer’s instructions and she calls the kidnapping into Inspector Parnell (John Gregson). Parnell has a talent for breaking down his suspects into confessing and, against the father’s will, is almost able to break Marlowe just as Chester calls the interrogation off. Unfortunately, circumstances occur which makes it unlikely that they will find Jonathan before the 10:00 morning deadline.
There is a very interesting swinging 60s London scene when Inspector Parnell and his assistant Sergeant Grey [Kenneth Cope, best known from Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)] go to visit Marlowe’s parents in the hopes that they know where he lives. They don’t, nor do they seem concerned. But they run this underground club where the young, psychedelic youth go to freely “express” themselves with dance, music and drugs. His mother talks about how she bought her son the golliwogs that are seen in the windows when he was a boy and how much he loved them.
Does the boy get saved in the nick of time, and if so, by who? It was a very entertaining way to end the first day at Cinevent.
Dave Harnack writes in the Cinevent notes:
…Shaw’s “Marlowe” earns the basic catch-all “psychopath” identification in the few written synopses available on this picture. Relegating Marlowe to “psychopath” status is true, though an over-simplification. He would be more accurately described as “exquisitely calculated.” Marlowe’s cold, dynamically expressionless gaze-enhanced by his matter-of-fact deliver—identifies more with a Western Union employee decoding a telegram. That “man-with-a-plan” determination is compounded by both his insensitivity as well as lack of sentimentality. Soon enough, the audience finds out that Shaw’s “Marlowe” is constructed with virtually no shame or remorse that can ultimately counteract his horrific plan. …
Stay tuned for Day 2.
Friday, June 2, 2016
I didn’t want to miss the 9:00 a.m. German film, THE TRIP TO TILSIT (1939). My friend, Adam, told me it was from the William K. Everson collection and with Bill gone these so many years, it was nostalgic to know that we were seeing this film because of him.
The story is about a rural couple who have a young son. Elske Settegast (Kristina Soderbaum) is a hardworking housewife with very little in the way of luxuries. She cleans, cooks and takes care of her child, trying to keep herself as well-groomed as can be expected when you live in a mud-infested property. Elske’s handsome fisherman husband, Endrik (Philip Dorn aka Fritz von Dongen) isn’t always home nights, and she knows it’s not only taking his catch to different city markets that is keeping him away. He is continuing an affair he started with Madlyn Sapierska (Anna Dammann) when she was the couples’ guest, staying in their home several months prior to the point where the story starts. Madlyn wants Endrik for herself and has no qualms confronting Elske, insisting she give him up.
Elske isn’t made of super strong resolve, but she decides she will only divorce Endrik if he absolutely insists this is what he wants. She of course prefers he end his affair with Madlyn but Endrik at first just can’t make up his mind. At times he promises he will but as soon as Madlyn appears, his will is hers. When it gets to a point that neither of them can stand the strain in their marriage, their biggest bone of contention becomes who will get custody of their young son Jons (Joachim Pfaff). Neither are prepared to give him up.
Madlyn has a way about her that has a rather psychotic feel to it. But along with that, she also brings excitement and sophistication with her, something a virile man such as Endrik can’t ignore. Life in the backwaters is anything but glamorous. Madlyn goes so far as to whisper to Endrik that if Elske won’t give him up on her own accord, killing her might be his only option. And she promises she’ll love Jon as if he were her own. Hysterical but chilling words.
So with this thought floating in Endrik’s brain, he takes Elske and their horse (a gift from Elske’s father on their wedding day) to the big city to sell it and supposedly buy a gift for Jon’s birthday. As the two of them and their horse travelled on the small boat across the lake, I suddenly realized I was watching the German remake of Murnau’s 1927 Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans! I don’t usually read the notes in advance so enjoyed the eureka moment. And now, as it’s been years since I’ve seen Sunrise, I hope to watch it again in the not too distant future. So, if you have seen the film too, then you have some idea of how THE TRIP TO TILSIT works out.
My friend also mentioned to me during the screening that Swedish actress Kristina Soderbaum was married to the director, his third wife, at the time of the making of this film and up until his death. They were both pro-Nazi sympathizers, involved in making ten anti-Semitic propaganda films for Joseph Goebbels, the most famous being Jud Süß in 1940. After WWII, Harlan was charged with crimes against humanity, participating in the anti-Semitic movement and aiding the Nazis but successfully defended himself arguing that the Nazis controlled his work and he shouldn’t be held personally responsible for the content. Afterwards, in 1949, he was charged for his role as director of Jud Süß. He was acquitted by the Hamburg Criminal Chamber of the Regional Court but the court of the British occupation zone nullified this acquittal.
Interestingly, his first wife was the Jewish actress and cabaret singer Dora Gerson but they divorced in 1924. She later died as a prisoner in Auschwitz. Another interesting note is that Harlan’s niece, Christiane Susanne Harlan was married to Jewish filmmaker Stanley Kubrick from 1958 until his death in 1999.
Here is what Samantha Glasser wrote about the film in the Cinevent notes:
THE TRIP TO TILSIT (DIE REISE NACH TILSIT) is the 1939 German talkie version of Hermann Sudermann’s story of the sane name, also the story that inspired the silent Oscar winner for Best Unique and Artistic Picture Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. Where the silent film is stylish and experimental, the talkie relies on stark realism to tell its story. The grim, dirty sets show audiences the squalor that these characters live in and why they desire to break away from their routines and move onto something better and more glamorous….
…There are some nice artistic choices in the film. In the New Year’s Eve scene, the close-up of the still-lit flame on the Christmas tree suggests that the flame has not gone out between the lovers. The climax is exciting with lots of quick cuts and director Veit Harlan employs camera techniques like split screens and dissolves to illustrate the story….
…(Soderbaum)’s character(s) commonly drowned in these (propaganda) films, earning her the nickname Reichswasserleiche, or the Reich’s Water Corpse.
Harlan is best known today for his association with the Nazi party and his film Jud Suss, an exaggerated tale about the ruthlessness of Jews. The stigma attached to Harlan’s name has caused many of his films to be difficult to find among both English-speaking collectors and Germans. Many members of his own family were unable to view Jud Suss in his lifetime. THE TRIP TO TILSIT seems to be more obscure because it was made prior to that film….
The next film that morning was the film I mentioned on Day 1 starring Alice Faye, EVERY NIGHT AT EIGHT (1935), directed by Raoul Walsh featuring a dashing George Raft.
It’s the story of three working girls, Dixie (Alice Faye), Susan (Frances Langord) and Daphne (Patsy Kelly), whose collective dream is to make it as radio singing stars. After a very humorous kerfuffle with a Dictaphone and their boss, Mr. Huxley (John Dilson), they are fired. While starving, they enter a talent contest but don’t win due to Susan’s fainting in the middle of their song. But here’s where they meet up with ‘Tops’ Cardona (George Raft) the conductor of the coolest band in town. The three girls team up with Tops and the whole shebang become a success, with the three singers becoming famous under the moniker of The Three Swanee Sisters—from down South. At every mention of their stage name, Al Jolson sprang to mind.
But success turns out to not be everything. Where’s the glamor? The luxuries? The men?! These gals are too busy to enjoy any of these things, it seems. Susan and Tops have an unrequited hankering for each other but that doesn’t go anywhere until the very end.
One of the scenes I found slightly outrageous but enjoyable was the girls’ reconciliation with their old boss, Huxley. Not as grouchy, nor as honorable, as a post-Code boss should be, it made you think how much more his employees would have liked him if he had shown a slightly softer nature around the office. But fame never fails to impress—and Huxley is no different than the girls’ other fans.
If there’s any lesson at all to be learned at the end of this fun and light film, perhaps it’s just that hard work pays off and enjoyment and relaxation come after retirement—let’s just hope we’re not too old to enjoy it. As Daphne declares during one of the scenes, “We’ll make our minds up and then think it over.”
At this time, Alice Faye was still single, but she marries Phil Harris, the star of MELODY CRUISE (1933) in 1941.
Patsy Kelly is someone I’ve always enjoyed watching. Rather butch, she rarely differs in her screen persona, but is always humorous. As an example and as you can imagine, I enjoyed her advice as “The Babysitter” in Babies, They’re Wonderful (1947) an entertaining short which highlighted her tongue-in-cheek comedic talent. Her most popular on-screen partner was Thelma Todd until the latter’s suicide in 1935 at the age of 29. In the mid-1940s, after leaving film, Patsy became the personal assistant and lover of Tallulah Bankhead, remaining life-long friends when both those positions ended. Television revived her career, running from the early 50s until the late 70s. She died at the age of 71 in 1981.
Here’s what Samantha Glasser had to say about the film in the Cinevent notes:
A backstage musical, and not anticipated that three of its original songs would become immortal: “I Feel a Song Coming On,” “Take It Easy,” and “I’m in the Mood for Love.”…
…Fans of old time radio will appreciate both the cast and the familiar banter between acts. The film gives a glimpse of what it was like behind the scenes at a radio station and of the variety of acts available to audiences in a time when vaudeville was on the decline. We get top notch musical numbers in addition to novelty acts including one woman who sings like a chicken.
A very, very funny performance by Florence Gill!!!
To view this film online, click here.
Okay. The next film was the film I was waiting to see. THIS DAY AND AGE (1933), directed by Cecil B. DeMille. I had recently finished reading Scott Eyman’s “Empire of Dreams”, a very well-written biography about the director. I had already been intrigued when first reading about the film in Thomas Doherty’s “Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934.” It sounded kind of odd; off-balanced. As so many of DeMille’s films are.
Just to annoy myself, I had a hard time keeping conscious during the screening but for the most part, I was able to follow the story line, which I actually knew a fair amount about. It featured a tough and rough, sometimes sexy Charles Bickford as the ruthless gangster Louis Garrett.
It’s the story of students who rise up against the local hoods who have bombed a shop and killed likeable tailor Herman (Harry Green) while one of their school chums buying some clothes at the time, survives (or also maybe dies—I can’t quite remember). Through usual political corruption, Garrett gets off to continue running his nightclub while committing murder wherever it seems fit.
Gay Merrick (Judith Allen) who’s in love with boy hero Steve Smith (Richard Cromwell) infiltrates Garrett’s world with another male student connected with the gangster and wanting to win Gay over. Garrett notices Gay and makes note at one point in the film that he “likes my olives green.” Later on, when she goes after him with a dubious motive, he finishes the quote with “…but I don’t like to pick them.” Dialogue is everything.
Why the film is so odd is because it ends with teenagers (maybe Mao Tse-tung got his revolutionary idea from THIS DAY AND AGE?), not the law, deciding who is right or wrong, who lives and, but not quite, who dies. What was equally bizarre is the boys were all given honorary city positions, apparently as some sort of advanced civics course. Really quite a strange philosophy for an American film, but not, I suppose, for a pre-Code made in the same year as Gabriel Over the White House. Although it didn’t affect DeMille on a personal level—he was quite well-off—being deep into the Depression, people felt they had no power and the government wasn’t going fast enough at doing anything about their predicament. Socialism seemed like it could be an answer. But DeMille had some rather strange and conflicting ideas about democracy vs communism. The former was what he believed in—except not necessarily when it pertained to himself in a leadership role.
Author Scott Eyman was present at Cinevent and although I had the opportunity to meet him briefly while buying another one of his books (on Lubitsch if you must know), what he had to say about the film is found in “Empire of Dreams”. I quote what he wrote here, but if you are interested in the dichotomy of what is DeMille, then you won’t be disappointed in obtaining a copy of the book for yourself:
In 1933, Grace Bradley went in to interview with DeMille for a part. She had been warned not to put on any nail polish—DeMille didn’t like it. “The part was, he said, a virgin, and only a virgin could play a virgin. I walked in and sat down and he looked at me and said, ‘No, I can’t see you in the part. You don’t look like a virgin.’ Now, my mother was outside waiting for me! ‘I see you on a long couch,’ he said, ‘with leopard skin, and two nubian slaves with feather fans on both sides of you.’ I just sat there with my mouth open.”
For the film called THIS DAY AND AGE, DeMille cast Frank Coghlan, his juvenile at the DeMille studios, now a teenager, for one of the supporting parts. DeMille must have had a soft spot for Coghlan—one day on location, the young actor was late. He just walked in and took his place, which would usually earn a burst of excoriation about courtesy and professionalism. Instead, DeMille said nothing.
The child star Diana Serra, the former Baby Peggy, witnessed DeMille at his worst, after he had been nursing a grudge against leading lady Judith Allen. “Judith Allen [real name Mari Coleman] was promoted as this pristine little ingénue,” remember Serra, “but it came out that she was married to wrestler [named Gus Sonnenberg]. Then they tried making her a socialite who had married down, but it didn’t take. She had kept her marriage quiet and DeMille felt deceived. Then she got a divorce, and he got really angry.
“When it came time for her to do this scene, she was green, and she had trouble, and he laced into her. The F-word was just for openers, and those words were not in common usage at that time.
“I’m sure that he thought he would make her cry, and he did, but it became a deluge; she got hysterical. Richard Cromwell, who was only about twenty-three, was gay—I think most people on the set knew—and he was the only man on that set who had the guts to say, ‘Mr. DeMille, if you don’t let up on this girl, I’ll deck you.’ And DeMille looked at him and saw real was real and he quit. And Cromwell picked her up—she was completely hysterical—and took her home.” (Richard Cromwell later became Angela Lansbury’s first husband. After his acting career petered out, he became a successful artist, selling exquisite ceramic screens weighing four and five hundred pounds to many in Hollywood.)
“The thing about DeMille,” continued Serra, “yes, he was a good father and a good director, but he was also a tyrant. He was of that era—a mogul with his own unit, and nobody ever told him ‘No!’; nobody ever called him on the carpet.”
THIS DAY AND AGE belongs firmly to the Social Breakdown genre of the early days of the Depression, along with William Wellman’s Wild Boys of the Road and so forth. And on the surface, it’s also part of an exceedingly disturbing crypto-fascist grouping that includes Gabriel over the White House and The President Vanishes.
The films of the left—King Vidor’s Our Daily Bread, Chaplin’s Modern Times—proposed that the social chaos could be ameliorated through everybody pulling together for a common goal of survival. The films of the right proposed that everybody pull together for the common goal of ignoring the law, although DeMille is careful to characterize the power structure as not just absent, but apathetic and corrupt. As one character says, the law can’t beat “a million dollar a year mouthpiece.” In the absence of law and order, the idealistic young take charge.
The story of THIS DAY AND AGE is simple: a group of teenagers are appalled when a gangster who has murdered a friend of theirs eludes a murder charge through the machinations of his lawyer. They kidnap him, torture him, and come close to lynching him until he confesses and is led away by the newly awaked police.
The film begins with a snappy, frenetic montage of modern life—cities, dirigibles, surging crowds. Throughout, DeMille directs in a much more current style than in his costume pictures; he directs for speed, with a nervous editing rhythm. (In many respects, the film is a counterpart to The Godless Girl, although not as successful.)
DeMille burdens himself with actors who are either colorless (Richard Cromwell, Judith Allen) or bizarre (Fuzzy Knight and Billy Gilbert play gangsters). But DeMille also moves beyond the clichés he’s handling. The Jewish tailor who is murdered, thus generating the plot, begins as a stereotype out of Abie’s Irish Rose, but as he clings to his independence he becomes individual and admirable.
The critic and screenwriter Andrew Bergman called the film a bizarre amalgam of Joseph Goebbels and Corliss Archer, although the film provides an example of fairly advanced racial politics. One of the high school students is a young black man named George (Onest Conley), who is enlisted in a plot to kidnap the gangster. “Do you shine shoes?” one of the kids asks him.
“I shine my own,” he replies.
During the kidnapping, the black student plays the part of a shambling Stepin Fetchit. When the gangster is bound and stuffed into the car, a passerby asks “What was that?”
“That’s a high school fraternity initiation! Yes, ma’am,” the character says, as he tosses the dialect aside.
THIS DAY AND AGE captures DeMille at a moment when he, like most of America, was enraged by a void in authority that had led to the stock market crash and a worldwide depression. “We haven’t got time for any rules of evidence,” yells the leader of the teenage vigilantes. DeMille understood authority as only an autocrat can, and he was voicing dangerously Democratic sympathies—“I am not a radical, but now things are a question of right and wrong,” he said. “The public has been milked and are growing tired of it. It is not [financial] speculation alone. There is something rotten at the core of our system.”
The climax is an uncomfortable sequence where the gangster (Charles Bickford) is trussed up and lowered into a pit full of rats. It’s a fairly obvious variation on the climax of Fritz Lang’s M, and was pointed out as such by several critics. When the police arrive, they decide to support the kids, and a local judge is woken up and convenes a new trial that will certainly find the gangster guilty. Shot in a little more than four weeks for a cost of $279,811, THIS DAY AND AGE was released in August 1933, and grossed $668,375, eking out a profit of $21,712.
The last full-featured film before the dinner break was D.W. Griffith’s ISN’T LIFE WONDERFUL (1924). Although I own a (not so good) copy of this on DVD, I was more than happy to view it for my first time on film with live musical accompaniment.
It’s the story of a family of Polish refugees who immigrate to Germany just after WWI comes to an end. They are very poor, and life is hard. The patriarch, a professor (Erville Alderson), takes what work he can marking papers for a local school. Inga (Carol Dempster), an orphan taken in by the family when she was a child, is totally devoted to the family. As well, she is in love with one of the sons, Paul (Neil Hamilton) who she grew up with alongside his brother Theodor (Frank Puglia). The feeling is reciprocal.
Another newly “adopted” family member is Rudolph played by Lupino Lane. It was especially interesting to get a chance to see Lane in a serious film, even if his role still falls somewhat into the category of comic relief, because he is one of the famous Lupinos, second cousin to Ida.
The story contains aspects of sacrifice, love, villainy, hard work, illness, moderate success, with the high point being that the possibility of losing the person you love most in the world would be the worst catastrophe of all.
I thought that Carol Dempster was very well cast as the always frail and starved-looking heroine. She kind of looked like an emaciated Tina Fey. Neil Hamilton, especially in the silent era, is always easy on the eyes.
Here’s what Michael Schlesinger had to say about the film in the Cinevent notes:
In 1924, Griffith was having a rough time. He’d directed three consecutive and costly flops, most recently America, and abandoned a fourth. He needed a hit desperately to hold up his end of United Artists. And he hand’t helped his situation by dumping Lillian Gish and replacing her with his “protégé” (wink, wink) Carol Dempster, who acting-wise wasn’t even in Mae Marsh’s league, let alone Gish’s. He felt that an uplifting romance set in contemporary Europe, which was still emerging from the rubble of The Great War, would do the trick.
It did not. ISN’T LIFE WONDERFUL, an ironic title under the circumstances, ended his relationship with the company he co-founded (and forced him to sell his studio in Mamaroneck). He moved over to Paramount—taking Dempster with him—where he fared little better. And the rest you know. But with nearly a century between then and now, the film looks much better, and falls neatly into Griffith’s Victorian-era universe of teary yet optimistic romance crossed with socio-political angst. To emphasize the latter, Griffith actually went to Germany and Austria to shoot the exteriors, thus taking advantage of the beautiful rural locations. The story begins, typically, with an orphan—in this case, Dempster (who in fairness gives a much better performance than in her previous films) who’s been living with a Polish family and has fallen in love with one of the sons (Hamilton, looking impossibly young) who’s off at the battlefront. He survives, but gas attacks—and not the knockwurst kind—have weakened him. The family moves to Berlin, but remains living in poverty. Despite his health, Hamilton gets a job at a shipyard, while brother Puglia works as a waiter. But the already notorious German inflation makes it nearly impossible to survive; there’s the justly-dismaying scene where Dempster stands in a long line to buy meat, only to watch in horror as the price keeps escalating.
Another jaw-dropper is a nightclub where the performers have to wear paper costumes. (Knowing the horrors to come make scenes like these even more intense today.) Yet her devotion to him, and his family, speaks to the deep well of courage each of us has deep inside if we’re willing to dig for it. (But it’s not entirely doom-and-gloom; Lane and Alderson provide some necessary light relief, and there is a happy ending, though one that feels suspiciously tacked-on.)
Alas, the intertitles are as florid as ever, from the weird opening cards to try to justify the decision to shoot on location, as if any were needed, to such dialogue as “Yes, beasts we are! Beasts they have made us! Years of war and hell—beasts they have made us!” (This at least provided useful training for Hamilton, who had to deliver even more purple dialogue over 40 years later as Commissioner Gordon.) Yet despite its B.O. belly-flop, the reviews were extremely good….(And the following year, Charley Chase gave it a hat tip by making Isn’t Life Terrible?) Today, in an era where Griffith’s name has been besmirched by ignoramuses who think Birth of a Nation is the only film he ever made—or that it’s representative of all of them—it’s always important to remember that that was the exception, not the rule, especially when less-often-seen films like this one are given the opportunity to be enjoyed once more, or for the first time, as a reminder that his humanity was as great as his talent.
All this does is leave me looking forward to finding the time to read Richard Schickel’s biography “D.W. Griffith: An American Life” and learn more.
As per usual, I skipped a presentation and the Charley Chase Shorts. I really shouldn’t skip the Charley Chase Shorts because I actually quite like the bitter, ironic Charley. He can be very funny and nasty. But I didn’t want to miss the two films later that evening, the latter not starting till close to 11:00 p.m.
The first film up was SLIGHTLY SCARLET (1956) in beautiful Technicolor, directed by my compatriot, Toronto-born Allan Dwan. Based on a book by James M. Cain, it’s a noirish film about two sisters, June Lyons (Rhonda Fleming), the gorgeous kind of good sister and Dorothy (Arlene Dahl) the equally gorgeous but bats**t crazy, sexually-warped bad sister. And for a moment earlier on, I thought she was the nice one. I had made up a scenario in my head based on what had so far occurred that made me think—it’s really June who’s the bad one and has set up poor Dorothy to take the fall which sent her to jail. The film begins where June picks up Dorothy from outside a jail, brings her to live with her in her plush home equipped with maid Martha [Ellen Corby] all along telling Dorothy she didn’t have the funds to get her out of the can any earlier; June is stringing her nice-guy boyfriend/politician-boss Frank Jansen (Kent Taylor) along—he’s madly in love with her; and she falls easily into making out with—whether good guy or bad; she and we don’t know yet—Ben Grace (John Payne).
