Cinecon 48 DAY 2: Gentle Julia (1936), Sensation Seekers (1927), Diamond Jim (1935), Blonde or Brunette (1927)

I saw more great film gems at Day 2 of Cinecon.  I had to work in the morning and early afternoon to get a project done, and I didn’t arrive until after 4:15pm.  I drove to Hollywood and suddenly remembered I left my day pass at home.  So I had to drive all the way back to Van Nuys again to get it.  Thankfully, it wasn’t too far, but the annoying part was I missed the first half of the one film I wanted to see which was “Gentle Julia”.

But after seeing the second half of the film, I felt it worth mentioning because I got to see the talents of major child actor of the time, Jane Withers playing the niece of the main character Julia.  What I didn’t expect was that most of the films story surrounded the young girls character, and she was the top billing in the end credits.  I’m guessing the script was revised to center more on the girl considering she was so popular at the time.  In a funny way she made me think of a short, plump version of Judy Garland.  It was her voice more than anything  that made me think of that.  But she would get into some interesting shenanigans.  As I came in, there was a scene where she was unleashing lizards and bees on a formal outdoor party, creating chaos.  I didn’t see why, but it was amusing.  She was cute of course.  There’s some scenes here we’ve seen aped in other films before, such as the climax, where the whole town for some reason bands together in a chaotic chase to stop a couple from getting married, because the suave fiance is…well…suave…and only interested in her money.  Although the male protagonist we supposedly want her to marry practically threatens to beat her if she doesn’t marry him.  Real nice.  Of course, I saw the film out of context so I didn’t really know how much he was kidding or what kind of character he was, because 90% of the movie was centered around the girl.  But there were some good performances in there, and I’ll have to check it out on Netflix to watch the first half.

Second was the silent feature “Sensation Seekers”.  This film started out interestingly enough, but dragged in the middle, with a somewhat exciting action climax over the ocean.  The plot centered around a romantic relationship between a young minister and woman, who is unconventional and a bit of a bad girl.  But of course, surprise surprise the film takes the moral high ground with the priest always moralizing her behavior, probably because he could never allow himself to be as open with himself as she is.  Thankfully, it doesn’t get to preachy, and the story show some interesting moments including a police raid during prohibition at a nightclub.  But to be honest, near the end I started falling asleep, and there wasn’t much more going on to really keep my interest.  However, one noteworthy thing about this was that it was directed by a woman, Lois Weber, one of the few major women directors during the silent era.  In talking with a friend afterwards, the moral stance in this film is generally a common theme in all her films.  But she was a woman who had a powerful influence on film at a time the business was strongly dominated by men.  The film itself wasn’t great, but it was worthwhile to see her efforts during that time.  

The next feature was “Diamond Jim”, starring Edward Arnold as James Buchanan Brady, based on the real life Jim Brady who was an American Business man with ties to the Railroad industry.  Overall, it was a terrific film with great performances from several outstanding character actors, such as Caesar Romero, Tully Marshall, William Demarest and Jean Arthur.  The screenplay was by Preston Sturges.  This was my first real exposure to the great talents of Edward Arnold, who usually played in supporting roles in other films.  But he creates a seriously flawed persona out of Brady, who has a serious eating disorder, and has conflicted feelings for the two women in his life.  The film is a bit flimsy as a biography, but there’s also a disclaimer in the opening not to take it too seriously…but the best part of the film is that it does play up a lot of laughs as several of the people Brady meets in his life are larger than life characters themselves.  It’s the Hollywood touch of course, but its entertaining nonetheless.  But while the film carries a light tone for the most part, there is a lot of heavy emotional struggle going on in Brady, which leads to the seriousness of his eating condition, the financial struggles of going broke, and an accident that changes the course of his life…leading to the films dramatic emotional conclusion…and it is powerful.  “Diamond Jim” was by far the best film I saw today, which balanced the humor and the drama with a strong emotional undercurrent.  I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to check out a great classic.

Last film I saw was the silent feature film “Blonde or Brunette”.  This is one of those films where the humor is drawn out from an overcomplicated situation.  The star of the film was Adolphe Menjou, my first exposure to him, and he is a terrific comic actor.  He plays it straight for the most part but somehow finds himself involved in the crazy plot going on around him.  In the film, his character gets disgusted with Paris flappers and heads into the country where he meets and falls in love with a much younger girl (the blonde, Greta Nissen), but its the girls grandmother who rejoices in playing matchmaker and hopes the couple will fall in love.  And they do.  Part of the charm is in the fact that the blonde girl is so young and sheltered in life, making her quite shy and inexperienced in the ways of the outside world.  She meets Adolphe’s friend (Arlette Marchal, the Brunette), who is in love with Adolphe but is also very much a manipulator.  In a funny scene, right after Adolphe is married to Greta, he’s called away to Morocco on business for a month, and has to put his honeymoon with Greta on hold.  Arlette insists she’ll take care of Greta while he’s away.  But once he returns she’s influenced Greta to take up smoking, wear short skirts, and become a completely different person!  Of course, now she’s not the girl he fell in love with, so what’s he going to do?
Well, here’s where I felt the film started running into problems.  It surprised me a little that Adolphe couldn’t see how much Arlette was manipulating the situations, as this somewhat intelligent man doesn’t seem to notice what she’s done to his wife and how she convinces Adolphe to get a divorce and marry her instead.  Of course, once he marries her, she’s pretty much a controlling bitch, and Adolphe starts to long for Greta once more.  Part of the plot involves Greta not wanting to break the news to her grandmother that she’s gotten a divorce, fearing it will break her heart.  Arlette convinces her to write to her grandmother over a 6 month period to make it sound like her and Adolphe are becoming hostile towards each other and are growing apart.  When Grandma reads these letters, she insists that Greta and Adolphe come stay with her at her luxury estate to work out their differences.  But supposidly she doesn’t know that Greta and Adolphe are divorced.  So then Greta, Arlette, and Adolphe hatch a plan to trick the grandmother into thinking him and Greta are still married.  This is where I started to have a problem, because it was one thing to have Arlette be the manipulator, but when Adolphe and Greta turned into manipulators as well with how they tried to trick the grandmother, they started to lose my sympathy.  The second half of the film is built around this comic premise, but I wasn’t really laughing…and for the most part…the audience wasn’t really either.  Which was frustrating because the first half of the film is hilariously funny in places.  At the end of the comic chaos, we learn that the grandmother already knew the two were divorced because she hired a private detective to investigate them, and her reasoning for bringing them to her house was to find out if the two of them were still in love despite the divorce.  Fair enough I suppose.  But I think instead we should have known ahead of time that the grandmother knew they were divorced, and that with the audiences knowledge of this, it might have gotten us to laugh more at how foolish the three of them have become.  Because they are fools.  That’s clearly the point, but the problem is there’s no one around to comment on the fact that all three main characters were becoming manipulators.  But overall, there were some great moments of comedy, and I think if it wasn’t for the fact that I lost sympathy for the main character half way through, this could have been a terrific film.

I can’t wait for tomorrow where I’ll be viewing more Cinecon all day long.  In the morning there’s the Harold Lloyd feature “Hot Water”, and the classic, brilliant Laurel and Hardy feature “Way out West”.  Tomorrow is going to be an awesome day!

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