Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Cinecon 55 Gets Hep to Fun Entertainment

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A post for “Get Hep to Love,” listed on EBay at $17.98.

The recently concluded 55th Annual Cinecon Film Festival featured a little something for every type of film lover, playing everything from silents to documentaries, television kinescopes, Vitaphone shorts, and sound films, while also saluting classic film actresses in one of Los Angeles’ most beautiful film theatres. The weekend ironically featured such current topics as sexual harassment, #metoo, immigration, while featuring multiple looks at such stars as Victor Jory. An entertaining treat from start to finish, Cinecon focuses on screening the rare and unique, providing quality films and entertainment at an affordable price.

Festivities kicked off  August 29 with hors d’oeuvres and conversation in the Egyptian courtyard before the screening of the witty and peppy 1928 silent film “Bare Knees.” Hot to trot, vivacious flapper Virginia Lee Corbin visits her staid sister and brother-in-law (Jane Winton and Forrest Stanley) and sets off fireworks and fire alarms, exposing the repressed hypocrisy of the town. Corbin’s irrepressible spirit helps break down barriers and shorten hemlines and attitudes, helping town women gain independence and breathing new life into society.

Trick for Trick

Independent company Gotham Productions employed real locations and a fine script by Adele Buffington and Casey Robinson, filled with such lines as “Marriage is like eating a mushroom, it only takes one bite to find out if it’s poison,” and “It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, it only matters what’s in your head.” Corbin shapes the women’s softball team into a bare-legged, sensual powerhouse, and injects some sexy byplay into her sister’s stale marriage. Corbin, Winton, and Stanley give fine performances. Burbank-based Famous Players Orchestra provided a a jaunty live score to the proceedings.

The 1933 Fox film “Trick for Trick” combined every manner of plot device into a pell-mell and entertaining 67 minutes, offering a gentle Pre-Code look at magic. Legendary production designer William Cameron Menzies provided outstanding special effects, from a disappearing floor to optical illusion to strange disappearances to rival anything in the CGI-devised world. Former partners and rival magicians Ralph Morgan and Victor Jory go toe to toe in trying to solve the murder of their former assistant, all while under the suspicious and jealous eye of Sally Blane’s fiance Philip Trent. Hocus pocus! Devious murders and odd shenanigans by little person John George and his Chinese henchman enliven proceedings, in nonstop berserk fashion.

Thanks to my work schedule, I missed the last film of the evening as well as half of Friday’s films before arriving that afternoon. I arrived in time to see the bouncy 1942 Universal film “Get Hep to Love,” featuring special guest Cora Sue Collins, a teenage Donald O’Connor, an energetic Peggy Ryan, operatic Gloria Jean, and the Jivin’ Jacks and Jills. Young concert singer Jean runs away from her greedy aunt and tricks newlyweds Jane Frazee and Robert Paige into adopting her and tries to fit in at the high school. Blending operatic areas with toe tappers, swing, and plenty of jive, the fun film offered a lighthearted look at high school romance to wartime audiences.

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The powerful, timely 1953 “The Glass Wall” followed, featuring Vittorio Gassman in his American film debut as Peter, a World War II Auschwitz refugee and ship stowaway possibly facing being sent back to face death and destruction if he can’t find the G.I. (Jerry Paris) whose life he saved outside Budapest. The icy, heartless New York immigration official denies him entry into the US though the film states that those escaping war, oppression, violence, possible death, or who have assisted US forces will be granted sanctuary. Fearful of being returned to a desolate Europe, Peter jumps ship and high tails it to Times Square in search of Tom, the jazz clarinetist whose life he saved, where he encounters a world of Americans from all nationalities, beliefs, and identities.

The first movie to shoot inside the newly completed United Nations Building, it features great location shooting all around Times Square, Central Park, and midtown Manhattan and a cameo by jazz great Jack Teagarden, along with emotional performances from Gassman and Gloria Grahame. When an oily gangster type tells his Hungarian immigrant mother and sister to get rid of the “dirty foreigner” in their apartment, his mother provides a smarting slap across his face, which earned a huge round of applause from the audience. Honoree and co-star Ann Robinson described working on the film and related some moving stories of early Hollywood and the Boulevard, thankful for the characters and opportunities she met along its fabled way.