So one night while in her twin bed in the bedroom she shares with June, Dorothy confesses she could fall for Ben. Another thing her sister has taken from her, I thought, a chance of happiness with nice guy Grace. Doesn’t she already have rich, handsome boss Jansen swooning over her? And what’s up with this sharing of a bedroom?! There wasn’t another extra bedroom in this rather sprawling house so that each woman couldn’t sleep in a room of her own?! What was the psychology behind that—or dare I ask? Both Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl were gorgeous. Put them together in one bedroom, and I can only imagine—but won’t go there—as to what thoughts prevailed in the minds of most of the males in the audience. Not to mention what thoughts popped up with regard to one particular negligee that Rhonda tossed and turned in.
Once I made this confession out loud to my companion—the one about thinking Dorothy was the nice sister, not the negligee thought—it became almost immediately apparent in the next scene that I didn’t know what I was thinking. Dorothy was creepily crazy.
Perhaps that’s what makes the film extra delicious, this inability to immediately peg people. As I mentioned above, Ben Grace’s motives are hard to pin-point, but become clearer as the story progresses. There’s an unintentionally amusing visual when the 6’ 2½” Ben meets with the 5’ 7½” Detective Lt. Dave Dietz (Frank Gerstle). There is a desk between them and it appears as if Payne is standing on a platform overlooking Gerstle behind his desk.
In the last year or so, I’ve inadvertently seen a number of John Payne films, Star Dust, Footlight Serenade, 99 River Street, The Boss, with the two former from the 40s and the two latter, the 50s. Besides the fact that Payne was also a singer playing in many musicals in his earlier films, I also noticed a big physical change in him between these two decades. At first I wondered if it was due to a serious facial accident he had when hit by a car, but the accident occurred in 1961, so I suppose it was just the aging process and how it personally affected him as an individual.
But back to the film at hand. There’s the gangster theme, with top-notch thug-isms led by Ted de Corsia as Solly Caspar, including an uncredited appearance by George E. Stone as Roos. A line that stuck out for me was, I believe one of Ben’s just before he pulls the trigger: “I don’t like killing people; never did.” Sort of relatable, I say.
Suggested by one of my film friends just after the screening was that he thought that Arlene Dahl’s performance should have earned her an Oscar nomination. Her performance was quite squirm-worthy, to say the least!
Here’s some of what Richard M. Roberts had to say about the film in the Cinevent notes:
“Love’s Lovely Counterfeit” was never one of James M. Cain’s more popular novels—start with a tongue-tripping title and bad timing in its publication in 1942, making its depiction of corrupt politics in a major US city something wartime America didn’t really want to consider, no matter how true. The critics also seemed to think it a lesser work in comparison to Cain’s previous books like “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Mildred Pierce”, which, along with Cain’s next published novel, “Double Indemnity”, would cement his immortality cinema-wise in the mid-forties as big-hit movies came out yearly. Despite all the studios chomping for Cain novels, no one bit on “Counterfeit”, and no film of it would surface until fourteen years after its publication.
This is indeed somewhat odd, as it seemed a film noir natural, with an anti-hero lead that would fit casting of any of the crime drama’s favorite sons… Perhaps the main plot was a little too close to Dashiell Hammett’s “The Glass Key”, already made into two film versions by Paramount, and the secondary plot-thread involving the protagonist’s involvement with a gorgeous female political insider and her equally gorgeous but criminally psychotic sister, was perhaps a bit too rocky to maneuver through production code-wise.
So fast-forward to fourteen years later, with the whole late-labelled “Film Noir” cycle nearing its end, John Garfield already dead, Bogie heading for the boneyard and Jimmy Cagney a bit too old for it, but enough teeth removed from the Breen Office to have a little more fun with “Counterfeit’s” mangy mix of love, lust, potential incest and political chicanery, and we have not only the first noir film version of Cain’s more obscure hard-boiled tome, but also the rarity of rarities——–a Technicolor as well!
Really, can there be such a thing as Technicolor black? Wasn’t film noir, even for a made-up-after-the-fact pretentious French critic term (remember, no one in Hollywood making these films at the time ever called them noir, they were crime dramas) the land of monochrome, blacks and whites full of shadow, smoke, and very few shades of grey? Well, what the hell, why not. Especially when you’re making a noir featuring two sisters with heads aflame, heads the color of blood……..
The film’s re-title then begins to make sense. SLIGHTLY SCARLET sells it, it rolls over the tongue with more rough familiarity than Cain’s original, and suddenly that sexy secondary plot seems to be pushing itself forefront, easy to do when the two sexy sisters are played by Rhonda Fleming (good) and Arlene Dahl (bad), two babes Technicolor seems to have been invented for.
SLIGHTLY SCARLET was the brainchild of curious independent producer Benedict Bogeaus, who came to the business in the early 1940’s, after a career in real estate, radio manufacturing, and zipper making. Bogeaus managed to acquire the busy General Service Studio in Hollywood from ERPI, its previous owners, in 1942, outbidding soon-to-be-competing independent producer Edward Small for the facilities….
…Bogeaus hired a capable and reliable director make the(se) films. Allan Dwan was then on his fifth decade in the business…
…By the time he (John Payne) made SLIGHTLY SCARLET, he was more known for playing tough-guys than warbling a melody. As Ben Grace, caught in an ever-deepening hole of political and criminal double-dealing while also double-dealing with the two hot sisters, Payne gives a rather good performance that makes him both tough and shrewd, yet frequently bewildered at his own predicament….
…Some film noir “experts” argue as to whether SLIGHTLY SCARLET is truly “noir” (hmmmmm, experts of a genre that really didn’t exist in Hollywood to begin with passing judgment on whether or not a film can or can’t be considered a part of same non-existent genre? And they make fun of trekkies who speak Klingon). Ah well, most of them are into it just so they can wear the hats anyway. Whatever the heck it is, SLIGHTLY SCARLET is a solid, strange, wild and wacky movie shot in a crackpot canvas of solid colors and chiaroscuro, which will look even more eye-popping in the original IB Technicolor print Cinevent is going to show you. Though no expert will ever call it a screamin’ bonafide classic, maybe it is indeed unclassifiable because it is truly one-of-a-kind.
The last film of the night was WHITE TIGER (1923), directed by Tod Browning. I didn’t want to miss this and for the most part, didn’t. The story begins when a father of two young children, in criminal partnership with a man named Hawkes (Wallace Beery) is betrayed and killed. The boy is left to fend for himself while the little girl is taken away and brought up by Hawkes. Young Roy (Raymond Griffith) swears to avenge his father and what he believes is the death of his sister, Sylvia (Priscilla Dean). The siblings, unbeknownst to each other, grow up and continue in the same line of work as their father before them.
One evening, the two meet up and are immediately attracted. This could be very interesting, I thought. However, we are told just as immediately in no uncertain terms that they are attracted by their minds and personalities only, not romantically. I guess some subjects were just too taboo. And to make sure that nothing untoward forms between the brother and sister, Sylvia is pursued by the upstanding Dick Longworth (Matt Moore) and eventually succumbs to his charms.
Roy operates a mechanical chess-player which enables him to steal jewelry and other valuables from his mark. Sylvia, a pickpocket in her own right, works with Hawkes, now calling himself Count Donelli. He as well has no recognition of the now-grown Roy when insisting they go into partnership together. For some reason, Roy, at this stage in the game, doesn’t recognize Hawkes either.
One of the interesting aspects to the film was learning how the mechanics of the chessman worked. Certainly in this day and age with all the technology and magic we are subject to, the mechanical chessman looks simple. But it was still a good con and fun for us, especially during a “Teller and Penn” show and tell reveal. Since “white tigers” symbolize cosmic forces in the world, and Browning used carnival themes in many of his films due to his personal background, I’m surmising that this is the reasoning behind the title.
Here’s what Eric Grayson had to say in the Cinevent notes:
…Director Tod Browning has an odd habit of annoying people even after his 1962 death. Often called a “hack,” because his films are repetitive, sometimes called an “auteur” for the same reason, Browning’s films are frustrating and still engaging. WHITE TIGER was not his last film for Universal. That honor falls to Drifting (1923), which was actually released before this film. The studio brass decided that they didn’t like WHITE TIGER, so it sat on a shelf for most of a year before it was recut and released.
This may have been the first time that the studio interfered with one of Browning’s pictures, but it would not be the last. Browning was beset with contradictory instructions: the studio wanted him to make a successful crime drama like Outside the Law, with almost all the elements the same, but they wanted something fresh and different, too. Priscilla Dean, who starred in nine films for Browning, was particularly adept at turning from a sweet-looking innocent to a hardened criminal in the blink of an eye. This ability, like Lon Chaney’s uncanny knack for looking like someone shot his best friend, got them both stuck in an acting rut.
As a result, WHITE TIGER is almost too much like Outside the Law, including the “locked-in-a-closet” climax that William K. Everson used to complain about. Browning’s crime drama films became such a staple of 1920s cinema that they are very cleverly spoofed in Paths to Paradise (1924), which is basically a send-up of WHITE TIGER… even down to having Raymond Griffith in the lead.
Browning had a couple of problems at this time. He was not only hindered by Universal’s front office (a common complaint), but he was drinking heavily. Scholars for years have doubted Browning’s claim that he was an active alcoholic between 1921 and 1925, given his constant filmic output, but Skal and Savada’s excellent book “Dark Carnival” shows that he really was having problems. Those few films that are available from this period show that the pep and flair that had been in evidence in his earlier films has been replaced with a flat businesslike approach to getting the film cranked out as quickly as possible.
It is interesting to note that Browning was sometimes given his wishes by a studio front office, and could turn in an interesting film as a result (Outside the Law, Virgin of Stamboul.) He was also willing to bend to studio pressure, and would gladly turn out a derivative product (WHITE TIGER, Where East is East). Occasionally, he would do something off the deep end (Freaks, The Unknown, The Show) which would annoy nearly everyone, requiring him to follow it up with a conventional money-maker movie.
That said, Browning’s movies at Universal are generally more interesting than his films at MGM (with a few notable exceptions.) Universal let him experiment a bit. The surviving footage of The Exquisite Thief is quite good, even inventive; Virgin of Stamboul is a departure for both Dean and Browning. Under Two Flags (1922) is said to be rather good as well, with Dean playing Cigarette, the part played by Claudette Colbert in the 1936 remake.
Browning’s early films are rather difficult to see because of Universal’s policy of pitching nitrate, but a few 16mm prints were scattered to the winds in the 1930s when families could order Show-At-Home prints of any title in the vaults. This Show-At-Home print of WHITE TIGER used to belong to William K. Everson, who got a bit tired of it and decided to sell it in the early 1990s. It’s a little choppy at the beginning and there’s a minute or so of missing footage in the second reel, but all known prints seem to derive from this one.
So, in summation, if you love Tod Browning, then you’ll like WHITE TIGER. If you hate Tod Browning, well, you probably didn’t even make it this far into the notes.
Stay tuned for Day 3.
Saturday, June 4, 2016 – Day 3
Since sleeping is one of things you want to do in your room and not in the theatre, I slept late and missed the Annual Animation Program. As well, the first film of the day was HOUDINI (1953) and although it’s a beautiful colour print with two beautiful people cast in the lead roles, I chose to miss this one as well. I had watched it recently at home and there was a lot more to see in the day ahead. Unfortunately, though, this was my most difficult day for fatigue.
In HOUDINI, the few things that stood out for me is the fact that there was a lot of chemistry between real-life married couple Tony Curtis who played Harry and his then wife Janet Leigh who played Bess Houdini. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with as small a waist as Janet Leigh. When I was watching it with my son, we were both quite astounded by this. It felt that you could encircle both thumb and index finger around her waist and your fingers would touch.
Harry Houdini is always an interesting draw for most people, certainly myself. He made five films, directing as well the last one he starred in, in 1923. I’ve had the opportunity to see him in The Man from Beyond (1922), where he plays Howard Hillary, frozen in Arctic ice for the past 100 years, and is found, thawed, and returned to civilization only to believe he has discovered his lost love alive and kicking.
Okay, this has nothing to do with the film HOUDINI. I also believe some of the story-line in the 1953 film has not much to do with the real life of Houdini, but we know that’s how bio-films are usually made.
Here’s what Dave Harnack had to say in the Cinevent notes:
Cinevent’s movie magic weekend doesn’t miss a trick with HOUDINI, Paramount’s glorious period drama with fine production values—a modest $1.4 million budget showcased to maximum effectiveness by producer George Pal—along with George Marshall’s crisp direction and Philip Yordan’s mobile script. Pal apparently incorporated a similar philosophy with HOUDINI as he did the same calendar year with War of the Worlds. In WOTW, Pal employed director Byron Haskin to approach it as more of an action film than simply a cerebral exercise; this is also true of HOUDINI.
Both Marshall and prolific writer Yordan certainly move the picture at more than just an ample pace. Each chapter along the celluloid continuum is carefully compartmentalized to maintain each sequence’s importance in motivating Houdini’s historic (and ultimately tragic) steps. Individual acts are treated uniquely, yet the flow and sweep is natural and never feels too segmented or interrupted (aided greatly by George Tomasini’s editing), delivering a well-paced drama with satisfying dosses of wit and charm. At the day of CinemaScope and other widescreen process, one wonders if HOUDINI (shot in fall of 1952) had been made a year later if the studio would have employed one of them.
Also anchoring Houdini is rising star Tony Curtis, initiating a 12-year runto eventual supernova status…. Curtis’ flawless profile and well-sculpted physique—accented by his twinkling eye charm—consumed audiences from the start. Surprisingly, his early bit roles were mostly heavies, though later his GQ looks never fully betrayed the subsequent character range afforded to him. Curtis was able to effectively portray less-than-amiable characters such as the hateful John Jackson in The Defiant Ones, and the unscrupulous press agent Sydney Falco in The Sweet Smell of Success….
Curtis was blessed with a mesmerizing screen idol face, projecting almost a Greek god-like quality at times (especially accentuated by skilled cinematographers). Athletic, charming and conveying a natural screen presence, he is in command from the first frame; and his zeal for the real life character only helps to add another layer of authenticity. His quiet intensity is perfectly suited for one of the film’s best sequences, involving a straight-jacket escape competition at a formal dinner. Also authentic is Curtis’ showmanship and ability as a noted amateur magician, further enhancing our belief in him as Houdini.
Curtis’ real-life spouse Janet Leigh lays movie-wife Bess Houdini; the two would be a couple again in The Black Shield of Falworth and Who Was That Lady? Other than a few late 1940s leads, Leigh’s own career virtually paralleled Curtis’ screen stardom stretch from the early 1950s through the mid-1960s. Leigh consistently dignified her roles and could “commandeer” the delicate female support role and infuse a spirited head-strong persona. Leigh does this effortlessly in our film… Her more than just the “dutiful wife” in Houdini projects an authentic dichotomy of both support and challenge to Curtis throughout the picture, most notably during two particularly harrowing—and potentially marriage terminating—sequences.
More than just an “Honorable Mention” emphatically goes to seven-time Oscar nominee and winner Ernest Laszlo… His incredible shining Technicolor cinematography glistens from the opening carnival sequence of balloons and facades to the fabulous interiors of the European sets. (The gowns of Leigh and Angela Clarke, as Houdini’s mother, along with the soldier’s uniforms at the formal dinner, are pure eye candy.)…
In a private conversation held with Ms. Leigh back in July of 2000, I had the privilege of spending some quality time with her regarding Prince Valiant and HOUDINI. She commented not just on how much she enjoyed working on both films (including Tony Curtis and Robert Wagner), BUT how much time was dedicated to just getting ready for most of her scenes due to the “costume” element. It was “My gosh, all of that time spent with lighting and readying me to look right for those beautiful gowns…and the attention to my face and hair too! And all for just a very few minutes on film!”
The first afternoon film was HIS PICTURE IN THE PAPERS (1916), directed by John Emerson, with Douglas Fairbanks. Along with Emerson, the story was written with friend, lover and eventual wife, Anita Loos. The title of the film conveys the gist of the story, with Pete Prindle (Fairbanks) going from scheme to scheme to get his picture in the paper to win the hand of his love, Christine Cadwalader (Loretta Blake) before the ending. While doing so, he gets himself in many finger-biting but humorous predicaments, all done with Fairbank’s athletic finesse.
It’s certainly an early send up of health foods and their lack(!) of benefits..unless you hide more enjoyable ingredients, such as alcohol in your father’s company’s packaging.
Just after they both have dined at his father’s vegetarian restaurant, Pete and the daughter of his father’s best customer meet up at a local restaurant where they both can indulge on…meat.
Pete is also tastier in Christine’s eyes than the fiancé her father has forced upon her, Melville (Homer Hunt).
But when Pete comes a-courting, Cassius Cadwalader (Charles Butler) won’t agree to a union of the two lovebirds unless Pete can obtain a half-interest in his father’s company. Meanwhile, just so you know, there’s a blackmailing situation going on which Christine’s father is the victim of.
But Pete has always been lazy when it comes to working for his father’s company. When his father shows him that his two sisters have done more work than him just by getting their photo in the paper and promoting his goods, Pete is sure that he can easily do the same. And that’s when he comes up with Scheme Number 1: fake car accident. He has his professionally done portraits ready along with his spiel but all he finds in the paper the next day is a tiny, little two liner with no photo, lost in the middle of one of the inner pages.
Now for Scheme Number 2: to fight Battling Burke in a boxing match. Pete gets there in the nick of time to fight, wins, but just as the photos are taken, the police raid the joint. Foiled again.
Scheme Number 3: being miraculously cured of a life-long illness. Totally unbelievable and not a positive way to promote health food products.
Scheme Number 4: consult a psychic. Pete never makes it there. After going drinking with his friend and used as a live cocktail shaker, they put the sleeping inebriate on-board a cruiser. To get back to the shore, he jumps ship and swims back. While pyjama clad and still clutching the umbrella Christine gave him at scheme 2, he fights with police officers resisting arrest, spends a night in jail, and still doesn’t get him what he wants—his picture in the paper!
Remember the blackmailing scheme? Well, by happening to be at the wrong place at the right time, he is able to foil the dastardly deed and save over 200 lives.
And that, happy viewers, brings on the happy ending. If you are a von Stroheim fan, watch out for him as one of the blackmailing Weazels.
Here’s what Samantha Glasser had to say in the Cinevent notes:
Douglas Fairbanks is larger than life in HIS PICTURE IN THE PAPERS, his fourth film appearance. Audiences at the Knickerbocker Theatre premier on February 10, 1916 applauded him upon his first entrance in the film, indicating his quick rise in popularity. One critic wrote, “He is apparently in a class all by himself, at once an athlete of resource and daring, and a subtle interpreter of the amusing side of human nature.”
Writers Anita Loos of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” fame and John Emerson craft a story about a man who can only appeal to his sweetheart if he inherits half of his father’s health food business. His father (Clarence Handyside) advises that in order to inherit, he must drum up publicity for the company. They poke fun at health food enthusiasts and nepotism along the way. Emerson and Fairbanks were already friends from the Broadway stage and worked together well in films. Loos and Fairbanks went on to work together on nine movies. Emerson also directs and utilizes lots of quick cuts to keep the action on pace with Fairbanks’ antics. His trademark athleticism is on full display as he leaps over beds, climbs buildings and boxes other fit men in an attempt to gain fortune.
Much of Fairbanks’ charm comes from his genuine personality. He loved to improvise on the script. In one scene, he stands in a rainstorm under the window of his girlfriend who was supposed to come down and bring him an umbrella. Instead, Fairbanks climbed the building to retrieve it, and the scene became unique and memorable. In another, he finds a junk auto wearing a sign that says, “Take me home for $83.99.” Absent from Loos’ personal script was the bit with Fairbanks taking the sign off the car and adorning himself with it. In a 1939 interview, Loos said Fairbanks was as much involved in the writing process as she and Emerson and that often Fairbanks’ ideas went over best with audiences.
According to Tracy Goessel’s “The First King of Hollywood”, this film was shot at Triangle studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey in October and finished before wintertime. Exteriors were shot on Riverside Drive and in Atlantic City, and the boxing match was shot at the Sharkey Athletic Club in New York. Famous featherweight boxer Terry McGovern has a cameo as a referee. Look for future auteur Erich von Stroheim in a bit part as a tough guy.
It was just after the film was completed that Fairbanks and his wife Beth attended a party hosted by Elsie Janis in Tarrytown, NY where he met Mary Pickford….
And the rest made history. To view this film online, click here.
Following the film there was a shorts program, featuring the comedic druggy short, THE MYSTERY OF THE LEAPING FISH (1916). I have seen it on several occasions and caught the tail end where coked up Coke Ennyday (Fairbanks) saves The Little Fish Blower (Bessie Love) from impending doom.
Next up was LAW BEYOND THE RANGE (1935), a western directed by Ford Beebe. Considering he was a prolific screenwriter and director, he was a stranger to me.
I didn’t always enjoy westerns, but there are some I have come to tolerate and even enjoy and this was one. The basic story is about Ranger Tim McDonald (Tim McCoy) who loses his job when he defends friend Johnny Kane (Robert Allen) on a murder charge. When Tim sets up fighting crime as a newspaperman elsewhere, he also finds romance with Gloria Alexander (Billie Seward). I have a hard time remembering most of the film, but the one scene that stood out for me was the shootout. I don’t know if this shooting technique was used too often in films, but it was the incredible two-gun two-handed up-and-down motion that ended with our hero as the victor. Another unusual idea was the interesting choice of using the backside of old wallpaper rolls for printing material when the paper stock was lost when the office was bombed. Nothing could stop the presses or the news getting out!
