CINECON DAY 5: “Hello Everybody!”(1933), “Ladies Night at the Turkish Bath”(1928), Mack Sennett Tribute, “She Wanted A Millionaire” (1932), “Strawberry Roan” (1933), “Love Under Fire” (1937)

Today was the final day of Cinecon, and I’m saddened that its over so soon!  What an unbelievable and educational experience it was for me, as I was introduced to several huge stars I had never known (and even got to meet a few of them), discovered some incredible films from the golden age of cinema, and I even made some wonderful new friends.  I can’t begin to tell you what being at this festival has meant to me, and how incredibly entertaining and fun it was too.  I swear, if you are a student of film or a filmmaker of any kind, it’s seriously in your best interest to attend this festival next year for Cinecon 49.  You will be blown away.  
Todays batch of films were excellent.  The last two features at the end were decent, but I had some story and pacing issues with them.  But in the morning, and what we were treated to right after lunch…incredible!  Read on!
Randolphe Scott (left), Sally Blane (center), Kate Smith (right)
I arrived just in time for the first feature, which was a terrific film, called “Hello, Everybody!”, starring the amazing Kate Smith.  Because of her size, it might be surprising to some that she was such a huge star in the 1930’s (no pun intended).  But what an incredible voice!  And also the warmth of her persona was just beautiful.  She was 26 when she made this film in 1933 having become a sensation on the radio, and while this film had a plot, it was designed to exploit her popularity.  Some may know her from her most famous recording of “God Bless America”.  The film also starred Randolphe Scott (“RANDOLPHE SCOTT!!”…sorry, Blazing Saddles joke 🙂 ) The biggest surprise in the film was when she was singing on the radio, after she was done and the orchestra continued, she broke into a wild dance number that brought the house down in the theater.  The audience went apeshit!  It was terrific.  And while this was part of promoting her image, there was also a scene where she sang a special song to all the black orphans out there.  It might sound a little silly considering it was part of her image…but at that time especially to show a non descriminatory stance with black people in the 1930’s, it made me fall in love with her as person all the more.  She was incredible.  Highly recommended.

The next film was “Ladies Night at the Turkish Bath”, starring Jack Mulhall, and one of my all time favorite comic actors, James Finlayson (Finny for short).  I had seen this film a little over a year ago, but its still really god damn funny.  The premise is that to avoid being pinched in a police raid on a speakeasy, “Speed” (Mulhall), and Pa Slocum (Finny) duck into a Turkish Bath only to discover that its ladies’ night and their wives are there too!  (Of course their wives happen to be there 🙂  )  The set up takes time before the riotous second half at the bathhouse, which at the time this film was precode, so there were plenty of shots of ladies not wearing much of anything.  But this is a great film, and its loads of fun.  Finny’s performance here was a surprise, because it was much more subdued than most of his comic schtick we know from the Laurel and Hardy shorts and features (compare this to Way out West, which I reviewed two days ago, where Finny plays the over the top villain).  Finny gets to display his physical comedy antics somewhat in the bathhouse sequence, but it was an interesting change of pace for him, and yet he was still just as entertaining.

Hollywood comedy producer/legend Mack Sennett with his costar in “The Hollywood Kid”

After lunch, got treated to several comedy shorts from the Mack Sennett studio, some of which haven’t been theatrically shown in over 80 years, and many of which haven’t been available on video or DVD.  The shorts were all great, but the best one was a special surprise short that was screened first, called “The Hollywood Kid”, which was a comic look at how Mack ran his studio, with several cameo appearances from the stars of his films.  It was brilliant, as Mack even played himself as the studio head and was out in the open making fun of himself.  We saw several Keystone shorts, one of which was a surprise Chaplin short (I can’t remember the name of it).  All great stuff.

Next was the feature film “She wanted a Millionaire”, and early talkie starring Joan Bennett and Spencer Tracy.  It was a precode film, a mix of comedy and domestic drama, in which Joan Bennett forsakes newspaperman Spencer Tracy for a millionaire (James Kirkwood), and she feels that staying with him will help her give money to take care of her poor family.  But of course, the millionaire is a controlling whack job, who spies on her, completely paranoid and looking for any trace that she might try and leave him for someone else.  It’s admirable that in the moment she summons the courage to tell him she’s leaving him, she does so without having to cheat on him (by todays standards it probably would have been no big deal if she cheated on him, but back in that time they probably thought the audience would lose sympathy for her if she went behind his back).  But this act in turn leads to serious consequences as the millionaire looses himself and she has to struggle for her life.  The film had its moments and some good performances, especially from Tracy.  But Kirkwood who plays the millionaire, despite a good performance, he’s a little too one dimensional as an antagonist, and the filmmakers and Kirkwood give us plenty of reasons to hate him.  But its a little over done at times.  Granted again this is 1932 we’re talking about, where antagonists were often one-sided.  But even during that time I think some actors who played villains were able to sneak in a little sympathy.  Kirkwood tries to do that here, but were hit over the head one too many times with his degrading lines and despicable acts for us to actually have a moment to feel something for him.

