Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Cinecon Returns After Two Years Online

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After occurring online for two years because of the pandemic, Cinecon threw a live 58th Annual Festival Labor Day weekend at Hollywood’s beautiful Hollywood Legion Theater. A perfect way to spend time during a blistering hot holiday weekend, the festival featured entertaining films and the chance to reconnect with old friends, a perfect combination.

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FOR THE RECORD, Sept. 16, 11:02 a.m.: A previous version of this post referred to the American Legion Theater.
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Like any typical Cinecon, films ended up with various odd themes reoccurring over the weekend, some in odd ways. The festival saw such diverse themes as family feuds, homilies, abandoned babies, blindings, doubling, dogs, performing on stage, mashers or harassment, child abuse, kidnappings, heirs forced into marriage for inheritance, train travel, fake sanitariums, and multiple performances of people like Regis Toomey, Fred Kelsey, J. Carrol Naish, or Claire Trevor. Many films also featured the work of unsung women behind the scenes who helped make silent film art. While there were a few so so films, most of the lineup was truly entertaining.

mitzi_gaynorThe festival kicked off Thursday night after the opening reception with pianist archivist Michael Feinstein interviewing dancing legend Mitzi Gaynor. Though not well miked, the soft-voiced actress got off several zingers regarding her time in Hollywood, including surviving a #metoo movement by taking her boyfriend with her to a hotel room meeting.

Following the interview, Anything Goes screened as the first film of the festival. Employing the title but little less from the musical, the film featured excellent dancing by Gaynor and film love interest Donald O’Connor, given more opportunity to show his range as a performer and dancer, especially in a number with kids. Zizi Jeanmaire has a couple of good numbers. Nancy Culp of The Beverly Hillbillies appears as an extra.
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UPDATE: Sept. 16, 2022, 11:08 a.m. Jimmy Hunt received the Cinecon Legacy Award after the screening of the restored Invaders From Mars. Patty MacCormack received the Cinecon Legacy Award after  the screening of Kathy ‘O.
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The Laurel and Hardy short Scram played as a Pre-Code filler between the features, a hilarious look at the down and out team sentenced to immediately leave town by a frustrated judge, only to discover them spending the night at his mansion after they follow a tippler to the wrong house. They party on down, getting the lady of the house drunk in the process.

Max Linder’s last film King of the Circus closed out the evening in its second West Coast screening, a bittersweet but comic look at a French boulevardier forced into considering marriage in order to inherit his uncle’s fortune. Mishaps ensue, and he ends up falling for a circus acrobat instead. The film features Max in some of his typically hilarious physical reactions and chases, as he ends up destroying an apartment and shutting down a nightclub before taming the circus’ wild lion. There is poignancy in his romantic connection with the acrobat, knowing that he and his wife would die in a murder/suicide not long after. There is a sly in-joke with a book explaining acrobatic skills supposedly written by French humorist Pierre Etaix.

I missed half of the day Friday because of work but arrived in time for the mirthful There Ain’t No Santa Claus (Update: with music by Scott Lasky) with the ever mishap prone Charley Chase in a film directed by his brother. Great shots of Culver City show up in a story of Charley competing and sparring with his neighbor over Christmas presents for the family. Such silent scene stealers as Fred Kelsey and Noah Young add laughs. Frederick Hodges brought vitality and verve with his fine playing.

The World War II drama 633 Squadron screened as a rare look at George Chakiris post West Side Story. Playing a Swedish! underground fighter coordinating with Brits, Australians, and Americans on a proposed suicidal bombing run to destroy the plant manufacturing the gas for German bombs, the film featured actual war planes, exciting flying, jocular flyboys laughing at death, and a nice star turn by Cliff Robertson.

Directed by George Stevens and starring Skeets Gallagher and comic veterans like Kelsey, Eddie Dunn, and June Clyde, The Finishing Touch, shows Bert Roach taking over Gallagher’s apartment to throw a wild and wicked party after Gallagher’s wife decamps to Reno to divorce him. Misidentifications and wildness ensues.