Here is just some of what Richard M. Roberts had to say in the Cinevent notes:
It’s getting’ darn near time that Cinevent should start running the occasional “B” Western from the 1930s and 40s. This genre has, in the last few decades, become a forgotten and neglected one. The collectors and fans who grew up seeing them at Saturday morning matinees were indeed die-hard, and as time passed, they also unfortunately died off, leaving no new generation to find a way to fall in love with these films in the same fashion.
…In the 1920s, Tim McCoy was a big enough star to make films for MGM, coming to the studio in 1926 and joining films with an impressive non-theatrical career already behind him. Timothy John Fitzgerald McCoy was born April 10, 1891 in that gar-out Wild West town of Saginaw, Michigan, the son of the Saginaw police chief. While attending S. Ignatius College in Chicago, McCoy went to a wild west show and was immediately entranced by it. Leaving school, McCoy roamed and settled in Wyoming. After finding work at a cattle ranch, Tim soon became an expert horseman and roper, and he became well versed in the languages and customs of the local Wyoming Indian tribes. He was working the rodeo circuit when America entered World War I, and Tim enlisted in the U.S. Army where he was commissioned and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Returning to Wyoming after the Armistice, McCoy was soon called by Governor Bob Carry to assume the post of Adjutant General of Wyoming’s National Guard, carrying the brevet promotion of Brigadier General, reportedly making McCoy the youngest general in the U.S. Army.
This commission called on McCoy’s Indian experience in his numerous dealings with the Wind River Reservation tribes, both Arapahoe and Shoshone, and in 1922, his reputation for diplomatic working with native-Americans brought him to the attention of Jesse Lasky, who asked him to be the liaison for and to provide several hundred Indian extras to work on paramount’s historical epic, The Covered Wagon. McCoy as so may other did, found the movie business exciting, and after completing his work on the James Cruze film, he resigned from his state position and took off for Hollywood, bringing several Indians with him to be in a live prologue Paramount used to introduce the feature. McCoy toured with this group and the picture all over America and Europe, and returned to Hollywood afterwards to secure further work as a technical advisor with an eye to becoming an actor.
…Ford Beebe started in the industry in 1916 as a writer at Universal, also scripting the Helen Holmes serials produced and directed by J.P. MacGowan. That experience made Beebe able to move in 1920 to writing and directing western two-reelers for Universal featuring Hoot Gibson and Leo Maloney. Beebe and Maloney struck up a friendly working relationship that led to Beebe following Maloney over to the western star’s own Malobee Productions in 1922, where Ford wrote and directed Maloney’s self-produced short and feature westerns for Pathé release.
…LAW BEYOND THE RANGE is actually a newspaper/political drama masquerading in the sagebrush. Tim McCoy plays Tim Mcdonald, who is dismissed from the Texas Rangers for letting his friend Johnny Kane (Robert Allen) escape when he is accused of murder. So Tim sets off to a town where the local newspaper is run by his friend George Alexander, who dies mysteriously as his paper is taking on local rober baron Daniel Heston and his mob. To save the paper, Tim becomes its editor-in=chief, and continues the crusade against Heston, even getting involved with the local election and Alexander’s nifty daughter (Billie Seward).
…LAW BEYOND THE RANGE was one of Tim McCoy’s last Columbia westerns. His five-year contract was expiring, and he was looking to move elsewhere. His fellow Columbia cowboy Buck Jones had moved to Universal for the 1933-34 season. The same year Harry Cohn decided to put McCoy in different hats and star him in an action series of features where he played policemen, firemen, auto racers and interestingly, newspaper reporters. Though McCoy proved himself capable in these different roles, Jones’ departure and McCoy’s own love of the West returned him to boots and saddles for 1934-35. This last season had produced some of McCoy’s best films, yet Tim perhaps unwisely signed with producer Sigmund Newfield to make independent westerns for his Puritan Pictures for the 1936-37 season. McCoy would get the same money he had gotten at Columbia, but the films cut corners in lower production budgets, though they are still solid westerns and McCoy’s fine acting skills keep them interesting.
McCoy then also made the same mistake that many of his fellow cowboy stars made in the 30s that guaranteed bankruptcy—he formed his own touring wild west show. These moving money-holes had also wiped out Tom Mix, Ken Maynard and Buck Jones. McCoy was no different, after several years with it, he was forced to close and return full-time to the movie business. By 1940, the western market was tighter than ever, and the Hopalong Cassidy three-man trio formula: older star, younger romantic hero, and comic sidekick, became a popular trend in B westerns. The older stars found themselves close-out packaged into team series like Republic’s popular Three Mesquiteers franchise. Both in need of funds and careers sagging, McCoy and Buck Jones signed with Monogram to find themselves triple-billed with silent-film veteran Raymond Hatton playing a crusty-but-capable comic sidekick as the “Rough Riders,” three U.S. Marshalls who would ride into town incognito and clean it up. This series turned out to e both amazingly good and very successful for the 1941-42 season, but it sadly ended with the untimely death of Buck Jones in the Copacabana Nightclub fire in Boston in 1942, and Tim McCoy’s reactivation of his lieutenant-colonel commission at the start of World War Two.
McCoy was already tiring of the movie business—an unsuccessful political campaign as the Republican nominee for Wyoming senator would have removed him from the series had he won. McCoy remained in the military until the end of the war, and in the late 40s found himself yet again a civilian, so he returned to touring in wild west shows, continuing into the 1970s. In the 50s, he would host western movie showings on Los Angeles television, and film his own 30 minute Tim McCoy Show in 1952 where he would talk on all aspects of western and historical lore. He also made occasional movie appearance like his cameo in Mike Todd’s Around the World in 80 Days (1956) and supporting role in Run of the Arrow (1957). McCoy also had operated and lived on a Bucks County, Pennsylvania farm he had bought in the 1940s, where he had met his second wife, the jet-setting Swedish news photographer and journalist Inga Arvad, and they later moved to a new home in the Southern part of Arizona between Fort Huachuca and Nogales, where he wrote his autobiography, “Tim McCoy Remembers the West” in the mid 1970s. He passed away in Fort Huachuca on January 29, 1978.
After the Laurel and Hardy short: MEN O’ WAR (1929), CALIFORNIA STRAIGHT AHEAD! (1938) was introduced by author Scott Eyman whose latest biography is “John Wayne: The Life and Legend”. Never much of a John Wayne fan myself, I was interested in seeing this little-known film where Wayne plays Biff Smith, a school bus driver, who goes into the trucking business with old buddy Charlie Porter (Emerson Treacy). They go up against the local trucking company monopoly who do all they can to make the two partners life difficult, including a nasty trick which ends up causing Charlie’s death. This shakes Biff up all the more, considering he was the one who was originally suppose to have driven the truck containing that particular load of nitrate-glycerine. This leaves love interest Charlie’s sister Mary (Louise Latimer) and his mother (Grace Goodall) at odds with their feelings for Biff who had promised that Charlie would never have had to drive a truck carrying something so dangerous.
By the end of the film, Biff is racing against time—and a freight train—to get his load of aviation parts to the other end of the country. Will he make it?
I had to miss CRAZY HOUSE (1943), directed by Edward F. Cline, featuring Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson. I heard from some friends who viewed it that it was their least favourite film of the festival, so I didn’t feel too badly. I wanted to see the last two films but failed miserably.
The first was THE FIGHTING EAGLE (1927), directed by Donald Crisp, starring Rod La Rocque and Phyllis Haver. I like those two actors and except for some sword fighting here and there while wearing a crazed smile on our hero’s face, I really have no idea what the story was about.
So here’s what John McElwee had to say in the Cinevent notes:
Talking pics that mocked, or paid “affectionate” tribute, to the silent era would often re-stage sword duels where under-cranked heroics roused both laughs and memory of vanished movie-going. Singin’ in the Rain, Dreamboat, and more recent The Artist convinced us that here was voiceless action in a nutshell, but how close was simulations to the real thing long out of circulation? THE FIGHTING EAGLE and survivors like it might provide an answer. Rod La Rocque as a cavalier lead seems ripe for later parody, as few romancers from the 20s date so floridly, the name La Rocque suggesting press agentry ideal to dress a marquee, and yet…it was his own. Could providence gift a future thespian with so splendid a lable as “Rod La Rocque”? He’d thrive so long as titles did talking for him. With sound, however, came cruel ruination, for Rod’s was a voice utterly lacking in expression, less like a film star than your neighbor selling brooms for the Rotary Club. (I always thought he sounded like a less enthusiastic Vincent Price—Caren).
Whatever glamour clung to La Rocque got stripped away too by shifting taste in screen idols. He’d hang on, work from time to time, and stay lifelong wed to Vilma Banky, their ceremony an ultimate of Hollywood artifice that disguised true commitment beneath. La Rocque had keen insight into fame and fleeting nature of same, his interview in The Real Tinsel outstanding among many in that compilation of celebrity chats.
THE FIGHTING EAGLE came toward a finish for silent, being produced by Cecil B. DeMille for the independent company he had established after leaving Paramount. DeMille had to watch pennies in his own shop, so farmed out direction for THE FIGHTING EAGLE (Donald Crisp gets the credit) and kept spending to minimum. We might speculate as to C.B.’s creative contribution, even as period-set action and costume flavor suggest guiding hand of the epic-maker. DeMille might well have been distracted by business matters however, for his indie output, released through Pathe, saw tough time getting dates at better theatres (more detail in Scott Eymans fine DeMille bio).
As with Fairbanks vehicles and the last couple Valentino did, THE FIGHTING EAGLE was not to be taken too seriously. Critics noted with approval a light touch brought to bear on this yarn built around Napoleon-era intrigue, Rod La Rocque a young braggart who gets in hot water for claiming close alliance with the Emperor.
THE FIGHTING EAGLE is fun sampling of programmers that satisfied fan-base in 1927, its berth shared at most venues by live vaudeville, plethora of short subjects, or music recital. In whatever mix, here was a programmer typical of its day, aided by extras to fill an evening’s time and money’s worth.
Hoping to stay awake and be frightened by the last film of the evening, THE MONKEY’S PAW (1948), not only was it no-thrills a minute, but it was unintentionally funny when one actor would mumble something in possibly a Scottish accent while his partner would reply in very clear English. So I’m sorry to say I really have no comment here either. I do hope those kids sitting in the first row who were allowed to stay up late, followed the story better than I did and got a chill or two out of it.
Here’s what Bob Bloom had to say in the Cinevent notes:
W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey Paw” was first published in 1902. The story centers on Mr. and Mrs. White and their adult son, Herbert. Sergeant-Major Morris, a friend of the Whites who served with the British Army in India, introduces them to the monkey’s paw, telling of its mysterious powers to grant three wishes and of its journey from an old fakir to his comrade, who used his third wish to wish for death. Sergeant-Major Morris, having had a bad experience upon using the paw, throws it into the fire but White quickly retrieves it. Morris warns White, but White, thinking about what the paw could be used for ignores him.
At Herbert’s suggestion, Mr. White wishes for £200 to be used as the final payment on his house, even though he believes he has everything he wants. The next day his son, Herbert, leaves for work at a local factory. Later that day, word comes to the White home that Herbert has been killed in a machinery accident. Although the employer denies any responsibility, the firm makes a goodwill payment to the Whites. The amount is £200.
Ten days after their son’s death and a week after the funeral, Mrs. White, almost mad with grief, asks her husband to use the paw to wish Herbert back to life. Reluctantly, he does so. Shortly afterwards there is a knock at the door. Mrs. White fumbles at the locks in an attempt to open the door. Mr. White knows, however, that he cannot allow their revived son in, as his appearance will be too hideous. Mr. White was required to identify the body, which had been mutilated by the accident. It has now been buried for more than a week. While Mrs. White tries to open the door, Mr. White makes his third wish. The knocking stops. Mrs. White opens the door to find no one there.
The story has been brought to the screen in several variations starting in 1915. Radio and television adaptations also have been plentiful. The 1948 film follows the basic plot, but in this version, the father wishes for the money in order to pay off a gambling debt and the son is killed in a motorcycle race. After the tragedy, his parents get the winning purse.
A contributor from the United Kingdom, writing under the name of Spikeopath, who commented on the film at the Internet Movie Database, wrote, “It’s such a strong premise in the story it has been mined many a time over the decades, in film, radio and televisions. Here we go back to a time of British cinema of minimal budgets, straight backed delivery of scripts and economical running times of just an hour. Norman Lee’s film is a splendid piece of atmospheric unease that makes the most of some sparse but effective sets, however, that is on proviso you can allow for its obvious limitations. It’s safe to say this will not terrify anybody, but it has the capacity to tingle the spine as the story builds to a finale played out in the flashes and bangs of a thunder storm. Right there, before a cheeky coda, suggestion is everything, proof once more that quite often what you don’t see is more frightening. …”
To view the film online, click here.
I hope to eventually get Day 4 immortalized here so stay tuned.
Sunday, June 5, 2016 – Day 4
The last day of Cinevent also happened to be my birthday and what could be the best gift ever but spending it at a vintage film convention with fun film friends?
Not that I couldn’t have watched it again, but since I had already seen THE SATURDAY NIGHT KID (1929) a couple of times and had written about it under my Short Reviews 2014 I chose to skip it this time around. It’s directed by A. Edward Sutherland, starring Clara Bow, Jean Arthur, James Hall, Edna May Oliver and a very early, uncredited bit part for Jean Harlow. If you want to read my review, click on the link above and scroll down to April 24th.
To watch the film online, click here.
Since it was a Clara Bow kind-of morning, the next film was KID BOOTS (1926), directed by Frank Tuttle, with Clara Bow, Eddie Cantor, Billie Dove and Lawrence Gray. I recognized a small scene at the beginning of this film, realizing I must have seen it sometime in the distant past, possibly when Toronto Film Society ran its Silent Series.
It’s the cute and funny story of a nebishy tailor’s apprentice, Samuel “Kid” Boots (Eddie Cantor) who falls for dumb bully Big Boyle’s (Malcolm Waite) girlfriend, Clara (Clara Bow). When Kid gets fired from the clothing business he ends up working for good-looking, wealthy Tom Sterling (Lawrence Gray) who is divorcing his wife Carmen (Natalie Kingston). But when Carmen discovers that Tom has inherited a bundle of money, she, with her lawyer, scheme to keep the marriage appear intact by hook or by crook.
Meanwhile Tom and sidekick Boots head off to a swanky hotel resort where—surprise, surprise—Clara and her dumb-cluck boyfriend happen to be working. There are lots of fun shenanigans that befall the kooky couple which totally endear Cantor and Bow to their audience, namely us! Tom, in the meantime, falls for Eleanore Belmore (Billie Dove) who’s vacationing with her father (William Worthington).
Tom wants to avoid any hanky-panky with Eleanore until his divorce comes through while Carmen and her lawyer do everything they can to make it appear as if Tom has spent the night with her to show that she is still sleeping with her husband. This backfires on Carmen when Tom sends Boots to take his place in his boudoir while he heads off to another town to avoid being caught in Carmen’s snare. But his car has an accident which messes up his alibi. And all of this comes to a head in the courtroom finale.
There is a most entertaining scene where Boots (typical guy) tries to make Clara jealous by pretending he’s lunching with Carmen, who had “vamped” him earlier and agreed to meet him for a date. Clara is sitting at the next table. When Carmen doesn’t show up, he hides her half of the table behind an open door, feminizes his left hand and arm and delights us with an amorous pantomime.
Natalie Kingston, in my estimation, was quite beautiful. She started out in 1923 playing in many shorts at Sennett’s Keystone “Fun Factory”, while her last uncredited bit part was in Only Yesterday (1933). A short career although she lived a long life, dying at the age of 86.
Here’s some of what Michael Schlesinger and the late Steven Haynes had to say about the film:
The first of Eddie Cantor’s two silent comedies. Here’s an example of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat: making a silent movie out of a Ziegfeld Broadway musical comedy is not necessarily a smart idea, even if you’re bringing over Eddie Cantor (in his feature debut) to repeat his role, but making Clara Bow the female lead (played on Broadway by Mary Eaton of Cocoanuts infamy) made it a commercial hit…. (Michael Schlesinger)
Variety had this to say about the popular stage performer’s big screen debut: “Eddie Cantor has arrived on the screen. Jesse Leaky stated that Cantor was a ‘natural’ for the screen before the rank and file in New York had seen the comedian’s first screen effort, KID BOOTS. It looks that way. […] Cantor is a “natural’ in more ways than one, as far as the screen is concerned. In fact, he has such a sense of natural comedy that those working with him were often broken up and hard put to it as Eddie would improvise a piece of business that was not in the script. As far as pictures are concerned, Eddie need not worry as to his future. He is set if ever a comedian was, and with his first effort.” This success was no doubt helped by the pairing with Clara Bow—in addition to benefiting from her previous film experience, it undoubtedly didn’t hurt that: “Clara and Cantor developed an immediate rapport, based on their similar backgrounds: born in a New York City ghetto and orphaned in early childhood, Cantor began entertaining professionally at age fourteen and was once a singing waiter at Coney Island, a job Robert Bow craved but was too incompetent to attain. Like Clara, Cantor’s fame had not enlarged his ego, and KID BOOTS’ cast and crew were often treated to songs and comedy routines between shots. Cantor also helped Clara with her comic timing, and in return she taught him how to play the camera. ‘She told me, Be yourself!’ the comedian wrote. ‘She is. She is never camera-conscious and acts on the set as she would in her home.’ One scene in KID BOOTS called for Clara to squabble with Cantor, and to his astonishment she simultaneously expressed anger and offered encouragement ‘While the camera ground away and caught all her pretty frowns, she was really saying, Eddie, ya doin’ fine! Just flash them banjo eyes and there ain’t nothing to it!” (David Stenn in “Runnnin’ Wild”)
It also never hurts that Cantor developed a good rapport with the director. In his autobiography “They Started Talking”, Frank Tuttle wrote “Eddie Cantor was as solid a citizen as you could find anywhere. His wife, Ida, and the Cantor girls were, in fact, a symbol of American family life. They were the ‘Joneses’ except that in this case, Mr. Jones was a great comic. In Beverly Hills, we had bungalows at the same hotel, and I saw a great deal of these warm and wonderful people during the filming of KID BOOTS.” (Steven Haynes)
To watch this film online, click here.
After the Laurel and Hardy short we saw THE PARSON OF PANAMINT (1941), directed by William C. McGann. It’s the story of Mayor Chuckawalla Bill Redfield (a more serious but nevertheless delightful Charlie Ruggles) searching for just the right Parson to entice his small mining town of Panamint, California to tend church. He heads to San Francisco and after a fight breaks out in a bar, he and Philip Phara (Phillip Terry) end up together behind bars. Unbeknownst to Chuckawalla, Philip is just the man he’s looking for, a heavens-to-Betsy school-trained Reverend. They shake on the employment offer.
The Reverend is one of the most honest men around and believes there is goodness in everyone—even the “bad” women working at the local bar and gambling hall. One of these women is Mary Mallory (Ellen Drew) who really is just a victim of circumstance and is eventually happy to turn her life around. She is loved by nice guy Bob Deming (Joseph Schildraut) but no good deed goes unpunished and this leaves an opening for Phara and Mary to find romance. There comes a point where the Reverend is in for a lynching and this causes all of us to worry.
Handsome Phillip Terry was married to Joan Crawford, his first wife, her third husband, from 1942 to 1946.
Here’s what Michael Haynes and Jeff Gordon had to say in the Cinevent notes:
…THE PARSON OF PANAMINT came near the end of director William McGann’s Hollywood career. He had started out in the 1910s as a cinematographer on pictures including several featuring Douglas Fairbanks…The Mark of Zorro among them. By the early days of sound film, he had moved into the director’s chair and he is credited on dozens of films, many of them Warner “B” films.
Peter B. Kyne, whose original story the film was based on, saw dozens of films produced based on his stories. As William K. Everson noted in “American Silent Film”, Kyne, like many other writers of the time saw little or no remuneration for the use of their stories during the early days of the silent era. Among the most notable of his works was The Three Godfathers, which was made into multiple films through the years. (Michael Hanes)
THE PARSON OF PARAMINT clicked with critics but not audiences. It had been filmed twice before, first in 1916 and then in 1922 as While Satan Sleeps. This version was made unconventional and intriguing by Adrian Scott and Harold Shumate’s screenplay, which treated the parson’s story with Christ-like allegories. There were, in fact, two Marys in the film. Janet Beecher was the saintly and mothering Mary Tweedy and Ellen played Mary Mallory, a rowdy saloon songbird who was reformed by the reverend. Not since If I Were King had Drew been cast in such a robust role. She acquitted herself admirably—singing lustily (dubbed by Martha Mears) and talking tough, before seeing the light and falling for the parson. Charlie Ruggles (Wesley Ruggle’s brother) gave an equally inspiring turn as Panamint’s penitent mayor. The casting of the relatively inexperienced Phillip Terry, however, might have been a large factor in the picture’s box-office failure. Terry delivered a sincere performance as the parson, but he lacked vitality. Critics of the day were kind to him, though, and thought more of the movie itself. The reviewer for the New York Times called it “A heartwarming and inspiring film which youngster and adult alike would do well to see in these troubled times.” (Jeff Gordon)
The second last film of the festival was THE TOMBOY (1924), directed by David Kirkland. A cute comedy about a young woman, Tommy Smith (Dorothy Devore) who dresses in overalls and does all things in a boyish manner (except for wearing pretty makeup). She runs a boarding house with her father Henry (James O. Barrows) an old geezer who she dearly loves. Aldon Farwell (Herbert Rawlinson) is an undercover agent who rents a room from them while on the trail of local bootleggers. When Sheriff Hiram (Lee Moran) is killed by the gang, Henry is framed for the murder. Tommy and Aldon team up together to catch the true culprits.
