The 53rd Annual Cinecon Film Festival starts Thursday, August 31 at Hollywood’s glorious Egyptian Theatre, offering a welcoming diversity of programs and films from silly to sublime, topical to timeless, filmed everywhere from Wilshire Boulevard to Saugus to Truckee to Catalina. Live accompaniment by outstanding musicians gives voice to the silents, a true treat. Silents, sound films, musical and comedy shorts, documentaries, kinescopes and television programs, cartoons, celebrities, memorabilia sales, and even a play round out the wide-ranging schedule for this year’s event, offering something to delight everyone, the vast majority of which will neve be seen on DVD, TCM, YouTube, or streaming.
Special honorees this year include the erudite 101-year-young Norman Lloyd, receiving the Legacy Award during opening night festivities, the elegant 102 year-old Patricia Morison, appearing at the screening of her film “Untamed,” and the stylish and articulate Marsha Hunt, a 99-year-old youngster appearing for her film “The Accusing Finger.” These formidable legends bring a wealth of knowledge and history to movie lovers of all ages.
Spencer Tracy plays Murray Golden in “Now I’ll Tell.”
Throughout the weekend, additional events are scheduled at the Loew’s Hotel, including a Friday afternoon DVD screening of the one woman play, “Tea With Lois,” based on actual talks that renowned director Lois Weber gave to girls at the Hollywood Studio Club. Historian Mark Cantor presents “Musical Treasures from the Archives” Saturday morning, showing rare footage of musical shorts not available on YouTube. Dealers will also be selling memorabilia Thursday through Saturday at the hotel.
This year’s Festival opens with unique treats for the body and soul. Events kick off with a gala reception in the courtyard of the Egyptian Theatre Thursday night where guests can mingle and get to know each other before proceedings begin, followed by an interview and chat with legendary actor Norman Lloyd. The Festival opens with Buster Keaton’s hilarious “Steamboat Bill Jr.,” with live accompaniment provided by the ensemble Famous Players Orchestra, playing actual music of the period. The 1934 Spencer Tracy film “Now I’ll Tell” follows, which the 1934 National Board of Review magazine called “probably the most truthful story of this type the movies have made,” concluding with the showing of the 1944 movie “Bowery to Broadway.”
Friday screenings at the Egyptian include rare screenings of films not available on video or streaming services. The fifth film Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea made together, the 1937 “Woman Chases Man” features actor Charles Winninger as McCrea’s spendthrift father, trying to obtain $100,000 from his stingy, rich son, with architect Hopkins joining in scheming to gain the prize.
Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea in “Woman Chases Man.”
Two extreme rarities follow before lunch, the 1914 Lon Chaney short “the Lion, the Lamb and the Man,” which trades called “a story of the Kentucky Mountains filmed in Angeles National Forest.” One review stated, “Lon Chaney, whose reputation as a character actor is well known, has never done better work,” in a story about two brothers who fight over a woman. William S. Hart both directs and stars in “Shark Monroe,” a fish out of water tale for the cowboy, in which rough seadog Monroe discovers Marjorie Hilton (Katherine MacDonald) and her dissipated brother in a Seattle joint before agreeing to take them to Alaska if they work for passage. Along the way there are fights and arguments over who will win. The cast and crew endured a fierce storm at sea during the making of the movie.
Friday afternoon provides an eclectic program. Billie Dove stars in the 1927 Lois Weber film “Sensation Seekers,” newly restored by Universal, as a free and independent woman battling righteous do-gooders like minister Huntley Gordon. Who will let down their defenses first? Michael Schlesinger’s “Schmo Boat,” a loving tribute to 1930s comedy shorts follows, with the hapless Biffle and Shooster performing in a riverboat’s variety revue where all manner of things go wrong. Chanteuse Janet Klein and tap dancer Rusty Frank appear as themselves. The 1934 Victor McLaglen-Edmund Lowe film “No More Women” follows, where the he-men fight over females and the sea in an early writing credit from future director Delmar Daves.
