Featured at Cinecon: Carmen Miranda in “Down Argentine Way.”
Another year, another Cinecon. A jam-packed schedule of watching films, sharing meals, and trying to catch up with friends from far and near during the five days. Cinecon, a 49-year-old film festival, shows rare and rarely screened silent and sound motion pictures from the classic studio era, many never exhibited since their original releases.
Though selected films are not chosen by themes or subjects, many unexpected themes, subjects, and plot points pop up during the run of a festival. This year’s Cinecon dealt with naughty pet monkeys, paintings over the head, transportation, attempted deceptions and betrayals, forbidden love, and political and social issues during its first three days.
Cinecon 49 started five hours earlier on Thursday, at 2 p.m., adding more films to a crowded schedule. Thursday’s first screened film, “It’s a Frameup,” is a contemporary, black and white film made in loving homage to 1930s comedy shorts featuring such performers as Max Davidson, Charley Chase,and Andy Clyde., with some roles based on comic gems like Franklin Pangborn and Edgar Kennedy. Financially strapped Biffle and Shooster land jobs working in the Pangborn Gallery, watching over a priceless painting while the owner runs an errand. Comic mishaps ensue, punctuated by puns, wisecracks, and slapstick. Hilarious in-jokes include parody paintings such as “Mammy’s Mother,” featuring Hattie McDaniel seated in a chair with a photo of Tara on the wall, and Max Davidson slapping his face in amazement a la “The Scream.”
A subdued Larry Semon short “The Dome Doctor,” (1925) followed. Sweethearts Semon and Dorothy Dwan deal with dueling dads who run a neighboring beauty shop and deli. A mischievous monkey causes all sorts of mishaps, aided by absent-minded Semon, with a variety of individuals dipped in flour, covered in molasses, and other icky items. At the conclusion, a shed explodes around an imprisoned Semon, who haphazardly bicycles away through what appears the Cahuenga Pass.
Republic’s “Puddin’ Head” (1941) played third, starring Judy Canova and Slim Summerville as country bumpkins living on a small farm surrounded by Fifth Avenue. Plotting and manipulations follow, but all’s well that ends well, enhanced by funny farm animals. Fun performances by Raymond Walburn, Francis Lederer, Eddie Foy Jr., and Canova put over odd musical numbers written by a young Jule Styne. The Mack Sennett/Republic administration building can be glimpsed in one shot.
“Down Argentine Way” (1941) screened just before the dinner break, a nice though somewhat static Fox Technicolor musical starring Don Ameche as an amorous Argentinian falling in love with a young American horsewoman, Betty Grable. Grable and tooty-fruity Carmen Miranda make their screen debuts in the film, which features such locations as the Will Rogers Ranch and polo field and Del Mar Racetrack. The Nicholas Brothers steal the show with two acrobatic, irrepressible tap numbers.
After dinner, the Al St. John short “Red Pepper” (1925) screened, containing amazing bicycle riding by St. John, who sprinkles itching powder on unsuspecting people to get them to buy salve from a particular store to help pay the mortgage. Nice locations like Hollywood, Echo Park Lake, and Edendale pop up, along with a poster promoting a Buster Keaton film playing at Bard’s. Dogs real and fake serve as important plot points.
A perfectly blended combo of last people on earth films screened: the trailer for the lost Fox film remake “It’s Great to be Alive,” followed by “The Last Man on Earth” (Fox, 1924,) featuring Black-Foxe Academy’s leader, Earle Foxe. “The Last Man on Earth (Fox, 1924)” examined Foxe as the last man, who survived the great plague, Masculitis, when he ran away to the Giant Sequoias after his sweetheart rejected him. Women and boys under 14 survive into the 1940s and 1950s, where flappers are still popular, women are still wearing odd 1920s getups, open-air biplanes are still the rage, and Prince Edward became the King of England rather than the Duke of Wales. A member of the Tea House Gang, operating out of Chicago’s the Chicken Coop, discovers Foxe, and madness ensues. America’s cat lady President convenes the Senate to decide his fate, with Senatoresses from California and Texas boxing in the Senate for him. Contemporary issues pop up, like a divided Congress fighting each other and the President.
The Hank Mann-Vernon Dent “Way Out West” proved to be pretty bland and long, with villain Dent plotting with the sheriff to control a small western town, thwarted by city slicker Mann, who carries a Pacific Electric train pass for Vermont Ave.
Another slow, odd, and unfunny feature followed, the silent “Silk Hose High Pressure,” starring the boring Charlie Chaplin copycat, Billie Ritchie. Ritchie and his fellow boarding house dweller flirt with the chorus girls that move in, reenact a British music hall gag in a theatre, chase girls and each other through the building, and end up using a water hose to lift people in the air.
A still from “Terror Aboard” has been listed on EBay for $19.99.
