After isolating through the pandemic, sweltering summer, and blazing fires, Cineconline brought a respite of lighthearted , breezy entertainment. While Cinecon 55 occurred only online, it succeeded beyond its wildest dreams in providing rare films to thousands of film fans. Thanks to collectors and archives, rare, unseen silent and sound films and television kinescopes brought hours of happiness to grateful audiences.
The online Festival kicked off September 3 with a program featuring trailers that survive from lost silent features, providing a hint of the stories and entertainment they might have shared. Included among the lot was the trailer for the recently rediscovered “Lorraine of the Lions,” hooking audiences for its September 5 screening.
Next, collector Jon Mirsalis accompanied his own print of the 1927 feature “The Fourth Commandment” starring Henry Victor, Belle Bennett, and June Marlowe. A sentimental story of honoring your mother and her dictates. Socially ambitious Mrs. Miller (Catherine Wallace) breaks up the childhood romance of Gordon Graham (Victor) and her daughter Marjorie (Marlowe), with Gordon eventually marrying Virginia (Bennett) and having a child. After Graham’s mother (Mary Carr) moves in with them, Virginia grows jealous of her attention to their child and leaves with the son. After various problems, she ends up destitute, and Gordon and Marilyn reunite. Carr as usual plays a stoic and dedicated mother, and Bennett plays a character somewhat similar to that in the silent film “Stella Dallas,” where she also throws away happiness. Mirsalis added a nice, touching score.
A program of silent one- and two-reel short films followed, mixing action and comedy. Pearl White starred in the 1913 split reel “Will Power,” directed by Phillips Smalley, husband of famed director Lois Weber. Pearl and her father battle wills over the suitability of her boyfriend, Chester. Who will come out on top? Scott Lasky accompanied the short film.
Providing some behind-the-scenes movie action, “The Extra Man and the Milk-Fed Lion” tells the story of cowboy actor Buck Parvin who gets his friend a job as extra on the film he’s working on, and all matter of mishaps occur. Frederick Hodges compiled a rollicking score of actual silent film cues to accompany the film.
Providing a preview of Edward Everett Horton silent shorts to be released on DVD by Ben Model and his Under Crank Productions in 2021, Cinecon screened the hilarious 1928 short “Vacation Waves,” featuring Horton providing his own inimitable style of anxious moments and double and triple takes. Intending to enjoy a relaxing weekend fishing with his wife, Horton instead must endure one frustrating moment after another when his mother-in-law and wife’s bratty little brother come along. Harold Lloyd produced a series of eight two-reel films starring Horton in 1928, little seen since that time.
A series of Laurel and Hardy outtakes followed in a 1937 gag reel called “That’s That” produced by Hal Roach Studios.
Rounding out the program was Michael Schlesinger’s sweet homage to Vitaphone shorts featuring stage performers of the 1920s and 1930s, a DVD bonus extra called “First Things Last” and starring his comedic duo Biffle and Shooster (Will Ryan and Nick Santa Maria), shot in glorious black and white.
After an afternoon of cheery entertainment, the festival turned to more serious matters with the 1948 Italian neo-realist movie “Without Pity,” an interracial love story and an early credit for future greats Federico Fellini and Nino Rota, produced by Carlo Ponti. Near the conclusion of World War II, African American soldier Jerry (John Kitzmiller) stationed in Italy runs afoul of Italian mobsters while also falling for pretty, sweet Angela (Carla Del Poggio), looking for her lost brother. Both endure bad choices and mishaps with an oily gangster (Pierre Claude) leading to human and product smuggling and ultimately despair. Dramatic cinematography and touching chemistry overcame the tiny budget and overdubbing. Guiletta Masina provided passionate flair in only her second role, with Del Poggio displays understated vulnerability.
Carl Reiner, Sid Caesar and Howard Morris in “Your Show of Shows.”