Filled with such Ernst Lubitsch touches as sophisticated, sharp repartee, mistaken royal identities/doubling, visual flair, and fast-paced romance but without Lubitsch direction, the 1933 Fox film My Lips Betray featured strong directing by John G. Blystone and Henry King along with charming performances and singing by Lilian Harvey and John Boles as a simple country girl singing in a beer garden wooed by the man about town, song composing King attempting to prevent his country from falling into bankruptcy. So many character actors fly by in this film, Albert Conti, Henry Stephenson, Robert Barrat, Bull Montana, Dewey Robinson, and Leo White, along with a duded out car and fun songs, making this an entertaining romance.

The 1927 Tom Mix film Outlaws of Red River followed, featuring nothing of the real Red River, but once again with a heroic, daredevil Tom and a courageous, save-the-day Tony. Watching his foster parents brazenly killed and his foster sister kidnapped when a child, a grown up Tom joins the Texas Rangers and becomes the feared “Falcon” who always rounds up the outlaws. Filled with chases and shootouts throughout Arizona’s Antelope Canyon, Tom and Tony catch the deplorables and reunite with his long-lost sister, played as a grownup by Marjorie Daw. Johnny Downs plays a young Tom.

I skipped the last film of the evening to prepare for Saturday, entering during the middle of the early part talking 1929 serial, King of the Kongo, featuring Boris Karloff before he was famous, along with former stars on the way down Walter Miller and Jacqueline Logan, and silent actors like Richard Tucker, Lafe McKee, and Harry Todd and Joe Bonomo in a gorilla suit. The film looks nice fully restored, and partially filmed at Angkor Wat.

lady_escapesGloria Stuart and Michael Whalen appeared in the funny 1937 Fox film The Lady Escapes as an upper crust, battling, passionate couple who break up before realizing they belong together. Fast-paced, nice repartee and fun performances from the leads, always reliable Franklin Pangborn, and a suave George Sanders with a roving French accent keep it moving along. Such performers as Lynn Bari, Dennis O’Keefe, Lon Chaney Jr., Kelsey, and Theresa Harris have tiny parts, and Regis Toomey pops up as a journalist.

Jackie Coogan starred in the good 1923 silent Daddy, produced and written by his parents, with Jackie abandoned to an older farm family after his mother mistakenly leaves his violin prodigy and teacher father and then dies. Struggling to help them escape the poor farm, he goes to the big city to try and make money playing his fiddle. Coogan tones down his sometimes maudlin performances and makes a fine team with von Stroheim character actor Cesare Gravina. Japanese American George Kuwa plays the valet in a film edited by Irene Morra, one of the few successful women who earned editing credits in the silent period. Frederick Hodges’ up-tempo period score provided energy and pace.

A rare color Paramount Musical Parade short ran after lunch, featuring Karolyn “Zuzu” Grimes and a teenage Sammy Davis Jr. as part of the Will Mastin trio in some amazing tap dancing.

A standing program of several years running, Kinecon at Cinecon featured rare television clips organized as if a regular day’s programming, beginning and ending with sign-ons and sign-offs of test patterns, tones, and test patterns. Captain Kangaroo started the program day singing a song as he cleaned, followed by Jack LaLanne pumping up stay-at-home mothers with exercise. Betty White joked and sang a couple of songs from her self-named TV show. An early soap opera, A Brighter Day, revealed a woman talking to her minister about her sister’s troubled marriage. Danny Thomas joked around as a game show emcee for a contest sponsored by the National Safety Council on safe driving hosted by the Lawrence Welk Show. Ethel Merman belted out songs like Anything Goes and Smile songs on a variety show. A very funny full episode of a Jack Benny show episode starring Tony Curtis, Robert Wagner, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, and George Burns showed the droll Benny announcing his show will appear weekly rather than sporadically and seeing his publicist create devious promotions. The segment ended with clips from “the Tonight Show” starring Steve Allen, showing such neon signs as Ciro’s, Trocadero, the Palladium, the Moulin Rouge, and the Chinese before Allen joked about LA traffic and weather before he and his band offered a couple of amazing jazz numbers.