Richard M. Roberts had a lot to say in the Cinevent notes:
Dorothy Devore is not a name bandied about with any regularity, even among silent fans these days, but in the 1920s she was a popular comedienne who was able to break free of short comedies and become a leading lady at a major studio. Born Alma Inez Williams in 1899 in Fort Worth, Texas, she and her parents moved to Los Angeles when she was a child….When she was fifteen, Alma acted asher own manager and secured herself a producer for her own Dorothy Devore Revue, using the new stage name she had chosen. She worked as a headliner at Al Levy’s and other Los Angeles nightclubs for three years, and was about to sign for a vaudeville tour before her mother decided to keep her still underage daughter closer to home and had her look into a career in the movies.
Dorothy’s talent and vivacity was such that landing a job in the pictures was amazingly easy. She started at Nestor, a unit at Universal in 1917 where she became the leading lady to the popular comedy team of Eddie Lyons and Lee Moran, but she was soon noticed and signed by former Nestor Producer Al Christie who was striking out on his own as an independent. Christie had a knack for spotting comedy talent in attractive young women, having previously discovered Billie Rhodes and Betty Compson, who had both departed for green pastures as the struggling filmmaker did all he could to keep the Christie Comedy Company afloat.
Christie hired Dorothy in late 1918, and began co-starring her in one-reel comedies with comedians Earl Rodney and Bobby Vernon, and by 1920, it was obvious that Dorothy was ready to take on a series of her own. Finally financially stable, thanks to a new distribution contract with Educational Pictures in 1920, Christie promoted Dorothy Devore as one of his top stars, specializing in the polite, situational humor tinged with light slapstick that he had been developing since his earliest days in the Industry.
Devore soon became Christie’s top earner, taking home $1,500 a week, but by the early 1920s, she was asking for more. Christie had been loaning her out to feature producers (as he would for THE TOMBOY) while still making her short comedies, pocketing the extra money while paying her regular salary. But while she was at the other studios, she was fielding offers to decamp from Christie and began pushing him for a raise. Trying to keep her happy, Christie began production on a Dorothy Devore feature, Hold Your Breath (1924), but it soon became clear he was about to lose his star.
Devore had only a “gentleman’s agreement” with Christie, no formal contract, and when production on Hold Your Breath took longer than planned, she went to Christie and gave him an ultimatum–$2,500 a week to complete the picture or she would leave. Christie and his brother and business partner Charles apparently laughed, that was more than anyone apart from the brothers themselves were making, but Dorothy was adamant. Al Christie reminded her that he had built her up in the last few years and that perhaps she should allow him a little profit from that. Finally, she agreed to finish Hold Your Breath at her current salary, and make an additional six short comedies for him before she left the studio. Dorothy would finish the feature, but did not make the promised shorts, signing a contract with Warner Brothers instead for $2,500 a week.
The studio that was loaned Dorothy’s services for TOMBOY was the Mission Film Corporation, a small independent run by Leon Price whose product was being distributed by Chadwick Pictures Corporation. THE TOMBOY was finished before Hold Your Breath, but failed to beat the Christie feature into theatres. It shows off Dorothy Devore’s personality and acting skills more effectively than the slapstick-laden Christie feature, though both are enjoyable films. Devore was happier with THE TOMBOY because she wanted to become better known as a dramatic actress than a comedienne.
…Mission/Chadwick hired a good leading man to co-star with Dorothy, Herbert Rawlinson, British-born veteran who joined the Selig Polyscope Company in 1910 after years on the stage. Selig’s top star Hobart Bosworth had brought Rawlinson to the studio knowing of his stage work. He was soon another of Selig’s popular stars, playing in both comedy and drama. When Bosworth formed his own company to make features, he co-starred Rawlinson with him in the first version of Jack London’s The Seawolf in 1913.
Rawlinson moved to Universal in 1914 where his star rose even further heading a variety of feature dramas, adventures, comedies, and most successfully, serials. He remained there until 1919, when he set out as a freelancer continuing the same mix. By the time he made THE TOMBOY, his star was beginning to fade after nearly fifteen years in the business, but he was still giving understated, solid performances, here holding his own with his leading lady. He found parts drying up as the silent era came to a close, so returned to the Broadway stage, appearing in a number of well-received plays. Returning to Hollywood in 1933 now to old for leads, he found himself busy in character roles, his likable but dignified air of authority, acting abilities, and British accent allowing him to play everything from military leaders to bankers, ranch bosses to pirates…Herbert Rawlinson died the day after finishing his scenes in Jailbait, succumbing to lung cancer on July 12, 1953.
Director David Kirkland was also an old Sennett hand, starting as an actor at Essanay in 1912, moving to directing there in 1913. He joined Keystone in 1914, directing Mack Swain comedies. He moved to Universal in 1915, writing and directing short comedies for the Sterling and Henry Lehrman’s L-KO comedies, as well as his first feature in 1916, The Crippled Hand….He returned to Hollywood (from Mexico) in the late 30s and worked as a bit player finally retiring, passing away in 1964 at age 84.
As a Warner Brothers star, Dorothy Devore was put into both comic and dramatic features, or as she was at Christie loaned out to other studios. She soon found she was one of the first victims of the notorious Warner Brothers seven-year, 52-weeks a year contract, and found herself being worked to death making comedies…and dramas… In 1925 alone, Warner’s starred or loaned her out in 9 features, even forcing her to cancel her honeymoon when she wed millionaire Albert Mather, to replace an ailing actress. Yet Dorothy was shedding her slapstick reputation, earning money she thought she was worth, and getting star-billing, even sharing above-the-title credit with Ken Maynard when she was loaned to make Señor Daredevil at First National in 1926. Soon though, she began to wonder whether it was worth it, and thoroughly disliking Jack Warner, she finally had enough when the studio announced that her next leading man was—Rin-Tin-Tin!
And so Devore became the first in what would be a long list of Warner’s employees to revolt against the slavery that could be stardom there. She refused to make the dog picture, and the suspensions and squabbles with the studio began. Now married to a very wealthy man, she soon realized that rather than sue, she could buy out her contract. Though this bought her freedom, it also bought her a cold shoulder from the other major studios, for the word was out and in the 20s a star who defied one studio was not soon hired by another. Devore soon found that the only avenue still open to her was the short comedies where she had first made her name. Returning to Al Christie was not an option, there was still bad blood, but Dorothy was able to do the next best thing, negotiating a contract with Earle Hammons of Educational Pictures, Christie’s former distributor (Christie had departed to Paramount). Hammons remembered the money Devore had made for him in the early 20s, and gave her a dream deal: her own unit and near total control over production, including choice of director and cast, a three month shooting schedule per short, and reportedly a whopping $5,000 a week! This amount was claimed by Devore in an interview she gave to film historian Sam Gill in the 60s, but Babe London, her friend and supporting comedienne told him that could not be possible. Many star players were making less—Buster Keaton only made $3,000 a week at MGM. It is most likely that Devore’s Educational Comedies were financed to some degree by her wealthy husband.
While there may have been some degree of revenge towards Al Christie by Earle Hammons, hiring back one of Christie’s biggest stars was still a good idea. Dorothy Devore made comedies for Educational from 1927-29. The shorts were well-received and reviewed, but Educational was on the road to financial ruin once they lost Paramount’s theaters to exhibit in, and as talkies came in adding more expense, Devore’s contract was not renewed. She made only one more film, the 1930 feature Take the Heir, co-starring Edward Everett Horton, released in both sound and silent versions. The fact that the film was produced by Story Syndicate Productions (their only release) and distributed by small states right Big 4 productions says that it may have been a vanity film produced by Devore herself or it was the only offer she could get. Sadly, we cannot judge her only sound performance as only the silent version survives.
Dorothy Devore’s marriage to Albert Mather was, like so many things she went after, not quite what she bargained for. Mather was 20 years Dorothy’s senior, and an incurable philanderer. She threatened to divorce Mather on multiple occasions, but he continued to woo her back with money, gifts and promises to reform. However, reform he did not, and by 1932, Dorothy filed for divorce. Mather turned vindictive and dragged the case on for several years, countersuing on various charges, doing all he could to decimate whatever personal fortune she had. Finally free of him but nearly destitute by the mid30’s, Dorothy Devore essentially disappeared. Babe London recalled that she completely lost track of her from 1935 to 1951, when she went to the funeral of Al Christie. Babe scanned the crowd of old Christie veterans, and could not spot any sign of Devore. Finally Babe went up to former actress and writer Beatrice Van, and mentioned Devore’s absence. “Don’t be silly,” replied Van, pointing to an older-looking, somewhat plump woman in a shabby black dress, wearing sunglasses and a hat to hide her face, “That’s Dorothy over there.” Babe didn’t recognize her old friend, and when she approached, all she could get for a response was a quick “Hello Babe” before Dorothy walked away.
London did not see Devore again until both were residing at the Motion Picture Home in the mid-1960s. Sam Gill, who interviewed them both and became good friends with London, found Dorothy not only a bit imaginative in her interviews, but also found that Babe, who at first was delighted about her old friend coming to live there, began to seem a bit put out with her. Dorothy was “high-hatting” her and others at the home, putting on airs like she was a big star. Yet Dorothy did confide to Babe her version of events after her divorce. She said that she had wanted to escape Hollywood after what she had been through, and had left the U.S., ending up in Shanghai where she operated a nightclub/casino and slot machines in other parts of town, returning sometime after World War II. Babe London disputed this as well—she had often travelled to Hawaii and Asia in the 20s and 30s and knew full well that a single woman would have not been allowed to own a casino or other gambling interests. Confronted with this fact, Dorothy shrugged and answered, “Well, I did.”
Dorothy Devore passed away September 10, 1976. Whatever the true story of her life after movies, she had indeed been a star in the Hollywood firmament for however short a time. Her surviving short comedies, as well as THE TOMBOY, show that sparkle that made her one of the better comediennes of the 1920s, exhibiting charm, spunk, and personality aplenty on screen. If offscreen she exhibited a bit more spunk than was for her own good, she paid the price for it as well.
The very last film was KING OF ALCATRAZ (1938), directed by Robert Florey. This fast-paced little crime drama seemed to be a perfect choice to end with. Since J. Carrol Naish was cast as the heavy, Steve Murkil, then Lloyd Nolan played one of the good guys, Raymond Grayson along with Robert Preston as his rival, Robert MacArthur. These two heroes were always running after the same girl, much to our amusement. When the film opens up, the latest love of their lives is, I believe, Bonnie (Virginia Dabney) who isn’t anything if not fickle. When they both beat each other up and out of commission, Dixie has no problem finding immediate love—along with her next drink—in the arms of a burly officer who just sauntered in. Interestingly, Virginia Dabney was soon to marry director Robert Florey in 1939 and after his death she married Lloyd Nolan in 1983, remaining with him until his death in 1985.
Raymond and Robert work as radio signal men separately on ocean liners and are good at what they do. But after this last bout of bad behaviour, their superior officer assigns them to work together on a carrier ship rather than one of the luxury liners that they’re used to.
But gangster Steve Murkil is also travelling on this steamer disguised as an old woman (didn’t fool me) with his “companion” Dixie (Virginia Vale aka Dorothy Howe) along with his men which include a 23-year-old Anthony Quinn as Lou Gedney. Did you know that Quinn was Cecil B. DeMille’s son-in-law? He was married to DeMille’s adopted daughter Katherine from 1937 until they divorced in 1965.
Eventually Murkil is found out not to be who he pretends to be and things go badly for the crew, headed by Captain Glennan (Harry Carey).
As well, there is nurse Dale Borden (Gail Patrick) who is serving as medical assistant on the ship. Both Robert and Raymond both love her, but you learn there was something deeper between her and Raymond. Who will win her love? Who will survive? Will anybody be operated on? All these questions and more will be answered if you get a chance to view this film.
Amongst the cast in an early role is Dennis Morgan along with veterans Monte Blue and the wonderfully named Gustav von Seyffertitz.
Here’s what John McElwee had to say in the Cinevent notes:
Have you 56 minutes to gamble on a largely unseen 30’s “B” from Paramount? It might be as good an investment of time as you’ll make this weekend, for KING OF ALCATRAZ, like all such low-budgeters directed by Robert Florey, is a standout and model of how to get absolute most for spending less. Florey’s B’s were what historians William K. Everson and Don Miller used to celebrate back when 16mm prints of pre-’49 Paramounts floated around in greater abundance. Now we see hardly any such films outside Cinevent, or similar, environ. I don’t think TCM has shown any Florey-Paramount, for which mores’ the pity, as each define a best of economy filmmaking. Florey was auteur force behind results had, few other B’s at Paramount or elsewhere reaching his level of quality. Florey had learned at knees of genius that was Griffith, Chaplin, others with whom he aligned himself during the silent era. One could argue that Robert Florey was among first (the first?) to take film history seriously and make effort to record its progress. He would accumulate a major archive of stills and reference material in addition to written recount of his experiences as a director. A best overall analysis of Flory’s career is Brian Taves’ book survey, Taves utilizing primary resources throughout, enhanced by input from Florey himself.
KING OF ALCATRAZ opts throughout for fast pace. At less than an hour, that would seem a given, but even short B’s can be a drag where there’s dearth of action or story. Latter told here is familiar, but has gusto and a game cast both of vets and hopeful youth on climb up. Virtually every face is familiar, from previous films, or ones to come. Complete cast listing yields many of Florey acquaintance to whom he routinely gave work. Florey was very much the B side of Cecil B. DeMille, who was known for using faces of past greatness, and recent inactivity. Product from B units earned flat rentals from theatres using them, so there was finite revenue they’d bring, plus oft-freedom from supervisory (heavy) hands that could, often did, wreck more ambitious ventures, especially at 30s Paramount. Florey had his way so long as output stayed within cost limit and met schedules. He labored less for recognition than pride in craftsmanship, a love of making movies that was evident in all of what he did. KING OF ALCATRAZ shows this fine and still under-appreciated director at a high point of creativity. It’s an hour’s entertainment not to be missed.
A big thank you goes out to Michael Haynes and the Cinevent staff for putting together such a terrific four-day festival. All silent films were accompanied by the talented Dr. Philip Carli and David Drazin. Such great pianists! As well as all the writers who wrote the notes included in the program.
I loved the dealers’ room! It was nice to meet and talk to author Robert Matzen who’s book I read, Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3. He had spoken at Cinevent 2014 and I had bought his book then. A very interesting perspective and informative read. And I found such great films to covet! Thank the stars I don’t collect film posters or lobby cards or I would be homeless. A great ending to my birthday! Hope to see you all again next year!
Friday, May 22, 2015 – Day 1
I attended Cinevent 47 in Columbus, Ohio. It was held in the downtown core this year and the program ran from Friday the 22nd ending mid-day on Monday the 25th. It was just as much fun as the previous year; lots of interesting films with lots of familiar faces both onscreen and off. Dealers from all over attended and I found some rare and commercially released DVDs to add to my collection.
It was also notable because founder and organizer of Cinevent, Steven Haynes, passed away just about a month before this 47th festival. I had only met Mr. Haynes briefly once or twice many years ago at some other film event, so never knew him. But he was well loved and there were many tributes written and given about him over the weekend.
The opening film of the day was JOHNNY DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, directed by Joe May, with Simone Simon, Minna Gombell, Alan Dinehart and Robert Mitchum.
It’s a war-time story about a young French-Canadian woman, Kathie Aumont (Simone Simon) who has arranged to share an apartment (number 1313) with girlfriend Irene (Dorothy Granger) and begin a job in a factory in Washington, DC. However, on the way to town by train, Kathie unleashes a Gremlin (Jerry Maren, voiced by Mel Blanc) who is gleefully planning to wreak havoc on her for the next seven weeks. So when Kathie arrives, her first disappointment is to discover that Irene has, on a lark it appears, just married George (Grady Sutton) and Kathie has become homeless at the unsubtle request of the amorous couple.
Kathie begins tramping through the city and finds to her dismay that there’s not a lodging to be found. So when she stumbles upon a young man, Johnny (William Terry) heading back for another stint in the army, she pleads in that adorable way that Simone is capable of to rent her his apartment for the duration of his stay. He gives in and before he knows it, he’s smitten. But unbeknownst to her, Johnny has given out copies of his keys to any number of people and the apartment becomes equipped with a revolving door, so to speak. One of those key-holders is Mike O’Brien (James Ellison) who also becomes enraptured by the lovely Kathie. Even his buddy Jack (Chick Chandler) takes a shine to her.
In the meantime, tough guy CPO Jeff Daniels (Robert Mitchum) is looking for a room for a tryst with his wife and works out a deal with one of the key-holders for $5.00. Johnny is on a day’s leave and competing with Mike for Kathie’s affections. And of course, since no one seems to remember to mention to Daniels that Kathie is living in the apartment, when they all meet up, a ruckus begins. The group of them, Kathie in her housecoat, end up in court before a judge (Alan Dinehart). Kathie is asked to make a decision as to who she wants to marry, but won’t say anything until the seven weeks of bad luck are up with the clock striking midnight, and when the Gremlin disappears out of her life.
The final scene is lots of fun, taking place several years later, three kids in tow and with a string of men coming through her door until we discover who her husband is.
There are some nice touches, including an eye-catching bathroom silhouette shot in this German Expressionist director Joe May’s last film. It’s also Simon’s last film made in America but one of the first credited roles for Robert Mitchum.
Film historian Eric Grayson notes included this interesting tidbit:
…various sources have said it (JOHNNY DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE) was influenced by Noël Coward’s Design for Living, and still others claim it came from Simon’s own life, in which she allegedly gave a gold key to her bedroom to any one she fancied. This was a well-publicized court case in 1938, which may have been a rumor cooked up by a jealous maid. In any event, a large number of movie-goers who saw this film in 1944 would have been familiar with this story. Additionally, it’s suggested that Billy Wilder’s The Apartment is partly influenced by this film. The two films share a theme of an apartment with many keys being central to romantic relationships. Wilder had worked with May in Germany and knew him in America as well.
Next film was MOON OVER LAS VEGAS (1944) directed by Jean Yarbrough with Anne Gwynne, David Bruce and Alan Dinehart (again).
The story begins with an estranged married couple Marion (Anne Gwynne) and Richard Corbett (David Bruce) meeting the Judge (Addison Richards) to make arrangements for their impending divorce. But they both still love each other which is apparently obvious by the way they both show concern for the other’s financial situation. After Anne leaves, the Judge, who we realize is the opposite of wise, convinces Richard that the best way to win back his wife is to play the “unconcerned” card; act as if he’s not interested. Meanwhile, Anne confides to her Aunt Helen (played by the wonderfully named actress Vera Vague) that she wants her husband back and Auntie tells her the best way to do this is to play hard-to-get. Of course, if they both just talked to each other and worked out their problems, this comedy would be over in a minute.
So with both thinking the other is heading to Las Vegas, they aim to take the same train, Anne with Aunt Helen in tow (who, by the way, is hot for every man she meets), using the cover that she is going to meet up with old friend Jim Bradley (Milburn Stone) and Richard chivalrously escorting Grace Towers (Vivian Austin) onto the train after accidently bumping into her suitcase and dumping the contents. Richard and Grace have to drive to the next station to catch the train as this little mishap caused them to miss the train from its starting destination. This seemed a bit implausible as the incident took all of 30 seconds to resolve and so I wondered how they thought they would have made the train regardless. But again, that’s really neither here nor there when it comes to this little B comedy.
The first mix-up and misunderstanding happens on the train when Grace needs a berth, not having purchased one in advance. And again chivalrous Richard offers her his, which just happens to be across from Anne and Helen’s. He tries to sleep in a lounge, but eventually the porter escorts him to join his wife—unfortunately the wrong one. When Anne discovers him embarking from another woman’s bed, even though we know it’s all innocent, she’s incensed. They all end up at some swanky casino hotel and eventually both end up applying for a dealers job from owner Hal Blake (Alan Dinehart). When Blake invites Anne, Richard and Richard’s “wife” Grace (yes the charade is still on), Hal’s wife (Lee Patrick) mistakenly sees Hal making a pass at Grace and everything becomes a big kafuffle. Again, what’s so ridiculous is that the three main characters are left alone in the room together and they never sort anything out amongst themselves. It would have been sooo easy to have just explained it all. Because, on top of everything, Grace is married to jealous husband Joe (Joe Sawyer).
The story becomes more and more absurd with “the crazy gorilla trick” (it always works!) to unite everyone who’s supposed to be together in the end!
There were some entertaining musical acts at the casino. The most famous would have been Gene Austin but the best one in my opinion was the one with the two cowgirls playing guitar (I think) and bass. The bass player was the singer and she was slightly outrageous and very funny.
After the lunch break, we hurried back to watch WIDE OPEN (1930), directed by Archie Mayo with Edward Everett Horton, Patsy Ruth Miller and Louise Fazenda. This was a crazily written piece, with lots of wacky lines and double-takes which E.E. Horton was particularly well-practiced in.
Simon Haldane (Horton) is a bookkeeper for the Faulkner Phonograph Company. His employers barely notice him and certainly don’t appreciate him. But the women, in the forms of Agatha Hathaway (Louise Fazenda) and the daughter of Faulkner himself (Frank Beal), Julia (Patsy Ruth Miller), are all over him. It’s so funny to see Horton as a sex magnet because of course he’s anything but and it always comes through in his persona that he is not interested in women in the least.
When the older, dowdier Agatha proclaims her love to Simon, which happens to accidently get recorded on one of the company’s records to be heard by all the executives, Simon flees for home. But this doesn’t stop Agatha from running after him—with her mother (Vera Lewis) leading the charge—to proclaim that Simon has played with her daughter’s affections and is now in breach of marrying her. Simon tells his sassy maid Easter (the wonderful Louise Beavers) “to put the cat out”, while exclaiming that he’s never ruined anyone’s reputation—male or female.
