Cinecon 46-The 46th edition of the Classic Film Festival played the Egyptian Theatre (American Cinematheque) September 2-6. For lovers of classic Hollywood, silent film and slapstick there is no better place to spend the Labor Day weekend. Film buffs, film collectors and collectors of memorabilia come from all over the country. A floor of the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel is devoted to dealers, all organized by Dan Schwartz (Movie Collectibles Etc.) The highlight of Schwartz’s collectibles at this years show was Fatty Arbuckle’s original make-up kit, which Schwartz bought from Eric Stogo who acquired it from Arbuckle’s first wife, Minta Durfee.
Cinecon 46 was an embarrassment of riches. The jewel of Cinecon 46’s opening night Gala was the 1936 backstage musical “King Of Burlesque.” Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, Sidney Lanfield-directed “King Of Burlesque was 20th Century-Fox’s answer to the 1930’s Warner Brothers stage musicals. Reprising the driven showman role he was famous for in “42nd Street”, Warner Baxter plays Kerry Boulton (the King Of Burlesque) who successfully moves his cleaned-up spectacle from 14th street to Broadway. “What is this, an animal act?” Kerry snaps at his tired male chorus line.
Backstage in the burley house, a comedy couple (a top banana and his Taking Woman) argues till Oakie breaks them up. “I’ll tell you something else, Mud face, just because I married you when you was in the sewer don’t think you can do that to me!” ” Listen, toots, the sewer was paradise compared to you.” “What did you do with that two dollars you took outta my dressing room?” “Aw, I bought a yacht with part of it, then I put a little away for a rainy day, then with the rest…” It’s business as usual on 14th Street.
Dubbed The Czar of Broadway, after a string of smash musical review hits, Kerry falls for an insolvent, gold-digging socialite who ruins him. Kerry’s aided by trusty business manager Joe Cooney (the irrepressible Jack Oakie), lead dancer, choreographer Pat Doran (the fetching Alice Faye) who carries a torch for him. His Broadway office is staffed with talented hopefuls, working menial jobs in the hopes of getting an audition. Ben, the “elevator boy” (Fats Waller), Marie “the telephone girl” (Dixie Dunbar), Anthony Lamb (Nick Long Jr.), Speedy” the bootblack” (Gareth Joplin) and Arthur, a failed Hollywood leading man returning to his dancing Vaudeville roots (Kenny Baker). Once Kerry spots “pure class’ snooty socialite and recently widowed Rosalind Cleve (Mona Barrie) at her auction, he’s determined to marry her.
He snaps up her houseful of bibelots at fire sale prices, then offers to let her keep anything she wants. The snide Mrs. Rosalind Cleve rebuffs his dinner invitations. She’s “busy every night” with social register parasite and would be opera singer Stanley Drake (Charles Quigley.) Driven Boulton secretly manages to get Drake invited to an Opera School in Italy. Canny, cash poor Rosalind has second thoughts and marries Boulton, striking a lucrative pre-nup and the promise that he will school her equally reprehensible spoiled younger sister, Phyllis (Shirley Deane.) Heart-broken Pat takes a lucrative job on the London Stage. “What is this the zoo?” snarls ungrateful Phyllis at the wedding reception, repelled by “the social elite of Tin Pan Alley and Coney Island. “Well, you don’t have to rub it in. How do you suppose I feel?” asks the callous Rosalind before oblivious Kerry arrives to collect with his “Duchess.”
Manipulated by Rosalind, Boulton gambles all on a high tone show, featuring the talent-less Drake. The show fails and so, happily, does the marriage. Pat returns from London, and hiring sandwich -board man Kolpolpeck (Gregory Ratoff), for “a dollar a day” to play a Russian Millionaire, she secretly stakes his come back. The closing show is full of snappy productions numbers. Fats Waller shines in “I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed” and “I Love to Ride the Horses (On a Merry-Go-Round).” Dixie Dunbar swings out on “I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed”. You can catch a glimpse of uncredited Jane Wyman dancing. She’s behind Speedy the Bootblack (Gareth Joplin) to the right, in his dance number. Remade in 1943 as “Hello Frisco.” The Paxton Sisters perform a sassy specialty dance with Faye.
Friday’s program began with a swinging Technicolor George Pal Puppetoon, with “Rhapsody In Wood”, restored by The UCLA Films and Television Archive. The lively goings on, including a procession of strutting trees, illustrates Herman’s writer-arranger Ralph Burn’s concert-length “Rhapsody of Blue”, recorded by “First Herd” players (John Cave, C. Stanley Chapoupka etc.)
Sitting by the fireside, Woody narrates a tall tale about his gramps, a woodchopper who meets a spirit in the woods that tells him to carve a clarinet instead of chopping down trees. Gramps chisels a clarinet out of the heart of a tree and leads the trees in a triumphant “second-line’ procession. The swing “woodchopper” passes down his magical clarinet to grandson Woody, or so Woody claims. Not so argues Gramps when the cantankerous little puppet interacts with live-action Woody.
The title was a call back to Herman’s first big Decca hit (1939) “Woodchopper’s Ball.” and “Woodsheddin” (rehearsing) with Woody.” Woody created a band within a band, “The Woodchoppers”, nine of the hardest swingers in the First Herd, and the term “Woodchopping”, a handy combination of Woody’s name and the jive slang word ‘chops’ (skills) became synonymous for a band or players that really “got down.”
Two classics (well-known to film buffs but rarely seen in 33mm on the Silver Screen) were “Bombshell” and Harold Lloyd’s comic campus classic “The Freshman.” Eager college frosh Harold Lamb (who’s been reading Campus novels to bone up on the way to be cool, cuts an embarrassing swath through the freshman class. His signature jig of greeting, his outmoded sports accessories, and his nickname “Speedy” are the source of unending mirth for the spoiled popular kids. His first day, he manages to make off in the Dean’s car, and address the entire student body by mistake. Trying to join the football team, the coach (Pat Harmon) makes the plucky Harold who stands in as the tackle dummy, the water boy. Harold romances Peggy (Jobyna Ralston), his landlady’s daughter who’s working her way through school, hosts the lavish Freshman Frolic (in a basted suit that disintegrates at the dance) and scores the winning touchdown. Joseph Harrington played the harried tailor who follows Harold to the dance and stitches him up from various hiding places at the party. Harold is wonderful in the emotional scenes. Discovering what the mocking students think of him, he breaks down in Peggy’s arms. What a treat!
In “Bombshell”, Jean Harlow, at the height of her platinum beauty, plays film star Lola Burns (loosely based on “It” girl Clara Bow). She supports her rapacious family and a penniless nobleman, tries to keep the studio and gossip columnists happy, while satisfying each absurd publicity stunts though up by cynical studio press agent E.J.”Space”Hanlon. (Lee Tracy.) Her on-again off- again boyfriend, assistant- director Jim Brogan (Pat O’ Brien) is driven mad by jealousy catching sight of the ersatz Marquis Hugo de Pisa de Pisa (Ivan Lebedeff). Overworked by her studio and hectored by her entourage, Lola escapes to a desert resort where she’s paid court by Gifford Middleton, a Boston millionaire who doesn’t go to the movies and has no idea who she is.
What a cast: Frank Morgan plays her drunken father; Ted Healy plays her freeloading brother; Isabel Jewel plays his ditsy girlfriend; Una Merkel plays her venal secretary; and Louise Beavers plays Harlow’s clothes-borrowing maid. Franchot Tone is her tony Bostonian suitor. His parents are played by Sir C. Aubrey Smith and Mary Forbes. Oh yes, and there are three sheep dogs!