Library of Congress film archivist Rob Stone promoted his book on Vim comedies, a very early film comedy studio on the East Coast, featuring such performers as a young “Babe” Hardy, Billy Bletcher, Rosemary Theby, Harry Myers, and Kate Price. Many featured characters pretending or playing doubles trying to escape punishment or win a prize, and often end up slatsticky in the end. Nice set of restored full episodes and excerpts.

The afternoon concluded with a fine 1933 Fox drama, The Mad Game, featuring a charismatic Spencer Tracy and a wisecracking but heart of gold Claire Trevor. Bootlegger Tracy attempts to get out of prison but the upstanding Merrick Garland like judge Ralph Morgan announces he can’t be bought, sentencing the narcissistic gangster to prison, along with closing his business and fining him. Second in command, the despicable J. Carrol Naish, decides to kidnap millionaires for profit. Paroled, Tracy decides to go straight and shut down the gang. John Miljan plays a slimy lawyer, Leslie Fenton an oozy doctor, and Paul Fix, Douglas Fowley, and Matt McHugh in small roles. The Banning Museum plays the doctor’s fake sanitarium.

I skipped the rest of the day’s films to attend the Hollywood Bowl’s wonderful John Williams at 90 concert, featuring David Newman and Williams directing the orchestra in classic film songs as well as Williams’ masterpieces, ending on multiple Star Wars themes. Hot in more ways than one!

While I only caught about three fourths of the Deanna Durbin feature His Butler’s Sister, I enjoyed the Frank Borzage-directed charming little film, with Durbin an opera singer from small town Indiana trying to connect with composer Franchot Tone with crossing the country by train, only to get mistakenly hired as his maid and work with his butler, her big brother Pat O’Brien. Such scene stealers as Akim Tamiroff, Walter Catlett, Frank Jenks, Alan Mowbray, and Hans Conreid, as fellow building servants fall for her, Roscoe Karns as a top drawer critic, and debonair Tone finds himself falling for her as well. While it is the same old formula for her, the film features fine chemistry between Durbin and Tone, excellent camera work, and nice comic bits.

An entertaining Betty Boop satirizes melodrama as a mustache pulling villain and a Dudley Do-Right saving her and the day face off in the Klondike saloon where she sings in one of the Festival’s restored shorts.

The difficult to see 1927 Lillian Gish feature Annie Laurie screened, very loosely based on the Scottish poem by three virtually forgotten women writers of the silent period. She tries to help keep the peace between the battling MacDonald and Campbell clans. Mostly an action-oriented men in kilts story, Gish has little to do until the end when she alerts the MacDonald clan to perfidy by Donald Campbell, an unctuous Creighton Hale who attempts to woo her. She of course spurns and then falls for the gorgeous hunk of man Norman Kerry, son to Hobart Bosworth. Filmed in what is now Studio City’s Fryman Canyon and further in the Valley, the film ends with a gorgeous two-color sequence. Jon Mirsalis provided a rousing score.

Closing out Sunday afternoon was the sleeper hit of the Festival, the 1958 comedy Kathy ‘O starring honoree Patty MacCormack. Combining black comedy and family drama, the film features Kathy as a demanding, difficult child actress at the Valley’s National General Studios, actually Universal in disguise. Beleaguered Dan Duryea shows comic chops as the harried publicist who must keep his ex, poison pen columnist Jan Sterling, from writing a hatchet job. Trying to balance the bratty Kathy, his sexy ex, and his sweet wife and two sons just days before Christmas, Duryea gives a winning performance helping emotionally abused and only wants to be loved Kathy escape her domineering aunt and save the day for the studio. The film looks great in color and shows a quick look at the Hollywood Christmas Parade. Mary Fickett and Sam Levene offer nice support.

Restored, slightly risque animation shorts followed after dinner, with 1930s songs highlighting them, such as Nasty Man as a giant turns people into insects before getting his just desserts, and another with singing and dancing.