“Terror Aboard” closed the night, a Paramount pre-code about death aboard a yacht. Devilish billionaire John Halliday is caught in financial shenanigans, and decides to break away for a tropical island while cruising with friends on his yacht. To leave no witnesses, he kills virtually everyone on board: crew and friends, in all types of evil ways, but as it all good melodrama, he gets it in the end when a shark pulls him down as he attempts to swim away. Good parts for Halliday, early Charlie Ruggles, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Neil Hamilton, and Jack LaRue.
Friday opened with “Just a Good Guy,” (1924) a silent short with slacker Arthur Stone posing for a mechanical man when he falls behind on his rent. His evil landlord attempts to steal the robot to earn a fortune before getting his comeuppance, after the robot’s head is destroyed. Stone is a poor man’s Harry Langdon and slightly odd. The Roach backlot is employed for the short.
Harold Lloyd’s “Dr. Jack” (1922) followed, a sweet and easy comedy that isn’t as successful as his more famous features. Areas around Culver City and a home in Country Park popped up, as well as a shot of the Hillview apartments.
John Bengtson once again gave a detailed and informative presentation about Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd filming locations around Culver City and Hollywood, pointing out the “Dr. Jack” locations and many along Hollywood Boulevard from La Brea Ave. down to Cahuenga Boulevard. At the lunch break, Bengtson led about 40 people on a hot day down to Hollywood and Caheunga Boulevards to see many of the sites that still survive, particularly the important location of Cosmo Alley just off of Cahuenga.
Paul Killiam put together a sweet promotional piece pitching a silent movie TV show called “Movie Museum” to NBC, combining photographs and clips of great silent stars and films, along with his own letterhead and photograph. While NBC failed to pick it up, ABC later did.
French and English versions of Our Gang’s “A Tough Winter” (1930) came next, a tough and excruciating watch of Step-in Fetchit as comic fodder for his slowness, inability to read, and the like, along with he and the kids mangling their phonetic French.
While a little long, “Don’t Get Nervous” was a sweet and funny home movie directed by Billy Gilbert featuring his niece Faye McKenzie shooting a screen test, shot by great director Gilbert, aided by Edgar Bergen and her father, with slow-burn Edgar Kennedy as studio head.
“Fluttering Hearts” (1927) featured another mannequin who found its head destroyed, after being employed by Charley Chase to trap a plotting Oliver Hardy and steal away a threatening letter in a speakeasy. A lovely Martha Sleeper plays the love interest, with scenes on the Roach backlot, and a little drag thrown in.
Silent classic “Old Ironsides” (`1926) featured a rousing score from accompanist Jon Mirsalis, along with themes of piracy, increased military funding but cuts in taxes, evil heathen Muslims, and foreign invasions that echo today. The film relays the story of Wallace Beery shanghaiing Charles Farrell and George Bancroft, who find themselves and Esther Ralston seized by pirates, before the U.S. Marines from the USS Constitution save the day. This line echoes today, “Millions for defense and not one cent in tribute.”
“Kick Me Again” (1925) once again featured drag, as large man Charles Puffy donned a tutu to impersonate a ballet dancer, when a woman’s jealous husband (Bud Jamison) came looking for him. Shots of the Universal backlot and small bungalows perhaps around North Hollywood were shown.
A still from “Ramrod” has been listed on EBay for $9.99.
Veronica Lake and Joel McCrea starred in Andre de Toth’s “Ramrod” (1948), a film noir western shot in Utah, where plotting Lake attempts to set up her own cattle ranch, and hero McCrea discovers betrayal. Charlie Ruggles takes on a serious role, along with Preston Foster and Don DeFore. A lovely though dark film that played as Utah’s Centennial film.
The Biograph short, “The School Teacher and the Waif” featured a lovely young Mary Pickford sent off to school with teasing and bullying students like Bobby Harron and Mae Marsh, before the icky schoolmaster stops the torment and then attempts to seduce Pickford.
Pickford also starred in “The Pride of the Clan,” (1917) a dark story undercut by a too dark and muddy print, where Pickford becomes head of the clan after her father’s death but must deal with thwarted love. More cute animals populate the story.
I missed the last two films of the night. More to follow.
oopsie! i think you meant to write that “down argentine way” was carmen miranda’s american screen debut. betty grable made her her film in 1929.
You stand corrected regarding Ms Gable …what’s norteworthy about DAW is that it had only one song, the title tune: “Argentina” and that all of that musical talent got it sing it and dance it once and/or twice. The Nicholas Bros. take the prize!
Thanks for the great report, Mary! A note on “Old Ironsides”: It was famous for being shown in Magnascope. At certain portions of the film (such as a battle shot with a ship coming toward you) the masking would open revealing a much larger screen. Achieved, of course, just by doing a changeover to a projector with a shorter focal length lens for that reel. Many of the larger theatres in the 20s (such as the Warner Hollywood) had Magnascope equipped screen frames.
On your comment about The Last Man on Earth. The Duke of Wales? Edward was the Prince of Wales, the customary title for the Heir Apparent. His brother, Albert, who became George VI, was the Duke of York.