The next feature was “Strawberry Roan”, probably the one feature at Cinecon I liked the least.  That doesn’t mean it was terrible.  It was my introduction to the first cowboy singer in films, Ken Maynard.  There were also some terrific stunt sequences, and early use of optical special effects that were surprisingly good for their time.  The story centers around Maynard who tells the story of how he attempts to tame a wild horse while rounding up rustlers along the way.  The problem though is that plot is incredibly muddled as more time is spent on promoting Maynard’s singing talents as opposed to focusing on the story.  The whole second act of the film is like this, as Maynard has the wild Roan captured in the first act, but in the second act we never see him develop any sort of relationship with the horse, until the third act when its already a little late for us to care.  Because in the beginning that’s what he tells us the story is going to be about, but its like they never get around to it until the very end of the film.  And as for Maynard’s singing talents…well…I don’t quite get his popularity.  He’s okay, but certainly not one of the greatest western singers I’ve ever heard.  One scene that convinced me of this was when he was in a Saloon, he plays an instrument and starts singing, and everyone in the saloon stops what they’re doing to listen to him sing.  His singing in that scene was not great, and I imagined today that some burly cowboy trying to play cards would tell him to shut up!  But Ken is the star of course, so naturally everyone has to pay attention.  So overall, the film had its moments, but it dragged aimlessly for most of the second act.

For our final feature at Cinecon, we got a mixed bag genre piece called “Love Under Fire”, starring Loretta Young and Don Ameche.  Jewel Robbery, foreign intrigue, undercover operatives, and Borrah Minevitch and his Gang of hermonica rascals come together in this screwball-romance-thriller set against the Spanish Civil War.  The mix of genre’s is interesting, but the situations the characters get into get pretty contrived after awhile, as for instance, Ameche who is a Scotland Yard detective looking for a criminal in Spain, discovers from his boss that the name of the criminal he’s after is the same woman he happens to meet and fall in love with on a train.  In ALL of Spain, she’s right there.  The mix of genres also gives the film a bit of a confused tone, as if its not really sure what it wants to be.  And while the harmonica rascals have their bit moments, the leader Borrah Minevitch is a little too hammy as a comic actor.  He has his schtick which I suppose pleased audiences at the time, but it hasn’t aged well, and the story general has to stop so he can go into his goofy antics.  Again, many films were like this where they wanted to display the talents of popular singing groups and talent of the time interspersed in the plot.  Sometimes it works okay, but Minevitch isn’t that funny and for the most part I could have done without him.  The one thing I will say about his harmonica group that I liked, was that the two featured stars of the group were a midget and a black person, and the black man was not in a subservient position, he was an equal member of the group.  And better yet, both men were featured as solo players.  So I have to give it to Borrah Minevitch for his tolerance and equality to others during that time.  The rest of the cast was very good though despite the convoluted storyline, which also featured John Carradine and Walter Catlett (animation fans will know him as the voice of J. Worthington Fox in Pinocchio), and he steals all his scenes in a great comic performance.  Ironically, Harold Huber who plays a spanish Lt. who is after the main couple, he loses his spanish accent after his first few scenes!  Oh well.  This movie also featured one of my favorite antagonist character actors, Sid Ruman, who was the opera house foil, Gottlieb, for the Marx Bros. in Night at the Opera.  He’s a great comic actor, and he’s also a lot of fun in this movie, as he rips into his Spanish Lt. for all of his screw ups.  Not the perfect film to end the festival on, but it had its moments of entertainment.

That’s it for my Cinecon coverage!  I look forward to next year, and now I have plenty of new stars and films to add to my classic film vocabulary.  I look forward to seeing plenty more, and for those of you who have been reading, I thank you for following my coverage!

I’ll be back to regular posts and continuing my other series of posts soon.

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