This starts in conventional fashion. Hapless little Ernest is in love with Hattie, who could not marry him ‘even if he were the last man on earth’. Devastated, Ernest rejects women for life. The fun starts when we skip to the distant future - first 1940, and later 1950 - when the major threat to mankind is not World War but ‘masculitis’, a disease that has wiped out the whole adult male population. When an aviatrix finds the now-grown Ernest living in the wilderness as a hermit, his discovery is a sensation. Before long, his hand in marriage is being fought over by millionairesses and won via an all-ladies boxing match, with a conclusion that makes Seven Chances look like The Dating Game!
Despite some gutsy female characters it’s a stretch to find any feminist message lurking behind the film, and the concept wasn’t quite enough to last the distance, but its offbeat nature and outlandish future fashions are so much fun that it hardly matters. A highlight of Day 1, lifted by a clever accompaniment by Frederick Hodges.
This was preceded with the trailer for the 1933 remake It’s Great to Be Alive. By the sounds of things, a feminist masterpiece it is not.
DR JACK (1922)
Not the funniest Harold Lloyd by any means, this still serves as a reminder of Lloyd’s craftsmanship - in terms of construction, even an early feature such as this feels at least five years ahead of its time. Lloyd, a kindly country doctor, attempts to cure the ‘Sick-Little-Well-Girl’ (Mildred Davis), whose spirit and health are being broken by the officious Dr Von Saulsbourg (Eric Mayne).
OLD IRONSIDES (1926)
I find James Cruze’s nation-building movies a little self-important and overlong, and Old Ironsides is no exception. Nevertheless, it’s a well-made, lavish and enjoyable epic, with a very young-looking Charles Farrell as an adventurer who joins the crew of the legendary ship, the ‘Constitution’. Esther Ralston does what she can with a colourless role as Farrell’s love interest, while Wallace Beery and George Bancroft provide some comic relief in supporting roles. You can see the film’s high budget on the screen with some elaborate sets and epic tall-ship sea battles, assisted immensely by Jon Mirsalis’s brilliant score. I know that synth scores are not generally liked, but this one was simply the best I’ve ever heard, subtle and atmospheric, whilst not overdoing it with the sound effects.
THE PRIDE OF THE CLAN (1917)
Frankly, one of the less compelling Pickfords I’ve seen from this period. Mary is a doughty Scotswoman who becomes the head of the McTavish clan after the sea claims her father. Though as excellent as usual, she is saddled with a plodding plot and rather dull love interest in Matt Moore. The Scottish coastal setting provides the opportunity for some lovely shots of roiling seas.
THE GOOD BAD MAN (1916)
Interesting early Douglas Fairbanks vehicle, which has Doug playing what would later become a quintessential Doug role - the lovable rogue who turns out to be good at heart. He’s ‘Passing Through’, a Robin Hood-style bandit who attributes his thieving ways to his uncertain parentage. Once this is cleared up, he decides to turn over a new leaf. Bessie Love is fairly understated as his love interest.
HOLD ‘EM YALE (1928)
This forgettable college comedy features Rod La Roque as an amorous Argentinian bandit who follows an American girl (Jeanette Loff) to Yale, where he becomes a football star. This didn’t seem to have the usual polish of De Mille productions of this period, but featured some good views of his still-extant Culver City studio.
EVE’S LEAVES (1926)
This was my ‘Must See’ of the festival, and did not disappoint. Leatrice Joy is sexy and self-deprecating as Eve, a naive girl who has been brought up on shipboard as a boy by her sailor father. The arrival of handsome American adventurer William Boyd inspires her to ditch the trousers and try her hand - hilariously - at seduction. The pair fall prey to a gang of Chinese pirates, but Eve’s pluck saves the day. Whimsical, well-made and wonderfully enjoyable, it was another festival highlight.
OH MARY, BE CAREFUL (1921)
Madge Kennedy charms again in a more substantial film than last year’s Dollars and Sense. This time, she’s a coy flapper who is thrown out of college and sent to live with her strict Aunt Myra, who hopes to cure her of her incorrigible flirting. Aunty’s efforts are in vain, as a handsome young tree surgeon (Morgan Smith) arrives on the scene. Kennedy’s baby-face is irresistible, and the cute subtitles ensured this was a lot of fun. CASTLES FOR TWO (1917)
Elliott Dexter is a penniless Irish lord who is being urged to marry money for the sake of his estate. Money arrives in the person of an American heiress (the ethereal Marie Doro). He is resistant to the idea of being married off to her; meanwhile, she has heard some unflattering (and untrue) stories about his supposed tyranny. After discovering him to be charming after all, Marie pretends to be poor in order to win his heart fair and square, with the assistance of some of the local Irish fairies (yes, really). This scenario does not play as oddly as it sounds, and the pair make a cute couple.
