Cinecon 50 Classic Film Festival Report with Movie Reviews and Ratings
Featuring my reviews, ratings (from 1 to 10, 10 being tops), plus plot summaries for the films screened at the Cinecon 50 Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, California. To be held over Labor Day weekend from August 28th to September 1st 2014, with film screenings taking place at the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Blvd. Five FUN days in the dark watching rare films all day and evening long - features many rarely seen silent films from the 1910s and 1920s, serials, early sound era classic movies from the 30s and 40s, comedy two-reel shorts, and other film rarities not often seen on the big screen. REVIEWS below.
For more information about the festival visit :
Cinecon Classic Film Festival
Announced films to be screened (note: subject to change)
Cinecon 50 Schedule
Reviews and write-up
Note: I am working on this year's reviews, but I am pretty slow. In the meantime I wrote a shorter review (well, actually, it's not all that short!) of festival highlights that is posted on my blog: Cinecon 50 Review Summary at MyGroovyDay.com - Check it out.
(Please note the films reviewed on this site contain plot summaries and may contain SPOILERS.)
Movie Screenings Thursday August 28, 2014
- Vitaphone Frolics (1937) - Musical variety one-reel short that showcases four terrific Vaudeville acts of the day. An acrobatic, limber dancing duo called the The Stanley Brothers was entertaining. Then the snappy song and patters of a brother and sister act, Jack and Loretta Clemens, which I think was the act in this I enjoyed the most. There was also a singing hillbilly country group, Zeb Carver and his Cousins. And must give some kudos to one of the most bizarre Vaudeville acts I've seen - three men called The L.I.M.E. Trio, featuring a very limber contortionist wearing a Golliwog head! Yeah, the act was pretty darn weird. Very interesting to watch the performances of these talented, often odd acts of yesteryear. I just love these Vaudeville variety shorts (I would love Cinecon to feature more of these at future events!). A nice start to this year's festival. Rating - * 10/10 stars *
- Paths to Paradise (1925) - PLOT SUMMARY - Silent comedy starring Raymond Griffith and Betty Compson as con artists out to steal some jewels. In San Francisco, Molly (Compson) works with a gang who pull con games on tourists/suckers looking to see atmospheric underworld joints first-hand. But the gang gets conned by a con man, the dapper "dude" Raymond Griffith, who takes their money and runs. Soon this bunch end up as rivals to get ahold of an elaborate and valuable diamond necklace. Molly has taken a job as maid for a society function held at the estate where the necklace is being held in a safe. Griffith shows up posing as a detective. The two of them seem to have a mutual admiration for each other and decide to join forces to steal the jewelry. And in the whirlwind finale, the two end up fleeing to Mexico by auto - whizzing down a coastal highway with motorcycle cops fast on their tail. San Francisco to San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara to Los Angeles and on, with more and more cops joining the chase as they pass through each city until there is quite a mob after them!
REVIEW - This is a fun comedy that includes several memorable gags, the funniest being a scene in which Griffith has stolen the safe with the necklace in it and almost gets caught by a couple of detectives who arrive on the scene to case the joint. Griffith must stand still in a darkened room as one of the detectives keeps moving a flashlight around the room but always seems to get distracted by something just as the light flashes on our man. A couple of other gags involve a cute dog (details are escaping me right now). The best part of the film is the fast-paced final chase scene down the coast -- I love the first person camera tracking shots used here, making the audience feel like they are riding in the car with them as it roars down the winding highway (the big screen sure helped there!). This film was missing the last reel, but the film seems to work fine without it. Rating - * 8/10 stars *
- Hold That Blonde (1945) - PLOT SUMMARY - Romantic-comedy mixed with jewel heist, starring Eddie Bracken and Veronica Lake. Bracken plays Ogden Spencer Trulow III, a kleptomaniac who steals so many random items off of strangers on the streets that he must seek doctor's treatment. After determining the loss of a woman he loved is what caused the problem, Doc advises Ogden to find a new girlfriend. After stealing a compact from Sally (Veronica Lake), a gorgeous woman he runs into on the streets, she hunts him down to get it back. Seems a "combination" to a safe is hidden inside said compact and the band of "bad men" she works for want it! Sally is being forced by these men to help steal the "Romanoff Diamond", a priceless diamond necklace to be displayed at a party hosted by a local millionaire. Suspecting Ogden of being a fellow crook who wants the diamond, the gang leader sends his henchmen to wipe him out. They make several attempts to kidnap Ogden and send him "for a ride", failing every time. Meanwhile, Sally infiltrates the party by taking a job as a maid, bringing with her a perfect duplicate of the Romanoff necklace. Ogden shows up and tricks his way into the party though it is strictly "invitation only". Of course, through the course of all this Ogden has determined that Sally is the girl for him!
