“Paths to Paradise,” Photoplay, July – December 1925.
Another year and another Cinecon Film Festival has come and gone. Started 50 years ago as an opportunity for classic film lovers and collectors to come together to view long unseen films, Cinecon still follows its mission of screening forgotten or difficult to see silent and sound films every Labor Day Weekend. For five days, film afcionados sit spellbound in the historic 1922 Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood viewing hard to see sound and silent films. Here’s a review of the 2014 Festival.
Thursday, August 28 opened at 7 pm with a screening of a “Vitaphone Frolics,” presenting some of the odd and obscure acts that trolled the vaudeville circuits. This reel featured three acts: a hillbilly group singing western songs, two men doing odd tumbling tricks, and “The Golliwog,” which showed a somewhat racist looking but completely double-jointed figure doing the most amazing folding and bending body skills.
The 1925 Paramount feature, “Paths to Paradise,” starring silk-hat comedian Raymond Griffith and a slinky Betty Compson as competing thieves out to pilfer a gigantic diamond necklace, featured typical silent motifs: somewhat busy plot, a cute dog, a love/hate relationship with great chemistry, excellent reaction shots, and great chase scenes. Comic actors Leo White and Edgar Kennedy play small roles in the film. The film concludes with an amazing car chase supposedly from San Francisco to Mexico through San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, as what seems like hundreds of motorcycle cops chase the speeding couple through what looks like Topanga Canyon and along the Malibu Coast. The last reel is lost, but per the AFI Directory, supposedly they feel guilt and decide to turn around and return the necklace followed by the incensed cops, who cover the car with tickets once they arrive back in the city.
“Hold That Blonde,” a 1945 Paramount reworking of the original play on which “Paths to Paradise” was based, stars a young kleptomaniac Eddie Bracken who steals all manner of odd items after his fiancé jilts him. His psychiatrist suggests he fall in love to cure his problems, and he literally falls in love at first sight with thief Veronica Lake, who recruits him to help her gang steal a necklace. Complications ensue as they always do. Will the guy get the necklace and the girl? This film takes place in New York City with several different plot points from “Paths.” It would be interesting to know which is more authentic to the original story.
On Friday, August 29, I missed some of the early films. Historian/author John Bengtson gave another of his detailed, fascinating lectures of Chaplin/Keaton/Lloyd filming locations around Los Angeles, before leading a merry band of followers on a tour of Hollywood Boulevard and Cahuenga to shooting locations for the comedians.
After lunch, the short, “Broncho Billy and the Bandit’s Secret” led off the afternoon, which is a lovely tribute to the Essanay Film Company and its Broncho Billy westerns, written and directed by David Kiehn, of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. The short captures the general themes and story of Broncho Billy films, ending with a screening of an actual film in Niles’ 1913 Edison film theatre, now the Museum’s theatre. Silent film star Diana Sera Cary, aka Baby Peggy, makes a pleasing cameo in the film.
Marie Prevost in “Almost a Lady,” Motion Picture News, 1926.
The 1926 Marie Prevost film, “Almost a Lady” came next, with a hot little Prevost prevented from getting taken advantage of by louts by her overprotective brother, George K. Arthur. She somehow falls in love with the bland Harrison Ford, the first and not as charismatic star with this name. I saw only a part, but it seems to show some Los Angeles locations.
“The Baroness and the Butler” followed, a rarely seen 1938 Fox film produced by Raymond Griffith and starring the suave William Powell, as the ultimate gentleman’s gentleman, the perfect butler to a kindly but ineffective prime minister who earns a seat in parliament himself. How will this affect the balance of power at home? The film features cameos by Sidney Bracey and Fanchon of Fanchon and Marco, but drags a little due to the thickness of French actress’ Annabella’s accent, in her first American role.
