Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Cinecon 51 Presents Entertaining and Eclectic Films

Douglas Fairbanks "Wild and Wolly"
Douglas Fairbanks in “Wild and Woolly,” Photoplay, 1917.


Another Cinecon has come and go, but left behind memories of rare film, good friends, and fun times. This year’s festival featured a mix of silent drama and rollicking movie musicals, and offering a little something for everyone. The weekend featured “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, and Something Blue,” just like in the old wedding saying.

The film lineup kicked off Thursday, September 3 in Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre at 7 pm with a showing of “The Great Showman,” a ten minute newsreel highlighting an anniversary salute to Sid Grauman. Featuring blah wraparounds with Ralph Staub and actor Gene Nelson, the documentary contained clips of people like Jack Benny, Ginger Rogers, Darryl Zanuck, and Joseph Schenck saying a few words about the legendary showman, followed by a song from Sophie Tucker. This reel offered a fascinating glimpse of producer Joseph Schenck speaking, a rare treat. Schenck helped run the early production companies of Constance and Norma Talmadge and brother-in-law Buster Keaton, before heading United Artists and Fox.

Mary Mallory’s “Hollywoodland: Tales Lost and Found” is available for the Kindle.

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The Champion movie studio, via FortLeeFilm.org.


Fast talking, funny comedy “Two Fisted” featured wheeler dealer Lee Tracy and put-upon Roscoe Karns offering boxing lessons to a soused young tycoon while falling for his beautiful sister Gail Patrick and her sweet son, Billy Lee. Akim Tamiroff and Samuel S. Hinds appear in small roles, which beady-eyed Gordon Westcott as the slimy husband of Patrick chews the scenery. Though funny, it leaves one wondering how scene-stealing writers James Gleason and Robert Armstrong would have been starring in the roles they created.

An energetic, hyperactive Douglas Fairbanks visits a rural Arizona town bent on reliving western days, and ends up saving the town and heroine in the process in his entertaining 1917 film, “Wild and Woolly.” Beginning in the cramped confines of New York City, action moves to the wild west of the imagination, mostly Saugus, California and its train station. Dastardly Monte Blue and scuzzy Charles Stevens cause mischief, with Boxer Bull Montana appearing in a small role.

I missed “Go West, Young Lady” (1941) in order to pace myself for the festival, and also missed most of Friday morning and afternoon’s programs. “It’s Your Move” opened Friday morning, a 1945 short starring Edgar Kennedy trying to carry a washing machine up some steep steps in Silver Lake, near the “Music Box Steps. The 1929 “Studio Murder Mystery” featured real-life couple Florence Eldredge and Fredric March as a movie couple experiencing marital problems, when two-timing March is killed Neil Hamilton attempts to solve the mystery, which was shot all over the Paramount lot. The 1923 “The Call of the Wild” starred Jack Mulhall in the classic Jack London story, with the leading dog Buck stealing the show. Lou Sabini gave a short presentation before the screening of “They Were Expendable” {1945). Erich von Stroheim once again played the man you love to hate in his 1919 film, “Blind Husbands,” in which louche Erich von Steuben seduces married women under the watchful nose of Sam de Grasse, usually a villain but here a cuckold.

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A lobby card from “I Love That Man,” listed on EBay at $12.99.


The evening program started off with the deadly dull “Daredevil Jack,” (1920) ,all that remains of a long-lost Jack Dempsey serial, thankfully mostly lost now. It shows the champ exhibiting little chemistry or on-air talent. Tiny John George appears as a deck hand. Universal City possibly stands in for the first scene where the potential lovers meet.

Perky Colleen Moore’s 1929 film “Synthetic Sin” offered a few chuckles, but it seemed much more forced and slight than “Why Be Good?” Moore’s blackface number feels icky now, and Antonio Moreno is bland with little to do. Montague Love, Gertrude Astor, and Kathryn McGuire have a few nice moments. I missed “Song and Dance Man” (1936) which concluded the evening.

Laurel and Hardy really hit the mark in their 1932 Academy Award-winning short, “The Music Box,” which shows the boy’s determined attempts to deliver a piano, all at the world famous “Music Box” steps on Vendome Street in Silver Lake. A true classic, the boys steal the show here, while offering little but disappointment in their 1943 Fox film, “Jitterburgs.” I heard that Jerry Beck did a fine job presenting the animation program on behalf of the absent producer, Steve Stanchfield.

Following lunch, a spunky Anna Q. Nilsson played a high-spirited Southern spy infiltrating Union troops in a 50th anniversary salute to the Civil War in the 1912 Kalem film, “The Darling of the CSA.”

Paramount’s 1940 “Dancing on a Dime” combined fun Frank Loesser songs with romance and musical numbers to provide frothy but fun entertainment. Who knew Frank Jenks could sing and dance? Jenks, Eddie Quillan, Peter Lind Hayes, Robert Paige, Virginia Dale, and Grace McDonald star as musical comedy performers looking to perform a “Producers” moment in order to produce their show. Le Roy Prinz choreographed the eclectic routines, with William Frawley stealing the show with his Irish brogue amid talk of overcoming Depression woes, the closing of the WPA Theatre Project, and union work.