REVIEW - This film is a loose remake of "Paths to Paradise", which I wasn't actually aware of until I started noticing similarities in the plots of the two films. I actually enjoyed this remake a little better than the silent (screened just before this one), though both films were pretty good. Veronica Lake and Eddie Bracken worked well off of each other here, and there are several scenes in this film that I thought were laugh out loud funny. Ogden's efforts at escaping the gangsters was highlighted by one amusing gag after the next. One of the funniest scenes has Ogden hiding under a hotel room service table at which Sally and two of the bad men are eating dinner. They keep accidentally kicking him under the table, but mistakenly think they are kicking one of their dining companions. Another funny scene features Ogden attempting to escape the men by climbing out onto the window ledge of his skyscraper apartment wearing nothing but a towel. Soon he's involved in a sky-high fight on the ledge with a drunk who was sleeping in the next apartment. Another scene I found amusing was the gag he uses to trick the butler into letting him into the "invitation only" house party - by handing the man all his things one by one - his hat, his cane, his gloves, etc. - distracting the man so that he could snitch someone elses invitation off the entrance table. This film almost duplicates the funny scene in "Paths to Paradise", with Ogden hiding with the stolen safe as a cop tracks the room with a flashlight. There is also a cute pup (actually, more than one if I'm remembering correctly) that figures into some of the gags. I think you could pretty much place this film in the category of slapsticky screwball comedy (like!). Rating - * 8.5/10 stars *
Movie Screenings Friday August 29, 2014
- Bride and Gloom (1921) - Monty Banks comedy two-reeler. Monty wants to marry his girlfriend but her father won't let him unless he comes up with 5,000 bucks. He gets an insurance policy that will pay the $5,000 if he is in an accident. He then tries various ways to get himself injured including laying down in the street hoping to be run over by a car and when that fails he tries to get hit by a street car - nothing seems to work (wowzers, with no fear of actually ending up being killed from this?!). My memory of the plot of this is a little vague - I thought this was a reasonably decent short, enhanced by some interesting on-location filming on the streets of L.A. The print shown was not super great, a bit fuzzy. Rating - * 7/10 stars *
- $20 a Week (1924) - PLOT SUMMARY - Silent comedy-drama starring George Arliss as John Reeves, a wealthy steel tycoon who considers his grown son too much of an idler -- the son, Chester "Chet" Reeves (Ronald Colman), likes to work as little as possible (stating "why work when I can live off dad's money" or some such thing). Dad decides to cut off his funds and bets him to try living on only $20 a week plus whatever other money he is able to earn himself. And to be fair, he will do the same! Senior Reeves gets a job incognito, working as a clerk for a rival steel company owned by William Hart. Hart's sister, Muriel (Edith Roberts), coincidentally happens to be Chet's girlfriend of the week (he wants to marry her, I think she thought he needed to work harder). Weirdly, Muriel suddenly gets a notion in her head to adopt "Little Arthur", a peppy little boy she picked up one afternoon (like a stray dog) at a local orphanage. And the thing is, she lives with her brother and he hates children!! He finds young Arthur so annoying that he decides to get even with Sis - by adopting a "father" to live with them. He ends up recruiting his new office clerk for the task, the elder Reeves, who moves in with the Hart siblings and begins to take his new role of father to heart. Muriel considers Reeves from interfering at best, to thinking of him as that "horrid old man" after Reeves suggests to her that she should think about marrying his "son" (she is unaware that her new "father" is boyfriend Chet's real-life dad). But Reeves ends up helping out when Hart's company is about to be taken over by a conglomerate. And in the end Chet, who has pretty much disappeared for the entire film, turns up again, has managed to make good financially, and is ready to marry Muriel. --- And the whole gang now likes each other (yes, even Little Arthur is included there), exchanging hugs and kisses all around!