“Kid Auto Races at Venice” shows Chaplin in his second appearance on camera (thanks to pristine costume in a Mabel Normand film but slightly mussy one here, the first to be exhibited), mugging for the cameras at a kid’s small car race in Venice, and dealing with a disgusted director, Henry “Pathe” Lehrman, who keeps getting his shots disrupted. An apartment seen in the background of the film still stands off Main and Westminster in Venice.
Mary Pickford and husband Owen Moore starred in the 1911 IMP film, “Their First Misunderstanding,” recently discovered in New England. They portray a lovey dovey recently married couple, who quickly become bored with each other and start flirting after a misunderstanding. Thomas Ince, Ben Turpin, and J. Farrell MacDonald make appearances in the short.
The 1914 Famous Players-Lasky film, “Behind the Scenes,” showed actress Mary Pickford falling for businessman James Kirkwood. After financial setbacks, she decides to follow him to the country, but misses the theatre. Will actions “behind the scenes” separate or bring them together? Lowell Sherman plays a good guy in the film, unlike most of his later slimy roles. The film shows some interesting backstage moments, and reflects the real-life romance of Pickford and Kirkwood.
Eddie “Rochester” Anderson steals the show in the 1940 Paramount faux-western, “Buck Benny Rides Again,” in which to get a girl, Jack Benny pretends to own a ranch out west and draws his friends and show mates into adventures. Anderson shows great dancing skills as he romances Teresa Harris. There are some lovely but also somewhat racist and fetishistic dance sequences in the film choreographed by Leroy Prinz. Phil Harris, Andy Devine, Dennis Day, Charles Lane, Ellen Drew, and Virginia Dale complete the cast.
I missed “The World and the Flesh,” “The Adventurer,” and “The Night Before the Divorce,” and arrived on Saturday, August 30 to see “Court-Martial,” a 1926 Columbia Civil War-Western story starring the sexy Betty Compson and the bland Jack Holt. President Lincoln sends Holt out west to stop the marauding gang attacking Union camps and led by the crack shot Compson. The couple falls in love, but can Holt complete his duty? One scene occurs in Bronson Canyon near the caves, while others take place somewhere in the San Fernando Valley.
“The Adventures of Tarzan” serial, “The Flames of Hate,” was cut down from an earlier Tarzan serial starring Elmo Lincoln. The bulky Lincoln wears all manner of furs in mostly ludicrous fights with both real lions, cougar, crocodiles, and very fake ones. The jungle is probably the Selig Zoo, with animals rented from Col. Selig himself.
“If I Were King,” Motion Picture Classic, 1920.
The 1920 Fox, “If I Were King,” featured too much buckle and not enough swash, an excellent summing up told me by accompanist Jon Mirsalis. William Farnum plays a playboy poet who ends up saving the skin and reign of the hokey Fritz Leiber in a too long, casts of thousands story. Kept hoping that somehow the film would switch to the Ronald Colman version.
Ruta Lee took questions after a screening of the standard, “Witness For the Prosecution.”
After dinner, the restored 1922 Constance Talmadge film, “East is West” debuted in Hollywood, with a preposterous but entertaining story of Ming Toy (Talmadge) escaping a fate of being sold into slavery in China and arriving in a bustling San Francisco, where she quickly learns the joys of chewing gum and dancing the shimmy. Great shots of the Ferry Building, the dock area, Chinatown, and Golden Gate Park pop up as Talmadge flees from a possible forced marriage to that wild and swinging guy, Warner Oland. The beautifully restored film features title cards revealing the story for missing footage.
Running ahead of schedule, the Festival organizers screened “Mother Goose in Rhyme,” a Columbia Technicolor cartoon showing Hollywood characters swinging around the Edna May Oliver Mother Goose. Katharine Hepburn dances with Ned Sparks, Henry Armetta clowns, Edward G. Robinson, Jimmy Cagney, George Raft, Bing Crosby, Hugh Herbert, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Fanny Brice, Claudette Colbert, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Robert Taylor, and others dance, play instruments, and swing as Leopold Stokowski leads the band.