Friday evening’s films deal with the modern woman and how they can educate men in more ways than one. The 1933 Sally Blane short “Boys Will Be Boys” finds her a nightclub dancer with whom Frank Albertson falls in love, only to have to battle with her real boyfriend and her former paramour his father for her hand. It precedes the 1931 feature “The Brat,” in which novelist Alan Dinehart brings chorus girl Sally O’Neil home for research purposes for his next novel, and life lessons occur all round. The short “Tut Tut King” follows, a comedic riff after the King Tut discovery earlier in 1923 by Howard Carter. Appropriate to screen the short in a movie temple called the Egyptian!
Lon Chaney and the Rex players in Angeles National Forest.
After a screening earlier this year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Cinecon presents the Constance Talmadge film “The Perfect Woman” (1920). Talmadge finds she can’t get a job as a secretary until an accident helps her along, as well as dressing as a dowdy frump. She must educate her male boss in more ways than one as they travel around New York City and the Gold Coast, with the El even making an appearance. The little known Boris Karloff Cain and Abel tale “The Black Room” closes out the evening, which Motion Pictures and the Family called “a weird tale of a hundred years ago, based on the family legend of two brothers who are predestined to seek each other’s lives through succeeding incarnations.”
Saturday morning’s program at Cinecon covers a wide range of formats, including cartoon, B-romance, a Hoot Gibson movie cowboy story, and a documentary about Harold Lloyd. “The Daffy Doc” shows the irrepressible Daffy Duck losing it as Doctor Quack performs surgery, going off and causing further mayhem. The 1926 B western “The Texas Streak” features Gibson making the move from supporting player to star as a hapless movie cowboy who falls into trouble when he impersonates a real cowboy, who comes between real estate developers who want to develop land that ranchers don’t want divided. A new German documentary about silent comic genius Harold Lloyd follows, which features interviews with Richard Bann, Randy Haberkamp, John Bengtson, Suzanne Lloyd, and the late Bob Birchard.
For an unusual treat this year, attendees must make a choice Saturday afternoon between watching movies in the main auditorium or a rare program of kinescopes in the small Spielberg theatre. The film program revolves around troubles in hotels, with the 1929 short “No Children” forcing parents who can’t find a room at an inn to pretend their children are ventriloquist dummies. In the 1923 Thomas Ince film “Bellboy 13,” madcap Douglas MacLean organizes a strike of bellboys, chambermaids, and clerks and the aid of three fire companies to win the hand of the girl he loves. The remarkable Marsha Hunt appears for her 1936 film “The Accusing Finger,” in which attorney Paul Kelly sends an innocent man to jail for a murder he didn’t commit and then finds himself in the same predicament when his wife is murdered and no one believes him.
Sally Blane in “Boys Will Be Boys.”
Rarely screened kinescopes highlight this year’s schedule. Titles such as a 1953 episode of “The Bob and Ray Show,” a 1952 “Dinah Shore Show,” a 1951interview from “The Carmel Myers Show,” a 1957 clip of Steve Allen, a rare 1958 tour of the new Burbank facilities for NBC, a fragment of a 1950 “Pinky Lee Variety Show,” a performance by Sammy Davis Jr. on his 1954 “Colgate Comedy Hour” show just five days before his near fatal auto accident, and Dick Van Dyke’s 1955 audition for CBS are a few of the highlighted titles. Historian Steve Stanchfield follows with a presentation of rare animated titles as well.
Special programming that night screens under the title “Saturday Nitrate Fever” for its focus on the rarely screened and potentially dangerous format. A director’s cut of the 1944 Bugs Bunny cartoon “Hare Ribbin” precedes the 1940 feature “Untamed,” in which doctor Ray Milland survives a bear attack in Canada and is nursed back to health by the nubile Patricia Morison. The two fall in love while her husband goes off hunting and the doctor nurses ill townspeople. Will their passion survive her husband’s untamed jealousy? The graceful Miss Morison will be interviewed following the screening, before the shorts “Autobuyography” and “Speed in the Gay ‘90s” play. Shrinkage prevents the actual nitrate shorts from screening, but they have been digitally transferred for presentation.