After dinner, the satiric and hilarious stage melodrama 1933 spoof “The Curse of a Broken Heart” started the evening, a live action version of Snidely Whiplash getting his comeuppance from a Dudley Do-Right type character and his adoring love interest. Triple threat entertainer Robert Ellis plays the dastardly villain Simon Flint out to steal Little Ivy (Marion Byron) and her family farm, only to be thwarted by true blue Harold (Pat Somerset) and Ivy. Filmed around Hollywood and the oil well filled hills of Baldwin Hills, the short rights all wrongs and reunites our lovers in true melodrama style.

Alice White shot to stardom as the “Hotsy – Totsy, Lookin’Hot, but Keepin’ Cool Girl” Dixie Dugan in the 1928 movie “Showgirl,” featuring a synchronized track. Aspiring showgirl Dugan plies every trick in the book, including a fake kidnapping, to make it in show business. Witty lines (hiding your light under a bustle), well matched sound/music to action, and excellent acting make this a fun picture. White flirts with the best of ‘em, getting away from the slimy, handsy producer Richard Tucker and oily dancer Donald Reed. Kate Price and James Finlayson as her overbearing mother and cowed father steal much of the thunder, with Spec O’Donnell, Lee Moran, and Gwen Lee having their little moments.

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William Cameron Menzies co-directed the atmospheric and suspenseful Pre-Code “Wharf Angel,” featuring an excellent performance by tragic young Dorothy Dell as a wistful, younger version of Mae West. Wharf rat Victor McLaglen and honest but on the run Preston Foster ship out from foggy Barbary Coast San Francisco and become friends, only to return to find they both yearn for Dell. Alison Skipworth gives a winning performance as the supportive dive owner, with Mischa Auer as a conniving shipmate. Lighting, production design, and effects are superb, featuring lots of Menzies’ usual chiaroscuro.

After missing the last film of the night, I returned first thing Saturday morning for the Ron Hutchinson Tribute, featuring short speeches by friends, a video of Hutchinson revealing his work saving these rare shorts, and several entertaining Vitaphones. Shaw and Lee hilariously perform their deadpan routine in “The Beau Brummels” while “Whoa!” Conlin and Glass provide manic merriment (“Whoa!”) in “Sharps and Flats.” Eddie White keeps ‘em smiling in “I Thank You,” and we see Rose Marie grow up from Baby Rose Marie in “Baby Rose Marie the Child Wonder” to a teenage belter in “Flippen’s Frolics.”

The 1933 Mentone short “The Big Benefit” morphs child actors into real life performers Bill Robinson, Ray Mayer, and the Mullen Sisters as neighborhood kids raise money to build a swimming pool. The 1936 “Flippen’s Frolics” features actor Jay C. Flippen as emcee with teenage Rose Marie still belting away and Bill Powers’ Steppers and the Seiler brothers providing amazing, limber legged dancing. Concluding the program were two fascinating Home Talkie Productions, wherein people could record their own musical shorts. Phil Baker and the talented Isabella Patricola perform in the only two surviving shorts. The gorgeous Bi-Color short “Princess Lady Bug” concluded the program.

A dapper Jack Pickford starred in the 1919 entertaining programmer “Burglar by Proxy,” which Pickford helped produce as well. As debonair young Jack heads to a dentist, he glimpses a gorgeous young thing (Gloria Hope, wife of Lloyd Hughes) when he pulls over to repair a flat, starting the meet cute. As they fall in love, Jack has run-ins with burglars, leading his intended to believe the worst, before Jack rights wrongs and settles score. The older brother from “Grandma’s Boy” makes an appearance as does an English Tudor mansion in the 1600 block of Lexington Road in Beverly Hills, still there but hidden behind a tall concrete wall and hedge with a stone wall across the street. Frederick Hodges provided rollicking, toe-tapping accompaniment.

After lunch, the Festival featured “Kinecon at Cinecon,” with clips from various clips from game shows, Jack Benny and Ernie Kovacs shows, as well as a tribute to Chuch McCann. A young Bill Cullen emcees “The Price is Right” and the ever smiling Bob Barker interacts with audience members in “Truth or Consequences,” while a smug boy and serious little girl battle it out on a spelling bee in “The 64,000 Challenge.” Kovacs’ clips included a color print of the Nairobi Trio, his hilarious takeoff on a game show, and an Hungarian takeoff of the Howdy Doody show. Jack Benny gently underplayed opposite Rochester, Kovacs, and others, including going to the DMV and getting huge laughs whenever he stated his age (39).