Victor Fleming’s boisterous pre-code Hollywood satire is Harlow’s funniest film. The film has so many one-liners and double-entendres, it could fuel a second comedy, not to mention the inside jokes that trade on Harlow’s actual career. There are location shots at MGM and the Cocoanut Grove.
Harlow’s evenly matched by motor-mouth Lee Tracy as her devious press agent E.J.”Space”Hanlon. Tracy even gets the girl! Brilliant vaudevillian (and one-time Treasury agent) Tracy played the original Hildy Johnson in MacArthur and Hecht’s “The Front Page’ on Broadway before becoming Hollywood’s hilarious resident cynic. His career was cut short by an unfortunate scandalous misstep on the set of ” Viva Villa!” (1934) in Mexico City.
Harlow’s a brilliant, self-satirizing comedienne, rapidly changing gears from a breathlessly whining, racy-talking wise-gal, to a dulcet voiced “upper-class” glamour girl. Snappy pre-code one-liners fuel Harlow and Tracy’s exquisite rapid-fire delivery. They are two comic machines firing on all pistons. It’s hard to remember that this consummate comedienne is only 22.
The Andy Clyde Columbia 2-reeler comedy “The Peppery Salt” (1936), directed by Del Lord, has one fabulous extended gag. Old salt Clyde inherits “The Admiral Dewey”. After bedecking himself in Admiral’s togs, he struts down the street eliciting salutes from passing sailors. Alas, the Dewey is an oceanside lunch counter. Trying to improve the premises, Clyde nails the whole lunch counter to the side of an ocean going ship. His oblivious customers swivel their counter seats, step away from the counter and drop in the drink. When his counter falls apart, Clyde winds up on a deserted ship, the hideout for a ruthless gang, holding the ship owner’s daughter (Mary Lou Dix) prisoner.
Clyde nabs a gag from Harold Lloyd’s “Kid Brother”. The gang’s leader keeps a pet monkey forced to wear men’s shoes to keep him from running away. Hilarious moments ensue as the big-shoe wearing monkey clumps around scaring one and all with his ominous footsteps. Pro-Tek’s JIm Harwood, a new Cinecom officer, provided the print, which waited several years to make it onto the schedule.
Feisty Jane Withers commandeered the mike o introduce “This Is The Life”, and delighted the house with her funny remarks. Directed by Mary Pickford director Marshall Neilan, “This Is The Life” hits every heartstring. The fiercely talented Withers was never better as Geraldine ‘Jerry’ Revier, a singing and dancing child star, adopted by the venal Diana (Gloria Roy) and Ed (Gordon Westcott) Revier. Calling themselves her ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’, the Reviers are determined to wrest every dollar out of their popular ward. Gambling, philandering Ed books the act, while harsh taskmistress Dina drills the child-star morning to night. Forbidden to play with local children, Jerry’s a prisoner of life on the vaudeville circuit, never leaving her hotel room except to sign autographs. There are some whiz-bank production numbers. In one, Withers apes Harry Lauder’s signature Scotsman.
Energetic Withers is kind of performer who forces you to like her. While eating her lonely hotel supper, a guy on the lam from the police climbs in her window. Hapless Michael Grant (John McGuire) had a bad break. He needs to stay out of custody long enough to clear his name from a false embezzlement charge. Jerry, a quick judge of character, shields him from the police. Michael jumps a train, but Jerry manages to follow him onto the boxcar. Now the two of them are on the run. Reluctantly Michael takes responsibility for the pintsize powerhouse, who’s chopped her hair to look like a boy. The Riveirs report her missing, setting off a nationwide search for the beloved child star.
Handsome McGuire is sensitive and heroic as Michael. What a shame that he never became a leading man. Two medicine show touts, Professor Lafcadio F. Breckenridge (Sidney Toler-“Charlie Chan”) and ‘Sticky’ Jones (Francis Ford-John’s brother), take up with the pair. Sally Blane (one of the four lovely Young sisters: Loretta Young, Polly Ann Young and Georgiana Young) plays the kindly social worker Helen Davis. Pint courtesy of 20th Century Fox
An In-theatre presentation to honoree Louise Currie, who at 89, simply charmed everyone, included two comedy shorts: Directed by Del Lord, “His Wedding Scare” (1942), follows shy Swede Ollie (El Brendel) on his disastrous honeymoon. At the wedding reception, so many men crowd around to kiss the bubbly bride, Ollie can’t get near her. On the train, they’re bumped from their reserved stateroom and are taken under the wing of the conductor (LLoyd Bridges), Susie’s second husband. Unable to get a hotel room, the couple bunks down at the local fire station, at the invitation of another of Susie’s ex husbands, Elmer (Monte Collins). As a matter of fact wherever they go, they run into one of Susie’s ex’s. Firemen wander in and out of their temporary digs. Elmer, who lounges on their bed, wants to reminisce all night. Ollie has to take desperate measures to try to get some time alone with his beautiful bride.
Harry Langden co-starred with Louise Currie in “Tireman, Spare My Tires” (1942.) Taking a page from “It Happened One Night” Langdon picks up hitchhiking heiress on the lam. They bunk together at a motor court, where “wife” Currie attempts to cook. Langdon’s takes, as he tries to eat her awful cooking, are great and Currie matches him take for take. Prints courtesy of Sony.
Billed as the “Katherine Hepburn of Monogram”, Currie is best known as the star of two-cliffhanging serials-“The Adventures Of Captain Marvel” (Republic, 1941) and “The Masked Marvel” (Republic, 1943). The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences showed restored 35mm prints of “The Adventures Of Captain Marvel” as part of its recent Monday nights Summer Film Noir series.
Onstage, spunky Currie described her choice to remain a free-lance player, rather than a contract player, admitting that she was one of the few actresses who turned down a Columbia contract offer from Harry Cohn. She was bored with ingénue parts. In interviews she proudly remembers rescuing Lyle Talbot with a bullwhip, in “Gun Town”, where she played whip-toting Buckskin Jane Sawyer.
The Larry Semon comedy “The Grocery Clerk” (1920) featured his typical crescendo of vaudeville shtick. The best gag is a cat that steps in flypaper. Semon trims the paper down and the cat high steps for a long sequence trying to shake the flypaper mats off his paws.
Other Friday rarities included the silent Frank Capra “The Way of the Strong.” Mitchell Lewis is riveting as a bootlegger ‘Handsome’ Williams’, the lumpen scar-faced gangster who’s civilized by his love for the blind violinist Nora (Alice Day) he rescues from the street. In a scene that predates a similar plot line in Raoul Walsh’s “Roaring Twenties”, and many sound films to come, Williams presents the high tone violinist in the rowdy speak he supplies with booze. It’s a wonderful moment as the drunken clientele surrender to the classical music. Lewis wins our sympathy with his nuanced and powerful performance. We identify with his tragic sweetness, despite hoary plot clichés, as he overcomes his evil deeds.
Handsome houses Nora in his mansion headquarters. When grateful Nora asks to feel his face so that she can “see” her kindly benefactor, Handsome, fearful of rejection, borrows Dan’s face, thrusting his employee’s face into Nora’s searching fingers. Call it love at first touch, but Nora merges her gratitude with love for the man whose face sparks her to say “Now I know why they call you ‘Handsome.” “You better stick around”, Handsome tells Dan. “I don’t know when I may need you face again.” Surviving a gang-war, Cyrano-like Handsome surrenders to fate, giving up Nora to his stand-in then drowning in a car accident. William Norton plays Tiger Louie, Handsome’s bootlegging rival. Theodore von Eltz plays Dan, Handsome’s right hand man. Print courtesy of Sony Pictures.