Sunday morning features cruising in different formats, from bus to luxury liner to pirate galleon. The 1930 short “Rolling Along” shows hated bus driving rivals George Sidney and Charles Murray assigned to drive the same bus up and down Wilshire Boulevard. An inebriated Arthur Housman energizes proceedings. Bing Crosby stars in a 1936 adaptation of the P. G. Wodehouse penned musical “Anything Goes,” in which only four Cole Porter’s classic tunes remain. Argh, mateys! The program concludes with a recent Library of Congress restoration of the 1924 swashbuckling “Captain Blood” starring J. Warren Kerrigan, which Shadowland called “a romantic costume tale of pirates for the sort of people who like that sort of thing.” Screen Opinions, the Rotten Tomatoes of its day, rated it 90% in audience satisfaction.
That afternoon, Tom Meyers of the Fort Lee Film Commission highlights filmmaking in Fort Lee, New Jersey, the home of movie production until the 1920s. Three Universal B pictures follow, including a very young Broderick Crawford in the 1942 “North to the Klondike” and the Rod Cameron 1944 western, “Riders of the Santa Fe.” Woo hoo comedian Hugh Herbert beats Alec Guinness to the punch by portraying seven characters in the 1940 film “La Conga Nights.” Millionaire playboy Herbert loves to rumba and gets the chance when instead of evicting residents from a boarding house, he rents a room and moves in after hearing rumba music playing.
An image from “The Perfect Woman.”
Sunday night’s program features resentments and competition between the rich and poor, with the 1936 Andy Clyde short “Share the Wealth” leading off the evening. The 1935 Lew Ayres film “Spring Tonic” showcases a feisty Claire Trevor running away from her dull bridegroom before falling into nonstop slapstick shenanigans with the likes of Walter Brennan, Zasu Pitts, Jack Haley, Arthur Housman, and Tala Birell. The rare 1917 Universal “Polly Redhead” follows, featuring one of the studio’s top stars Ella Hall in a female version of “Prince and the Pauper,” with the redoubtable Louise Emmons offering support.
Monday, the Festival’s closing day, offers an intriguing kaleidoscope of films, including a newsreel and a segment of the well remembered “Ralph Story’s Los Angeles” in which he tours the Mack Sennett studios. Joseph von Sternberg’s 1925 arty mood picture “Salvation Hunters,” which enthralled Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Charlie Chaplin, screens that morning, a moving film made for only $1,000. William Wellman’s timely 1943 “The Power of the Press,” an early Samuel Fuller writing credit, plays just before lunch break, in which a publisher of the isolationist New York Gazette is murdered as he is about to support the United States’ World War II efforts. Hard driving editor Lee Tracy must decide between money or the truth, as battles against those attempting to manipulate the media and restrict freedom of the press. Character actor Guy Kibbee plays a rare dramatic role.
A scene from the 1924 version of “Captain Blood.”
Winding down the Festival, three features round out the day. In a foreshadowing of the military-industrial complex, the 1934 film “The President Vanishes” reveals the story of a peace-loving President (Paul Kelly) who must prevent the country from being stampeded into fascism and a European war by powerful capitalists trying to protect and further their financial interests. Columnist Walter Winchell reported that the film ”…should have been printed on asbestos…so full of dynamite is it.” The penultimate film, the 1920 silent “When Dawn Came” follows, in which the spiritual blind girl Colleen Moore helps others to truly see. Concluding the Festival is the Fred MacMurray/Jack Oakie western “The Texas Rangers” (1936), in which the two down-on-their-luck former outlaws join the Texas Rangers and then must bring in a notorious outlaw, old friend Lloyd Nolan. King Vidor directs such stalwart performers as “Gabby” Hayes and Fred Kohler in a story shot on location in New Mexico.
The Cinecon Film Festival offers a plethora of rare and unseen films to savor and enjoy, all at a remarkably low price as compared to other major festivals. Hope to see you in the dark at the Egyptian Theatre enjoying films on the big screen, as they were meant to be screened!