REVIEW - Cute movie that I enjoyed quite a bit. The film is pretty much stolen by George Arliss, an actor that I always enjoy. He plays his role of the "sly old fox" here with gusto and a twinkle in his eye. Popular and handsome leading man Ronald Colman has an oddly small role in this film and pretty much disappears from his opening scenes until he finally turns up again in the end. We are really left in the dark as to how his character is making out in the world with only $20 a week in his pocket (honestly, that amount doesn't sound that small to me, when you consider you could get a dinner for something like 30 cents in the 1920s). Must give mention to the youngster "Little Arthur", a scene stealer in his own right who sort of smiles his way through all his mischief. Not a "brat" in the true sense of the word, but an energetic child who likes to do stuff like slide down banisters and massive splashing in an upstairs bathtub (enough to leak through the floor to the room below). The Arliss character of "John Reeves" (who shares a name with my great-great grandfather) seems to take rather a shine to the little fellow right off. One of my favorite of the silents screened at this year's Cinecon. Rating - * 8.5/10 stars *
- Almost a Lady (1926) - PLOT SUMMARY - Light romantic comedy starring Marie Prevost as Marcia, new model at Henri's Gown Shop. Henri is a womanizer who likes what's "inside the gown" even more than the outside (just like most men) and within the week has presented attractive Marcia with a gift of silk stockings (which she rejects after hearing another gown model received a gift her very first day on the job!). Marcia has a weirdly over-protective brother who watches over her every move (and is very suspicious of that wolf, Henri). Meanwhile, one of the shop's customers, a wealthy society lady, is hosting a party where one of the expected guests is a famous authoress who pens outlandish, over-the-top romance novels. When it is heard that the Duke of Luxembourg is coming to town and longs to meet the popular writer, he is invited to the party. When it turns out this authoress won't be able to make it the gathering, Marcia is recruited to impersonate her and a tale of mistaken identities follows. A man named William Duke (Harrison Ford) arrives at the party with a letter of introduction and the hostess mistakenly thinks he's the expected Duke, posing incognito. By coincidence, he is also a big fan of this writer and has memorized passages from her books by heart (hmm, many rather oddball-ish plot elements in this tale). Marcia and Mr. Duke hit it off and a romance blossoms. Eventually she tells her new fellow the truth: that she is simply a model and not the authoress he thought. Then she finds out he's not a Duke but simply "just another millionaire nobody". Okey dokey, all is not lost for the happy couple (I think he even buys out Henri's dress shop and becomes her new "boss").
REVIEW - Okay, this movie is a bit of fluff with nothing that really makes it stand out from other films of the same sort. I really love actor Harrison Ford the Original ('cause I find him oh so handsome and debonair) - unfortunately, he isn't given much to do in this film but stand around. Marie Prevost really takes the lead here and the story completely revolves around her (and the brother lurking about after her), with Ford a side character. George K. Arthur who plays the brother is actually rather amusing. All in all, a lightly fun film - entertaining enough but nothing great. Glad to be have been able to see yet another Harrison Ford film as he's one of my favorites. Rating - * 7.5/10 stars *
- The Baroness and the Butler (1938) - PLOT SUMMARY - Set in a small town outside Budapest, William Powell plays Johann, butler to the Prime Minister of Hungary. He's a real gentleman's gentleman type, a stickler for "perfect" service - and he definitely gives it! The Prime Minister's married daughter, the Baroness (played by Annabella), is beautiful and a devoted fan of Johann. She suggests he settle down and find himself a wife (though if you didn't know better, you could swear it seems like she wants Johann for herself - and her husband IS a cad/jerk). Johann soon does something that knocks the family for a loop - he secretly runs for Parliament and wins! A member of the Socialist party, he's on the opposing political side to that of his boss. But the Prime Minister seems rather amused by the whole thing as they argue it out at meetings of Parliament. Now here's the weird thing - though busy as a bee with his new political career, Johann is forever devoted to his life in service and wants to continue in his job as butler! The Baroness is angry at him for delving into politics, but she sneaks into Parliament sessions to secretly watch his oratory skills in action. Meanwhile, Johann is SO busy that his perfect service has been slacking (the Prime Minister is left standing without clothes after his Turkish Bath and cocktails aren't served quickly enough, that sort of thing) -- Johann is given his two weeks notice! Eventually, of course, the Baroness and the Butler declare their love for each other.