William A. Wellman’s elegant silent love triangle “You Never Know Women” is set in the enchanting backstage world of a Russian theatrical company. The onstage acts are one of only two known film appearances of the Internationally famous Russian Cabaret troupe “Chauve Souris.” (The Bat) which mixed clowning, folklore and circus acts. Luminaries like Alexei Tolstoy, Fyodor Chalyapin, Igor Stravinsky and Konstantin Stanislavsky performed or contributed to the troupe before director Nikita Balieff fled Russia in 1919. Balieff, reestablished the troupe in Paris then moved to New York, where the troupe continued presenting their “artistic Russian Vaudeville” to wild success until Balieff, died in 1936.
Knife-throwing magician Norodin (Clive Brook) suffers unrequited love for his partner Vera (Florence Vidor), whose love for him seems platonic.
The two head up the troupe of clowns, acrobats and dancers who all live together in a theatrical boarding house. When Vera is walking by a construction site, a beam hurtles to the ground. A construction worker saves her, but spoiled playboy Eugene Foster (Lowell Sherman) takes credit. Foster visits the show and begins to court her. Intense Norodin watches the romance with dismay, as does the opinionated Toberchik (El Brendel.) Brendel, and his pet duck, makes a nuanced comic relief. This is not the Eli Brendel I was familiar with, equally good in the dramatic scenes as his understated comic moment. It made me long to see other silent Brendel perfs.
Deciding to step out of the way, so that his beloved can marry her suitor, Norodin fakes his death in a Houdini-like underwater trunk escape act. Realizing her mistake, Vera breaks with Foster. The stubborn suitor tries to have his way with her. Fleeing Foster through the empty theatre, Vera hides in Norodin’s magic vanishing cabinet. A series of special effects, that may have inspired Welle’s fun-house mirror shoot out in “Lady Of Shanghai,” culminate when Norodin appears in the cabinet. Victor Milner’s low key lighting and sterling cinematography, and terse, well-written titles add to the mood piece. Wellman’s unexpected success with this film won him a raise and a next assignment “Wings.” This was one of my favorite films of the weekend.
The beauteous Florence Vidor, who was put under contract at Vitagraph along with her photographer husband King Vidor, in 1916. Her first hit was “A Tale of Two Cities (1917) for director Frank Lloyd. “Alice Adams” (1923) King Vidor’s comedy (remade with Katherine Hepburn) and Ernst Lubitsch’s “The Marriage Circle” (1924) were two hits in her high-tone career. She left pictures after an unhappy experience with her first sound picture “Chinatown Nights” (another Wellman picture.) Jascha Heifetz was her second husband. A print of this “lost’ early Wellman was discovered in the Library of Congress in 2001.
A Cinecon first this year was the “Saturday At The Bijou” program, replicating the all day programs of short subjects, trailers, newsreels, a serial and a raffle before the feature film that were standard during the Studio system heyday.
The audience sang along with the beautifully restored Fleischer brothers’ Screen Song “Down Among the Sugar Cane.” Shapely Lillian Roth, aided by the famous bouncing ball, leads the audience in the infectious ballad. As she sways in live action against a painted Southern plantation, the surreal Fleischer animation kicks in. A trucking farmer plants sugar cane seeds, and sugar canes spring up behind him. When he drops in two seed by mistake, a double headed cane sprouts. Industrious beavers chop down the canes, which shatter into perfect sugar cubes perfect for bonnet wearing baby beavers to enjoy. A drone bee totes a sugar cube to court the Queen bee. She grabs her skates and trucks on down the lane with him, to the dismay of the other worker bees. All the gags play out as the band plays a counterpoint version of “When I take My Sugar To Tea,” which blends perfectly with the title song. Audience members swayed in their seats singing “When I’m walking talking with my sweetness, down among the sugar cane.”
The newsreel- “Hollywood Screentest” was another beautifully restored
fest highlight. The Universal documentary puts an actress through the paces of a studio screen test. B-serial actress Kay Hughes plays the young hopeful who navigates a successful screen test. Director S. Sylvan Simon (who began at Warner Bros. as a director of screen tests before moving to MGM where he directed three Red Skelton vehicles) plays director S. Sylvan Simon. Great Fun.
The feature- “The Thrill Hunter” starred Buck Jones as small town Buck Crosby, the compulsive teller of tall tales who talks himself into one dangerous adventure after another. When a film crew hires him as a stunt man, Buck can’t back down. He pulls off a racecar stunt, crashes an airplane, capture the bad-guys and rescue leading lady Marjorie Lane (Dorothy Revier). The feel good mix of thrills and romance was a perfect Matinee choice. I’m sure this package will become a favorite at future Cinecons.
The Serial -Chapter 9 of “The Green Archer.” James Horne’s action- packed 15-part serial, very loosely adapted from an Edgar Wallace story, features every absurd plot surprise, cliff hanger and act of skullduggery expected in the studio serial format. Jewel thief Abel Bellamy (James Craven) imprisons his brother Michael Bellamy (Kenne Duncan/Kenneth Duncan) in the very castle he just inherited. Private detective Spike Holland (Victor Jory), sister Valerie Howett (Iris Meredith), and father Parker Howett (Forrest Taylor) investigate his disappearance. The mysterious masked Green Archer repeatedly foils evil Abel’s attempts to kill the rest of the family. There’s a false Green Archer too. Everything takes place in the Castle Garr, riddled with secret passages and trap doors.
The popular Film Preservation Program presented the only existing fragment of “Flaming Youth,” courtesy of The Library of Congress. (There was a rumored nitrate print squirreled away by a British collector.) Colleen Moore is entrancing as the young Patricia Fentriss who gets a crush on her mother’s worldly friend Cary Scott (Milton Sills.)
Sitting at her mother’s vanity Pat primps, applying beauty marks. After sampling every perfume her mother has, she applies a final dab to her “bee-stung” lips, then, trailing her borrowed evening finery, traipses down stairs. Hovering on the stairs, she studies the expensive, louche crowd of dancing couples.
The legendary hit film was based on Samuel Hopkins Adams’s shocking novel (the “Peyton Place” of it’s day), which Adams published under the pseudonym of Warner Fabian. Adams describes his character thus. “To the woman of the period thus set forth, restless, seductive, greedy, discontented, craving sensation, unrestrained…more than a little selfish, intelligent, uneducated, sybaritic, following blind instincts and perverse fancies…fit mate for the hurried, reckless and cynical man of the age, predestined mother of – what manner of being? To her I dedicate this study of herself.”
Pat’s parents are what we would call “swingers”, who give wild drunken parties and think nothing of watching their daughters join in the sybaritic frenzy. From what I can tell, the book goes farther than the film dared go describing teenage Pat’s romance with the much older Scott.
Despite some damage at the end of the sequence, shots of the drunken revelers, stripping to their skivvies to inaugurate the Fentriss’s new pool, are simply wonderful. The drunken partiers, silhouetted against poolside lights, frolic around the pool while several stripped glossy bodies snake up a hanging rope. Others caper in a poolside line dance, reminiscent of medieval woodcuts of the Totentanz (à la Bergman’s “Seventh Seal”) before taking the plunge.
