Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Cinecon Film Festival 52 Offers Entertaining and Eclectic Films

A still from “The King of Jazz,” which will be shown at the Cinecon Film Festival.

Labor Day weekend is almost upon us, and it offers another madcap melange of movies at the 52nd Cinecon Film Festival at the historic Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, California. Cinecon, co-presented with Hollywood Heritage, welcomes film lovers, authors, scholars, and collectors to five days of film screenings, special programs, meeting celebrity guests, dealer’s room, and opportunity of making new friends. The festival offers a chance to see vintage rare and restored short films and features on the big screen as they were meant to be seen, with silents accompanied live on piano. This year’s Festival is particularly poignant, as it is dedicated to recently deceased past President Robert S. Birchard.

Virtually every genre is covered in this year’s Cinecon Film Festival, including musicals, westerns, film noir, comedy, and drama, spanning the years 1912 to 1949. Sound stars such as Gary Cooper, Ginger Rogers, Spencer Tracy, Dolores Del Rio, Claire Trevor, Anna Mae Wong, and the Marx Brothers are featured, along with such silent superstars as Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, Tom Mix, and Laurel and Hardy. Supporting player scene stealers like Gustav von Seyffertitz, Sojin, Roy d’Arcy, Sidney Bracey, Charles Lane, and Fred Kelsey also appear in scheduled films.

“Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays” by Karie Bible and Mary Mallory is available at Amazon and at local bookstores.

“The Last Warning,” as shown in Motion Picture News.

Thursday’s features include the recently preserved 1929 Universal film, “The Last Warning,” as well as the rarely screened “The Spoilers” (Paramount 1930) starring Gary Cooper and Betty Compson, a remake of a famous 1914 film. The cleaned up and preserved “The Last Warning” is a classic whodunit, with a theatrical cast brought back to an abandoned theatre five years after the death of an actor to reenact the play. Bookended by sound sequences, the film showcases marvelous avant-garde photography touches by director Paul Leni and stars Laura La Plante, John Boles, Montagu Love, Roy D’Arcy, and Slim Summerville. Motion Picture News called it a modern updating of “Phantom of the Opera.”

An ad for “None Shall Escape” in “The Film Daily.”

99-year-old Marsha Hunt appears in person (schedule permitting) Friday afternoon September 2 at a screening of her recently restored 1944 Columbia film “None Shall Escape,” the first film to focus on post-World War II trials for Nazi leaders. Film Daily highly praised it for its thoughtful and outstanding work looking at current issues, calling it powerful, absorbing, and “emotionally strong.” Miss Hunt also appears (schedule permitting) with the creators of the 2015 documentary “Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity” that morning in a special screening at the Loews Hollywood Hotel in a poignant look at her work with charities after the Black List derailed her career.

“More Pay-Less Work” (Fox, 1926) showcases early performances by Mary Brian and Charles “Buddy” Rogers, both borrowed from Paramount, Reviews called it rollicking entertainment , in a story about competing ship buiders forced to compromise when their children fall in love.

Friday evening features a screening of the restored 1928 “Ramona” starring Dolores Del Rio and Warner Baxter, the third retelling of the classic California tale originally created by Helen Hunt Jackson. The melodrama focuses on the atrocities suffered by Native Americans after the Spanish seized power, perhaps because director Edwin Carewe, an Indian himself,  knew first hand stories of Native American suffering.

A still from “Diplomacy,” as shown in “Motion Picture Magazine.”

Saturday morning, the Marshall Neilan feature “Diplomacy” (Paramount, 1926) plays, an adaptation of a stage play that focuses on a stolen treaty and secret service attempts to recover it. The film stars Neilan’s then-wife Blanche Sweet, Matt Moore, Arlette Marchal, and “Batman” TV series commissioner Neil Hamilton as our stalwart hero. It also includes memorable characters actors von Seyffertitz and Sojin as heavies.