REVIEW - This romantic-comedy was mainly good for the well done portrayal of the perfect butler, as played by William Powell. I think this film would have been better with a stronger actress in the lead role - a leading lady/comedienne with a bigger personality to match against Powell. Of course, character actor Henry Stephenson is excellent here, as always, and rather charming in his role as the mostly even-tempered Prime Minister. This film works okay, though there's nothing in it that makes it particularly special or memorable. Lightly entertaining. Rating - * 7/10 stars *
- Their First Misunderstanding (1911) - Early film starring Mary Pickford and real life hubby Owen Moore as young newlyweds in love who, one year later, have already become bored with marriage. Mary flirts with a long-haired "poet" who lives next door and has sparked her interest via his finesse on the piano. Her husband offers to give her up so she can be with the man she "loves" (when the offer is made, the poet gets a funny expression on his face that can only mean one thing - run for the hills!). But sly hubby has something else up his sleeve - revealed when he phones up his new girlfriend! I thought this film was interesting to see, and always enjoy anything with Mary Pickford in it. It features typical early primitive camerawork and claustrophobic room sets. Directed by Thomas H. Ince, this short film was thought lost until it was recently found in a New Hampshire barn. Rating - * 8/10 stars *
- Behind the Scenes (1914) - PLOT SUMMARY - Silent backstage melodrama starring Mary Pickford as a NYC chorus girl named Dolly Lane. After a performance on stage, pretty little Dolly is introduced to a new man by her male pal (a character who apparently has no interest in her for himself). This new fellow is a new arrival in town (giving up the farm to try his luck in the big city) and is of the tall and handsome variety - they hit it off and soon decide to marry. Practically right after the ceremony, he is informed that his family has lost their money and he is poor - generous of heart Dolly doesn't even mind. Meanwhile, he has an Uncle that isn't happy with his nephew's choice of wife and won't have anything to do with him. But Uncle becomes ill and they reconcile last minute before the man's death - and Dolly's new hubby inherits the farm! He asks her to give up the stage, become a farm wife and raise chickens. Really bad timing as she is soon given that big break she always dreamed of and is offered the lead role in an upcoming production. She decides to leave hubby and the farm, returning to the city and the stage. But, the melodrama continues as the stage manager, a creepy, smarmy, hideous old man, locks the door of her dressing room as he proceeds to paw her. Ugh - she actually screams as she tries to get out of the room. Luckily, hubby and buddy arrive just in the nick of time to save her, while the stage manager hides himself in her closet. Dolly decides to give up her career and return to life on the farm where, hopefully, she won't have to deal with a lech like that again.
REVIEW - I thought this film was quite good. Mary Pickford looks very lovely in this - she gives a very natural performance here, her face just full of expression. I always get a kick out of these oh so melodramatic silents from the teen era, sort of yesteryear's version of a daytime soap. This film features an early feminist slant that is interesting, with Mary's character (at least at first) preferring a career over life with hubby on the farm. It's also interesting to see her play a young adult woman with a job instead of an eleven-year old schoolgirl (don't get me wrong, I love those movies too)! Rating - * 8.5/10 stars *
Movie Screenings Saturday August 30, 2014
- The Night Before the Divorce (1942) - PLOT SUMMARY - About a husband (Joseph Allen) who gets a bruised male ego because his wife (Lynn Bari) keeps beating him at games like gin rummy and golf. Though they seem to love each other, she's just too "perfect" for his taste. This seems to give him the notion that he's now free to stray - and so he does, after a chance encounter with a flirtatious blonde bimbo he almost runs off the road while she's out "scooting" (riding a motor scooter). She fakes a sprained ankle and an affair is sprung. This guy actually tells his chum that he loves this new woman because she's "pretty but dumb" - she seems (or at least pretends) to have nothing upstairs and no skills whatsoever - and he LOVES that about her. His wife is onto him and throws a surprise party for him to announce their divorce (right on, sister)! Soon she's dating a radio singer - but when he ends up murdered, she is accused of the crime. Of course, you just know our once happily married couple will end up back together somehow.