In 2009, film collector Paul Geirucki found “A Thief Catcher” in an old trunk at an antique show. Unbeknownst to him, it contained an uncredited cameo of Charlie Chaplin as a Keystone Cop. Geirucki tossed it in a box to look at later.
Chaplin described working uncredited in three shorts during his first weeks at Max Sennett’s Keystone Studio. Until now, no-on knew the name of the film in which he played a cop. Rumor had it the film was called “The Thief Catcher”, which was the reissue name for a missing Chaplin Keystone Comedy “Her Friend The Bandit.”
Geirucki ran across a mention of “The Thief Catcher” and, curious, he pulled out his copy of “A Thief Catcher.” He sat back to watch the Ford Sterling comedy, and a few minutes in, was shocked to recognize Chaplin, as one of three cops looking for Ford Sterling. Geirucki has had it preserved to share with Chapln fans worldwide. Cinecon touted this exciting re-discovery as the first Los Angeles screening since its initial engagement in 1914. Cinecon VP Stan Taffel, a friend of Geirucki, arranged an early screening for the festival.
“The Case Of Becky”, directed by Frank Reicher for Jesse L Lasky Feature Play Co./Paramount was a fascinating drama. In this early film about hypnosis and split personalities, sweet tempered Dorothy (Becky) is the ward of the evil stage hypnotist Balzamo (Theodore Roberts) and assists him in his act. She develops the rebellious spilt personality of Becky, a course, scowling, gum-chewing wanton who shows her décolleté every time she emerges.
Dr. Emerson (James Neil) runs a psychological clinic, using hypnotism to give his relief to his suffering patients. His young associate Dr. John Arnold (Carlyle Blackwell) is a masterful hypnotist, able to gain control of a persons mind without the (wonderful) paraphernalia less gifted doctors use. Dr Emerson confides his personal tragedy to John. Years ago his wife was hypnotized by a crafty stage hypnotist. Gaining control of her mind, the hypnotist (Balzamo) whisked the pregnant Mrs. Emerson away. She died in childbirth and his child became the ward of Balzamo.
Becky/ Dorothy flees her ward and takes a series of jobs, but at each, bad- tempered Dorothy got Becky fired. She winds up at the clinic under the care of the two doctors, unaware that Dr. Arnold is her own father. A wonderful battle of the two master hypnotists ends this intriguing picture. Jane Wolfe plays Balzamo’s jealous stage assistant. The beautiful print was courtesy of the Library Of Congress.
Patrick Stanbury’s newly restored “A Pair of Silk Stockings” (1918) is a pleasant romantic comedy set in London (though, oddly it makes no mention of the still raging World War 1.) It’s a marital or, post-marital farce set in a posh country home during a weekend house party. Socialite Mrs. Molly Thornhill (Constance Talmadge) divorces her adoring husband Sam (Harrison Ford) when his idiotic attempt to make her jealous gets out of hand. (Alright, he sent an ermine trimmed chinchilla coat to another woman and left the bill around as a red herring.) Maudie Plantaganet (Florence Carpenter) accepts the coat from her unknown admirer, well, what girl wouldn’t?
Depressed and given to drink, Sam’s the guest of Sir John Gower (Thomas Persse) and Lady Gower (Sylvia Ashton). Claiming a broken down car, Molly shows up and spends the night in the recently vacated room of Captain Jack Bagnal (Louis Willoughby), Molly’s former fiancee. Still disguised from his part in an amateur theatrical, Sam sneaks into Molly’s room to beg her forgiveness. Before he can pop out of the closet for a private apology, he’s interrupted. Captain Jack, who missed his train, sneaks into his room in the middle of the night. A series of midnight blunders and misunderstandings leads to Jack being jilted by his fiancée, as the shocked Gower house party discover the unmarried pair in his or is it her bedroom. But all’s well that ends well, with a charming moment of British transvestite humor.
Patrick Stanbury labored to redo the original funnier American title cards, in the style of the intact British cards, and happily he did, as he proved reading us both versions of several intertitles in his introduction. The US titles were snappy and full of double entendres. The leaden Brit titles did disservice to the fun.
In the Charley Chase comedy, “From Bad to Worse” (1937) Charley and his bride (Peggy Stratford) endure a night of Pullman car hell. Trying to find his Pullman berth, poor Charley sets off a chain reaction of sight gags that leads his Peggy to suspect Charley’s faithfulness, as she finds him crawling into the wrong berth, inhabited by a curvy blond.
Charley runs into an old pal. Explaining he’s on his way to San Francisco to try to meet a business man who can help his career, the pal warns him to change his style if he wants to impress the guy, whose known In San Francisco as a player and hard drinking lothario.
Arriving at their hotel, Charley, then Peggy, discover the same comely blond is staying in the room across the way. She asks Charley to help her get into her locked room. Afraid Peggy will see him, he hides in the room and by the time he sneaks out, her framed picture’s wound up in his pocket.
Charley goes to a card game to meet the potential business partner (Bud Jamison). Egged on by his pal, Charley adlibs, bragging about his conquest, a beautiful blond, who cheats on her husband and couldn’t keep her hands off him. First Peggy and then to Charley’s horror, the blond show up. Charley pulls out the picture, the place goes wild, and Charley winds up on the window ledge. Print courtesy of Stan Taffel.
Alfred Santell’s 1930 “The Sea Wolf” was the fifth filmed version of London’s adventure novel. It was adapted from the Jack London novel by Ralph Block, (with dialogue from playwright S.N. Behrman) and beautifully shot by Glen MacWilliams. Darkly handsome Milton Sills, in his last performance, plays the misanthropic Caption Jack Larson. Nihilistic Larson, captain of “The Ghost, reads Schopenhauer and Nietzsche on the side, retiring into his cabin with some string drink for long periods at sea. The seemingly sadistic Larson, who thinks nothing of shanghaiing his men, or beating them to death for insubordination, makes no friends and rides roughshod over the women he encounters.
He’s maintained a deadly mano a mano with his brother Captain ‘Death’ Larsen (Mitchell Harris) and it’s his sailors that Larson shanghais. Lorna Marsh (Jane Keithley) joins his desperate outbound crew. Lorna fends of his advances. Proud Larson, a force of nature, has no doubt she will eventually succumb, Instead she favors one of the shanghaied crew, mild -mannered young Allen Rand. Larson decides to turn Allen into a man, giving him the worst assignments on board, and eventually making him his first mate, after killing his predecessor. Allen toughens up and, with the help of a crewmember, manages to sneak off the ship, putting to sea in dinghy with Lorna. Out of food and water the pair drift back to “the Ghost”, now a fire-ruined wreck, where they discover the ranting, still proud Larson, alone and blinded in a mutiny. Brooding Sills is overwhelming as Larson.
Print courtesy of The Museum Of Modern Art and 20th Century Fox.
William S. Hart had a manly presence and a stalwart purity in his performances that made him something special in westerns. In ‘The Testing Block, directed by Lambert Hillyer, “Harts plays ‘Sierra’ Bill, a tough outlaw, for the first half of the picture. It was shocking to see him in the part. He seems a blackguard, but his gentleness with the horse he breaks shows us an inkling of the man inside. To satisfy his men, who long to go to town for some R & R, ‘Sierra’ invites the traveling artistes to perform for his gang.
The troupe performs by the campfire for the bandits, who wear masks to prevent anyone from recognizing them. When lovely Nelly, the very picture of a gentle Victorian “prodigy”, plays the violin’ Sierra’ Bill is transformed.