Fox’s 1920 “Blind Wives” erroneously played on the von Stroheim “Blind Husbands” title, instead a though provoking film on morals and values. A tad slow, the film featured strong acting from Marc McDermott and a fiery though bland Estelle Taylor in a blended story of a woman dreaming about the shallow and superficial love of a dress and costume pieces at the expense of everyone in her way.

Following dinner, the laugh out loud 1941 Three Stooges short “An Ache in Every Stake showcased the Stooges in one of their most famous locations and plots. Our intrepid heroes attempt to get blocks of ice up a very steep set of stairs in the Silver Lake area just east of the 2 Freeway, followed by their mishaps in preparing a fancy meal and serving it too employer guests.

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The sheet music from “Myrt and Marge,” listed on EBay at $15.98.


Based on the early 1930s radio show, “Myrt and Marge” starred the radio headliners in a story of putting on a show to employ their many radio employees. Ted Healy leads his stooges in a free-wheeling performance, including singing in three-part harmony. Thomas Jackson, J. Farrell McDonald, Eddie Foy Jr, and Jimmy Conlin co-star in the film, a low budget Universal musical, and boy, did it show! It did offer a view of how movie musical choreography a la Busby Berkeley came about. Stealing the show is a very few Ray Hedges as Clarence the costume designer, zinging with pointed one-liners while side-stepping the hyperactive antics of the Stooges.

The 1919 “M’Liss” starred a beautiful and feisty Mary Pickford. Though a gorgeous print, it suffered from several major continuity issues, causing unintended laughter at some points. An earnest Thomas Meighan, a shady Tully Marshall, a perpetually addicted Theodore Roberts, and a slimy Monte Blue round out the cast.

I missed “Laughing at Trouble,” “So This is Harris,” and “I Love That Man.” My favorite silent of the weekend was the 1927 Milton Sills vehicle, “Valley of the Giants,”” a thriller-romance-drama about Sills fighting to keep his father’s lumber business around Eureka in operation. Beautiful cinematography displayed the majesty of the giant redwoods, and also showed some marvelously composed night shots lit by lanterns.The film employed locations around Eureka, including an historic Victorian that still stands atop a huge hill there. Sills battles in more ways than one to save the business, engaging in fisticuffs and surviving a very real and incredibly visceral train derailing. The film depicts workers fighting for millionaire bosses, and shows the process of turning redwoods into lumber, a sad sight as the mighty marvels are decimated and cleared.

After lunch, Michael Schlesinger’s 2014 homage to 1930s two-reelers played to a warm reception. “Imitation of Wife” follows the plot of many Charley Chase shorts, in which a man hoping for a promotion brings his boss home for dinner, before all manner of complications ensue. Nick Santa Maria dons drag to play the wife, and Will Ryan portrays the hapless Shooster. Spot-on hilarious title cards add to the fun.

“The Champion” is a very moving and well-made documentary, capturing the history of the oldest silent film stage in Fort Lee, New Jersey, showing the rise and fall of silent filmmaking as the stage is threatened with demolition. It employs techniques similar to silent films and features some nice sound bites from scholar Richard Koszarski and local city officials.

Synthetic Sin
Colleen Moore in “Synthetic Sin,” Photoplay magazine, 1929.


Part-Asian George Raft skirts the law and romantic problems in East London’s threatening Limehouse district in an interesting if so-so “Limehouse Blues.” Raft plays his narrow range dressed up in yellow face, and a fierce Anna May Wong steals the limelight and attention as his partner. Billy Bevan, Montague Love, and Eric Blore turn in nice cameos. The film also featured a scene shot either in Griffith Park or the Paramount Ranch as well.

Beautiful new restorations by Paul Gierucki of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s “The Bellboy,” “The Garage,” and “The Round Up” played late that afternoon. While the shorts were funny, all I could think about in one was the waste of water as comedians battled themselves and their co-stars. “The Bellboy” had some marvelous stunts by Buster Keaton and Al St. John as they and Arbuckle deal with the grind of operating an hotel. In “The Garage,” filmed in Culver City with a scene showing downtown’s Main Street, the boys cause all manner of problems working on cars. The 1920 feature “The Round Up” showed majestic shots of Lone Pine as the first film to be shot in that wonderful location, but seemed to put Arbuckle into a secondary slot in a film in which he was the star. There were few moments of comedy, and he played second fiddle to proceedings, with little to do but stand there and smile. Irving Cummings, usually a villain, played the extremely put upon prospector who lost everything to a slimy, lying, betraying Tom Forman. A young, handsome Eddie Sutherland repents of ever supporting the grimy Wallace Beery playing a half breed.