Tom Mix stars in “Sky High” (Fox, 1922) as a government agent investigating a ring smuggling Chinese aliens across the border to Arizona. The stalwart Mix discovers a young dazed woman in the Grand Canyon before trying to get both her and himself to safety when chased by the smugglers.

A sample ad for “More Pay — Less Work,” in “Moving Picture World.”

That evening, Cinecon screens “King of Jazz” (1930), one of the blockbusters of the festival, a glorious Technicolor salute to American jazz music, recently restored by Universal. Filled with lavish production numbers, elaborate special effects, and luminous color, “King of Jazz” combines story with revue numbers featuring the likes of Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys, John Boles, Laura La Plante, Slim Summerville, and the Radio City Rockettes. Preceding the film is the rare 1930 Pathe short two-reeler, “Two Plus Fours,” once again featuring the vocal talents of a young Crosby.


“Two Plus Fours” as shown in “Kodascope Talking-Film Library.”

Sunday, September 4, highlights include the recently restored  1930 Marx Bros. film “Animal Crackers,” the Anna May Wong film “Daughter of Shanghai” (Paramount, 1937), and the early Douglas Fairbanks vehicle “In Again, Out Again” (Artcraft, 1917). “Animal Crackers” is the British version of the film featuring footage cut by American censors.

Unsung director Robert Florey directs “Daughter of Shanghai,” a story of a young woman pursuing the murderer of her father, discovering alien smuggling along the way. In one of her few starring roles, Wong appears opposite Charles Bickford, Buster Crabbe, Evelyn Brent, Anthony Quinn, and Philip Ahn. During production at Paramount, a vandal destroyed all the Oriental artwork decorating the set of the father’s apartment.

The irrepressible Douglas Fairbanks stars as a young man who finds himself thrown in jail for drunkenness after his best girl jilts him in “In Again, Out Again” (Artcraft, 1917). While in jail he falls in love with the jailer’s daughter and then tries everything to get thrown back in jail after release. Trade reviews called it a film of verve and energy, featuring a “smiling Douglas Fairbanks” stealing scenes with his comedic and athletic talents.


An image from “Daughter of Shanghai,”  from a Spanish-language publication.

Monday concludes with a grab bag of films, including the romantic 1924 Harold Lloyd film “Girl Shy,” the 1926 Ernst Lubitsch’ bon bon, “So This is Paris,” the moving 1935 documentary “Ghost Town: The Story of Fort Lee,” and the hard-hitting 1949 film noir “Thieves’ Highway.”

A variety of comic one- and two-reelers and serials play throughout the festival, including a Friday Laurel and Hardy program which includes “Battle of the Century” (MGM, 1927) and “That’s That,” a 1937 unreleased gag film, Stan’s Grab Bag Cavalcade Saturday, The Clown Princes of Hollywood and Monty Banks’ 1927 short “Play Safe” Sunday, and the Harry Langdon 1935 short “His Marriage Mix-Up” Monday morning. The entire 1932 serial “Jungle Mystery” plays throughout the festival, screening first thing in the morning and before and after dinner breaks.

Cinecon also salutes comic actor Jack Oakie with a special presentation Thursday night, followed by screenings of his films “Looking for Trouble” (Twentieth Century, 1935) co-starring Spencer Tracy, “Sitting Pretty” (Paramount, 1933) co-starring Ginger Rogers and Jack Haley, “Tin Pan Alley” (Fox, 1940) co-starring Alice Faye and Betty Grable, and “Thieves’ Highway” (Fox, 1949) co-starring Richard Conte throughout the festival.

For those who collect vintage movie memorabilia, a dealers’ room will be open Thursday through Saturday at the Loews Hollywood Hotel, featuring signings of movie-related books by their authors. Special screenings at the hotel include “Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity” and Mark Cantor’s program “I’ve Got Those ‘Just Gotta See It and It Ain’t on YouTube Blues,” highlighting a variety of musical short films not on DVD or YouTube.

Hope to see you at the movies Labor Day weekend!

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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