He takes a hankering for Nelly (Eva Novak), the traveling girl violinist. He peels off her poster to hang in his forest campsite. ‘Sierra’ fights off his men, who all have the same idea, and goes to Nora’s house, where he takes her by force and orders the preacher to perform a shotgun wedding. They have a child. The love of a good woman entirely transforms ‘Sierra”, who, when we next see him, has given rough riding and settled down in domestic bliss with his beloved family.
His rival Ringe (J. Gordon Russell), still smarting from the indignities he suffered in the gang, manages to destroy ‘Sierra’s’ life. Their baby sickens, and Ringe tricks Nelly into leaving ‘Sierra’. Trying to make money at the gambling table to pay the doctor, ‘Sierra’ joins a crooked card game. Ringe cheats, ruins ‘Sierra’ then gets him tossed in jail. ‘Sierra’ escapes, aided by his beloved horse, and manages to put things right. Print courtesy of the Library Of Congress.
Paul Powell’s 1929 “The College Coquette”, one of the early college films, was described by Bob Birchard as ” the dark side of ‘The Freshman”. Perky blond Ruth Taylor (a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty and mother of Buck Henry) played Lorelei Lee in the silent “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Here she plays Betty Forrester, the heartless college flirt rooming with Doris Marlowe, a good girl who longs to be bad (Jobyna Ralston.) Ralston starred in countless Harold Lloyd silent films, after Lloyd married his leading lady Mildred Davis. Suffering from a hackneyed script, the film is entertaining for its look at the privileged campus life of the day; think of John Held Jr’s Betty Coed and Joe College drawings come to life. Would be college “sheik”, Tom Marion (William Collier Jr.), does his best to ruin innocent Doris. After a roadside “meet cute”, popular athletic coach Harvey Porter (John Holland) tries to withstand Betty’s blond eye batting wiles. Betty gives up her flapper ways to score a romantic touchdown. Print courtesy of The Library of Congress and Sony Pictures.
VP Stan Taffel contributed his 35mm print of the early Laurel and Hardy “Do Detectives Think?” Star detective Stan and Ollie are ordered to protect a Judge (James Finlayson) from the murderous intentions of a lugubrious escaped convict (Noah Young.) Midnight high jinks in the Judge’s gloomy mansion involve a “ghost’ sighting, before the boys accidentally bring the psychopath to bay. San and Ollie are about to be officially paired, and, I believe, this is the first film in which they wear their signature outfits and derbies. There is a wonderful swapping derby scene, soon to become de rigueur to the pair.
One of the highlights of Cinecon was the Donald ‘O’Connor vehicle “Mr. Big.” Originally titled “School of Jive”, this is one of a series of hep cat and kitty films put out by Universal to compete with the Garland/ Rooney pictures. Multi-talented Donald O’Connor, energetic Peggy Ryan and lovely Gloria Jean were teamed in one more film “Get Hep to Love.” O’Conner worked with Peggy Ryan in 4 more youth musicals, and shot 5 more with Gloria Jean. The three really make their mark here, playing students in a musical hIghschool, where the focus is on the classics. In their spare time, the kids like to jive. Naturally, since the rest of the students are the lightening fast lindying dance troupe the Jivin’ Jacks & Jills, a group of hep teen hoofers assembled by Universal. They have a couple of spectacular numbers. The sequence in the malt shop, brilliantly choreographed by Louis DaPron, is razor sharp
High society matron Mrs. Mary Davis (the gravel voiced Florence Bates in” Rebecca”) owns the school and insists on all things classical. She vetoes an original, jazz-based musical for the annual student performance, insisting on a Greek tragedy to show off her niece Patricia’s skills. When she leaves for New York to invite some wealthy friends to the show, Donald convinces the dean, and his music teacher (who pens jive hits on the side and is dying to cut loose) to put on the student-written show.
Elyse Knox plays the proper teacher Alice Taswell with a crush on the secret hepcat. Cinecon Honoree Bobby Sheerer, pulled from the Jivin’ Jacks & Jills to play a character in the story, has some fabulous dance solos. A six-year-old Eleanor Donahue (“Father Knows Best”) makes an appearance as Patricia’s hoofing sister Muggsy. Musicians Eddie Miller, Ben Carter and Ray Eberle appear as themselves. All right, there is a politically incorrect minstrel show with a segregated chorus of lovable black singing from the rafters. What are you gonna do? It was 1943.
O’Conner, who had toured in Vaudeville with his folks before coming to Hollywood, had learned a lot in the wings, but felt outclassed by the Jacks and Jills. Ryan and O’Connor were paired because of height, and were promoted to leads when the original dancer David Holt fell out. Audience cards and fan male promoted the pair as the Garland-Rooney of the B’s. This musical funfest illustrates the crying need for a DVD box set of Donald O’Connor musicals. Print courtesy of NBC/Universal.
The Hal Roach Max Davidson short “The Boy Friend” (1928) was a very funny picture. Doting father Max (Max Davidson) lets his daughter (Marion Byron) wheedle some money out of him for a pair of new shoes. At the shoe store, handsome store college student Gorden Elliott (as Bill Elliot) tries to flirt with her. Noticing a hole in the big toe of one of his socks, she giggles uncontrollably. He tries to hide the socked foot by trying on a shoe on the other foot. That sock has a bigger hole. The flirtatious girl has a lot of fun at his expense until she discovers a run in her own socks and, embarrassed, flees the store leaving her package behind. The boy runs after her, half shoe less, waving her package which, coming undone, reveals a scandalous pair of bloomers. The more he waves the scanties, the faster she runs. Waving her unmentionables, he frightens other women along the way. Eventually he catches up to her and she invites him over for tea. Max, annoyed at the be-socked young man decides to scare off the unwanted suitor by acting crazy. Each time their daughter leave the room, Max and his wife (Fay Holderness) break into a crazier and crazier dance. At one point she lifts him aloft and spins him in the air as he strikes one goofy pose after the next. Edgar Kennedy plays a food-obsessed befuddled beat cop who gives chase. A Laff Riot from the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
Bing Crosby vehicle “Double Or Nothing” was a charming entertainment, highlighted by Bing’s cool multi-faceting gifts and an outstanding sister act from Martha Ray and jazz singer Francis Faye.
The late philanthropist Axel Clark instructed his lawyers to drop wallets, each containing a hundred-dollar bill, around town. Whoever’s honest enough to return the money will be given a chance to compete for the entire estate. “Lefty” Boylan (Bing Crosby), ex- burlesque stripper Liza Lou Lane (Martha Raye), who just can’t help stripping whenever she’s hears her stage song, mug Half-Pint (Andy Devine); and John Pederson (William Frawley) return the c-notes and make the grade. Each receives five thousand sammolians and a challenge. The first person to double that sum, through honest effort, within thirty days, will inherit Clark’s entire estate. Otherwise, the estate reverts to Clark’s crooked brother, Jonathan (Samuel S. Hinds).
The four decide to pool their efforts. Whoever doubles his money will share the reward with the other three. They each try to come up with a business plan.
Venal Jonathan Clark instructs his family to befriend, seduce, and sabotage the hapless working class stiffs’ plans. Frawley has a witty scene trying to outmaneuver the crafty Clark and his investment suggestion. Fay Holden is delightful as the cultured matron Martha Sewell Clark, who learns street lingo to talk with Half-Pint.
