So here we go with the reviews. Just remember these are my PERSONAL views, your mileage may vary depending how tired you were and if your popcorn was too salty. Films are rated on a * (meh) to ***** (excellent) basis. I have provided links to some of the individual films, so you can read the synopsis. Let’s roll:
FLAMING WATERS (FBO, 1926) - ****. a good barn burner starring Malcom McGregor (who was also lead in another film this weekend) which has to deal with a greedy oil salesman swindling his mother and Malcom seeking revenge. Lots of good high action scenes made even more appealing by the intense Dr. Phil Carli’s work on the Moller organ. Although this was one of the only two digital presentations of the weekend, the images looked great on the screen. Great way to kick off the weekend.
ALONG CAME RUTH (Warner Bros./Vitaphone, 1933) - ***, A Ruth Etting Vitaphone short so you know right off the bat what you are getting, LOTS of singing and LOTS of Ruth. Seriously though, I liked this one. Trying to get away from her busy schedule Ruth tries to get away with her maid for a vacation, but the hotel they go to has a talent show and guess who’s tapped to perform?? Good, light entertainment.
MY PAL, THE KING (Universal, 1932) - * ½, I really wanted to like this Tom Mix film but he was just too cardboard in this feature for me. Tom and his rodeo go to a foreign country and he eventually helps thwart a coup over the king, played a young Mickey Rooney. Some nice action scenes with horse acrobats, cowboy rope tricks, and a nice rescue scene at the end, which now considering those aspects, maybe I should give this title a full **? NoelFrancis (who appeared with El in “Movietone Follies of 1930”) has a minor role in this one.
CASEY AT THE BAT (DeForest Phonofilm, 192?) - ****. The first of many Phonofilms films of the weekend has DeWolf Hopper (husband of Hedda Hopper) reciting the famous baseball poem. As boring as it may sound, Hopper delivers the tome with a fervor and passion which was just incredible. Just a guy in a suit in front of a curtain and it’s ALL him. Just wonderful.
A FEW MOMENTS WITH EDDIE CANTOR (DeForest Phonofilm, 1923) - ***, this one I have seen a few times before, but never in 35mm on the big screen. Lots of good one liners from Cantor and this film is worth it just to see him perform the tune, “The Dumber They Come, The Better I Like ‘Em”.
THE AFFAIR OF SUSAN (Universal, 1935) - ****, This film had not been seen since it’s original release and has long been a picture my buddy Rich Finegan had wanted to see, so I was geared up to catch it. A remake of the 1928 flick “Lonesome”, but with not such amazing looking characters as the original (c’mon, you actually believe beautiful Barbara Kent and GlennTryon can’t find dates??). Zasu Pitts and Hugh O’Connell fit the bill quite well as older character who appear a bit rough around the edges but you can believe they MIGHT be lonely. As soon as I saw what a pain in the ass WalterCatlett’s early scenes were (he WAS the comic relief) I thought, “OK, this is where the movie goes wrong”, but his obnoxiousness is kept to a minimum, which worked well. The only downside to this movie is that I saw the original first and it ruined the twist ending for me. No problem though, it was a delight and I’m sad when the DVD of “Lonesome” was released, this film was passed over for inclusion. I hope this movie gets more viewings at festivals, as it’s one everyone who loves a good love story should see.
THE CAMPUS VAMP (Sennett/Pathe, 1928) - ** ½, The first appearance of Capitolfest Tribute Star Carole Lombard (billed as “Carol” here) in this Mack Sennett comedy two-reeler about a girl (Sally Eilers) who’s boyfriend (Matty Kemp) forgets he likes her in favor of the beautiful blonde (Lombard). Another short I had seen a few times before, but never in 35mm. A nice enough short but the color ending was not present on this reel (but is on my DVD copy) for which I subtracted a half star.
SHOW FOLKS (Pathe, 1928) - *** ½, this was shown as a replacement for “POWER” (Pathe, 1928) which was unavailable for showing and Capitolfest showed this one a few years ago but I had totally forgotten about it. Eddie Quillan plays a dancer who is going nowhere in Vaudeville until he hooks up with Lina Basquette and as a team, they really take off. But Eddie is a pompous performer who thinks he’s the whole act and it eventually breaks them up. Carole Lombard eventually takes over Lina’s position, but the act is a failure. Through a set of circumstances the two original dancers are brought back together and all is right with the world. Lots of fun and I could watch the adorable Basquette dance all day long.