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The hoot filled, over the top, unpolitically correct 1939 Paramount feature Island of Lost Men kicked off the night, featuring everything but the kitchen sink, with Anna May Wong battling yellow face, alligator-filled waters, sleazy ne’er do wells playing Survivor on steroids, all to try and find her missing Chinese general father in a one way passage up the river to a treacherous plantation run by the mixed race Mr. Prin, J. Carrol Naish. Wong remains stoic and straight faced dealing with lecherous, depraved villains like a young Broderick Crawford, plotting Ernest Truex, and two-faced William Haade, a charming, helpful Eric Blore and sweet but doomed little monkey, Chinese spy Anthony Quinn, and Philip Ahn in a very small role. Prin’s bamboo jungle lair brings out the nastiness in everyone during cheating poker games, devilish plotting, and over the top jungle death. It appeared to me that Lake Hollywood stood in for the jungle bay. Hans Dreier and Karl Struss make deceit look great and fly by.

Over-the-top melodrama from Cecil B. DeMille called Fool’s Paradise followed, throwing in deceitful barmaids, exploding cigars, blinded veterans, and jungle wrestling in and around alligators. Written by respected but forgotten writers Sada Cowan and Beulah Marie Dix, the film features the upstanding WWI vet Conrad Nagel who falls for a flirty, French performer before ending up working the Mexican oil fields. Blinded by an exploding cigar, he mistakenly marries caddish cantina girl Dorothy Dalton before his vision is restored and he travels to Siam seeking out his French chanteuse Mildred Harris before engaging in a fight to the death with slick John Davidson. DeMille regulars Julia Faye and Theodore Kosloff play cameos. The tints and tones make trash look good.

I missed the Monday morning screenings before seeing Youth on Trial, a fun 1945 B-movie of society kids turning delinquent from lax parenting, directed by rising young director Budd Boetticher. Female judge Mary Currier attempts to bring the kids to their senses by organizing a raid of the hep roadhouse, only to find her daughter Cora Sue Collins arrested. Billy Benedict and Joseph Crehan play small roles.

The 1939 B-pic Pirates of the Skies featured nice flying scenes in a story of a hotrod pilot getting brought down to size before catching robbers in the air who try to blend in as sickly residents of a sanitarium. Regis Toomey plays the upstanding pilot working to tamp down the rebellion of rule breaker Kent Taylor. The early United Air Terminal, Burbank airport’s first terminal, is visible in some of the airport scenes, with air chases filmed in and around the Verdugos and the San Fernando Valley. Samuel S. Hinds plays a small role.


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The restored Buster Keaton Our Hospitality brought some pleasing levity with its story of the feuding Canfield and McKay families and the wonderful stunts and inventions of genius Keaton. He and first wife Natalie Talmadge have great chemistry, and Joe Roberts, Ralph Bushman, and Craig Ward make humorous villains chasing Keaton, while Jack Duffy has a small cameo. Spousal physical abuse and harassment are played for laughs.

Claire Trevor stars again in the quick-witted, fast paced family study, Star for a Night, featuring Jane Darwell, Dean Jagger, Evelyn Venable, Joyce Compton, and Arline Judge. A blind Darwell travels from Germany to Manhattan to meet her mythmaking kids only to find everything work out in the end. Nice songs throughout the picture featuring chorus girls like Trevor singing Moonlight Down Malibu Way, snapcracking humor, rapid pacing, and fine performances make this a charming little picture. An upbeat Hattie McDaniel thinks she’s won the night out and comes home with Big Boy, Eddie “Rochester “ Anderson in scene-stealing performances.

The Ricardo Cortez starred Manhattan Moon shut down the festival, with a rakish do-gooding gangster falling for chorus girl Dorothy Page, who plays both the high kicking glamour queen and her strong, assertive look alike. while it is an okay picture. Cortez steals the film, aided by the comic actions of Henry Armetta and the priggish Regis Toomey. Songs here are not as well written as in Star for a Night.

An overall, fun festival filled with mostly entertaining pictures, Cinecon is the place to be Labor Day weekend.

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.

1 Response to Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Cinecon Returns After Two Years Online

  1. Sylvia E. says:

    Very nice summary of the Cinecon event.

    Like

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