Egbert Clark (William Henry) exerts his lady’s man charms on guileless Liza Lou, and silken sophisticate Vicki Clark (Mary Carlisle) eventually tumbles for Lefty. Egbert sabotages Lisa Lou’s rowboat concession in the park. Lisa hires her shapely dance hall friends to row the boats, hoping to sell a lot of rides to the sailors whenever the fleet is in. She cleans up and is just a few dollars short of the mark, when Egbert plays her signature “It’s On It’s Off.” Entranced Lisa Lou leads the girls in a strip and the rowboat concession is closed for indecent exposure!
Naturally Lefty’s business idea is a nightclub. His opening night sports some marvelous specialty acts: a tango by the adagio team of Ames and Arno, a slo-mo fight by the Calgary Brothers and Bing, Raye and Faye in a number. There’s an ingenious mechanical set piece in the closer too. Edited by Edward Dmytryk. Bing’s song “It’s the Natural Thing to do” was so infectious, audience members were still whistling it the next day. Print courtesy NBC/Universal
Oscar-nominated actor Don Murray was presented the Cinecon Career Achievement Award at the star-studded banquet on Sunday evening. MIchelle Lee, Murray’s co-star on “Knot’s landing” presented the award.
Stan Taffel interviewed Murray at Sunday afternoon’s presentation of
“From Hell To Texas.” Murray, who a “suburban boy” with a “Brooklyn-type accent’ described learning a Western accent and faking riding a horse in Josh Logan’s “Bus Stop.”
Murray was accompanied by second wife, model turned actress Bettie Johnson (Alan Pacula’s ‘favorite actress’- “The Parallax View”). Murray did an adept impersonation of Otto Preminger, who cast Bettie in “Advise and Consent.” Murray, whose dad, Dennis Murray, was the stage manager for Olsen and Johnson’s ten-year Broadway reign, debuted on Broadway in Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo.” (His mother, Ethel Murray, was a Ziegfeld girl.)
A conscientious objector, Murray worked for several years as a social worker, both in Korean reconstruction and in refugee camps in Germany and Italy, helping to teach democracy to ex-Hitler youth. His service break didn’t impede his career. He landed a part in the Paris then Broadway cast of “The Skin Of Our Teeth” (with Helen Hayes) where Josh Logan re-discovered him for “Bus Stop.”
Murray described the tension on the set of “Bus Stop”, as the crew worried each day about when or if Marilyn Monroe would arrive. Marilyn, who Murray describes as having such a short attention span that she couldn’t “put three sentences together’ repeatedly wandered off her marks. Logan asked the tyro film actor to grab Marilyn’s hips and maneuver her onto his mark. (“A difficult job but somebody had to do it,” quipped Murray.
Watching her countless truncated takes, Murray was astonished by the brilliance of Marilyn’s cut together performance. (It was her first film after her two-year stint at The Actor’s Studio.) Murray considered it a prime lesson on film acting. Murray followed “Bus Stop” with Paddy Chayevsky drama “Bachelor Party.” starring as the married accountant who reluctantly accompanies his buddies on a bachelor party final fling.
Murray, who began as a playwright in school, co-wrote and produced “The Hoodlum Priest’, which featured his brilliant performance of real-life Jesuit priest Father Dismas of the Dismas Halfway House in St. Louis. Murray cast Keir Dullea, then working in live TV, a year before Dullea starred in “David and Lisa.”
Reminiscing with Taffel about some of the other stars he worked with, Murray described Cagney (“Shake Hands with the Devil’) who, unlike Alan Ladd Jr. (with whom Murray worked on “One Foot In Hell”) refused an apple crate to level out the two actor’s heights. Looking at the taller Murray, Cagney remarked “All the actors tower over me, then I cut ’em down to size.”
Murray’s latest directing project is “Breathe” an underwater adventure he filmed with three of his sons- Screenwriter-actor turned diver Mick Murray, actor Chris Murray (whose mother was Hope Lange) and composer Sean Murray. Screenwriter Mick dove on the largest Spanish Galleon ever discovered, ‘La Capitana” off of Equador.
Murray’s life is even more interesting than the parts he’s played. In 1952, after several years in live television, conscientious objector Murray volunteered as a wartime medic for the Red Cross in Korea. (They weren’t training.) Next he tried the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Organization, who was advancing behind the troops rebuilding. (They only wanted skilled technicians.) While waiting to hear, Murray was cast by Josh Logan in the Broadway cast of Picnic.
Murray applied for the Brethren Service (who, along with the Quakers and the Mennonites, had a history of non-violent service during war time.) Harold Row, the head of Brethren Service, interviewed Murray outside the UN. Wary of actors, a dubious Row was won over by Murray’s convictions. Murray turned down the Broadway bound “Picnic” (pissing off Josh Logan) and started training, learning German and Italian for his work in Europe.
Working with ex-Hitler Youth, Murray (a semi-pro basketball player and captain of his high school track team) used his sports chops to democratize the sport movement. He then worked in refugee camps in Italy. Speaking with Murray, I learned that he wrote a play “Something More” (Et Was Meh) expressing the idea that sports meant something more than competition with others. It represented a competition between the good and bad parts of one’s psyche. The young athletes, who performed Murray’s play onstage to a thousand-seat SRO house, became leaders in the democratization movement.
The Congregational Christian Service Committee asked Murray to come to Naples to head a school and medical clinic in the ruins of Naples’ bombed out harbor. (He replaced Belden Paulson.) He worked with refugees from Communism and Franco’s Spain. Passionate about the work, Murray extended his 2-year service stint for another six months. Murray’s autobiographical play about this experience, “The Homeless Base”, (adapted by Alec Moll as “I Have Loved Strangers”) became Playhouse 90’s highest rated show of the 1958 season.
Two years away didn’t impede Murray’s progress, a television audition several days after he returned landed him a part in the Broadway revival of “Skin Of Our Teeth” with Helen Hayes and Mary Martin Murray stayed with the limited run that started in Paris, wound up on Broadway and was televised on “CBS Special.” Josh Logan saw him, remembered “Picnic” and cast Murray in “Bus Stop.” Murray parlayed his European Press Junket of “Bus Stop” to open political doors to the Italian Government officials in charge of Refugee Resettlement. Murray and wife Hope Lange purchased some land in Sardinia, then went back to the States to raise money for HELP (The Homeless European Land Program), leaving co-founder Beldon and Lisa Paulson, in charge of the pilot refugee resettlement program. The United Nations later called Murray’s visionary program “the only integrated resettlement project that ever worked” and hired Belden as a special envoy consultant for refugees resettlement all over Europe.
Murray was asked by the Democratic committee to introduce Senator Estes Kefauver. Kefauver’s plane was late. Murray ad-libbed. Expecting an impromptu speech about Hollywood, the assembled dignitaries, including Herbert Humphrey and Victor Reuther of AFL-CIO, heard about the Brethren Services and HELP. Eisenhower invited Murray to the White House, but Murray, rehearsing a live TV drama, missed the meeting. Although Ike passed on Humphrey and Murray’s proposal to develop a HELP-like national service program, Humphrey’s idea became the Peace Corps. (Kennedy took the credit.) When Murray’s mentor, Harold Row, turned down the directorship, Sgt. Shriver took the job.
For “From Hell To Texas” Native American actor Rodd Redwing, the “world’s greatest quick-draw artist with six-guns,” coached Murray in his rifle tricks. Redwing trained Murray to shoot without using the gunfight and in rapid-fire shooting, to use the rifle lever to fling the gun into shooting position. The style they practiced, using the rifle “as a pistol”, inspired the TV series “The Rifleman.” Actor-producer Dick Powell, then the head of Four Star Television, watched them rehearsing tricks on the set and offered Murray the starring role in the show Powell envisioned. Murray, contracted to Fox, had to turn it down, giving Chuck Connors his big break. (The gimmick rifle used in “The Rifleman”, used a screw-lever combination to replicate some of the tricks Redwing could do on the natch.)