And when Julia sneaks into the office to go through the employees’ files to discover Simon’s address, gets drenched by the rain while on her way over, enters Simon’s apartment without his knowledge, then undresses to dry her clothes by the fire, Simon is more than surprised to find this unclad beauty in his living room. When she proclaims that she’s caught cold, Simon calls for the doctor, who with a straight face insists Simon “get her to bed and I’ll be in touch to see if any developments arise.” The dialogue is mostly all like this, very tongue in cheek and quickly delivered.
We finally discover the reason for Julia’s espionage tactics. She knows that there is embezzlement or some such problem going on in the company and she wants to see the books. It turns out that one of the higher ups, Trundle (E.J. Ratcliffe) is out to ruin Faulkner and his company. So not only does Simon save the company by proposing his new fandangle stereo needle but wins the love of Julia to boot.
I thought it was particularly odd and kind of funny that it was mentioned, most likely in a racial remark, that the office boy was Chinese, yet Robert Gordon wasn’t made up to look anything but his Caucasian self.
In the Cinevent notes, Richard M. Roberts gave us some interesting insight into the film and what was happening in the recording industry at the time:
…Louise Fazenda gets to introduce the Hot Dance standard “Nobody Cares if I’m Blue”…. And old music fans and record collectors (of which this writer is a one) will really find interesting the fact that WIDE OPEN is set in a record company, with a lot of attention paid to the technology of recording and pressing 78’s. The reason for this is most-likely the fact that in 1930, Warner Brothers had purchased the Brunswick Record Company from the Brunswick-Balke-Callender Corporation, mostly to help them manufacture Vitaphone Discs, but for a year or two, Warners found themselves in the record business, something they would find more success with in later years. But in 1930-31, it was interesting how much phonographs and records turned up in Warner Brother Pictures.
SHOOTING STARS (1928) left me feeling quite dazzled when it was over. Directed by Anthony Asquith, his debut, and A.V. Bramble, with Annette Benson and the beautiful Brian Aherne, it’s the story of people in the English film profession. Mae Feather (Annette Benson) and Julian Gordon (Brian Aherne) are actors married to each other. They are making a film together and we soon discover that Mae is having an affair with Chaplinesque comedian Andy Wilkes (Donald Calthrop). (In his opening scene he reminded me of Lucille Ball when she’s dressed up as a cowboy in one of her I Love Lucy episodes.) She is keeping this secret from her husband for the time being but wants to travel to America with Wilkes where she hopes to become a bigger film star. However, the contract she’s just signed prohibits her from becoming involved in anything scandalous and of course she finds this troubling. She wants her cake and eat it too. Eventually Julian discovers the affair.
What to do; what to do. Since the film they’re shooting involves firing a shotgun, she gets the idea to substitute a real bullet which she has surreptitiously acquired, for a blank. And it’s interesting how she acquired the bullet. Mae is often applying her lipstick and when she sees the bullet, she brings it to her lips to make it appear she is applying lipstick; then suddenly it appears to be a cigarette.
She knows the shotgun will be used against Julian in the next scene they are to play. She is tied to a pole, Julian is breaking down a door to save her while being shot at by the villain. Just before the scene starts, Julian casually mentions that the scene might be more realistic if both barrels are fired. It’s also significant that we notice she is no longer wearing her wedding ring. The scene we see is very tense. Mae is actually fighting with all her strength to get loose, shouting to not fire, knowing that this will truly lead to murder. But the shot is fired, the director calls cut, and…up pops Julian, asking why the second barrel wasn’t fired. But the director is thrilled with the scene, specifically with Mae’s wonderful, realistic performance. So on with the next; the same gun is used in a comedy sequence for another film, the second bullet is fired—and Wilkes is the victim! That’s when it’s discovered that a real bullet replaced a blank, and Julian immediately realizes who it was meant for.
A very unusual and striking piece of scripting and cinematography was watching the western drama being shot on one set, with the camera panning upwards to the floor above, where the comedy is being made. The scene included all the equipment used in the making of a film as well.
I usually don’t like to give away the whole plot or the ending, but in this case, I am. Mae goes on to obscurity while Julian becomes a famous director. Some years later, the down and out Mae wanders onto a set that Julian is directing, hoping to get a part as an extra, which she does. After this blink-of-an-eye short scene is shot, Julian calls it quits for the day and everyone heads out. Just Julian, still sitting in his director’s chair on a platform, reading over the script for the next day’s shooting, and Mae are left. She walks over, looks up and asks him if he “wants her anymore”. Without looking at her, he says “no, I don’t” and we realize he has no idea who she even is—she means absolutely nothing to him; she’s like a forgotten ghost fading into the void.
The lighting and cinematography of this scene in particular was spectacular. Haunting and brilliant, it was almost hard to breathe. A rising crescendo to this final moment in a wonderfully made film.
The last film before the dinner break was LOVING YOU (1957) shot in Technicolor, directed by Hal Kanter, with Elvis Presley, Lizabeth Scott, Wendell Corey and James Gleason.
To see Elvis in any one of his four pre-military-stint films is always a treat and the rarely seen LOVING YOU was no exception. Elvis is luminous at 22 especially when he’s doing what he does best! He has such style and rhythm that you have to hold yourself back from reacting like you are at a live concert. Here he plays Deke Rivers, orphaned at a young age, car mechanic with music talent who is finagled by shrewd talent agent Glenda Markle (Lizabeth Scott) into joining Walter ‘Tex’ Warner’s (Wendell Corey) flagging band.
The divorced couple still love each other, but Glenda isn’t shy to use any trick she can to make a success out of her career. This inadvertently means that others will be successful if they follow her advice, or at the least, tricked into following her advice. For instance, Deke is reluctant to give up his secure $80 a week mechanic’s job to join Tex’s band. Glenda tells him to think about it over the weekend, but she secures him by making a call to his boss, arranging for Deke’s dismissal.
Lots of girls are crazy about Deke (I bet the studio could have asked those young women to pay them to be part of Presley’s audience), but Deke is mostly an innocent, gentlemanly young man and has mixed feeling about Glenda, the older woman, and another young performer, Susan Jessup (Dolores Hart).
Lizabeth Scott always appeared older than she really was. She’s only in her early to mid 30s, but is much more mature and sophisticated than Deke; you can imagine she could almost be his (very attractive) mother. It’s interesting to note that as per usual it was very obvious Scott would have been the older woman had Presley, 13 years her junior, ended up with her. Yet Corey is 10 years Scott’s senior and besides the fact that she looks closer to his age, there is not any thought given to the fact that actresses’ love interests are so much older. I know this is an obvious observations, but I felt the need to point it out here especially because what woman in her right mind wouldn’t want to be Elvis’s love interest?!
Some takes on the film: I’m sure that Elvis either wanted to or was told to emulate James Dean. This was Elvis’s second film while it was Lizabeth’s second last. Scott’s Glenda liked to think with her tongue. I liked that she was devious in how she achieved some of her goals. Still, by the end of the film, she made up for anything underhanded that she did. There were a number of guitar string-breaking gags. The costume designs were by Edith Head and we might presume that in later life Elvis must have kept these designs in the back of his mind because those clothes he wore in his Las Vegas phase certainly looked like they were based on the ones he wore in the latter part of this film. Even if I’m wrong, I remember being told that girls had never reacted to boys the way they did to the Beatles. But although the crowds were smaller, this phenomena started, if not earlier in history, at least in 1957.
And groupies were also in evidence in the body of Daisy Bricker (Jana Lund).
Even psychedelia was in vogue in ’57 with the ultra-purple background during one of Deke’s performances.
And of course there’s always some fight to prove the hero is better than some local boy like Wayne (Keneth Becker) who feels the need to prove something or other.
The highlights were definitely Elvis’s performances, although there was some repetition and the faster numbers were certainly more exciting than the slower songs.
Dolores Hart played love interest Susan in her first of two films with Elvis (the second being King Creole, my favourite Presley film).
I have always found her a bit on the bland side, and it’s interesting to note that she left the acting profession in 1963 to become a nun.
The end of the movie was happy. The orphaned Deke found his family and a place in the world where he belonged. Amen.
After the dinner break and Laurel and Hardy short Busy Bodies (1933), we were shown the very funny and nasty THE SENATOR WAS INDISCREET (1947), the only film ever directed by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright George S. Kaufman, with William Powell, Ella Raines and Allen Jenkins. It’s based on a story by Edwin Lanham, adapted for the screen by Charles MacArthur.
Senator Melvin G. Ashton (William Powell) is an idiot. He has no skills other than “senatorial” (his prior job was painting white lines on the highway) and feels that the only other job he’s qualified for is President of the United States.
In the opening scene he is meeting with fluent English-speaking Native Americans, but talks to them in pigeon-English and is constantly saying “How”. Why and what does it mean, he’s asked. “’How’ doesn’t mean anything; it’s just something you say if you’re an Indian”, he replies. At one point, when he says “How” for the nth time and an Indian responds with “How” back, Ashton exclaims, “No, I mean actually, how do I do that?”
There are all sorts of politically incorrect, ignorant, communistic and racist, but always funny, remarks running throughout the film. Lines such as, with regards to the press: “You can’t quote politicians accurately. That’s dirty journalism,” and “If you can’t beat ‘em, bribe ‘em!”
The Senator, from the start of his political career, has kept a daily diary keeping track of all the shady and underhanded political deals he’s witnessed to use against the party leadership if they decide against backing him in his run for President.
He’s kept this diary under lock and key but in the final last few weeks of his campaign, the diary is stolen. When Fred Houlihan (Ray Collins) is told of this catastrophe, I think it’s him who exclaims he’ll “tear off his legs one at a time and beat in his brains with them.” Quite an image.
Ashton’s advisor, Lew Gibson (Peter Lind Hayes) is always running around trying to right all the wrongs. In pursuit of a good story as well as the missing diary is reporter Poppy McNaughton (Ella Raines) who’s surprisingly modern looking in this film.
At one point, when he and his party are in despair that the diary will not be recovered and made public, they advise Ashton to consider becoming a football coach, a job they believe they can confer onto him, which would allow him to earn an annual salary of $150,000. When the diary is found, Ashton is still seriously considering taking the coaching job which offers a higher salary than the one paid to the President!
In the Cinevent notes written by Jim Lane, he says:
Seen today, THE SENATOR WAS INDISCREET remains a mischievously funny political satire…(there’s a joke early on about a Native American peace-pipe that may have you gasping and wondering if MacArthur somehow got a time-machine peek into a presidential campaign 45 years in the future.) At the time, its portrait of a nitwit senator seeking the White House—nowadays we know such a thing could never happen, right?—was enough to raise the hackles of the likes of Joe McCarthy and Westbrooke Pegler. Nunnally Johnson (who may well have made uncredited contributions to the script) even took to print to defend himself and his colleagues as loyal Americans. He confessed (sarcastically) that both he and Kaufman were Roosevelt Democrats, but pointed out that MacArthur was “a registered paid-up GOP card-toter.” (“Personally,” he went on, “I hadn’t even known there was such a thing as a witty Republican. Live and learn, live and learn.”)
Throughout the film, Senator Ashton is continually making phone calls to his wife who he calls, “mama”, “sweetie” and “baby”. When we finally meet her in the final moment, it’s one of those great eyeopening surprises! I’m not giving that or the ending away. If you weren’t at Cinevent, you’ll just have to find a print to view and enjoy this film for yourself!
Next was THE WHISTLE (1921), directed by Lambert Hillyer with William S. Hart. I had liked this film when I saw it at Toronto Film Society’s GEH visit in August 2013 so decided to take a break. But here’s what Cinevent note writer Richard M. Roberts had to say:
THE WHISTLE is William S. Hart’s last non-western and one of his finest films, commenting on the conflicts between capital and labor, and shining light on some of the abuses of the former in areas of safety. Hart plays Robert Evans, foreman of the factory of Henry Cahpple (Frank Brownlee). Evans has been urging Chapple to upgrade factory conditions to avoid unnecessary accidents and Chapple, in need of contracts filled quickly, refuses to make the repairs. Things come to a tragic head when Evans son Danny is killed in a factory accident, driving Evans into a mad frenzy of revenge.
Headed back to the screening room to see UNDERCOVER DOCTOR (1939), directed by Louis King with Lloyd Nolan, J. Carrol Naish, Heather Angel and Broderick Crawford.
It’s the story of Dr. Bartley Morgan (J. Carrol Naish) who makes extra cash by catering to the criminal element. His nurse Margaret Hopkins (Janice Logan) has at first faith in him to go completely straight but addicted to the profits, he continues to assist Eddie Krator (Broderick Crawford) and his henchmen every time a Fed’s bullet hits its mark.
Robert Anders (Lloyd Nolan) is on the hunt for this anonymous doctor, who leaves a trademark scar on his patients, whether they’re law-abiding or criminal.
The last film of the evening was THE DRUMS OF JEOPARDY (1931), directed by George B. Seitz with Warner Oland, Clara Blandick (Auntie Em from The Wizard of Oz) and Mischa Auer (in a straight role—I’m always waiting to chuckle at some shenanigan of his).
Dr. Boris Karlov (Warner Oland—and yes, that’s the character’s name!) receives a letter stating that his daughter Anya (Florence Lake) is dying thanks to some dastardly deed that befell her by the hands of one of the three male members of the royal Russian Petrov family. We never really learn what caused her death, but I guessed that somehow rape and impregnation caused this fatality.
The rest of the film is Karlov, the mad scientist, revenging himself, one by one against the Petrovs. The title of the film refers to a necklace given to Anya by her spurned lover. The doctor uses the separate necklace pieces, each shaped like a drum, to forewarn each victim of his impending death.
Of course by the time I watched this late night film, I was pretty tired but the one thing that really stood out was an overhead shot of approximately 32 people dining at one very large, oval-shaped table. A very unusual piece of furniture.
This was the end of Day 1. Stay tuned for Day 2.
Saturday, May 23 – Day 2
Since Saturday morning began with 90 minutes of animation and there were seven full-length films ahead of us, I took the opportunity to rest up for the movie marathon.
The first film of the day was OLIVER TWIST (1922) directed by Frank Lloyd with Jackie Coogan and Lon Chaney. Toronto Film Society screened my DVD copy of this film a couple of years back, but my public domain copy is 74 minutes while this restored 1980 film by producer Sol Lesser and Jackie Coogan, overseen by Blackhawk Films, runs 90 minutes. I was looking forward to seeing it in its entirety.
I think everyone reading this knows the story of Oliver Twist, whether they’ve read the book, seen one of the many film versions, the stage musical or all three.
Whenever he was on the screen, your eyes were glued to Coogan. He was so adorable and vulnerable, you just wanted to save him. He was smaller than his age, and thus he was able to play this young role with more maturity than his looks revealed. After making The Kid (1921) with Charlie Chaplin, Coogan became a world-wide star. OLIVER TWIST was made under the banner of Jackie Coogan Productions, a company run by his parents. The sad thing was that his mother and step-father, Arthur Bernstein who initially was his business manager, basically stole all of Coogan’s earnings. He filed suit against them for the approximately $4,000,000 that he had earned but under California law in 1939 he was only awarded $126,000. The public was incensed by this miscarriage of justice and the California Legislature passed the Child Actors Bill, also known as the Coogan Act, which would set up a trust fund for children actors to protect their earnings.
When I was a kid, I watched the 60s show The Addams Family which starred the lovely Carolyn Jones along with funny-looking Jackie Coogan. I remember my mother pointing out to me that he had been a great child actor, but at that time, I found it impossible to imagine he was anything but Uncle Fester. It is also interesting to note that he and Betty Grable were married in 1937, with this first of four marriages ending in divorce just three years later. If you like watching good child actors and have never seen Coogan in any of the films he made when he was young, watch one. You will not be disappointed.
The other famous actor in the film, Lon Chaney, is unrecognizable. No matter how long I looked at him playing Fagin, I could not see the 39 year-old actor. I just saw a stooped, decrepit old man. Of course, that’s the brilliance of Chaney, and it was still unsettling.
There was one little shot that stood out for me near the beginning of the film when Oliver was still in the orphanage. The scene is set up so we’re watching a room full of boys working at some mindless, body-breaking labour and from behind the camera, Oliver, carrying a large and heavy sack on his back, walks into the shot, taking over the scene for just a moment before he gets smaller as he walks towards the front of the room. I thought this was a rather clever piece of direction and cinematography. In any event, this was a very well-made film and seemed to be, from my recollection of the novel, a close adaptation of the story. I would see it again!
After the lunch break was LUXURY LINER (1933), directed by German-born Lothar Mendes with quite a cast including George Brent, Zita Johann (of The Mummy fame), Vivienne Osborne, Alice White, Verree Teasdale, Frank Morgan and C. Aubrey Smith.
It’s the story of Dr. Karl Bernhard (George Brent) who takes the place of the regular ship’s doctor, Dr. Veith (Wallis Clark), when he discovers that his wife Sybil (Vivienne Osborne) is going to be travelling onboard with her millionaire playboy lover Alex Stevanson (Frank Morgan). He wants to intercept her and convince her not to destroy their marriage. But when the ship leaves port, Karl discovers the two lovers’ cabins are empty.
There’s some nice opening shots, with the chefs looking happily, almost drooling, at all the food being brought onboard ship by nets attached to cranes. It’s also more glamorous in those days of ocean travel to see the passengers being bid farewell by friends and family right on board ship which nowadays would not possible.
Miss Morgan (Zita Johann), the ship’s nurse, who’s completely dedicated to caring for the sick, has a secret. No male staff or otherwise interests her and she is especially upset when she encounters the nasty mother of a sick child (well who wouldn’t be). During inspection of the quarters dedicated to ill travellers, they meet elderly Mrs. Webber (Edith Yorke) whose only wish is to live through the voyage and see her son who’s living in New York.
Travelling in third class is the cute and flirty Milli Lensch (Alice White) who gets some philosophical advice from Edward Thorndyke (C. Aubrey Smith). He was once the biggest textile manufacturers in England, known all over Europe, but lost his fortune and was incarcerated for three years for owing money. She meets one of Thorndyke’s old employees, Schultz (Billy Bevan), who runs a small successful company now and he invites Milli to lunch in the second class dining room the next day.
On the evening of the second day, more people board including Sybil and Alex. The rowdy crowd from the bar go to observe the who’s who of arrivals and a drunk young woman falls overboard. She is taken to the hospital and has a late night operation which save her life, preventing Karl from talking to the unsuspecting Sybil. So Sybil and Alex spend a romantic and illicit night together. It’s not until the next morning that a weary Karl tries to talk to her, but she keeps him locked out of her room while telling him she’s through with the marriage. Just then, Karl is called away to deal with a woman who’s in labour (who travels anywhere in their ninth month of pregnancy?) while Alex is looking to meet someone new. He does, in the form of famous opera singer Luise Marheim (Verree Teasdale). Alex is requested to return to Sybil’s room, where she tells him what has just happened. He’s not pleased to hear that her husband is aboard ship and wants to distance himself from the situation, as well as from Sybil. He’s certainly not interested in chivalry and asks her what she wants him to do about her husband—meaning, he’s not planning to do anything.
Meanwhile Milli is on bated-breath waiting for Thorndyke to come up with a new outfit for her to wear for her date. He does, and on her way back to her room with her bratty younger siblings, she meets the elevator operator who’s masquerading at the moment as an officer, Fritz (Henry Wadsworth) and a new flirtation begins. But when we next see her, she’s on her lunchtime date with skinflint Schultz and they’re joined by first class passenger Exl (Theodore von Eltz). When they start to talk business, Milli tells them she’s heard a tip from Frtiz that Stevanson is going to buy German/American steamship shares and the men should invest in this company as well. Exl asks her to dance, and yet another flirtation begins.
Dr. Bernhard has saved the mother and baby. We are beginning to understand that Nurse Morgan’s secret somehow revolves around children. Karl is a bit jealous by the concern and love the husband has shown for his wife and the fact that they have now brought a son into their little family.
The rumour of Stevanson’s stock buying is now travelling around the ship.
Karl manages to enter his wife’s room. She rushes to the adjoining door to get Alex. She tells him cruelly that she never loved him and has only found love and excitement with Alex. Alex pompously suggests they can all talk about the situation in a civilized manner, and Karl shows him civilized by socking him while Sybil screeches. Karl walks out, Alex gathers himself, phones the purser and has his room changed straight away to another floor. When she tells him it’s a cowardly thing to do, he throws it back in her face that it’s no more cowardly than what she did to her husband.
Now Mrs. Webber has taken a turn for the worse and they have to operate. She knows she should have used her money to have the operation back home, but instead she used it to buy passageway to see her son. She doesn’t want them to put her under because she’s so fearful she won’t wake up. A touching moment.
The third class passengers are ready to part with all their money to invest in the stock market. The only one not interested is Thorndyke who says the stock market is what put him in steerage and that he would especially steer clear of anything that Stevanson is involved in. But when Thorndyke realizes everyone is going to buy, he tells them they need someone who knows the game to handle their money and takes over from the plumber who was doing the collecting.
It’s the next morning and everyone is following the stock. Exl has just bought gifts and clothes for Milli and tells her he expects her in his room for dinner and champagne that evening. When she enters the art deco lift to take her down to her room, she encounters Fritz who is disappointed that she’s “that kind of girl.” She’s insulted and he’s insulting.
Sybil heads down to the Karl’s office, notices a gun in his drawer, encounters Nurse Morgan, has histrionics about her fear of him using the gun on her, and is calmly told if she’s afraid of it, get rid of it. She puts it in her bag. Meanwhile, Alex has begun a new romance with Luise.
Dinner is wild, what with a jazz band and lots of booze. People are celebrating their pipe-dream of becoming rich through the stock market. Only Thorndyke is telling them not to count their chickens before they’re hatched. Alex has arranged for him and Luise to dine in a private room overlooking the party. Milli and Exl are having dinner in the main dining room and he keeps insisting she come back with him to his room. Her thoughts are set on what other gifts, like a rhinestone broach, he might have for her. He’s also plying her with champagne in the hopes that she’s getting drunk.