“Blazing the Trail – the O’Kalems in Ireland” was an entirely fascinating and lovely documentary on the early silent film company Kalem’s 1910-1912 sojourns overseas in Egypt and in Ireland shooting original dramas. Talented and ambitious performers Sidney Olcott and actress Gene Gauntier wrote, directed, and starred in such groundbreaking shorts such as “From the Manger to the Cross” and Irish folk romances and rebel dramas, filmed in gorgeous County Kerry, Ireland. Director Peter Flynn employs stunning then and now and up to date shots to blend current film technique with moving early film shots.

I missed the following film to return for the Saturday Nitrate Fever presentation. A spooky, ooky 1936 short “Cobweb Hotel” kicked off the evening, filled with mayhem, violence, memorable title song, and featuring great voice actor Jack Mercer as the voice of the slimy spider. He invites flies to visit his hotel, where most enter but never leave before getting his just desserts.

Roscoe Karns steals the show as an over-confident, wisecracking detective in the 1937 Paramount Philo Vance release, “Night of Mystery.” Knockoff Vance (Grant Richards) comes to the aid of Karns in this middling version of “The Greene Murder Case,” in which members of the Greene family are mysteriously murdered in their mansion, one by one, which Karns believes is insane, since he and Vance are in the house. Crippled Nora Cecil browbeats her kids, kindly daughter and narcissistic trust fund sons. Without debonair, snappy William Powell as Vance, the film drags.

Growing tired, I skipped the last two films to rest for Sunday. I worked a volunteer shift so missed the morning films, though heard that both were entertaining. The 1942 Film Noir “Quiet Please, Murder’ features George Sanders (who else?) as a ruthless, egotistical rare book dealer who steals a priceless Shakespeare folio from the public library to forge and sell copies with his partner Gail Patrick, but will a Nazi take revenge? Fox’s 1926 film “the Shamrock Handicap” served as John Ford’s first Irish-themed film to direct, in a dramedy with horses and steeplechasing as its background, with sterling performances from Janet Gaynor, Leslie Fenton, and J. Farrell MacDonald.

After lunch, the George Stevens 1933 Universal short “Room Mates” introduced the afternoon, with college roommates and best friends Frank Albertson and Grady Sutton pledging eternal faithfulness to singlehood before both getting married to their sweethearts, with all manner of mishaps on their honeymoon.

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Universal’s newly restored print of the 1919 “The Delicious Little Devil” followed, featuring an over-the-top Mae Murray and young standout Rudolph Valentino. Murray’s Mary McGuire loses her job and pretends to be an exotic, European entertainer to land a dancing job, where she intrigues wealthy young man Jimmy Calhoun (Valentino). Many of Murray’s comic mannerisms seemed to have inspired Marion Davies in her performances, from facial expressions to body language to attitude. Valentino is relaxed and confident, William V. Mong hams it up, but the film goes on too long. The film featured a new score by Noral Kroll-Rosenbaum, which blended vintage inspired melodies with modern minor themes that started off well but became somewhat over the top by the conclusion.

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Victor Jory made another starring appearance in the 1934 Columbia film “Mills of the Gods,” which started the afternoon program. Indomitable May Robson plays an astute, powerful mill owner ready to retire and turn her struggling business over to her greedy, layabout, partying family. As she and her steadfast executives Samuel S. Hinds and Willard Robertson fight to keep it going, her self-serving, duplicitous relatives plot to scam the downtrodden workers. Timely in how it echoes today’s rapacious wealthy promoting “capitalism” by shutting down plants, automating, and outsourcing to the loss of successful socialist policies, the film features excellent performances from Robson, fiery Fay Wray, and passionate labor leader Jory overcoming his female associate’s (Mayo Methot) dirty dealings. Activist cinema that entertains as it also provokes thought.

The hilarious, imaginative angel comedy “For Heaven’s Sake” (1950) movie followed, with the fish out of water Clifton Webb playing a naughty angel who becomes a way out west he-man rancher assisted by heavenly angel Edmund Gwenn. Cinecon honoree Gigi Perreau gives a moving performance as a soul wanting to be born to two self-absorbed theatre people (Joan Bennett and Robert Cummings) trying to convince Webb to become their Broadway “angel.” Joan Blondell injects snappy sexiness as a flashy screenwriter with Jack La Rue hamming it up as a George Raft aping film gangster. George Seaton gets in some funny lines and includes some flashy effects.