Murray is affecting as the virtuous young cowboy Tod Lohman, traveling west to find his long gone pa. He signs on for jobs to stake his trip. Blamed for the accidental death of big rancher Hunter Boyd’s son, Tod takes off, chased by Boyd (R.G. Armstrong), sons Otis (Ken Scott), Tom (Dennis Hopper) and Boyd’s henchmen. Vet character actors Jay C. Flippen, Harry Carey Jr, Rodolfo Acosta and José Torvay add to the terrific cast. Hell bent on revenge, Boy’s pursuit wipes out one of his men after another and each death he adds to Tod’s tally. An ambush that ends in a cattle stampede, an Indian war party and a main street showdown leave only Boyd and youngest son Tom (Hopper) standing. When Tod risks death to save Boy’s youngest, Boyd calls off his revenge. Along the way Tod’s adopted by Texas rancher Amos Bradley (the imitable Chill Wills) and his tom-boy daughter Juanita (Diane Varsi.) A tentative romantic scene between the artless Juanita and the shy Tod, who carries a picture of his dead ma and knows nothing about women, set up the tender, underplayed romance. The sincere fatherless boy attracts help along the way. Trader Jake Leffertfinger (Jay C. Flippen- who Murray knew when he understudied Olsen and Johnson for Murray’s dad) teaches stubborn Tod how to deal with Indians and runs interference for him when Boyd show up in town. The Mission Padre (Dayton Lummis) refuses to tell Boyd anything. Mexican American actress Margo plays the sweet Bradley matriarch.
Murray debunks the myth that taskmaster Henry Hathaway put Dennis Hopper through 85 takes. Actually, he made an actor, who claimed to be an expert horseman but couldn’t ride) stay on camera and painfully in the saddle for over 50 takes.
Hathaway’s nuanced tale and strong CinemaScope compositions, which make the most of Death Valley, make “From Hell To Texas” a film ripe for restoration.
Previous honorees over Cinecon’s 46 year history include Diane Baker, Alice Faye, Rhonda Fleming, Celeste Holm, Ruby Keeler, Myrna Loy, Rose Marie, Colleen Moore, Eleanor Powell, Luise Rainer, Jane Russell, Jean Simmons, Jackie Cooper, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Burgess Meredith, Fayard Nicholas, Mickey Rooney, and directors and producers Budd Boetticher, Ray Harryhausen, Delbert Mann, Hal Roach, Vincent Sherman, Robert Wise, and Roger Corman.
Recently restored by Sony Pictures, Walter Lang’s “Brothers” (or “Blood Brothers”, as it’s title card read) features matinee idol Bert Lytell in a duel role. Kindly Dr. Moore (William Morris) runs an orphanage. He offers a baby to his washerwoman who’s recently lost her own baby. Unfortunately, she takes a fancy to one of a set of twins. The good doctor had hoped to place the boys with his friends, the wealthy lawyer Mr. Naughton (Howard C. Hickman) and his wife (Claire McDowell). Unable to dissuade the woman, Dr. Moore allows the brothers to be split up, vowing to stay involved with their progress. Years pass. Sincere Eddie Connolly (Lytell) plays piano in Oily Joe’s Cafe (a speakeasy). Society lawyer Bob Naughton (Lytell) is engaged to Dr. Moore’s daughter Norma (Dorothy Sebastian), who’s dismayed by Robert’s not-so-secret drinking. Robert murders a bootlegger who lives in Eddie’s building. A neighbor identifies Eddie as the murderer. Eddie stands trial and, at Dr. Moore’s insistence, Robert defends him saving his life with a last minute piece of courtroom wizardry. Robert goes off the deep end and is confined to a sanitarium. The Naughtons ask Eddie to temporarily take his place to save the family’s honor. Like Twain’s “The Prince and The Pauper” (or, in this case, “The Lawyer and The Piano Player”) the good Eddie wins the heart of everyone in Robert’s life. The Columbia talkie was based on a stage melodrama by Herbert Ashton Jr.
Paul Powell’s “Crooked Streets” (Paramount-Artcraft, 1920), another film from the Library Of Congress, was an enjoyable adventure-drama set in Shanghai in the 20’s. Marvelous sets blend with period footage and location shots of Shanghai’s International district.
Comely Gail Ellis (Ethel Clayton) answers a newspaper ad for a traveling secretary to accompany Silas Griswold (Clarence H. Geldart), an expert in Asian artifacts and well-known antiques dealer, to China. Gail has reasons of her own for traveling to the Orient
Griswold’s spoiled son Lawrence (Clyde Fillmore) plucks her out of a waiting room of hopefuls, planning for a little romance on the side. Suspicious Mrs. Griswold (Josephine Crowell) tries to dissuade her husband. “Women are so nosy” she insists. But more compliant, easier to control, counsels Silas, “But blonds can’t be trusted.” she complains to no avail. Silas insists Mrs. Griswold keep an eye on their young secretary, for Shanghai is no place for a woman alone. The avuncular Professor Griswold hires Gail, warning her that the trip may be dangerous. There are powerful people who wish to block his exportation of artifacts to the West.
After their ocean crossing, the Griswold party checks into a major hotel in the International quarter. Kept busy by her employer, Gail finds it impossible to sneak away for her own agenda. Sanctimonious Griswold is kow-towed to by all matter of officials, for he is a leading newspaper expert on artifacts. The Griswold party visits an antique dealer deep in the crooked streets of the Chinese quarter, where he arranges for a large shipment of reputed Ming vases to be delivered to his hotel room. A mysterious European man in Chinese garb watches the Griswolds.
Waiting to steal away, Gail notices the same European man outside their hotel, who palavers with the Chinese in their dialect. She hires a rickshaw and the Englishman follows her. Catching her rickshaw, Rupert O’Dare (Jack Holt) warns her about traveling through the city alone. Carrying a hidden gun, Gail ignores his warning. But before she can return to the mysterious antique shop, she’s abducted by White slavers.
In a thrilling sequence, Gail tries to run away, swarmed by Chinese in the pay of a local gangster. The chase leads along the river. In the end, British Secret Service agent Rupert O’Dare and special agent Gail Ellis capture their smuggling ring and sail off into the sunset.
One of the surprising highlights of the weekend was the entertaining “Cross Country Cruise.” Edward Buzzell’s melodrama is full of comic moments. Lew Ayres and Sue Fleming are terrific as the couple that meet-cutes on a cross-country bus trip. Actually Playboy Lumber heir Norman, (Ayres) abandons his plane trip to follow comely Sue (Fleming) onto the bus. Norman’s been shipped off to his father’s lumber camp, to straighten up his dissolute life style, accompanied by straight shooting trainer Murphy (Arthur Vinton).
The story starts with a bang. Sue rushes into the Cross Country bus station in New York City to wait for her boyfriend, Steve Borden. Instead of joining her on the bus, a frazzled Steve hands her a note with the address of San Francisco hotel and tell her to meet him there. His wife Nita (Minna Gombell) has joined him on the trip. Shocked that her paramour is married and accompanied, Sue get on the bus in huff. Nita suspects something when she notices Sue watching her in her compact mirror, and eventually forces a showdown.