Again, the team of doctor and nurse are successful and have saved Mrs. Webber. They are both impressed with each other’s skill and feel closer to one another.
Sybil has entered the main dining room searching for Alex who is wooing Luise in their private dining room. She finds them together, he throws all sorts of insults her way including telling her she’s no lady and states he’s going to pay her off with a cheque. She’s left standing there as they both walk out.
Exl has finally gotten Milli up to his room, tells her she can keep the rhinestone pin but if she’s interested in a diamond broach, she needs to pay for it, and not with cash. He is all over her and she manages to escape him and run out of the room. When the elevator opens, she runs into the arms of Fritz who’s glad to see she’s upset and that she wants to be taken back down to steerage.
Karl encounters Sybil and she threatens to ruin him and Miss Morgan by insinuating they are having an affair although I’m not sure who she could tell that this would matter to. She blames him for her fallout with Alex. Of course we know that Alex is a womanizer and once he’s gotten what he wants from a woman, he’s on to the next. Karl finds his gun missing. Sybil is begging Alex to take her back and while Alex writes her a cheque to get rid of her, she shoots and kills him. Karl walks in, sees what went down and we next hear a radio message being sent out that the German/American stocks have just been wiped out due to Stevanson’s death. Everyone in the third class is sick with worry having lost all their money, while Thorndyke tells them what idiots they were for getting themselves involved in something they knew so little about. But then in his lovable grouchy way, he tells them exhilarating news! He’s saved their lives and livelihoods by not investing any of their hard-earned money and returns it all.
Miss Morgan comes across Karl in his office and asks him why he took the blame for the murder. He said he wanted to kill his wife, and is just transposing the blame of one death for the other. And this is where we learn Miss Morgan’s horrid secret—which is something she would have been incarcerated for if it had happened today, what befalls Sybil and the happy ending for Fritz when Milli says, hopefully for the last time, “You are the nicest man in the world.” Not a bad little film.
Next we saw M’LISS (1918), directed by Marshall Neilan, screenplay by Frances Marion, with Mary Pickford, Thomas Meighan, Tully Marshall and Monte Blue.
It was an interesting, odd film. Melissa ‘M’liss’ Smith is one of Pickford’s usual ragamuffin characters whose age it was hard to determine. She’s so petite and acts so childlike, playing with dolls, that at first I wondered if M’liss wasn’t supposed to be much older than twelve! (Mary was 26 at this time.) For instance, when we first meet her, M’liss is riding her horse and using her ever present slingshot to shoot at the stagecoach which is bringing new school teacher Charles Gray (Thomas Meighan) to town. She manages to extract Charles’s pipe and claim it as her trophy. M’liss doesn’t go to school, but eventually she is interested enough in the teacher to decide it’s time to get some schooling.
Thomas Meighan was 39 when he made this film, and although he certainly was a handsome man, he looked his age. So, even if M’liss is an older teen—but what exactly if she still plays with dolls—it was rather odd and a bit disturbing that the two end up in a romantic relationship. We all know that many older men have married women 20 or even 40 years their junior, but the creepy aspect was that M’liss was so childlike in her behaviour, that maybe you could think she was mentally handicapped. At first you felt that if there was any feeling toward each other, it could be more like father and daughter. Or, like very young girls do, develop a crush on a handsome older man, but what did he feel he had in common with her? Is he really that physically attracted to her?
And speaking of fathers, M’liss does have one. John Benson Smith, known as ‘Bummer’ (Theodore Roberts), an unemployed alcoholic, looks old enough to be her grandfather. When the wealthy John Smith dies, he lives his fortune to his estranged brother ‘Bummer’. But this doesn’t sit well with other scheming relatives and they plan a way to claim the money.
We get to know and like Bummer and his funny ways, from worrying about the bare bottom of his pet hen when M’liss plucks out all the feathers for her hat to crying over M’liss’s favourite doll. M’liss accidently shoots her doll’s head off with her sling shot and while cussing all the way, decides to bury it in a coffin. Bummer, probably in the drinks by now, thinks of this little dolly as his grandchild and cries throughout the “funeral”. So when he is stabbed in the back and dies, it affects us along with M’liss.
There are bad guys of course and they end up framing Charles for Bummer’s murder. When he’s just about to be lynched, the real killer is unmasked. The near hanging was tense and you could only imagine how awful it would have been had it not been stopped in time.
You can guess the ending and again I just need to stress how weird it was to see this mature, educated man and this wild, unschooled little girl end up together. And that’s just one aspect of what makes this film so interesting to see!
Last film before dinner was THUNDER IN THE VALLEY (1947), directed by Louis King, with Lon McCallister, Peggy Anne Garner, Edmund Gwen and Reginald Owen.
I thought this film was really something. Edmund Gwenn was spectacular. But would I have sought out this film? No. And why? Perhaps because of the title, or the idea you get that when you think it’s just about farmers and sheep dogs maybe? But I would have been wrong!
It’s the film about Scotsman, Adam MacAdam (Edmund Gwenn) who we learn is a rather complicated person. He’s quite good at conning his English neighbours, has no qualms at whipping his son David (Lon McCallister) even if he knows it’s wrong and it leads to them becoming estranged. He’s competitive and always expects to win. And when he drinks he can be mean and conniving. Yet, there’s also that something that makes him endearing at moments which can almost beg one’s forgiveness. There’s also the Moore family where David finds refuge, love and acceptance.
Fifteen-year-old Peggy Ann Garner, who won a special Academy Award for her impassioned portrayal of Francie Nolan in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn two years earlier ably portrayed the young Maggie Moore who becomes a woman by the end of the story.
There was a bit of mystery running throughout the film as well with regard to the sheep dogs. One of them, it was feared, was a sheep killer. But watching these dogs herd a group of sheep through a maze of tests in the yearly village contest was really quite something to behold.
The film was shot in luscious Technicolor by cinematographer Charles G. Clarke. Mae Marsh and J. Farrell MacDonald had small uncredited roles. Unfortunately, it didn’t do well at the box office although it was based on the best-selling book Bob, Son of Battle: The Last Gray Dog of Kenmuir by Alfred Ollivant.
Here’s some of what James D’arc had to say in the Cinevent notes:
So why did THUNDER IN THE VALLEY not attract a wide audience? When originally released in July 1947, under its original title Bob, Son of Battle, attendance was surprisingly low. Perhaps, speculated the studio marketers, the title smacked of a war film. So, the title was changed to THUNDER IN THE VALLEY and re-released on November 1. Posters were changed, trailers re-titled and publicity re-tooled for the new approach. Again, the film failed to take off. So, on its third try in January 1948, it was re-titled Shepherd of the Valley, but this engaging drama nevertheless suffered a financial loss of $914,118 against a negative cost of $1,721,847. Since then, THUNDER IN THE VALLEY has been shown occasionally on television.
After the dinner break and the Laurel & Hardy and Charley Chase shorts, we watched TAKE THE STAND (1934), directed by Phil Rosen with Jack La Rue, Thelma Todd, Gail Patrick and Leslie Fenton.
This is what Doug Swarthout from Capitolfest had to say about this film:
When you watch a Liberty Picture with the top stars Jack LaRue and Thelma Todd you deserve what you get. A foolish and incomprehensible mystery with credits from Earl Derr Biggers, is not only not Charlie Chan, it’s not even The Second Floor Mystery (1930 Withers/Young) we saw at Cinefest. Foolish and incomprehensible plot involving stabbing the oblivious victim from behind with a convenient icicle hanging off the roof, and then muddling the murder scene by pounding a bullet into the wall with a stapler. Coincidence or not, this was the only film we saw sitting on the left side of the room, our motto from now on: always keep to the right!
Truthfully, I don’t remember much of it as I was starting to fade by this point. Even when my eyes are open, I don’t always comprehend. So unfortunately I personally don’t have much to say about this rare B film.
I did a little, but not much better in THE SHIELD OF HONOR (1927), directed by Emory Johnson with Neil Hamilton and Thelma Todd.
Jack (Neil Hamilton) the handsome young son of veteran police officer Dan MacDowell (Ralph Lewis) is the first flying officer on the Los Angeles police force. He gets a golden opportunity to display his aviation skills when the father of his sweetheart, Gwen O’Day (Dorothy Gulliver), is the victim of a jewel robbery.
So with the help of his father, Jack chases down the thieves in a thrilling nocturnal air chase.
It was mentioned on IMDb (and in the notes) that the film was originally tinted in sepia for daytime, blue for night and red for fire and explosions.
Basically, I understood it to be a film about policemen, the unsung heroes of 1927, or as one of the titles most likely put it “of today”.
The last film of the night was the mysteriously titled THE NINTH GUEST (1934), directed by Roy William Neill with Donald Cook and Genevieve Tobin but I knew there was no point in me even attempting to watch this film so I retired for the night.
That ended Day 2. Stay tuned for Day 3.
Sunday, May 24 – Day 3
Sunday morning started off with two Western films, a genre I’m not crazy about, so chose instead to sleep late. They were both Zane Grey stories and starred Randolph Scott; HERITAGE OF THE DESERT (1932) and MAN OF THE FOREST (1933). At a film festival like this, I find I have to pick and choose because it’s impossible, for me anyway, to stay coherent throughout. If these were the only films for the day, I would probably watch them because even though in general Westerns don’t do much for me, I still enjoy the time period these were made in, the director Henry Hathaway, actors such as Scott, Sally Blane, J. Farrell MacDonald, Harry Carey, Noah Beery, Barton MacLane, Buster Crabbe and Guinn “Big Boy” Williams and to top it off every once in a while I’m surprised that I had quite enjoyed the story.
But I didn’t watch them and thought it apropos to start my film day off with TILLIE WAKES UP (1917), directed by Harry Davenport with Canadian Marie Dressler and Johnny Hines. I have seen Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914) which Dressler co-starred in with Chaplin and Mabel Normand and I have to say I enjoyed TILLIE WAKES UP more. By the third time seeing Punctured Romance, which was Dressler’s first film, I found it more and more overlong and unfunny. I vaguely recall seeing TILLIE WAKES UP because some of the scenes looked familiar, but it was shorter and had less repetitive pratfalls and bum kicks than in Punctured. As well, this one co-starred the more obscure Johnny Hines, less known today but a very popular comedian in the teens and 20s.
Tillie is married to Henry Tinkelpaw (Frank Beamish) and J. Mortimer Pipkins (Johnny Hines) is married to Luella (Rubye De Remer). Both are abused by their spouses, the unglamorous Tillie and the younger Mortimer being treated like servants while their better halves get the better deal of doing what they enjoy with the money earned by the husbands. In Tillie’s household, Henry very strongly and strictly enforces, and possibly even believes, that the woman’s place is in the home doing all those sundry and dull things that he would shudder at the thought of if he ever had to do them himself. Meanwhile, even though Mortimer earns the coin, Luella collects it all, without even a pittance of an allowance although Mortimer is skilled enough with slight-of-hand to foil his wife for some meagre change.
After each dominant spouse has left for their pleasure, both Tillie and Mortimer leave notes bidding their partners farewell, and off they go to find a new love, when they just happen to meet outside of the common tenant house they both live in. After that, there’s lots of silliness at Coney Island, eating and drinking in a café and of course watching Dressler make her bullish faces and clumsy pratfalls opposite the more nimble and boyish Hines. And of course, all’s well that ends well for these two and I guess they live in eternal bliss with their now understanding spouse.
After the lunch break we watched THE SQUEAKER (1937), directed by William K. Howard with Edmund Lowe, Ann Todd and Robert Newton. A British flick produced by Alexander Korda’s company, it’s the story of down-and-out alcoholic ex-Inspector Barrabal (Edmund Lowe) who is rehired by his former employer, Superintendent Marshall (Stewart Rome) at Scotland Yard as the seemingly last chance for them to discover who the mysterious fence is for London’s jewel thieves. I have to say I was fooled. I first thought “The Squeaker” was one of the jewel thieves, but clearly I was mistaken.
Barrabal must promise the Superintendent that he will stay clean and sober throughout the investigation. He meets society girl Carol Stedman (Ann Todd) and they definitely are interested in each other although at first she’s disappointed to find out that he’s been living a rather unsavory life.
There’s wealthy Frank Sutton (Sebastian Shaw) who also has a hankering for the lovely Carol. I don’t remember it, but I noted that one of the dresses that Carol wears has a very busy pattern, making the dress look kind of ugly. Maybe it would have looked better in a colour film?
Then there’s Larry Graeme (Robert Newton—I only just saw him in Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn) who we learn early on is a thief. He puts himself in a rather risky position when he declares to The Squeaker, who is hidden from us, that he knows who he is. Something he should have kept to himself.
Meanwhile, he’s hoping to do just one last job to make enough money to whisk himself and his beautiful girlfriend, singer and dancer Tamara (Tamara Desni) away to live happily ever after.
Tamara Desni is interesting. She’s beautiful but in a rather cadaverous way; if film adds 10 pounds to the body, then she was very, very thin.
Her singing style sounded to my ears that it was modelled after La Dietrich, but just at a higher range. Still, I enjoyed watching her whenever she was on the screen. Especially when she wore a most beautiful and revealing dress. I don’t have to describe it as I found these two photos of it below.
That leaves the grinning and rather sarcastic reporter Joshua Collie (Alastair Sim) who is following the progress of Scotland Yard versus The Squeaker.
Just as a note, Michael Rennie had a small role as a Medical Examiner.
The ending scene did its job and made us laugh. After everything is solved and Barrabal has regained his status as a trustworthy detective-inspector, Superintendent Marshall offers him an invitation to dine at his home with him and his wife as well as come early for pre-dinner drinks. Barrabal makes him repeat that, just to make sure it’s clear that he’s been given permission to jump off the wagon!
Another Western followed, THE PRAIRIE KING (1927), directed by B. Reeves Eason with Hoot Gibson, so I decided to take a pass and returned for MAN AT LARGE (1941), directed by Eugene Forde with Marjorie Weaver, George Reeves, Lucien Littlefield, Elisha Cook Jr. and Bodil Rosing.
I don’t remember much of this film, although I do remember liking it. George Reeves was just fine as undercover G-Man Bob Grayson. At first, we think he’s one of the bad guys, a Nazi infiltrating the States, but we all know that the future Superman, the star of the film, couldn’t be someone so despicable. He works with and romance blooms for him and reporter Dallas Davis (Marjorie Weaver).
John McElwee who wrote the notes for Cinevent said:
You’d not beat MAN AT LARGE for timing in any case, its arrival keyed to war clouds darkening (released September 1941), and plenty of subsequent play after Germany became our declared enemy. We can never know sock like MAN AT LARGE delivered in first-run, then-emotions set on hot with more and more ticket-buyers in uniform or headed to enlist. Silly through MAN AT LARGE may seem today, it was call to arms and reassurance for millions in anxiety over a conflict which outcome was anything but certain. Fox was among most sure-footed at making programmers look lush, thanks to sharp-as-pin camerawork, reuse of standing sets from A’s, and trim of fat from a narrative always on the go. MAN AT LARGE is a rarity not to be missed.
After the dinner break, I missed the Laurel & Hardy Short, LAUGHING GRAVY (1931) and feature film HELLZAPOOPPIN’ (1941). I have seen HELLZAPOPPIN’ a number of times and although I would have been happy to see it again, recommending it to my friend Adam who had never seen it before, my head was just too achy to sit through it. So I took a little down time because I really, really wanted to catch the last two films.
And I did. But first let me say that if you haven’t had a chance to enjoy HELLZAPOPPIN’, directed by H.C. Potter with a cast of zany characters played by Ole Olsen, Chic Johnson, Martha Raye, Hugh Herbert, Mischa Auer, Shemp Howard and Elisha Cook Jr. to name a few in this huge cast, then you are in for a treat when you do.
The story really doesn’t have much of a plot (okay a small one somewhere in the middle) and there are many stand-alone performances, the highlight being the swing dance number by Whitey’s Lindy Hopper Dancers (in order of appearance) William Downes and Micky Jones, Billy Ricker and Norma Miller, Al Minns and Willa Mae Ricker, Frankie Manning and Ann Johnson. Watch the Lindy Hop by clicking .
Next was THE NERVOUS WRECK (1926) which would have made it the precursor to Whoopee! (1930). While THE NERVOUS WRECK credits E.J. Rath for the story, Whoopee! is based on the play The Nervous Wreck which was written by Owen Davis, which obviously was based on Rath’s story. I had actually seen and written notes on Whoopee! not too long ago and had a lot of fun comparing the two.
Directed by Scott Sidney with Harrison Ford (the first), Phyllis Haver, Chester Conklin, Mack Swain and Hobart Bosworth, this story is a simpler one due to less characters than you’ll find in the talkie. As a starter, there are no Native Indians! But Henry Williams (Harrison Ford) is a handsome-ish hypochondriac and catches the eye of ranch owner Jud Morgan’s (Hobart Bosworth) daughter Sally (Phyllis Haver). Sally is engaged to be married to Sheriff Bob Wells (Paul Nicholson) but she’s not very enthused about the idea. Although Henry is always worried sick about some imaginary illness, this doesn’t seem to faze Sally, rather the contrary, it endears him to her, and she asks him to drive her into town.
Along the way, on a mountain road, they run out of gas. When a car comes along, they ask for some gas, but are rebuked and told to (somehow) move their car out of the path.
Henry decides to hold them up for the gas, using a monkey-wrench in lieu of a gun while Sally fills their gas tank by first sucking it out with a hose, leaving the extra gas to drain from the others’ car while she and Henry make their escape in theirs.
This leaves Jerome and Harriet Underwood, father and daughter (Mack Swain and Vera Steadman) and their other passengers in the same position they found Henry and Sally in.
Henry and Sally stop off at a ranch where they are hoping to be guests. But the people there need a cook and dishwasher and when Henry and Sally realize the people they just held up have arrived and are planning to stay, they take the job in the hopes that will keep them out of their path. But it doesn’t. And instead of Harrison Ford disguising himself in blackface the way Eddie Cantor did in Whoopee!, he looks more like he’s in whiteface (if there is such a thing) with his makeup and the flour he uses.
When comparing the shenanigans that occur in both Whoopee! and THE NERVOUS WRECK, the comedy is a more staid in the latter. Besides adding more people in the former (such as the Indians and a nurse as a different love interest), you have to take into consideration that you have Eddie Cantor and Busby Berkeley with the gorgeous Goldwyn Girls doing wild and crazy things.
I last saw Phyllis Haver in Chicago made the following year and eleven films later. She started out in short films in 1916 at the age of 17 when she was discovered and hired by Mack Sennett and became one of his “Sennett Bathing Beauties”. She retired from acting in 1929 when she married a millionaire. Sadly, after 16 years of marriage, the couple were divorced and she became more and more of a recluse until she took her own life at the age of 61. She made such an impact in Chicago (scroll down to July 11 for Short Review) that it’s again just one of those unhappy surprises that she had such a hard time living life later on. I quite enjoyed seeing her in THE NERVOUS WRECK.
The last film of the evening was a late noir, 99 RIVER STREET (1953), directed by Phil Karlson, with John Payne and Evelyn Keyes and it was a good one. It’s the story of ex-boxer, Eddie Driscoll (John Payne) who missed the title when he was permanently injured in his last bout.
Now he’s a taxi-cab driver who’s trying to save enough to buy his own garage. He’s got a beautiful wife, Pauline (Peggie Castle), an ex-showgirl, who thought she was marrying up when she married Eddie before his downfall.
She dislikes everything about her husband and her situation, working in a florist shop, and is carrying on an affair with jewel thief Victor Rawlins (Brad Dexter) which eventually Eddie becomes wise to.
When Eddie is driving his taxi, he often stops at a diner for some caffeine and one of the characters he’s befriended is aspiring actress Linda James (Evelyn Keyes). The night we meet her, she’s got butterflies due to the fact that she has a 9:00 p.m. audition at one of the theatres. When Eddie next sees her, things have gone horribly wrong for her, having accidently killed the director.
So without giving any more away, in this one night, Driscoll has to deal with Linda’s problem, his wife’s unfaithfulness, her gangster boyfriend and being one step ahead, while dodging the police. An alliance forms between Eddie and Linda which gives us insight into noble characters.
Evelyn Keyes really was an unusual actress. Her looks are not typical yet she’s certainly someone hard to look away from when she’s on the screen. Besides her most famous role in Gone With the Wind, she was in many, many films including the interesting The Prowler (1951).
Monday, May 25, 2015 – Day 4
Since there were only three films on the morning of the last day of Cinevent, I’m including the only one of the three I saw. The first one I missed was THE GALLANT BLADE (1948), directed by Henry Levin with Larry Parks, Marguerite Chapman, George Macready and Victor Jory. The last film which I also missed was MELODY PARADE (1943), directed by Arthur Dreifuss, with Mary Beth Hughes and Eddie Quillan.
I did stay to see SAN FRANCISCO DOCKS (1941), directed by Arthur Lubin, with Burgess Meredith, Irene Hervey, Barry Fitzgerald, Raymond Walburn, Robert Armstrong and Esther Ralston.
Irish immigrants are living in San Francisco with the main gathering-hole being an Irish pub run by “Admiral” Tracy (Raymond Walburn) and his daughter Kitty (Irene Hervey). Tracy is always telling whoppers about his sea experiences and Icky (Barry Fitzgerald), who seems to use the bar as his home away from home, always has some smart alecky comeback.
Kitty’s sweetheart is Johnny Barnes (Burgess Meredith) and after a fist fight with a man hitting on Kitty, the man is shortly afterwards found murdered. Johnny is arrested and held on suspicion. Kitty believes in his innocence and I have to say she is a brave and heroic woman, that there’s nothing going to stop her from saving her man from being accused and convicted of a wrongful murder charge.
Earlier on there is a prison escape where only one of four prisoners manages to make it across the river. Monte March (Edward Pawley) makes it to shore after drowning the only other prisoner who wasn’t shot by the guards before hitting the water, so we know he’s a bad man for sure. When he lands, he’s met by a man who whisks him off to his wife Frances’ apartment (Esther Ralston).