REVIEW - Typical frothy forties "battle of the sexes" romantic-comedy, this film is pretty darn entertaining on a sort of B-movie level. Fast-paced and fun, though I do have to wonder why this woman wants to get back with that jerk/dud of a husband (who is rather undeserving, if you ask me, for such a "perfect" wife). Of course, this married couple has a male "best friend" who figures into the plot, always trying to help the couple where he can. In most films, this sort of side character is either secretly (or not secretly) in love with the wife. Not so here (though for some reason I kept getting the feeling that he was, and it would end up being revealed - never happened). The film includes a party scene where the group watch her new boyfriend, the radio singer, on a new-fangled device called "television". Cute movie - I liked it. Rating - * 8/10 stars *
- Court-Martial (1928) - PLOT SUMMARY - A western melodrama, set during the Civil War. Jack Holt plays James Camden, a commander of the United States Army who is assigned the task of finding and arresting an escaped convict - a rebel leader by the name of Belle Stone (Betty Compson). This woman wears the pants and bosses her band of male rebels, hiding out in Missouri to escape the law. Using the revolver of a gunslinger named Devil Dawson as "proof" of who he is, Camden poses as Dawson to infiltrate the rebel gang and hopefully capture Belle. Of course, attraction sets in between the two and love blooms, especially after he sees sexy Belle wearing a dress for the first time! Devil Dawson, now a runaway Confederate soldier, turns up and wants to join the gang - well, there can't be two of them and they end up in a fight. Dawson goes over the side of a cliff to his death and our honest hero admits the truth of his identity to Belle. Soon he's arrested and court-martialed for failure to turn in the outlaw, Belle, to the authorities. He's given the same penalty as she was to receive for her crimes - death by firing squad! And in the end, Belle ends up sacrificing herself to save him.
REVIEW - Jack Holt is sort of a stiff, but Betty Compson is pretty darn good at playing the tough gal. The print of this looked a wee bit dark and murky and, unfortunately, some of the intertitles were in English and some in Czech which made it sometimes a little hard to follow the plot. Seems like this had a pretty decent storyline, it should have been better - disappointing, as I really like Westerns. Just okay. (NOTE: Resources such as the IMDb list the female character name as "Belle Starr", but I am pretty sure in the title card when she was introduced it said "Belle Stone". That is the name I remembered - looking at newspaper archive write-ups of this film from the day, some said Belle Starr and I did find at least one that said Belle Stone. Curious.) Rating - * 7/10 stars *
Movie Screenings Sunday August 31, 2014
- Human Cargo (1936) - PLOT SUMMARY - Clair Trevor plays Bonnie Brewster, a blonde with a hankering to become a newspaper reporter. Luckily for her, with her daddy a big advertiser on the local paper, she can't miss. She shows up at the newspaper office and is hired on the spot, immediately assigned to go undercover to help find out who is behind running an "alien shakedown" racket. She'll be working with "Packy" Campbell (Brian Donlevy), one of those hard-boiled newspapermen who has the stereotypical "ink in his veins" instead of blood. He's not crazy about working with this new "hiree", and smoke/fireworks starts out between the two right off the bat (of course, this is a movie so we all know where that will eventually lead). They go out that evening to a nightclub to try and get a lead on the case by getting information from Carmen (Rita Cansino), a latin dancer who spotlights at the club and is involved with the suspected criminals. Later on, our two reporters pose as a married French couple seeking passage into the United States. They trick the smugglers into giving them a room onboard the ship that's transporting the illegal immigrants, attempting to get the name of the boss and crack the case, all in the name of getting a scoop for the paper!
REVIEW - A smart, fast-paced little crime drama set in the newspaper world. I enjoyed the Clair Trevor character in this, a young woman who proves herself worthy of the title "reporter" as she sleuths undercover as good as Nancy Drew herself would have done. A funny running gag had the head newspaper editor shouting "I need a boy" nearly every scene he's in, inspiring thoughts of double entendre most likely not intended. Actress Rita Cansino, the attractive brunette who plays Carmen, was shortly to be transformed into the gorgeous, red-haired silver screen goddess Rita Hayworth. Good film. Rating - * 8.5/10 stars *
Movie Screenings Monday September 1, 2014
Cinecon 50 - My Annual The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Summary
10 = Absolutely Fabulous/Superb
9 = Really Good/Excellent
8 = Good
7 = Fairly Good/Decent
6 = So-so, some flaws
5 = Mediocre
4 = Not that good, many flaws
3 = Poor
2 = Very Poor/Stinker
1 = One of the worst BOMBS ever filmed