CINECON DAY 4: Joe McDoakes series (1940’s), The Circus Man (1914), Fearless Fagan (1952)

I got to the show a little later in the morning today, so I missed the first feature.  But I saw at least one film today that I absolutely fell in love with, which I’ll get to momentarily.  But not only did I have a great day, I met a classic star, and I made friends with a very prominent film historian!  Lets get on with the show, shall we?
First thing I saw when I arrived was a series of shorts from the Joe McDoakes series.  There were some other shorts shown throughout Cinecon, which I should have mentioned more of.  But Joe McDoakes was a great series, which starred George O’Hanlon and Phyllis Coates (who made an appearance after the screening with director Richard L. Bare (who was also there, and went on to direct 166 episodes of Green Acres for television!)  The shorts were very funny, and had a lot of broad range in the kind of comedy they did.  For instance, in one episode they showed, the couple was introduced to us not as their normal selves, but as hideously ugly and buck toothed.  The wife decides to get facial surgery to make herself beautiful, as does the husband, but neither of them knows what the other has done.  Later, the two of them meet coincidently at a bar and neither of them recognizes each other, and the husband and wife unknowingly start hitting on each other!  The second short involved Joe trying to become a maestro piano player in less than three weeks, when his wife becomes obsessed with a virtuoso piano player next door, and comic hi jinx ensue.  It was a great series of shorts, and I look forward to seeing more when I can.  If you’re an animation lover or grew up watching classic Hanna Barbara like I did, its interesting to note that George O’Hanlon who played Joe was also the voice of George Jetson!
The first feature I saw was a silent film from 1914 called The Circus Man.  It was an interesting film for sure, with some great use of lighting and cinematography.  The story felt a little muddled and convoluted, which I had some difficulty trying to follow.  At first we follow the main character who is being accused of murder, which is what I presumed the story was going to be about.  But this gets resolved fairly soon, and the film seems like it makes a left turn as it starts following plot lines of the other characters in the film.  It was interesting in how they tried to structure it in the film considering it was based on a novel,  but it did start to get a little confusing for me after awhile.  But there was some strong filmmaking in here, and it was a great opportunity to check out this rarely seen film.
The next film for me was the highlight of the whole day, a wonderful, funny, and emotional story called “Fearless Fagan”.  Some of you may know I have an affinity for strong family films, because I feel a majority of family films (at least today) tend to talk down to their audience, especially to children.  There was a sincerity to this friendship between Floyd Hilston and his circus lion that really became the beating heart of the whole film.  The plot revolves around Hilston, a 21 year old clown and lion tamer at a circus who gets drafted into the army during WW2, but he doesn’t know what to do with his ever faithful lion companion from the circus while he’s away.  He’s afraid to leave him with the circus’ other lion trainer, who is far more harsh and strict in training his lion performers.  He also doesn’t want to sell him to a zoo, or give him away out of fear of the lions own unhappiness that might lead him to become hostile, which does become an important point in the film.  He meets Janet Leigh’s character, a performer who sings for the army men.  As you can see in the photo above, that’s not a stunt man, thats Carleton Carpenter who played Hilston, and he performed practically all his scenes live with his costar lion Fagan, and in many cases he was on the ground wrestle with the lion, and we also watch as the lion practically jumps all over him like a puppy dog.  There were no special effects, and no CGI lions back then.  Everything was real.  Fagan the lion puts on an incredible performance, and there were a few serious moments where I teared up when I thought the film was about to go into Old Yeller territory!  But it shows how much I cared about this relationship between this kid and his lion.  I would put this up there with my top family films of all time.  It’s an absolutely wonderful film you should not miss.

And wouldn’t you know it?  Carleton Carpenter, who played Hilston, showed up at Cinecon!  He shared stories with us about what it was like to work with a lion costar, as well as his career highlights from Broadway to dancing with Debbie Reynolds in his earliest features.  I found him to be incredibly attractive in his younger years, and his performance in the film was both funny and emotional.  He was very nice in person, and I was pleased to tell him that this film was now my introduction to his career, and told him how I felt about the importance of emotional, sincere family films that “Fearless Fagan” clearly displayed.  It was a great experience.

Tomorrow is the last day of Cinecon, where I’ll be checking out a Randolph Scott feature, “Hello, Everybody” (remember Blazing Saddles, anyone? “Rannndoooollphhhh Scoooooottttt!”).  There’s also going to be a Max Sennet centennial tribute, a Spencer Tracy pre code drama, and more.  Looking forward to it!

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