PRESIDENT COOLIDGE TAKEN ON THE WHITE HOUSE GROUNDS (DeForest Phonofilm, 1924) – ½ *, the President of the US makes a speech about the state of the US and sounds like every damn politician ever. Gets at least a half star for being a Phonofilm and a historical record of Coolidge, other than that it was pretty lifeless and boring. Interesting to note, the Capitolfest audience “cheered” or “groaned” depending what political position they had. Hilarious that film nearly 90 years old still has the power to get people to react.
BEN BERNIE AND HIS ORCHESTRA (DeForest Phonofilm, 192?) - *** ½, hot jazz played well. What else can you say??
NOTHING SACRED (David O. Selznick/United Artists, 1937) - *** ½, here’s another one I had seen before (Capitolfest tries to throw in a couple of regulars the first night to get people warmed up) but it never looked like this. A gorgeous 35mm Technicolor print showed this film off in all its glory. Carole Lombard looked amazing!!
Carole Lombard in a screen grab taken from the blu-ray release of "Nothing Sacred"
FROM HELL TO HEAVEN (Paramount, 1933) - ***, A horse race is happening in a town and everyone with some sob story bets on a different horse, one has to win, the others have to lose, right??? But this is Hollywood and everything works out in the end!!! A nice little feature with Jack Oakie as the comic relief who is always writing (and singing!), songs at the drop of a hat, Carole Lombard in her slinky best, and David Manners doing what he does best, playing the sappiest sap ever.
DON'T WEAKEN (Rolin/Pathe, 1920) - ** ½, “Snub” Pollard and (I think) “Sunshine” Sammy Morrison having fun with some gypsy girl and a woman kidnapped by a cad. A few laughs in here, but just a few.
WEBER AND FIELDS IN THEIR FAMOUS POOL ROOM SCENE (DeForest Phonofilm, 1925) - **, just what it says. The comedy duo hit us with a lot of jokes in short order. Seen it before and didn’t excite me then either.
THE COHENS AND KELLYS IN AFRICA (Universal, 1931) - **, having seen one of these films from this series before, “Cohens and Kellys InAtlantic City” and really digging it, I was looking forward to this GeorgeSidney & Charlie Murray incarnation ever since Capitolfest announced it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up. Sidney & Murray need to acquire some ivory for their piano business and hire a shyster to lead them on an expedition to Africa to find some. Cue lots of unfunny zaniness & jokes, with plenty of mispronounced animal names and ethnic humor. In fact, if you are looking for a movie which rhymes “Zebru” (a play on the zebra) with “Hebrew”, this movie is for you.
A MOTHER'S ATONEMENT (Rex/Universal, 1915) - ***
THE PLACE BEYOND THE WINDS (Red Feather/Universal, 1916) - ***
BROADWAY LOVE (Bluebird/Universal, 1918) - ***, I really have a hard time with these early melodramas. I find them a chore to sit through and just about always boring. What makes these 3 special is they contain early performances by Lon Chaney, Sr., which push them into the *** range. It’s really amazing to watch Chaney in these films as he just blows the other actors out of the water with his skill. Although most of these films just survive as fragments, these were really nice to see.
SISSLE & BLAKE (DeForest Phonofilm, 1923) - *** ½, great jazz piano and signing combo. Too bad the film was not so great, but what can you expect? Nice to see.
MR. LEMON OF ORANGE (Fox, 1931) - *****, better than Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Metropolis, and City Lights COMBINED!!! But seriously, I would say a strong **** to **** ½ (but maybe I’m a bit biased). This is the film I have been waiting nearly 8 years to see and it didn’t disappoint. El Brendel play a dual role in this picture of a childlike (or what others have referred to as “dumb”) Swede Oscar Lemon and a tough gangster, Silent McGee. I was excited to see this latter role as I had heard it may be the only film to feature El speaking in his real voice. I can say unequivocally he DOES NOT speak in his real voice in this one, but it is close, he puts on a “New York toughie” affect. Here is a private home recording titled "Union Farm Tough" he made in the 40’s which nearly sounds like the way Silent McGee spoke in “Mr. Lemon”:
You can read the synopsis of the film here so I don’t have to get into what the movie is about. I will say the film went over VERY well with the Capitol audience and I didn’t hear any complaints from the people who saw it. All of the reviews were positive and someone said to me, “I didn’t know El Brendel could be so funny!” to which I replied, “Well, now you do!” Executive Director of the Capitol Art Pierce even told me someone mentioned to him it was the best film of the weekend. YAY!