Sept. 4 proceedings kicked off with an entertaining program of rare television kinescopes of live shows called Kinecon at Cinecon, many with radio/film stars bringing their acts to the small screen. Stan Taffel co-produced the program with Stu Stostak, who kindly provided not only prints but the use of his Roku Channel for the weekend. Leading off the program was an excerpt from “Your Show of Shows” with Sid Caesar and Carl Reiner as fathers of two battling eight-year-old boys who end up attacking each other and the principal themselves. Taffel provided context to an excerpt of one of the few surviving scenes from “The Road to Fame” showing 1930s comedian Benny Rubin displaying dialects of various ethnicities, a tad skin crawling today.
Bobby Troup in “Stars of Jazz.”
Mel Torme provided a little cool jazz in an excerpt from the KABC show “Stars of Jazz,” a program featuring talented musicians of the period in jam sessions on local television. Bert Wheeler of the comic duo Wheeler and Woolsey starred in an audition for the proposed TV show “Fibber McGee and Molly” before Garry Moore and Durward Kirby promoted tea in a commercial break from their show. The Three Stooges yukked it up on TV in a proposed TV pilot for ABC which Columbia rejected and then also appeared in a segment of Ed Wynn as master decorators who of course destroy a home with their Wall Dorf Salad wallpapering along other things.
Buster Keaton also appeared with Wynn in a sly takeoff of the 1917 short “The Butcher Boy,” employing cue cards as silent title cards. Martin and Lewis provided a kick to a 1949 episode of Milton Berle’s show, with Martin attempting to croon while Berle and Lewis ham it up as Leopold Stokowski lookalikes. Selections of the TV Guide Executive Awards in 1960 featured cameos by Tony Dow, Jan Murray, and a Johnny Carson. Bob Hope clowns around in a skit about the NBC network with Dick Powell and Carl Reiner making cameos. George Burns and Gracie Allen appear in an early segment of their show, followed by Ralph Edwards introducing Bob Barker on “Truth or Consequences.” Comic stars add luster to Ed Wynn’s show again as William Frawley jokes it up, and Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball test out their chemistry for CBS before the production of the I Love Lucy” TV show. Dick Van Dyke’s early appearance on the “Ed Sullivan” show in 1950 concluded the program.
Changing gears, the Festival presented the dramatic 1931 Sherlock Holmes’ feature “Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour,” starring Arthur Wontner as the wily detective battling it out with nemesis Professor Moriarty. Somewhat dry and laid back, the feature paled in comparison to Basil Rathbone’s more energetic Holmes.
Three comic shorts rounded out the day’s program. Little known comic Lige Conley starred in the hilarious 1926 two-reeler “The Tin Ghost,” playing a journalist who gets mixed up in misadventures with an inventor and his large robot. Conley and the unidentified black porter provide plenty of laughs and starts with their chemistry and pratfalls. Such locations around Hollywood and Los Angeles as the Palmer Building and Cosmo Alley, Larchmont Boulevard, and Western Avenue and Wilshire make appearances. Mirsalis provided an uptempo, energetic score to match the frenetic goings-on.
Billy Bevan disrupted a wedding as an inept best man in the amusing 1928 Sennett short “The Best Man,” causing all manner of havoc and mayhem. Vernon Dent and Andy Clyde provided comic moments as the befuddled groom and confused preacher. Hodges added rollicking tempos in his spot-on period accompaniment, which featured appropriate tunes such as “I’m Always Blowing Bubbles” and “He’d Better Get Out and Get Under” when Bevan experienced car problems. Finishing the day was the 1928 Fox short “the Lady Lion,” in which a young woman looking for love ends up taming such wild characters as Billy Bletcher and a circus animal trainer and his lion/tiger menagerie in a secluded winter cabin. Hodges once again brought high energy bounce to the proceedings.
September 5 began the recently restored “Lorraine of the Lions,” in an otherworldly story blending spiritualism, wild animals, and romance. Young Lorraine is marooned on a deserted island with the four legged stars of she and her parents’ circus act, while her hard but suffering grandfather turns to the occult in hopes of finding her. Turning to looker and talented spiritual seer Norman Kerry, the man begins a quest to find her. Kerry and the grown up Patsy Ruth Miller provide lush romance, while Philo McCullough adds oily deviousness. Locations around the Southland appear here as well, including Catalina Island, Palisades Park, and Pacific Ocean Pier. Virgil Miller provides some dramatic sunset and night time lighting and compositions. Mirsalis provided rousing, spirited accompaniment to his print.