Cinecon 2013 - The Silent Shorts
Source: Internet Movie Database.
THE DOME DOCTOR (1925)
Larry Semon, as an oddball hairdresser, does his best to make his usual special-effects fest on a limited budget. A nice sequence with a monkey shows that Semon might have been a more likeable comic had he dropped the focus on effects and concentrated on character moments.
RED PEPPER (1925)
Enjoyable Al St John short livened by some impressive bicycle acrobatics. Al is a chemist who conceives an ideal way to sell his anti-itching powder: by striking unsuspecting citizens with itching powder.
WAY OUT WEST (1920)
This pseudo-Western has some funny moments, thanks largely to the agreeably dour presence of pear-shaped comic Hank Mann.
JUST A GOOD GUY (1924)
Hal Roach comic and Harry Langdon-alike Arthur Stone is a pawn shop worker with an odd resemblance to a newly created robot man. The robot’s damaged, and guess who has to step in to substitute for it? Stone’s work as the robot is quite clever, and Olive Borden contributes a cameo as a lady shoplifter; Fay Wray is also credited, but I didn’t spot her.
FLUTTERING HEARTS (1927)
This funny Charley Chase short really clicks into gear in the second reel, with a sequence that has Charley bringing a female mannequin into a speakeasy, not only leading it on an energetic fox trot but manipulating it skillfully enough to make it successfully seduce the dastardly but tipsy Big Bill (a pre-Laurel Oliver Hardy). A young Eugene Pallette appears as a motorcycle cop, and there are some good views of early Culver City.
KICK ME AGAIN (1925)
The roly-poly Hungarian comic Charles Puffy is a very likeable screen presence in this short, which he spends mostly in a tutu. It seems that poor Puffy came to a sad end, though its exact nature is unclear. Some sources claim that he died in a Soviet gulag, others that he passed away in Tokyo in 1942, and still others that he was a victim of Auschwitz. I’d like to know more, and to see more of his work.
THE SCHOOLTEACHER AND THE WAIF (1912)
Shown in a brand new Pickford Foundation print, this D.W. Griffith-directed Biograph short features Mary as a plucky but misunderstood schoolgirl. The denoument, which hasn’t travelled well, has her initially harsh schoolteacher falling in love with her.
A FRESH START (1920)
I couldn’t tell you the plot of this baffling short by Henry Lehrman protege Jack White (foreign subtitles left us all at sea), but there was some appeal in the appearance of some early special effects, including stop-motion animation and split-screen.
A BLONDE’S REVENGE (1926)
Ben Turpin, in the running to become a senator, is the victim of a rival candidate who attempts to lure him in some compromising situations in order to be photographed and thrown from the race. Some things never change.
THEIR FIRST EXECUTION (1913)
Ford Sterling and Mack Sennett mug it up in this early short. Call me sensitive but I wasn’t crazy about the idea of capital punishment as comedy fodder.
TURKISH HOWLS (1927)
This FBO short leaves no Turkish cliche unturned, but cannot find enough to do with them to fill two reels.
A THRILLING ROMANCE (1926)
A standout as the best silent comedy short of the festival. A lady screenwriter is struggling to come up with her newest scenario, but then finds herself part of an increasingly outlandish series of events. Star Wanda Wiley performs some hilarious (and dangerous!) car stunts against a great backdrop of early Los Angeles. It seems the survival rate of Wiley pictures is not high, which is a terrible shame - I want to see more from this talented lady!
WET AND WARMER (1920)
This is one of the funnier Henry Lehrman shorts I’ve seen, and he certainly throws everything at it. Some of it hits and some misses. Chief in the former category is a funny gag in which a dog caught under a paper billboard causes a Theda Bara poster to bellydance and undulate indecently, and some hair-raising building ledge sequences a-la Safety Last. The latter affords some good glimpses of early Los Angeles, while the earlier portion perhaps - perhaps - features a rare appearance by Virginia Rappe.
Cinecon 2013 - The Talkie Features
Source: Internet Movie Database
PUDDIN’ HEAD (1940)
This plays as if Republic thought up three different vehicles for cornpone superstar Judy Canova and kept changing their mind about which one to go with. We start with a standard Beverly Hillbillies-type premise, with Judy and Uncle Goober (Slim Somerville) stumbling into a valuable plot of land in New York, out of which a rich executive and his bumbling son (Raymond Warburn and Eddie Foy, Jr) hope to cheat them. Francis Lederer’s self-effacing performance as a shiftless European prince is the best thing in the film, but both he and his storyline appear from nowhere halfway through. In the final third the focus suddenly changes again, to Judy’s attempts to become a radio star. Judy Canova plays Judy Canova as only Judy Canova can. Take from that what you will.