That evening’s schedule kicked off with UCLA’s new restoration of the terrific Laurel and Hardy 1929 short “Perfect Day,” where our loyal Stan and Ollie attempt to take their wives on a picnic as everything goes wrong: smashed sandwiches, pesky pup, broken clutch and flat tire, gouty foot continually stepped on, vindictive neighbor, and gigantic pothole. A comedy classic shot in Culver City.

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Paramount’s glorious Techincolor “Aloma of the South Seas” (1941) followed, with shapely Dorothy Lamour filling out a sexy sarong and beefcake Jon Hall showing off his biceps as they fight off revengeful “best friends,” exploding volcano, and conflicting cultures to find romance and musical interludes on a tropical Pacific island. Karl Struss’ eye-popping cinematography, effects, and lovely costumes make this a perfect guilty pleasure.

Pola Negri charmingiy poked fun at her image as an tempestuous, sophisticated diva playing an Italian countess who ends up in staid middle America in the 1925 Paramount culture-clash comedy “Woman of the World.” Tattooed drinker and smoker Negri wins over prudish provincials in this winning parody of stereotypes and comedy of manners. Negri, Chester Conklin, and Charles Emmett Mack give fine performances, assisted by stolid Holmes Herbert.

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Once again I missed the Monday morning programs to volunteer, hearing that both provided excellent entertainment. Following lunch, Republic’s snazzy “Hit Parade of 1941” featured a little bit of everything in its spoof of radio shows and popular music. Opening with a montage of radio studios that included CBS Columbia Square on Sunset and a quick side view of NBC Radio City at Sunset/Vine, the film featured hilarious performances from Hugh Herbert, Mary Boland, Phil Silvers (in his film debut), and Franklin Pangborn along with torrid tap dancing from Ann Miller and superb singing by Frances Langford. Jule Styne earned an Academy Award nomination for some of his fine songs from the film.

Paramount’s 1920 spy picture “Crooked Streets” followed, with Secret Service agent Ethel Clayton outfoxing British agent Jack Holt and conniving Josephine Crowell and Clarence Gelbart to prove that women agents can catch their crooks as well as any James Bond. Famous Players-Lasky studio on Vine Street and ranch in what is now Forest Lawn remarkably double for China.

Long unseen, the 1943 Republic picture “Chatterbox” starring Judy Canova and Joe E. Brown brought down the house as an uproarious comic Hollywood behind-the-scenes picture. Brown plays a narcissistic and clueless radio cowboy recruited to star in a film, who is rescued on location from a horse by Canova. Doing what they do best (Brown clowning and Canova yodeling), the two overcome crazy Hollywood people and anything that can go wrong to triumph. Featuring a mirror scene aping that of Max Linder, three grannies playing hide and seek with a very confused Canova, and musical interludes by the Mills Brothers and Spade Cooley and his band, the film kills with its great comic builds, timing, and punch lines. One scene where Brown and Canova attempt to film a balcony scene builds and builds to an hilarious end.

Cinecon 55 concluded with a screening of the 1937 Fox film “On the Avenue,” featuring excellent songs by Irving Berlin and fine performances, the film reveals Broadway impresario-star Gary Blake (Dick Powell) putting on smash hit musical revue starring sometime girlfriend Alice Faye and frenetic trio the Ritz Brothers, when tycoon George Barbier and daughter Madeline Carroll feel overly lampooned at the show. Carroll buys it to embarrass Powell before the requisite happy ending. The fine cast includes Alan Mowbray, Billy Gilbert, Walter Catlett, Douglas Fowley, Stepin Fetchit, and Sig Ruman.

The hotel featured outstanding music programs on Nat King Cole and rare music shorts while the small Spielberg theatre hosted a Jack Oakie program and screening of “The Untameable.”

Featuring such timely themes as female empowerment, immigration, harassment, workers’ rights, and socialism, along with such cinema traditions as slapstick comedy, western shoot ‘em ups, romantic comedies, mysteries, and musicals, Cinecon 55 provided an entertaining whirlwind of thoughtful dramas and escapist cinema offering a little something for everyone.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from 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 55 Gets Hep to Fun Entertainment

  1. Eve says:

    Shaw and Lee! Love them.

    Speaking of Show Girl, I highly recommend the book it’s based on and its sequel, Hollywood Girl, both by JP McEvoy. Hilarious–easily as witty and sharp as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

    Like

  2. Fred Tealey says:

    Thank you so much for this synopsis and critique. It brings back fond memories of this past cinecon.

    Like

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