A pretty flat episode of the 1921 serial “The Adventures of Tarzan” played after dinner, featuring an overly-endowed but under talented Elmo Lincoln. While Lincoln rolled around in the desert tied up, Louise Lorraine earned what little action time there was, while a human in a monkey suit stole the show.

Historian Richard Simonton presented a PowerPoint of unreleased stills and cut scenes from “The Kid Brother” and other Harold Lloyd silents, showing the evolution of the films’ plots as well as great locations and gags. A beautiful print of “The Kid Brother” (1927) followed, a romantic and sweet Lloyd story in which a young kid brother proves his mettle and saves the day. Real locations like the current day Forest Lawn and Catalina Island show up.

Monday’s showings started off with a somewhat racist and 1919 cartoon short called “Smash Up in China,” where a strange man cures the Emperor’s gout in a strange way. There were a couple of funny lines in the titles.

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Betty Hutton and Eddie Foy Jr. in a still from “And the Angels Sing,” listed on EBay at $10.


Following this was my sound hit of the weekend, “Paramount’s 1944 film, “And the Angels Sing,” a toe-tapping, energetic, fast-paced musical which shot at the Paramount Ranch, among other places. Fred MacMurray somewhat played himself as a band leader who also played sax as he wined and dined the sisters for money to support his band. Firecracker Betty Hutton has some whiz bang novelty numbers, smart Dorothy Lamour gets her own romantic ballads, and there are some really well put together musical scenes and interludes. Good chemistry and timing between MacMurray, Eddie Foy Jr., Hutton, and Lamour really sell a nightclub scene as MacMurray bounces between the two. Capping it off is a funny scene with doorman Matt McHugh, who hails three cabs for what he considers MacMurray’s romantic conquests.

douglas_fairbanks_wild_woolly
Douglas Fairbanks in “Wild and Woolly” in a still listed on EBay with bids starting at $29.99.


Author John Bengtson offered another great scholarly discourse of filming locations around Los Angeles, dissecting locations for “The Bellboy”, “The Garage,” “The Kid Brother,” and “Wild and Woolly,” among others. “The Kid Brother” displayed parts of Lloyd’s sets in what is now Forest Lawn Hollywood, along with locations used in “Birth of a Nation,” “Blood and Sand,” and a Three Stooges short. It also displayed streets in Burbank and the location where the Disney Studios would be constructed. “Wild and Woolly” shot in what is now beautiful downtown Burbank, with more bucolic shots filmed in Saugus and Newhall at the train station and church there. Bengtson led the happy group on a walking tour of Hollywood Boulevard and Cahuenga Boulevard to see sites employed by Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Pickford, and Fairbanks in many of their fine silent films.

I missed “Her First Kiss,” but the 1920 “The Deadlier Sex” featured a strong Blanche Sweet plotting against Mahlon Hamilton and an attractive but slimy French trapper played by Boris Karloff, with the aid of her uncle Russell Simpson. Featuring the beautiful Truckee, California area as background, the film mixed comedy and drama in a nice blend , thanks to the work of director Marshall Neilan, Sweet’s then husband.

“Ladies in Love” (1936) was good melodrama, if somewhat poorly plotted. Loretta Young, Constance Bennett, and Janet Gaynor look for love and success in Budapest, dealing with the romantic attentions of Tyrone Power, Paul Lukas, and Don Ameche. The charming and likable Ameche and Gaynor gain their sweet desserts, and an overbearing and over preening magician played by Alan Mowbray almost steals the show. Young and Bennett’s stories go nowhere, and Simone Simon pops up for a strange plot point.

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A still of Anne Baxter in “You’re My Everything,” listed on EBay at $14.99.


Cinecon concluded with a funny and entertaining “You’re My Everything” by Fox from 1949, a poor man’s “Singin’ in the Rain.” It shows hoofer Dan Dailey and his actress wife Anne Baxter moving from vaudeville into silent film and then sound, though it also concludes with Dailey in blackface in a revamped take on “The Good Ship Lollipop.” There are some nice depictions of silent filmmaking, though as usual the films at this time employ hair and costumes of the 1940s rather than actual 1920s attire. Buster Keaton makes a small but pleasing cameo as a put upon butler, and Jack Mulhall gets his small moment to shine in a dancing scene with Baxter, and Charlie Lane, Mowbray, composer Mack Gordon, and Stanley Ridges offer fine performers.

While no big finds, Cinecon featured a wide range of entertaining and thought provoking films unlikely to ever air on television or find their way to DVD, providing a great look at the evolution of American film.

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About lmharnisch

I work at the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Film, Hollywood, Hollywood Heights, Mary Mallory and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Cinecon 51 Presents Entertaining and Eclectic Films

  1. Benito says:

    Sweet overview. Hope your faves show up on TCM soon. PS. The song Dancing On A Dime is on the soundtrack of DAY OF THE LOCUSTS (1975).

    Like

  2. Wayne says:

    I love the dueling shadows in that still from “Wild and Woolly.”

    Like

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