DOWN ARGENTINE WAY (1940)
This enjoyable Technicolor soufflé has handsome Argentinian horse-breeder Don Ameche fall for Betty Grable, daughter of a rival family of equestrians. Charlotte Greenwood, as Betty’s snooty mother, gets the best lines. Aside from the horse racing theme there’s very little authentic Argentinian atmosphere - we get several rhumbas (Cuban), the conga (Cuban), Carmen Miranda (Brazilian) and a truly show-stopping tap dance from the Nicholas Brothers - but, unforgivably, not a single tango! The newly restored print looked stunning.
LET’S GO NATIVE (1930)
Completely bonkers Pre-Code is a bizarre collision of Gilligans Island and International House. It isn’t much use explaining the plot, which has a varied cast including Jeanette Macdonald, Jack Oakie, and an under-utiilsed Kay Francis shipwrecked on a tropical island ruled by Skeets Gallagher (of course). There is a funny running gag involving the name of Oakie’s character, Voltaire McGinnis, but this is uneven at best, its musical numbers and farcical plot giving it more of the flavour of a stage revue than a film.
ONE MILE FROM HEAVEN (1937)
I was glad not to miss this, one of the most interesting treatments of race I have ever seen in a 1930s Hollywood film. Claire Trevor is a go-getting reporter who hopes to scoop her bumbling colleagues with the story of a black woman (Fredi Washington), who claims that her white daughter (Joan Carol) is her real daughter. In getting to the bottom of the story, Claire is forced to confront issues of journalistic integrity, particularly as she befriends the woman and her policeman beau, played by Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson. Blackmailers and a wealthy couple (Sally Blane and John Eldredge) become involved before the truth is revealed.
Performances are excellent all round and Allan Dwan’s direction is expert, but Fredi Washington is the standout, giving an intensely moving and dignified performance that makes it all the more tragic that this was her screen swansong. Though the rather disappointing ending is rooted in the attitudes of its time, there are aspects of this film that are simply revolutionary. When Claire Trevor first stumbles into the black neighbourhood, we see black people not as servants or comic relief but as human beings, going about their business. This is an important film that deserves to be more widely seen. THE HOLY TERROR (1937)
Probably one of the better Jane Withers vehicles I’ve seen and certainly the most lavishly staged, this no doubt made a swell kid’s matinee at the time of its release but is not sophisticated fare for grown ups. Jane plays a winsome army brat who becomes involved in tracking down some spies who are in pursuit of a secret aircraft being constructed on the base. Jane Withers was in attendance, and is as feisty as ever.
TRANSIENT LADY (1935)
It’s hard to know where to start with this very peculiar film. Francis Drake is a member of a troupe of travelling roller skating performers, who creates a stir when she arrives in a closed-minded town. Gene Raymond is OK as the small-town lawyer who falls for her, but Henry Hull is unforgivably hammy as corrupt local senator Hamp Baxter, who rules the town with an iron fist. Helen Lowell and Clara Blandick are enjoyable as the two tough old ladies who won’t stand for Francis’ mistreatment.
Source: Internet Movie Database
SUDDENLY IT’S SPRING (1947)
In this completely delightful screwball comedy, Paulette Goddard is a WAC and wartime marriage counsellor, who returns home to find herself having second thoughts about the divorce she’d planned with hubby Fred MacMurray before the war. Paulette puts up every contrivance to avoid signing the papers, much to the consternation of MacMurray’s new girlfriend, a wonderfully catty Arleen Whelan. Meanwhile, MacMurray’s millionaire friend (Jack Lindsay) appears to be helping Paulette win him back, but actually has designs on her himself.
Aside from the comedy, there’s a real flavour of life in the postwar period, with references to housing shortages and the real-life tensions that were breaking up marriages. Wonderful performances and a sparkling script make this a definite find.
SUTTER’S GOLD (1937)
This interminable biopic of the Californian pioneer John Sutter demonstrates just how important Preston Sturgess’ screenplay was to the success of last year’s far superior Diamond Jim (1935). High production values cannot overcome a deadly dull, overlong and exposition-laden script in which nothing is left to chance - characters tell us exactly who they are and how they feel at every possible moment. Edward Arnold is at least sincere, but Binnie Barnes sleepwalks through her love-interest role. Reportedly, this was the film that sunk Carl Laemmle’s leadership of Universal Pictures. By the end, I would have personally fired him myself.