Meanwhile, when Johnny was strolling down by the docks for a think after his fist fight, he saw what looked like an innocuous meeting between two or three men, so for the latter part of the film, Kitty and the boys run around trying to find one of these men to corroborate Johnny’s alibi.
One of the climatic moments for us movie goers is the cat fight between Kitty and Esther. As we know, we’re all voyeurs when it comes to two women fighting. As Stewart McKissick wrote in the notes, “The film packs a lot of plot twists (OK, too many) into its 65 minutes, and has an uneven mix of comedy and drama, but it all zips by fast and friendly and I believe you’ll be entertained.” I certainly was.
So that ends Cinevent for another year. It was a lot of fun, I was very happy with my DVD purchases, coveting films that I have seen before and loved, or ones I wish to see due to the director, actors or year of release.
Many thanks to the two pianists, Dr. Philip Carli and David Drazin and most of all to the Cinevent organizers. I look forward to next year!
Thursday, May 22, 2014 – Day 1
I went to Cinevent in Columbus, Ohio for the first time. This was the festival’s 46th year running. It was a wonderful four days of film with hoards of dealers selling film, DVDs, vintage posters, movie magazines, books, lobby cards and most any other film paraphernalia you can think of. I have to admit I bought plenty of movies on DVD as well as two books, one being a biography on William Haines. Should be an interesting read.
Starting at 11:00 a.m., the festival opened up with HOOSIER HOLIDAY (1943) directed by Frank McDonald with George Byron and Dale Evans. This was a rarely seen film with a wartime message. It was about a family of five male farmers who live with their widowed mother but in their spare time (surprised they had any) they play wonderful swing music and were known in 1943 real life as the Hoosier Hotshots. These young(ish) men want to do their part in the war by enlisting into the Air Force. The enlisting decision maker, Henry Fairchild (Thurston Hall) turns out to be the man the boys’ mother spurned to marry their father those many years ago and so there is no love lost between the two families. But without prejudice, the Baker boys are told that their role as farmers (Soldiers of Soil) is more important then enlisting, so their request is declined. They end up meeting the five Fairchild daughters who have just returned from finishing school, majoring in music, and you can guess the rest. Even though these boys like these girls, they figure by showing major interest, their father will want to get rid of them by giving them what they really want–to join the war. There is also a budding romance between both parents which is kind of sweet.
During a party scene at the Baker’s farm, there is dancing and singing. The only black folk are the servants and there is some fine and fun dancing by the waiting staff. It was interesting to note that some of the most entertaining scenes in the upcoming films were the black talent in musical numbers.
The Hoosier Hotshots were Frank Kettering, Paul Trietsch, Charles Ward and Ken Trietsch while the Fairchild sisters were played by the Music Maids, Alice Ludes, Patt Hyatt, Jeanne Darrell and Denny Wilson.
This was followed by REPORTED MISSING (1937) directed by Milton Carruth with William Gargan and Jean Clayton, a little thriller about plane sabotage for monetary gains. Steve (William Gargan) is an inventor whose radar-like invention (remember, this is before radar) doesn’t prevent the trial plane from crashing into a mountain. Steve’s fiancée Jean (Jean Rogers) stands by her man even though their good friend Paul (Dick Purcell) lets her know he’s totally interested. He’s such a good friend that he even offers to buy Steve’s invention from him in order to help him out with his money problems. In the meantime, other planes are crashing and it’s discovered that somehow diamonds, stocks, bonds and cash are being stolen off of the dead victims. The Secret Service, Steve, with Jean who just happens to be an airline hostess, all fly on the same plane in order to catch the culprit. It was fairly easy to figure out who the villain was, but maybe not exactly how he did the crime until it was enacted.
Jack Carson had a very small role as an airplane flight radio announcer and there was some good teasing banter between Brad Martin (Joseph Sawyer) and Duffy (Billy Wayne).
There were a number of films during the weekend that took place on planes and it was so interesting to see the many changes that were made on commercial airlines over the years. This plane had single seats all in a row, one in front of the other, on either side by the window and held about 16 passengers. There was no seat assignment so you just made your choice when you arrived.
The next film was MR. ROBINSON CRUSOE (1932) directed by Edward Sutherland with Douglas Fairbanks and Maria Alba.
Although this was 1932 and the film was planned as a talkie, apparently the sound equipment was faulty and director Sutherland was forced to shoot this film with a mute camera with plans to dub in the sound later at the studio. While both talkie and silent versions survive today, the silent is considered the far better and less available. We were fortunate to see the silent film. Great sound effects were dubbed in at appropriate moments, much like Chaplin did in his silent talking-era films.
The story is about a modern-day millionaire who, while travelling on his yacht with a couple of business friends, makes a bet with William Belmont (William Farnum) that he can survive and prosper by himself on a deserted island. They shake and Steve (Fairbanks) dives off the side of the ship and swims to an island. His faithful dog follows and the two of them start off to find fresh water. From there, they find food and Steve begins to build all types of elaborate devices including shelter, a catapult, strategic swinging vines and anything else he will need later on when thwarting savages from another island. In the meantime, we see lovely native girl Maria Alba being forced to marry a brutish native. She runs away in the middle of the ceremony, escaping in a canoe to land on Steve’s island. Steve names her Saturday (ha ha) and they fall madly in love. To make herself helpful, Saturday’s first act of domesticity is to wash the dirty dishes piled up in kitchen area designed by Steve. Really?
The natives come in search of Saturday while at the same time Steve’s friends come to find out how he’s been managing after what I think is a three-month period.
Boy, he sure got a lot done. Totally amazing and totally unbelievable. But fun, reminding me of the “architecture” in Swiss Family Robinson (1960). It was delightful and Fairbanks’ second to last film.
Next we watched HI, GOOD LOOKIN’! (1944) directed by Edward C. Lilley with Harriet Hilliard, Eddie Quillan and Kirby Grant, an entertaining enough little film about a young woman, Kelly Clark (Harriet Hilliard–later to become Harriet Nelson of Ozzie and Harriet fame) who is told to come to the Big City by small-town pal Dynamo Carson (Eddie Quillan) by fibbing that he is an executive at a radio station when in fact he’s an usher. Kelly wants to become a famous singer and immediately on arrival has a suitcase mishap with famous singer King Castle (Kirby Grant).
Why, when these mistakes happen, the genuinely sorry party, the male, is always talked to rudely by the female, even when the switch of suitcases is plausibly explained? And then why does the male always fall for the female? I’ve never noticed this happening in real life.
Dynamo gets Kelly a job as a waitress in a restaurant of budding actresses, singers and dancers and who should walk in on her first day there is King. She’s wearing this silly looking waitress uniform and he invites her sit with him and then, like what always happen, sing a song loud enough so the whole restaurant can applaud. Harriet Hilliard reminded me a lot of Lucille Ball and sang like I imagine Lucy would sound if she was a singer. Kirby Grant had the really terrific voice!
Anyway, Dynamo gets her a spot on midnight radio and with him behind the guitar and King on piano and singing incognito (no one seemed to recognize his very distinctive voice) they become a hit as Kelly and her Boyfriends. The radio station that features the product that King is hired to promote wants to fire him and hire Kelly and her Boyfriends until all is unveiled.
There are some funny scenes: the newspaper gossip writer who has it in for King is trying to find out who the secret Boyfriend is. Everyone dresses up in a black robe, black hat with hair and long beards to confuse the issue. Well done comedy. The product owner and his ditsy wife also had some good lines: Wife- “That man–he just sends me out of this world”. Droll reply-“I wish we’d met him sooner.” Husband-“You can really try a man’s patients.” Wife-“I might as well, I’ve tried everything else.” Well done deliveries. Lastly, there was a nightclub act with three black male dancers performing on top of a piano. They were great while the one with the long beard was fantastic! If you can view this performance, do. Ozzy Nelson and his orchestra performed for the radio station.
The last film before dinner break was ILLEGAL TRAFFIC (1938) directed by Louis King with J. Carrol Naish, Mary Carlisle, Robert Preston and Buster Crabbe.
Take the title literally, not figuratively. A nice little crime drama about a mobster, Lewis Zomar (J. Carrol Naish) who arranges getaways for criminals to avoid the law from being able to arrest their bosses. Robert Preston plays undercover detective Charles Bent Martin who falls for innocent Carol Butler (Mary Carlisle). She’s even naive enough to accept an office job from Zomar where her daily work load is typing up one letter a day. Her father, whose failing out-of-the-way diner business, accepted a monetary arrangement with Zomar in exchange for using his restaurant for the transportation of criminals to take place, wants to get out of the business when his daughter gets involved. He’s a weak character and at one point in the story even allows his daughter to be used as a hostage. Nice dad.
Zomar is a real piece of work. He thinks that all women are dopes and likes to tell his mistress, Judith Barrett (Marie Arden), that she’s “dumb”. She’s anything but, but she is jealous of any attention he pays towards other women, especially Carol. Bent Martin infiltrates the mob but is eventually caught out. But it all ends well. Buster Crabbe plays one of Zomar’s henchmen–the strong, silent type– very different from his heroic role of the “future”. This film also features a contemporary aeroplane as one of the getaway vehicles.
After the dinner break the next two films were shown at the Wexner Center for the Arts, part of the Ohio State University. The first was a 35mm print, the second, digital.
THE GREEN COCKATOO (1937) was directed by William Cameron Menzies with John Mills, René Ray and Robert Newton. Although there were lots of discrepancies in the story line, it was beautifully filmed and still quite entertaining.
Eileen (René Ray) is an innocent young country girl heading towards London on a train. Her compartment companion is a blustery, bearded gentleman who warns her (and scares her) about the evilness of London. In the meantime, gambler Dave Connor (Robert Newton) has just swindled a group of gangsters led by Terrel (Charles Oliver) who is now after Dave to get the money and his life. After visiting his brother Jim (John Mills) who works as a nightclub performer at the Green Cockatoo, he takes Jim’s advice to skedaddle out town and heads to the train station. Terrel and his men are quick to follow and they waylay and stab him. Dave manages to stagger away and that’s where he meets up with Eileen who needs help finding a place to stay. Using her as a shield, he painfully walks her to a nearby hotel where he manages to get her the last available room. She thanks him and asks the maid for a cup of tea. Dave realizes that the gangsters are waiting outside for him and he heads back up to Eileen’s room, crumpling up on her bed mumbling his message of “Terrel” she must take to Jim at the Green Cockatoo. Then he dies. Eilleen grabs the closest thing on Dave, which just happens to be the knife which must have still be protruding from him, and in walks the maid with the tea. It looks precarious for Eileen and the maid goes out yelling for the proprietor to come up to see what’s just happened. Eileen goes running out of the room, leaving behind her belongings, and asks some friendly drunken older man in a car to drive her to the Club. Glad she got there. Jim has just told the bartender to tell anyone who enquires about him that he’s unavailable. So this is the message that Eileen gets and just as she’s going to leave, the police arrive asking after her by description, only as they don’t know her name.
This is where you wonder how they knew where to look for her. London is a big city and no one heard Dave’s message to her but herself. I could see them going there to inform his brother about the murder, but that wasn’t even in the cards at this point in the plot.
But on with the story. Eileen eventually finds her way to hide up in Jim’s room where he pretends she’s a colleague who’s come to practice an act with him when a policeman comes to make enquiries. She’s a terrible singer and Jim likes to remind her of this throughout the story. Lots of running, hiding and escaping goes on until the inevitable end where we find Jim and Eileen heading back to innocence, her sleepy little country village. Wonderful camerawork by Mutz Greenbaum, with shadowy sets (especially in the hallway of the dilapidated building used as a hiding place) most probably designed by Menzies himself.
The last screening for the evening was JET STORM (1959) directed by Cy Endfield with Richard Attenborough, Stanley Baker and Hermione Baddeley. This film is considered the British prototype for the airport disaster movies of the 60s and 70s featuring an all-star cast among the 40 passengers and crew. Attenborough is a specialist in unstable compounds and when he and his wife of a year board the plane for their transatlantic flight to New York, you realize he’s also unstable. The reason for this, we learn, is that he has seen the man, James Brock (George Rose), who is responsible for the death of his young daughter several years earlier in a hit-and-run accident; and he has just boarded the same flight. Brock had been drinking as well as travelling with a woman who was not his wife Rose (Megs Jenkins), and drove up onto the sidewalk killing the girl. Attenborough, who met his current wife Carol (Mai Zetterling) when she was a nurse in the hospital where he was recovering from a nervous breakdown, hired private detectives to find the culprit. Since he doesn’t appear quite recovered, he lets staff and passengers know that he has planted a bomb somewhere on the plane and that they all are going to pay for the injustice done to his daughter. Slowly, the crew and passengers divide themselves into two camps, reactionary and passive. Eventually the youngest traveller, a boy of nine, helps save the day.
Again, another film with a contemporary plane. This one was definitely my favourite with two seats side by side, a second set of seats facing each other, lots of leg room and a lower deck with a bar and lounge. What style!
The end of Day 1. Stay tuned for Day 2.
Friday, May 23, 2014 – Day 2
The first film started at 9:00 a.m. but no sleeping in for me as I didn’t want to miss THE MURDER MAN (1935) what with the great cast and intriguing title. Directed by Tim Whelan with Spencer Tracy, Virginia Bruce, Lionel Atwill and James Stewart in his feature debut, it didn’t disappoint.
The Murder Man actually referred to Steve Grey (Spencer Tracy), a newspaper man who wrote the best copy when it came to any murders committed in town. Both Mary Shannon (Virginia Bruce) and Shorty (James Stewart) work for the same newspaper, Mary as a copywriter and Shorty as another reporter. Mary is in love with Steve and although he’s very sweet on her, you discover he had been married in the past and is still stuck on his dead wife.
There is a ruthless ponzi schemer who had swindled hundreds of people, when he is killed. Steve is called in from a drinking spree by his editor since he’s always able to secure a front page article for his newspaper before any reporter working for the competition can. It’s uncanny how he can sometimes even figure out the angles and submit his write up even before he meets with witnesses! Shorty, who works for the same paper, shows great disappointment when he’s called off of an assignment whenever Steve is available
When we find out who committed the murder with the consequences being prison for life, it was a surprise to most of us. Interestingly, we know the ending would have been different had it been made just a year earlier in the pre-Code era.
Next film was BULLDOG JACK (1935) directed by Walter Forde, with Jack Hulbert, Fay Wray and Ralph Richardson.
This was a wonderful and very funny British spoof on the Bulldog Drummond series. Right from the start Bulldog Drummond (Atholl Fleming) is out of the picture when he is hurt in a sabotaged car crash and taken to hospital. With the detective’s blessings, the sleuthing falls on Jack Pennington (Jack Hulbert) to masquerade as Drummond with hilarious dialogue, delivery and consequences. Fay Wray plays Ann Manders, the lovely damsel in distress, Claude Hulbert as the whimsical and funny Algy Longworth and Ralph Richardson plays villain Morelle. Much of the film was shot in the then-recently decommissioned Central Line Underground station known as “British Museum” and in the British Museum as well for the exciting climatic ending, giving the film extra historical value. It was released under the name Alias Bulldog Drummond in the US but was not a success.
Following the lunch break, we saw SIN TOWN (1942) directed by Ray Enright with Constance Bennett, Broderick Crawford and Andy Devine. I loved the title about a town filled with grifters and hustlers all trying to steal each other’s cash and oil well claims. Kye Allen (Constance Bennett) is Dude McNair’s (Broderick Crawford) business and swindling partner who’s quite jealous when he shows blatant interest in other women, especially Laura Kirby (Anne Gwynne) who’s engaged to good guy Wade Crowell (Patric Knowles). It was unusual and actually refreshing to see Crawford play a somewhat smooth operator with the ladies. Angelo Collina (Leo Carrillo), Rock Delaney (Ward Bond) are bad swindlers while ‘Judge’ Eustace Vale (Andy Devine) is on the side of the good swindlers. Confusing? Not really, but lots of crossing and double-crossing.
In a fight scene between Dude and Rock, the choreography was fabulous. It took place in an empty bar and they fought up the stair, down the stairs and over the railing in what looked like one long take.
A fair amount of change of clothes for the lovely Constance Bennett including the whitest looking dress (Crawford was also in white) when they were on the most dust-infested piece of land they had just been conned into buying. My question is how did the clothes stay so darned white and sparkling with all those clouds of dust billowing up at every foot fall?
In a later scene, Constance wore the one most god-awful outfit I had the fortune to stare at over the weekend. It had this dark, gauzy material with spiky somethings sticking out all over it which covered the waist, wrists, shoulders from back to front and tied around her hat under her chin. It even came with a matching hand muff. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it and it was a delight when the oil gusher aimed for the dress.
We were immediately treated to a scene out of the movie A Little Romance (1979) where an older Crawford attends a party as himself. He’s there for the free booze and the hopes of “getting laid”. A young boy tells him how much he admired him in SIN TOWN and Crawford responds with something like, “Was I in that film?”
What followed next were two Lon Chaney films. The first was the first three and half of five reels that survive from TRIUMPH (1917) directed by Joseph De Grasse, the story of young, innocent Nell (Dorothy Phillips) who has dreamed of becoming an actress since she was a wee lass. While waiting for a train to New York, she meets the leading man, Dudley Weyman (William Stowell), of a NY repertory company and on arrival is introduced to lecherous stage manager David Montieth (William J. Dyer) who hires her and gives her important roles in the hopeful expectation she will pay him back in favours. She falls in love with playwright Paul Neihoff (Lon Chaney) who has a sad and tragic life and is in fragile health.
The second Chaney film was THE ROAD TO MANDALAY (1926), directed by Tod Browning, their third film collaboration, with Lois Moran, Owen Moore and Henry B. Walthall. This film reminded me somewhat of West of Zanzibar (1928) also directed by Tod Browning with Lon Chaney.
It’s the story about underworld criminal, Singapore Joe (Chaney) who has abandoned his daughter (Lois Moran) at birth to be raised by Singapore’s minister brother, Father James (Henry B. Walthall). Singapore has a huge, loving soft spot for his daughter and wants to change his life so that he can be in hers. She sees him lurking around and despises him. But when Joe discovers that she wants to marry one of his associates, The Admiral (Owen Moore), he does all he can to stop the union.
Chaney’s character, Singapore Joe, had a blind left eye and we learned that for Chaney to get the desired visual effect, he had a special glass shield, a sort of prototypical contact lens designed for him by Dr. Hugo Keifer, a Los Angeles optician.
As for the film itself, though it’s missing approximately two and a half reels of footage from its original running time, the four reels we did see seemed to encapsulate the entire story.
The last film before dinner break was THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER (1953), directed by Rudolph Maté with Tyrone Power and Piper Laurie, in sumptuous Technicolor. The story begins with gambler Mark Fallon (Tyrone Power) meeting Kansas John Polly (John McIntire) where they decide to go into partnership and introduce honest gambling on Mississippi riverboats. Fallon makes an immediate enemy of Laurent Dureau (John Baer) who settles his debt with Fallon by giving him his sister’s necklace which belonged to their dead mother.
This is another one of those stories where the introduction scene between Mark Fallon and Angelique Dureau (Piper Laurie) is when chivalry meets contempt. It takes pretty much the whole film for Angelique, who marries another half-way through, to realize her love for Mark. In the meantime, he befriends Angelique’s father, Edmond (Paul Cavanagh) and Ann Conant (Julia Adams), who is also in love with Fallon, but to him she’s just a “buddy”.
There is lots of sword duelling, the clothes are stunning and Piper Laurie is just breathtaking in colour!
After the dinner break, they showed the Laurel and Hardy short DIRTY WORK (1933), which I missed. But I was back for THE CLOUDED YELLOW (1950), directed by Ralph Thomas, with Jean Simmons and Trevor Howard. It was a psychological British thriller about a retired–or forced to anyway–secret service agent who takes a job cataloguing butterflies at a country estate belonging to Jess (Sonia Dresdel) and Nicholas Fenton (Barry Jones). Here he meets their niece Sophie Mairaux (Jean Simmons) and is warned that she is a little odd due to witnessing the death of her mother when she was a child.
When unscrupulous handyman Hick (Maxwell Reed) is found murdered, it looks like Sophie may have done the deed. But ex-agent David Somers (Trevor Howard) believes this unusual, sensitive and fragile woman was framed and leads the police and the Fentons on a tense chase from Newcastle to Liverpool to catch a ship for France where the murderer is revealed.
This was followed by DOUBLE DOOR (1934), directed by Charles Vidor with Mary Morris, Evelyn Vernable and Kent Taylor, based on the stage play by Elizabeth McFadden. People were looking forward to this and although we showed it at TFS many years ago, I only remembered the significance of the double door but not any of the details. A very satisfying thriller with the audience even heckling the villainess Victoria Van Brett (Mary Morris). Anne Darrow (Evelyn Venable) marries Victoria’s half-brother Rip (Kent Taylor) and lives in the house with Victoria and her sister Caroline (Anne Revere). Victoria has been mean, bossy and vindictive since she was a child and decides to do to Anne to get her jewellery what she did to her sister Anne just to keep her from marrying. (Insert wicked laugh)
Victoria also tries to turn Rip, who’s prone to giving in to her, against Anne by saying that Anne is carrying on behind his back with his best friend, Dr. John Lucas (Colin Tapley). Mary Morris and Anne Revere were brought in to play their parts from the original Broadway play. This was stage actress Mary Morris’s only film appearance, playing an elderly spinster even though she was only 39. Anne Revere debuted as well in this film but continued to act in films and TV. She was 31 when she played Caroline.
Evelyn Venable had three films under her belt when she played Anne at the age of 21. Quite striking, she also had a melodic and husky quality to her voice which I enjoyed listening to.