Taking a change a pace, Al Jennings’ western 1916 short “The Bond of Blood” followed, based on actual shenanigans by bank robber Jennings and his crew, eventually captured after robbing banks and stores. Lasky added nice western overtones to the short.
Two shorts comprised the Saturday Nitrate Fever section of the program. Leon Errol starred in the 1934 short “Autobuyography,” in which smarmy car salesman Eddie Kane and his boss outwit buyer Errol before he and his family suffer mishaps trying to get automobile motor club service while stranded out in the desert. Cameraman Nick Musaraca adds nice gloss to the comic proceedings. The 1932 Mack Sennett short “Speed in the Gay Nineties” followed, with mad scientist Andy Clyde attempting to get his speedy new car entered in an 1890 car race featuring the likes of Barney Oldfield, Heinie Conklin, young Delmar Watson, and Bud Jamison.
Closing out the festival, Cinecon presented Covid Comfort Theatre, featuring scenes and excerpts of films featuring a Hollywood background or theme. Opening with scenes of people viewing clips on old mutoscopes, the program opened with director Cecil B. DeMille talking about turning out the vote to defeat Sunday blue laws banning film screenings, before a clip showing Roy Rogers leading the young buckaroo members of his Roy Rogers Riders Club in their Cowboy’s prayer. Al Schwarlberg of Paramount introduced their Jubilee clip reel before actor Lee Bowman described how to play the movie game “Race Night.”
The late 1920s-early 1930s short “Hollywood Today” featured a trip down Hollywood Boulevard past the Cafe Montmartre and Bank building at Hollywood and Highland, along with the Athletic Club, Paramount, Warners at Sunset, Fox at Western, Sennett’s Studio City plant, Carthay Circle, Chinese Theatre, Hollywood Bowl, Brown Derby, and Raymond McKee’s Studio City restaurant the Zulu Hut. Next we saw stars at premieres like Gary Cooper, Milton Sills, Bebe Daniels, and then views of studios and their stars, like Universal on Lankershim with the likes of Reginald Denny and Hoot Gibson; Tom Mix, Bessie Love, and Buck Jones at Fox at Western and Sunset; Warner Bros.’ Sunset and its talent John Barrymore, Mae Marsh, Ernst Lubitsch, Marie Prevost, and Dolores Costello; MGM and its headliners Lillian Gish, Marion Davies, Antonio Moreno, Alice Terry, John Gilbert, and Joan Crawford and later Ramon Novarro, Eleanor Boardman, Mae Murray, George K Arthur, and Greta Garbo.
The late 1930s “Hollywood As It Is Today” featured the intersection of Hollywood and Vine, DuPar’s on Vine, NBC Sunset at Sunset and Vine, Earl Carroll’s nightclub, and scenes in acting, modeing, and dance schools. Scenes also featured Falcon Lair, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood and Highland, and the Motion Picture Country Home, where Chester Conklin looks back at his long career in comedy, starting in 1912 with Sennett’s Keystone. He described how most comic shorts were adlibbed, how Chaplin created his Tramp character at the Sennett Studio, the hands-on Erich von Stroheim in the filming of “Greed,” and Leland Stanford’s horse experiment with Muybridge.
A short showing stars playing golf included Bob Hope, Jack Carson, Eddie Mannix, Buddy Rogers, Dennis O’Keefe, Randolph Scott, Bing Crosby, Nigel Bruce, Don Ameche, and Jack L. Warner, followed by an excerpt from the serial “Gangbusters” with Ralph Morgan. Gloria Swanson was seen in an interview following her appearance in “Butterflies are Free.” A trailer for the Doris Day feature “Teacher’s Pet” panned up and down a classroom showing all the op newspaper film reviewers of the time.
A great way to escape pandemic doldrums and weather worries, Cineconline featured themes of wild animals, wacky weddings, automobile accidents, frenetic chases, and tours of Hollywood. Over 20,000 peoplle watched online, yearning for rarity, hilarity, and camaraderie. Thanks to the planning committee for Cinecon for bringing the festival alive online, providing entertainment after an otherworldly and bizarre year.