APRIL LOVE (1957)
Pat Boone stars in this sweet-natured musical drama, playing an atypical role as a rev-head, sent to live in the country after falling in with the wrong crowd and losing his license. His aunt (Jeanette Nolan) is welcoming but his gruff Uncle Jed (Arthur O’Connell) is forbidding, still mourning the death of his own son in Korea. Boone gradually warms to the countryside, particularly after he meets pretty Dolores (Fran Templeton) and her horse-mad sister Liz (Shirley Jones). An interest in harness racing leads to a thawing in his relationship with Uncle Jed and a blossoming friendship - or something more - with Liz.
This new Cinemascope restoration looked gorgeous on the Egyptian’s giant screen, and there was an engaging Q&A with stars Boone and Jones afterwards. The only question remaining is how they managed the tricky, dangerous-looking horseback stunts, which were obviously performed by the stars themselves.
Source: Internet Movie Database
BOTTOMS UP (1934)
Spencer Tracy stars as huckster ‘Smoothie’ King in this thoroughly enjoyable Pre-Code. Encountering out-of-work actress Wanda Gale (Pat Paterson), he conceives a clever scam to catapult himself and fellow also-rans Herbert Mundin and Sid Silvers to the top of Hollywood. Under the guise of a visiting English noblewoman, Wanda finds herself not only starring alongside her hero Hal Reid (John Boles), the handsome but disillusioned star who has turned to drink, but finding her way into his affections. The witty script is rich with references to early sound-era Hollywood; Thelma Todd is good but under-used as an insufferable fellow actress.
THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE (1956)
I only saw about an hour of this, which contained some imaginatively staged dance sequences that looked good in Cinemascope. A late entry in the 1950s cycle of composer biopics, this time covering the career of Buddy DeSylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson, it was OK as far as the genre goes.
THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1929)
No more creaky and paceless than any other average 1929 talkie, this British-American co-production contains some moments of inspiration but its fair share of wooden performances and ludicrous lines. Clive Brook makes a decently quirky Holmes, but Harry T. Morey is a bizarre Moriarty, who seems to have time-travelled in from a Universal horror film. The dense mystery plot takes in everything from Scotland Yard corruption to phone hacking (yes, really!) Worth seeing for the fact alone that it's so rare, many sources still list it as a lost film.
SPRING PARADE (1940)
This charming Deanna Durbin vehicle is a well-made piece of escapism set in a highly sentimentalised pre-war Vienna. Deanna plays the unworldy peasant girl Ilonka, who finds an improbable fortune given her by a gypsy coming true almost at once. The setting provides ample opportunity for a Viennese waltz or ten, and there are nice performances from S.Z. Sakall as the kindly baker who takes Deanna under his wing, and Henry Stephenson as Emperor Franz Joseph.
Cinecon 2013 - The Curiosities
IT’S A FRAME UP! (2013)
This production by Mike Schlesinger introduces us to ‘Biffle and Shooster’, a long forgotten (and fictional) comic duo of the late 30s. This ode to classic comedy shorts might have got a better reaction had the crowd been a little warmed up. Sure, there were a few jokes that didn’t land or went on a little long, but the same could be said of the source material, which has been lovingly and convincingly reproduced.
SILENTS PLEASE - PAUL KILLIAM PITCH REEL This video pitch, in which Killiam details his concept for the ground-breaking Silents Please television presentation of the 1960s, reminds us just how important Killiam’s love and respect for the medium was, at a time whenFractured Flickers and its ilk were all that most people saw, or cared to see, of a silent film.
A TOUGH WINTER (1930)
Shown first in English and then in the one surviving reel of the French version, this ‘Our Gang’ curiosity provides a good insight into the brief period of bilingual production in the early days of sound.
It appears a dual cast was used, with a couple of fluent French speaking kids appearing only in the background of the English version but given the bulk of the lines in the French version, with the American cast mainly limited to the occasional “Oui!” or “Oh la la!”. You have to wonder what the French thought of the excruciating comic stylings of Stepin Fetchit. The story itself is fairly standard Our Gang fare, with the kids making a mess of the house when they try their hand at pulling taffy.
DON’T GET NERVOUS
This is a fun home-made silent movie starring the radiant Fay McKenzie, who was in attendance, along with Billy Gilbert and several other famous faces. Fay is an auditioning starlet who can’t seem to impress a big director or his very camp cameraman.