Steve and Nita Borden are cheap grifters, ambulance chasers who peruse the local obits for their marks, then sell expensive custom bibles to the widow or widower. Brassy May (Alice White, who’s wonderful in the part) works for her ticket, partying with the new bus driver on each leg of the trip, until one, who’d like to enjoy her ‘hospitality”, refuses to “deadhead’ her. He’s sure a bus detective is due on board. Using her trademark pickup line,” Destiny must have thrown us together” May makes a move on the loquacious Senator Willy Bronson (Eugene Pallette) a blowhard with something to say about each site they pass. Willy proposes to the goldigging ex chorine, it turns out he’s a bigamist.
The travelers stop for a restbreak and dinner at Chicago’s Blackstone hotel, stop in Santa Fe and Salt Lake City. Steve murders Nita at Dodd’s department store and cleverly hides her body. The police stop the bus and grill everyone. Norman defends Sue. Steve takes Sue hostage, driving the bus through a barricade and dies in the crash.
The film, a fascinating look at Depression era America, sports an impressive supporting cast of uncredited character actors, Jane Darwell, Henry Armetta, Walter Brennan, Jimmy Conlin, Harry C Bradley, thrush Wini Shaw, Charles C, Wilson (to name some.)
In his program notes, Bob Birchard referred to an ‘overland bus cycle’ of 1933-34, most probably Richard Boleslavsky’s “Fugitive Lovers” (1934), this wonderful re-discovery, and Capra’s “It Happened One Night.” Let’s hope Cinecon’s exposure will lead to a rediscovery and DVD reissue. Print courtesy Of NBC/Universal
“Career Woman”, directed by Lewis Seiler, with a script by Lamar Trotti (“Drums Along the Mohawk”) was an entertaining, relatively realistic courtroom drama. Star law grad Carroll Aiken (Claire Trevor) returns to her hometown after graduation. In law school, she attracted the attention of famous lawyer Barry Conant (Michael Whalen), the master of melodramatic courtroom theatrics. Carroll, and her student friends including George Rogers (Sterling Holloway) sit in at courtrooms as part of their education. When Conant is wheeled in from his ‘death bed” to argue a case, the comely Claire catches his eye. He can’t resist an uncharacteristic wink. He tracks her down and their unlikely relationship begins. She is acutely idealistic; he is as adept a showman as Barnum. He’s interested in Carroll, but she decides to move back home. The first day back, Carroll befriends poor, bullied Gracie Clay (Isabel Jewell). Gracie’s in love with sensitive local boy but afraid to date him. Ever since her mother died, her fundamentalist father (Charles Middleton) whips her for imagined infractions.
Carroll offers her a dress to wear to the town picnic, where Gracie hopes to see her romantic swain Everett Clark (Eric Linden), a shy introvert who’s browbeaten by his own repressive father. Coming home in her borrowed finery, she’s tracked by the lout who wanted to date her. He watches, in the dark, as her father whips her repeatedly. He falls from the loft and dies. Panicked Gracie runs to Carroll, her only friend. She’s charged with murder. Her father’s “church folk” are witnesses for the prosecution. The town’s eminent lawyer Milt Clark (Charles Waldron Sr.) pleads for the prosecution, unaware that the boy Gracie is shielding at the cost of an alibi, is his own son. Conant arrives in town, Watching unseasoned Claire get the run around, Conant announces he’s joined the defense team.
Conant turns the town upside down with his usual tricks, gaining national press attention in his campaign to prove the town’s prejudice against the poor. The national attention backfires, as the close-knit town unites against him and his client. Carroll apologizes to the court, and wins the case, sticking to her ideals. A last minute courtroom outburst from Eric, in defense of Gracie, gives Carroll much needed ammunition. Carroll is superb in an early depiction of a career woman, Isabel Jewell, one of Hollywood’s under appreciated actresses, is typically wonderful as Gracie.
Michael Whalen is very entertaining as conniving Conant.
Gene Lockhart plays Carroll’s supportive Uncle Billy. Kathleen Lockhart plays Mrs. Milt Clark. Lynne Berkeley plays Helen Clark, Eric’s brother. A cast of supporting characters is packed with strong performances.
The former longtime archivist and official accompanist of the George Eastman house, composer Philip Camillo Carli accompanied
“Down On The Farm”, “The Freshman”,” Breaking Point,” and “The Way Of the Strong.” Composer Jon Mirsalis accompanied “Tennessee Partner” and” The Testing Block”, and Dean Mora (The Silent Movie Theatre’s accompanist from 1991-97) accompanied “Crooked Streets” and “The Seventh Day.”
Cinecon History-Cinecon began as a sort of cine club. Tom Seller, an avid reader of The 8mm Collector magazine, formed The Society for Cinephiles, Ltd, in 1965. Samuel K. Rubin, publisher of The 8mm Collector, sponsored Cinecon 1 in a Holiday Inn in Indiana. Pennsylvania. A group of die-hard fans and collectors showed silent films from their personal 8 mm collections. In the days before VHS, you either saw a film in the theatres or collected 8 and 16 mm versions of films. (Portions of films from some of those collections have made their way into important restorations.) Cinecon II was hosted by Clark Wilkinson in Baraboo, Wi and traveled from city to city before making its permanent home in Los Angeles. After years of hotel screenings, Cinecon landed at the American Cinematheque where it can run Classics on 33 millimeter.
Before Mussolini launched the world’s first film festival (Venice, 1932)
Cine-clubs and film societies spread the work of filmmakers internationally, championing national cinemas, documentaries and the avant-grade, as a reaction to the powerful Hollywood film industry.
The cine club movement and the journals published by cine club members spread the doctrine of Film as Art. The history of cinema is full of directors, screenwriters, and critics who started their journey as cinephiles, studying and enjoying films in cine clubs. Cine clubs spread the work of the French Avant-Garde to Russia (and vice versa), spread German Expressionism to the rest of Europe, French poetic realism to Italy, and neo realism to the Americas and Asia. The French New Wave Directors began as Cine club regulars. (“Ciné-club du Quartier Latin,” “Objectif 49.) They launched Cahiers de Cinema, whose “auteur” theory (based on their passion for neo-realist and Hollywood films) influenced the Hollywood New Wave. (Scorcese, Coppolla etc). Collector and archivist Henri Langlois’s Cinémathèque Française was the pre-eminent cine-club. His collection, begun in the 30’s and hidden during the German occupation, was shown to post-war audiences in a small government-subsidized screening room. It’s collection of films and memorabilia, one of the largest in the world, is now housed in a grand Frank Geary designed building.
Cinecon president (editor-author) Robert Birchard explained that in the early years, when the festival was hotel based, they had special 33mm screenings at an outside venue and began screening 35mm almost exclusively about ten years ago when they settled into the Egyptian. Birchard is a film journalist and the author of “Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood”, “Silent-era Filmmaking in Santa Barbara”, and “King Cowboy: Tom Mix and the Movies.”
Pro-Teks’ manager Jim Harwood is Cinecon’s newest officer. Every year Harwood attended the fledgling itinerant Cinecon. He recalled the years at the Roosevelt Hotel, when they brought in acoustic experts and ran projectors from the mezzanine into the Blossom Room (and showed 16mm in the Cinegrill.) After volunteering and attending meetings for several years, Harwood replaced outgoing officer (Sony’s visionary) Michael Schlesinger.
“It took a couple of years in LA to build relationships with the studios which became more open. In the past prints came from collectors, or were rented from film rental companies. Once Cinecon moved to 35mm, i