It was getting late by the second to last film, BURN ‘EM UP BARNES (1921), directed by George Andre Beranger and Johnny Hines, but I had seen Live Wire (1925) at Cinefest in Syracuse this past March and was quite taken with Johnny Hines physical talents that I wanted to force myself to stay awake to watch this film. Well, it could have been as if I was dreaming. The story in this film, which was made four years earlier, was the exact same story! Edmund Breese plays the same role in both films as well, just under different names–King Cole vs. Sawdust Sam. It even featured the same pranks. For instance, when Barnes (Johnny Hines) and King Cole are playing poker with a couple of other tramps, they cheat in the same way (King Cole uses his feet.) There’s a scene where the two of them steal chickens from a storeowner’s coop and keep selling him his own chickens over and over again. In Live Wire, they pulled the same stunt but with pigs. Barnes’s love interest, Madge is a different actress (Betty Carpenter) but their story is the same. They fall for each other. She asks her father to lend him money so he can promote some big idea while the father’s mean-spirited clerk who is also infatuated with Madge, tries to ruin their business. I was so tired that I decided to call it a night half-way through.
I missed the very last film of the evening NIGHT MONSTER (1942) with Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill.
The end of Day 2. Stay tuned for Day 3.
Saturday, May 24, 2014 – Day 3
I decided to sleep late and miss the Animation Program. There were ten cartoons from 1927 to 1953 and I’m sure they were quite a lot of fun and interesting but you gotta miss something! Since movies are my preference, I would rather be there for those, especially silents, even if it’s a Western–not my favourite genre.
So I was there in time to see THE SILENT MAN (1917), directed and starring William S. Hart. Surprisingly, for me, I quite enjoyed this typical western story about a miner, ‘Silent’ Budd Marr (Hart) who finally strikes it rich by finding ore–not the usual gold–in the Arizona Desert. He heads into the town of Bakeoven (a perfect name for this dusty, hot-looking location) where he plans to register his claim. But first stop is the Hello Thar Saloon where he treats himself to three glasses of the drink he has mostly been thirsting for–water! He pays for it with ore that he keeps in his bullets by replacing the gunpowder. I really like that idea and think it would make an eye-catching fashion statement for people who need to carry anything in powder form.
When bad man ‘Handsome Jack’ Presley (Robert Kim) learns of Silent Budd’s find, he has his showgirl wife (who most likely trades in another profession) Topaz (Dorcas Mathews) pretend she’s a poor, helpless victim of dubious circumstances but in reality helps her husband cheat Silent Budd out of his claim. She is sitting behind Silent during a card game between the two men, when he catches on to the scheme by seeing her using hand signals in the reflection of a gas lantern. Table and chairs are upturned and a fight ensues with Silent Budd losing his claim and getting tossed out of the saloon. So he becomes a bandit.
In the meantime, Handsome Jack needs new blood for the saloon and goes to another town to woo sweet Betty Bryce (Vola Vale) to come with him to get married. Betty and her young brother David (Harold Goodwin) are orphans and she believes this marriage would improve their lot in life.
As they’re making their way back to Bakeover, Silent Budd holds up the coach, steals back his sacks of ore which are kept in Handsome Jack’s sights and kidnaps Betty–for her own good although she doesn’t know it.
But David is left behind and for a while there, I wondered if he was forgotten altogether as Betty didn’t seem the least bit perturbed or for that matter mention him in even one inter-title! But eventually he is rescued and brought to Betty at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Preachin’ Bill Hardy (George Nichols and Gertrude Claire). Betty eventually learns that Handsome Jack is already married, that Silent Budd is a good man and after a scene with a rampaging fire, alls well that ends well.
And my favourite inter-title was the one with fireworks in the place of swear words.
The film following lunch was FOLLOW THE BOYS (1944). I have seen this film twice in the past, once at TFS and once on home video and I remember not liking it all that much. It’s one of those wartime-“let’s entertain the troops” film with a side story going on throughout the film. George Raft plays dancer Tony West who marries famous film star dancer Gloria Vance (Vera Zorina). When war breaks out, Tony is unable to enlist due to flat feet or some such ailment so takes on the role of organizing shows for the boys. So pretty much all the other well-known actors play themselves with the best act, and the only one I could remember, being Orson Welles playing magician with Marlene Dietrich helpfully assisting. Very cute.
I enjoyed some of the performances: Sophie Tucker, Donald O’Conor and Peggy Ryan The Andrew Sisters and W.C, Fields, but for the most part, I find musicals where I just have to watch someone sing somewhat dull, even if they are talented.
This went for Jeanette MacDonald and Dinah Shore who sang two songs each, pianist Artur Rubinstein, and even George Raft. For some reason, I found Raft’s dancing laughable. He starts out by performing a gaucho dance with Gloria Vance and I thought he looked terrible and pudgy in the outfit. I know that Rath is a stocky guy, but I always found he looked attractive in his films. I think it must have been his clothes that made him look so unattractive when he danced. There’s a scene where he’s visiting the black service men (of course they weren’t allowed to mingle with white men) and when it starts to rain, George starts to dance. Not flattering; the black troop would all have been better dancers!
And then there’s the domestic front. Tony is married to Gloria and she wants to tell him her happy news and he doesn’t have time to listen to her. They have a big fight, each feeling let down and misunderstood by the other and Tony moves out. About 3/4 of the way through, I just didn’t want to watch anymore, figuring it would all end as most movies do, but not remembering that it didn’t. So I can always watch the ending on my home copy, if I’m ever so inclined.
As an aside, a friend and I noticed that Joan Blondell’s name was mentioned twice and were just as excited as the servicemen would have been to see her perform! But alas, it was just a tease–no Joan.
Next up was CAMPUS KNIGHTS (1929), directed by Albert Kelley with Raymond McKee, Marie Quillan and Shirley Palmer, a silly story about identical twin brothers who keep getting mistaken for each other.
Earl Hastings is a womanizer who likes to party while his brother Ezra Hastings is a meek professor who teaches a course on butterflies (of course, and a very important course) in an all-girl college. Poor Ezra keeps getting in trouble with the Dean because of all the shenanigans caused by his brother.
For interest sake, Marie Quillan is the sister of Eddie Quillan, who was in Hi, Good Lookin’ shown on Day 1.
After the film, author Robert Matzen talked about his book Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3. It was very interesting to hear him talk about the details of the plane crash and what domestic flights were like back in 1942. He sold copies afterwards for those of us who wanted to read more.
After dinner break, I missed Laurel and Hardy’s SCRAM (1932) but was back for some of the Charley Chase shorts: THE NICKEL NURSER (1932) with Thelma Todd, FALLEN ARCHES (1933) and POKER AT EIGHT (1935).
I was looking forward to the next film, THE STUDENT PRINCE IN OLD HEIDELBERG (1928), directed by Ernst Lubitsch, with Ramon Novarro, Norma Shearer, Jean Hersholt and Gustav von Seyffertitz (I love saying his name!)
I’ve been reading about and watching a fair amount of films with Norma Shearer over the past year and don’t recall ever seeing this one. It was on par with The Waltz Dream (1925) that I saw at Cinefest in Syracuse. It’s about royalty falling for a commoner. As a child, Prince Karl Heinrich (Phillipe De Lacy) has been brought up by his doting nanny (Edythe Chapman) until he is called to the palace by his formidable uncle King Karl VII (Gustav von Seyffertitz). Here, shy and sweet natured Karl feels quite isolated from the world when his nanny is sent away until kindly Dr. Jüttner (Jean Hersholtl) is hired to be his mentor and tutor. Karl grows up (Ramon Novarro) and when he passes his exams by being tested in front of a board of scholars, he is sent to Heidelberg to complete his studies.
This is where he gets his very first taste of the real world, where he befriends other young men and meets and falls in love with the lovely daughter, Kathi (Norma Shearer) who helps run the inn where Karl has chosen to room and board. Here he is admired and accepted by the other male students which included actor George K. Arthur.
However, the King falls ill and eventually dies and Karl becomes the next king. Sadly, his beloved tutor and companion, Dr. Jüttner dies as well which leaves Karl feeling very much alone again.
He decides to go back to visit the place where he was most happiest, but discovers that things can never be the same. A melancholy and heartfelt story.
The last film of the night was SECRETS OF SCOTLAND YARD (1944), directed by George Blair, with Edgar Barrier, C. Aubrey Smith, Lionel Atwill and Henry Stephenson.
What’s funny for me is I find a facial similarity between C. Aubrey Smith, Henry Stephenson and Lewis Stone. So to find two of them in a movie together allows me to see their differences when they’re on screen together.
This film was a crime mystery with lots of twists and turns. John Usher (Edgar Barrier) works in and for Room 40 which is considered the most top secret operation in the British espionage department. It is a small group of English cryptographers whose only job is to break the German communication codes during the World Wars. This story takes place during WWII. John is a widower and his young son David (Bobby Cooper) is returning home from a German boarding school because of the war, leaving behind his best friend and roommate, Carl (Frank Brand) with the promise that they will stay in touch by a code that Carl has learned from his father’s papers. The night of David’s return, John has finally been able to crack the latest code used by the Nazis but in the morning he is found murdered by his supervisor, Sir Christopher Pelt (C. Aubrey Smith). Understanding that his murder is the result of his ability to having cracked this last code, Pelt decides to keep his death a secret to all his workmates by bringing in John’s identical twin brother Robert to stand in for him. There are lots of interesting problems that result from this cover up, including the fact that John was missing a pinky finger on, I think, his right hand as well as the relationship between him and Sudan Ainger (Stephanie Bachelor) who has only just been brought into the department and has known John in the past. I did guess who the villain was when John was murdered ONLY because of type casting. But I won’t give it away in the hopes that you will come across this enjoyable crime film and be able to guess for yourself.
This was the end of Day 3. Stay tuned for Day 4.
Sunday, May 25, 2014 – Day 4
The last day of Cinevent.
The first film was SPIRIT OF CULVER (1939), directed by Joseph Santley, with Jackie Cooper, Freddie Bartholomew, Tim Holt and Andy Devine. There is something endearing about Andy Devine; maybe it’s his voice and demeanour. I can’t recall ever seeing him play an evil villain, but it would be interesting.
I enjoyed this first film of the last morning which takes place in the early days of the Depression. Teenage boys are lined up outside a soup kitchen (more like a soup shack) to get a piece of bread with some soup served out by Tubby (Devine). There’s a lot of boys, but he notices one young man in particular packing some newspaper up under his shirt to stop the cold wind blowing through the rips onto his naked skin. He tells the boy to come around to the back when he’s finished eating as he has a job proposition for him. (In these days, we would immediately think that something unsavoury is going to transpire, but just looking at Tubby’s face, as well as knowing our films, there’s no need to worry about that.) Tubby, who looks like he’s getting three square meals a day, offers Tom Allen (Jackie Cooper) a dishwashing job that will allow him to collect $5 at the end of his shift. At first Tom doesn’t want the job, acts like a typical tough-sounding kid who doesn’t trust anyone nor want to rely on them. We find out he’s an orphan but, and as it turns out, Tubby served in the war with Tom’s father, a surgeon who operated on the injured soldiers in WWI. The only possession that Tom has of his father is a Medal of Honour. This helps soften Tom’s feelings towards Tubby and take the job.
After a number of months on the job, he is offered a scholarship to Culver Military Academy. He reluctantly accepts, having to be persuaded that this is the best opportunity for him to receive a college education. Here is where he meets wealthy British student Bob Randolph III (Freddie Bartholomew). They become fast friends.
In the meantime, Tom’s father, ‘Doc’ Allen (Henry Hull) turns out not to be dead and meets up with Tubby. Doc is too ill and broken for you to feel much contempt for him for not finding his son and wife after the war. His story is that he developed severe PTSD while treating dying young men day in and day out and when one of the soldiers died during a bombing with Doc getting injured as well, he swapped papers with him and was treated in the hospital under the victim’s name. He’s been ashamed ever since and worried that he’ll have to serve time for deserting.
When he finds out his son is actually doing well, he doesn’t want Tubby to tell him he’s alive. Instead, Doc is admitted to a hospital where Tubby organizes a Christmas gift delivery event and has Tom and Bob deliver the gifts. That way, Tom meets Doc where the two of them get to talk and eventually there is a happy ending for all at the end of the film.
The next film was THE GOLEM (1920), directed by Carl Boese and Paul Wegener, with Paul Wegener.
Paul Wegener plays The Golem, a monster made out of clay to save the Jewish people of Prague from persecution by their Rabbi.
To bring the Golem to life, a special star-shaped disc must be attached to its chest. The Rabbi has control of this disc and tests the Golem out by having it do some grocery shopping.
The sub-plot revolves around the Rabbi’s daughter who is having an illicit affair with anti-Semitic Knight Florian (Lothar Müthel) who is part of the establishment wanting to destroy the Jews.
When her Jewish boyfriend discovers that she has a man in her bedroom, he awakens the Golem, but almost immediately loses control when the Golum kills the Knight and wreaks havoc throughout the village.
There is some interesting sorcery that goes on in the film, very different from what goes on at Synagogue services today. It would be very unusual but kind of exciting if this kind of thing went on!
It was noted that there was some similarities between the two characters, the Golem and Frankenstein’s monster, with the former influencing the latter. For instance, Wegener’s stiff-legged gait brings Karloff to mind and both films have a scene with a little girl, although with different conclusions.
Visually haunting with great expressionistic sets.
After lunch, there was one last Laurel and Hardy short, ANOTHER FINE MESS (1930) which I missed.
This was followed by EIGHT BELLS (1935), directed by Roy William Neill, with Ann Sothern and Ralph Bellamy. By this point, I kept drifting in and out, but the story was about a ship race from the States to Shanghai to get some sort of cargo there in time to seal a five-year contract with the Chinese railroad, or be penalized $5,000 for every day lost over schedule. Walker (Spencer Charters), one of the steamship line owners, puts their best freighter, the Comermere, on the job, but puts Roy Dale (John Buckler), the fiancé of his daughter Marge (Ann Sothern), in charge of the ship over its regular Captain, Steve Andrews (Ralph Bellamy), who is demoted to First Officer. The problem is, Dale’s only experience has been as a First Officer on passenger ships, and he has little knowledge of freighters.
As it’s a comedy, to add to the “hilarity”, Marge stows away on board to be near Dale, and First Officer Andrews is kept busy dealing with her shenanigans and Dale’s inefficiency, while still aiming to get to Shanghai on time.
I tried to stay awake for the next film THE BETTER ‘OLE (1926), directed by Charles Reisner, with Sydney Chaplin, but failed. I have no idea what it was about and had to take a break so I could be fresh for the evening movies. This film is available from Warners Archive Collection.
The last two films of the festival were rather interesting. The first was SECOND WIFE (1936), directed by Edward Killy, with Gertrude Michael and Walter Abel. It was such a strange story that had us all talking about it during the intermission.
The story is about a widower, Kenneth Carpenter (Walter Abel), a lawyer, who has a young son, Kenneth Jr. (Lee Van Atta). He is cared for by his loving housekeeper Mrs. Brown (Emma Dunn-Mrs. Baker in the first film of the festival, Hoosier Holiday). Kenneth has been dating a woman named Virginia (Gertrude Michael) and has invited her over for the first time to meet his son on his, I think, 10th birthday. Before they arrive, we learn that Kenneth Jr.’s mother had bought her last birthday gift for her son before she died, a toy zeppelin, and Mrs. Brown, as a perk, gives it to him to unwrap before his father arrives home from work. When he does arrive, they talk about the seating arrangement at the dinner table and decided to place Virginia facing the portrait of Kenneth’s late wife. We wonder why and then I think a lot of us wonder what type of a woman this Virginia is going to be. Will she become a wicked stepmother?
Before this meeting takes place though, Kenneth takes Kenneth Jr. to see his grandmother; but it’s not Kenneth’s mother, it’s his late wife’s mother. He asks her advice about remarrying. She’s all for it and says that if the roles had been reversed, she knows that Kenneth would have wanted her daughter to have found happiness in another marriage too. Very interesting so far. And while he’s there, Kenneth Jr. receives his father’s birthday gift, a new puppy he names Crazy.
When we finally do meet Virginia, we discover she is a very kind and soft-spoken woman who takes an instant liking to Kenneth Jr. and Mrs. Brown. The feelings seem to be mutual, so we think, so far so good. But things start to go wonky almost immediately. Virginia has a “friend”, Dave Bennett (Erik Rhodes) who is in love with her but the feeling isn’t mutual. He drops Virginia off for this first meeting at Kenneth’s home and invites himself in to inspect the competition. Still, Kenneth and Virginia get married.
Kenneth decides that it would be nice for the two of them to have a “Honeymoon” period so he decides to send Kenneth Jr. to boarding school–in Switzerland! What, somewhere in the U.S. wouldn’t have been far enough away?! The only one who seems to be unhappy with this decision is Mrs. Brown. Where’s the grandmother now? I’m sure she would have been happy to have her grandson board at her home and send him to the local school. And his puppy Crazy? He doesn’t even get a chance to bond with him.
Now, guess who’s expecting–and it isn’t Mrs. Brown. Who has ever seen a pregnant woman in early film? No one, plus the word “pregnant” isn’t allowed to be used either. But we figure it out and Virginia wears this negligee with frills all down the front which is suppose to make us think that this slim woman looks like she’s ready to give birth any moment–not. The telephone rings and it’s a long distance call from the Dean calling from Switzerland to say that Kenneth Jr. has come down with a deathly illness and he may not live. Kenneth decides on the spot that he needs to get there ASAP and takes the Hindenburg (which didn’t explode until May 6, 1937, a year after this film was made). Virginia who, up until then, seems to be a reasonable person, becomes totally upset that Kenneth is leaving her at the end of her pregnancy for his very ill son. I mean, he may die, but that doesn’t seem to matter to her. It’s all about her! Heck, I’m a woman and if I was in the same situation, I would say “Go!” But maybe it’s the hormones!
As it turns out, Kenneth Jr. was more susceptible to catching illnesses because he felt so abandoned by the people he loved. Once his father arrives, he is able to recover. But for Kenneth and Virginia, the damage is done and the marriage is well on the rocks heading for divorce. David takes no time stepping in to woo Virginia, but when he realizes she won’t leave her newborn daughter behind, he decides he can’t marry her. This was another hilarious slap in the face. A mother is really going to leave her first child with her ex-husband to marry a man she doesn’t even love and move to another country?
The story ends well. Kenneth Jr. is brought home to live, Mrs. Brown is happy and there’s even a last meeting between Kenneth and his ex-mother-in-law. But we all thought it an odd little film–and were happy to see it!
Gertrude Michael’s most famous role would be the jealous Rita Ross in Murder at the Vanities (1934) where she sings the “Sweet Marijuana” number.
Surprisingly, the last film, the well-known THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP (1939), also had a dysfunctional plot. A sequel to the popular Three Smart Girls (1936), you are meant to think it’s charming, but again, after a group of us talked about it, we concluded how mean-spirited it really was.
Penny Craig (Deanna Durbin) is the youngest of three sisters, Joan, the oldest (Nan Gray) and Kay, the middle (Helen Parrish, who replaced Barbara Read in the 1936 film). Joan is engaged to marry handsome Richard Watkins (William Lundigan) but Penny realizes that Kay is in love with him. She decides that the match is wrong and that Richard should marry Kay. She next decides to find a new boyfriend for Joan. And she finds him at her music school in the form of Harry Loren (Robert Cummings), musician extraordinaire. He plays piano, flute, probably more instruments and sings!
Penny’s father, Judson Craig (Charles Winninger) has no time for the family. He’s beyond absent minded when it comes to anything that doesn’t revolve around business. Penny’s mother, Dorothy Craig (Nella Walker) believes that it’s her youngest daughter who is in love with Harry, so to end the romance, she does what she considers reasonable–ask Mr. Craig to have Penny sing for him, tell her she has no talent and have her leave music school, which he will no longer pay for. How ridiculous is that!
Penny invites Harry to their mansion for dinner and he is immediately smitten with the engaged Joan. But when Penny embarrasses him, he leaves, having to take Mr. Craig’s coat and hat since the absent-minded father took his on the way out to a business emergency. Penny is constantly being sent to her room.
What’s funny is that these three young women, who live in a mansion, share one huge bedroom, with an attached sitting room and fireplace. They all sleep in single beds and their pyjamas are out-of-this-world! They must co-ordinate what they’re going to sleep in each night to match and the night we get a glimpse, they’re wearing what looks like a silky lounge one-piece with synch belts and furry, short-sleeved waist-length jackets. How could anyone possibly sleep in these things?
Penny embarrasses her sisters one night at a dinner when she announces to her table that Kay is in love with Richard. Kay slaps Penny across the face and it’s Penny who holds the grudge and Kay who begs for forgiveness. Personally, I couldn’t blame Kay for being mortified and even though it appeared that Penny was only thinking of her sister’s well-being, it really wasn’t her business to butt in.
Penny barges into a very important meeting her father is holding. On one hand, a friend thought it was disgraceful that she would interrupt her father in such an important meeting, yet on the other hand, she really was having an impossible time getting his attention throughout the film. Being locked doors without our hearing, she tells him the whole saga the day before Joan and Richard’s wedding. She comes away looking relieved and determined.
The day of the wedding, when Mr. Craig goes to walk his daughter Joan down the aisle, he walks her in the opposite direction, out the door and into the waiting arms of Harry. Kay, who is a bridesmaid, is lead up to the altar. Penny is happy and she forgives Kay. Richard feels relief that he is marrying the “right” girl and Harry and Joan are heading off to Europe, I think, to live in married bliss. What a story and what a family! And what a sister–one that would have been shot in real life with her interfering and controlling ways.
This was the end of the Cinevent weekend. There were two wonderful pianists to play for the silent film, Dr. Philip Carli (who plays for TFS’s George Eastman House seminar in August) and David Drazin, who I’d never had the pleasure of hearing before. The people who put together the weekend did a marvellous job of running the event smoothly and punctually. The notes for the films were exceptional, with very, very interesting information about the films, directors, performers and the studios.
For information about how to attend Cinevent, go to their website www.cinevent.com.