The print looked very nice and has survived the years in great shape. As El’s uncle, William Collier Sr. had some terrific lines in the picture and you can certainly see screen writer Eddie Cantor’s humor coming through in some of the dialog. Fifi D’orsay looked amazing and her singing was more than adequate. Interesting to note although El was a lifetime non-smoker and in many of his filmed appearances I have seen where he uses a cigarette or cigar as a prop but never lights it, in this picture he actually takes a couple “non-inhaling” puffs on a cigarette. He also gets to try his hand at some physical activity, other than dancing, as there are a few fight scenes where he is actually getting into it with the other actors.
El’s “straight” role in this is interesting also as he never played another “heavy” in anything I have seen him in. He’s certainly no James Cagney or Edward G. Robinson, but he handles it quite well and has me wishing he would have been able to flex his acting chops in more of this type of character. My definite highlight of the weekend and I hope it is able to be let out of the vault again & play at other festivals and screenings again as it should be seen by others.
El Brendel just before he accidentally swallows a tiny harmonica in "Mr. Lemon of Orange"
ASSISTANT WIVES (Hal Roach, 1927) - ****, A really funny Charley Chase two-reeler. These late 20’s Chase shorts made for Hal Roach may be the best in the actor’s cannon. Well written, tons of gags, and the fast pacing, made this the best short offering of the weekend. Oh, and I love AnitaGarvin in everything!!
THE SHOWDOWN (Paramount, 1928) - ****, George Bancroft plays oil wildcat in South America looking for the big gusher. When NeilHamilton shows up with hoity-toity, and beautiful, Evelyn Brent and THEN decides to leave her alone with Bancroft and 3 other guys while he goes off to make his fortune. Dumb move as men out in the middle of nowhere with one woman (not counting the party girl who shows up but the guys reject) to look at for weeks, lead to bad stuff happening. Lots of sweaty bodies and Ms. Brent in very little clothes plus a good story and characters you love and hate, made this another weekend highlight for me.
COHEN ON THE TELEPHONE (DeForest Phonofilm, 1923) - **, lots of Jewish ethnic humor concerning a guy on the telephone carrying on a one sided conversation, for the viewers, of course. Not a huge fan of this one.
EUBIE BLAKE PLAYS HIS FANTASY ON 'SWANEE RIVER' (DeForest Phonofilm, 1923) - *** ½, there appeared to be two separate short films here, but no matter, some great piano playing here from Mr. Blake.
NIGHT RIDE (Universal, 1930) - ** ½, here’s another one I really wanted to like but a combination of extreme sleepiness and the over-the-top acting style of Joseph Schildkraut ruined it for me. Barbara Kent was as cardboard as ever (did she ever appear in anything with sound which proved she was more than a pretty face?) and Edward G. Robinson played the gangster letch we all know and love. I’d love to give a more thorough description of the film but I think I saw more of the inside of my eyelids than I did the picture.
ABBIE MITCHELL IN SONGS OF YESTERDAY (DeForest Phonofilm, 1925) - ***, some nice operatic style singing of some old standards. A neat reel with outtakes from the original filming. This may have been the nicest looking & sounding of all the Phonofilms this weekend.
CAPTAIN OF THE GUARD (Universal, 1930) - *, this film gets only one star because I think the film itself was properly exposed. This picture concerns the writing of the French National anthem. In fact, I can envision all the 50 Laemmle’s on payroll at Universal sitting around in a room and agreeing, “yeah, let’s do a film about the writing of “La Marseillaise” and the French Revolution but not really based on facts and let’s have lots of songs, you know, and we’ll cast that guy who is beautiful to look at but can’t act his way out of a paper bag. Yeah, let’s do this!” Anyway, that’s what comes off on the screen. I actually left the theater and went outside for a little sunshine and to hear the birds sing then went back inside to see the ridiculous scene where John Boles is writing the song, with music playing in the background, and he’s posing like he’s Charles Atlas in a Mr. Universe competition. I mean, couldn’t we even see some of the aristocracy get guillotined in this one? A turkey……with music.
THE BICYCLE FLIRT (Sennett/Pathe, 1928) - *** ½, a very funny Mack Sennett short. Vernon Dent doesn’t want his daughter Carole Lombard to date the “nice” boy, so when Billy Bevan shows up on a bicycle, Carole starts flirting. Dent tries to lose the pest but the Bevan-on-a-bike keeps coming back. The shenanigans end when Vernon hits Billy with the car and when a cop shows up to take the driver away, he offers to take Billy home to recuperate at the family house. Soon, Billy’s entire family moves in and that’s when the “nice” boy doesn’t look so bad. Lots of cool gags in this one and an unbilled Andy Clyde as Bevan’s father!