The Charley Chase-Thelma Todd short, “Snappy Sneezer,” shows the romantic couple attempting to win the approval of her businessman father, who Chase keeps sneezing on. Featuring downtown’s Santa Fe train station, the street car near the Roach studio, and a fascinating automobile roller coaster/track, with shots of Baldwin Hills oil derricks and studio water towers in the background, the funny short shows Chase suffering mishaps in chasing love. Thelma Todd tells Charley she lives at 22 Berkeley Square, the home address of Hal Roach, which disappeared with the construction of the 10 Freeway. The streetcar shows an advertisement for Fox’s “Street Angel” on the car wall.
Sunday, August 31st opened with the hilarious Laurel and Hardy short, “Scram,” in which Stan and Ollie are run out of town. Running into the hospitable but drunk Arthur Housman, all manner of shenanigans ensue.
Stills from “Kentucky Pride,” Motion Picture News, 1925.
Following was a horse of another color, as a horse narrated the 1926 John Ford film, “Kentucky Pride,” featuring Man-O-War, Gertrude Astor, and Henry B. Walthall. Mother and child horses endure tragedy and heartache like the humans around them, who bet everything on horse races though supporting families. Lots of great horse footage, J. Farrell MacDonald, and Walthall seal the deal.
After lunch, the panel, “The ’60s Kids – Working Actors in Hollywood,” featuring Diane McBain, Barbara Luna, Francine York, and H. M Wygant, talked about working in 1960s Hollywood and answered questions.
A chapter of the Ruth Roland serial, “The Timber Queen,” featured lovely footage of Northern California timber country as Timber Queen Roland faces threats from her weak-willed fiancé and his devious partners in a mining company. “Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders” author Ed Hulse thoughtfully explained the history and popularity of serials and showed a fascinating promo reel for a Universal serial, which showed highlighted stunts, posters for sale, behind-the-scenes footage at Universal, and other unique items to help exhibitors clean up at the box office.
Margaret O’Brien answered questions after the screening of the lovely “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
Monday, September 1 opened with a screening of the Charlie Chaplin short, “The Masquerader,” featured on the new Sennett DVD set, followed by the William S. Hart film, “Travelin’ On.” A preacher moves to town and pulls shenanigans attempting to get new parishioners. Hart must save him as the laconic loner who stands tall in the saddle as it were.
The ever boisterous Jane Withers stars in the 1938 Fox film, “Always in Trouble,” trying to awaken her rich family from their snooty ways, with shenanigans on a desert island as they attempt to save themselves from gangsters Joe Sawyer and Charlie Lane. Shots of Newport Beach harbor stand in for Mee-ami, as it is pronounced in the film.
Mary Pickford in “The Eternal Grind,” Film Fun, 1916.
“The Eternal Grind” was a fascinating fragment of a Mary Pickford feature in which she and her two sisters work in a slum mill resembling the Triangle Factory, attempting to turn out clothes. The older sister gives out to the rich, partying son of the Scrooge-like factory owner, while Pickford falls in love with the banished younger son, John Bowers, who begins working in the factory. The film shows actual locations somewhere around New York City or Fort Lee, and employs title cards to document missing footage.
Lon Chaney plays snarling support in the 1919 Tod Browning directed, Universal feature, “The Wicked Darling,” featuring an understated but moving Priscilla Dean. Dean and Chaney are crooks after a ritzy necklace. Dean falls in love with the man jilted by the woman who receives the necklace. Will she go straight, or follow her wicked ways? Spottiswoode Aitken and Chaney play conniving crooks in the film, which shows some unknown but actual places around Los Angeles.
The day concluded with screenings of “One Night of Love” starring Grace Moore, the 1936 Universal film, “Love Letters of a Star,” and the Sonja-Henie feature, “One in a Million.” The fun festival gives cineastes an opportunity to meet and greet new and old friends while enjoying classic films in a gorgeous, historic movie palace.