THE BEDROOM WINDOW (William C. DeMille/Paramount, 1924) - *** ½, a neat murder mystery where a writer solves the shooting death of a family friend. Although the crime is solved about three-quarters of the way in, I still thought the way the crime was laid out made the ending really enjoyable. Just the right amount of tension, drama, and comedy for my liking.
VOICE OF HOLLYWOOD #12 (Tec-Art/Tiffany, 1931) - *** ½, when are we finally going to get to see all the shorts from this wonderful series? Franklin Pangborn hosts this episode with scenes from Rita La Roy's wedding and scenes from a film premier with such stars as Stuart Erwin, JuneCollyer, Dorothy Sebastian, Richard Arlen, Jobyna Ralston, Mary Brian, ThelmaTodd, Ivan Lebedeff, and Ann Harding. In fact, photos from this night were featured in my blog posts here and here. What gave it away is the artwork behind Ann Harding. Pretty cool. And hey, to top it all off, Anita Louise plays the harp!
IT PAYS TO ADVERTISE (Paramount, 1931) - ****, entrepreneur Norman Foster decides to go up against his father EugenePallette’s soap company in order to prove he can make it in business. After he hires “Skeets” Gallagher, who specializes in getting the word out through advertising, the sons soap company starts to take off, but all the money has been spent on billboards and magazine ads, so what are they going to use to have the soap manufactured? Carol Lombard helps out with some dough gleaned from Pallette and of course, everything works out all right in the end! YAY!! A nice little cameo from Louise Brooks in about the first 5 minutes of the picture, too!
Eugene Pallette, "Skeets" Gallagher, Carole Lombard, and Norman Foster in "It Pays To Advertise"
Jack Theakston's Short Subject Follies - *** ½, Capitol Theatre Assistant Manager Jack Theakston puts together this show every year and it grabs people’s attention because you never know what you are going to see. This year, Jack’s first installment was a bunch of drive-in snipes, including the franks & beans hot-pocket one which may be the worst concession stand concoction ever dreamed up. Next up, we had 2 early Prizma Color travelogues all about France. Lastly, we were treated to a delicious 1912 Thanhouser FilmCorporation short about sideshow freaks, “THE STAR OF THE SIDESHOW”. Although the star of the film was referred to as a “midget”, it was obvious she was just a young girl in the role, but we were introduced to a bearded lady, crazy jungle guy, snake charmer, fat lady, and a giant, so at least we got the goods eventually! An interesting and entertaining way to end up Mr. Theakston’s spot.
THE DANCING TOWN (Paramount Pictures, 1928) - ***, this short was a pretty good time. A small town dancer, with a disapproving father, comes up with a new dance routine that really takes off and then her father loves it. An early vehicle for Helen Hayes, and it is supposedly the first film appearance by Humphrey Bogart who I thought I saw in the doorway of the family house and then someone else said they saw him in the crowd at the dance studio, then someone else said they didn’t see him at all so I don’t know what to believe. The real star of the short was Ada May with her generous dance gyrations throughout the length of the picture. It’s too bad she had such a short Hollywood career, because she could really hoof it! The last section of this film appears in terrible quality due to film decomposition, a real shame.
THE CRUISE OF THE JASPER B (William C. DeMille/PDC, 1926) - ****, a film which started off pretty straight forward and ended as a comical farce. Rod La Rocque is the scion of a pirate family who needs to get married by a certain date or lose the family fortune (who writes these things?). He sleeps through the “marriage by” date and the first half of the film walks around his house as everything is being auctioned off, including his clothes, so he spends most of this time with nothing on except for a towel covering his nether regions. In the meantime a female neighbor, Mildred Harris, is willed a large sum of money but the villain, Snitz Edwards, is out to make sure she doesn’t collect. The second half is all about Snitz chasing Mildred and lots of funny stuff happening in between (including Snitz being taken for dead and put in a coffin type box!) with La Rocque saving the day! A good picture with great acting from everyone. Lots of laughs throughout!
So that’s it! Another Capitolfest closes and the wait for next year’s festival starts. THANK YOU to the staff of the Capitol for all the hard work they do putting this show together. Large round of applause for Dr.Philip C. Carli, Robert Israel, & Avery Tunningley for providing the accompaniment on the vintage Moller Organ. The announced Tribute Star for next year will be William Powell, so I’m sure the staff at the Capitol has lots of goodies to choose from. The dates will be August 8-10, 2014, see you there!!!
William Powell will be Capitolfest's featured star in 2014!
and one last photo before the end of the post........here we have archivist, preservationist, historian, (maybe some other stuff in there as well) & all around good guy, Eric Grayson leaving the Capitol Theater at the end of the festival.