Just got back from Capitolfest 8 and felt I should write down my review of an INCREDIBLE weekend of films. The Rome, NY based festival continues to showcase some of the best vintage flicks on the East Coast and this year did not disappoint one bit. The choice selection of pictures this year made this probably the best line-up of all the festivals I went to this year.
My friends and I got to the theater around 1:30 on Friday to take advantage of a guided tour of the movie palace. From the backstage area, to the downstairs dressing rooms, and up to the projection booth, the tour showed all the inner workings and stylings of a 1928 movie theater, although the Capitol did have a facelift in 1939 and much of what we see today comes from that Art Deco makeover.
Main theater seating area during an intermission
After a trip to downtown Syracuse to partake of some delicious Dinosaur BBQ, we headed over to the Rome Elks Club for the “pre-glow” show made up of silent 16mm prints and accompanied by an original 1933 Moller classical organ. (All reviews are based on a five star system, * = poor up to ***** = greatest movie ever made by human beings). SPOILER ALERT : some of these reviews may give away plot lines and endings, so continue reading at your own risk:
King of the Rodeo (Universal, 1929) ***1/2 - Hoot Gibson leaves his disapproving father to take part in a rodeo in Chicago. He gets set up to take the fall for the robbery of the box office receipts but he comes back to triumph in the end.
The Leather Pushers "Round Two" (Universal, 1922) ***1/2 – Reginald Denny stars in this serial episode as a boxer trying to get through some tough times and having to deal with a manager who means well but seems to be not on the up and up all the time. I would like to see more of these as this one was fast moving and pretty good.
The Collegians "The Relay" (Universal, 1927) *** - an episode of this long running series had to do the Freshmen ladies beating their rival Sophomores in a relay race and the Sophs having to be do whatever the Freshies want for 24 hours. Of course this doesn’t sit well with the older class and leads to a crazy fight at the Log Tavern which happens to have one of the deepest water displays in any restaurant, ever.
Frogland (Les grenouilles qui demandent un roi) (Polichinei-Film, 1924) *** - the only thing that kept this bizarre short from getting a higher rating was that it wasn’t complete and seemed to end right at the climax. An interesting stop-motion picture having to do with a frog community looking for someone to rule them. The frogs keep asking a perpetually annoyed Jupiter for a King and the sky devil keeps sending one's that are totally wrong for them, including a bird that decides his subjects are very tasty.
His People (Universal, 1925) **** - an excellent drama of a hard working Jewish father who has two sons who he believes one to be no good (a boxer) and the other to be straight, upstanding, and the apple of his eye (a lawyer). The exact opposite happens to be the real truth and the father gets a major dose of reality near the end. It would have been interesting to see Max Davidson in the lead role as the father but Rudolf Schildkraut was excellent as the street vendor dad.
We bid adieu to the Elks Club and my friends Brian and Rich joined me to sample some of the nightlife in Rome. The only problem I have ever had with going to these festivals is when going to different cities; the movies take up most of your time so I never get to see much of any of the places I travel to. This weekend was pretty much the same, but we did manage to go out Friday and Saturday to grab some suds before heading to sleep. Friday it was The Mill and although it was REAL LOUD inside, the Utica Club frosties more than made up for it.
Saturday morning took us over to Eddie’s Paramount Diner for a tasty breakfast before heading to the theater for the official start of Capitolfest. From here on out all the films were screened at the Capitol and were all from 35mm prints.
Billie "Swede" Hall and Company in "Hilda"(Warner Bros., 1929) **1/2 – the first of 4 recently restored Vitaphone shorts making their U.S. debut after premiering in London last fall, this one features a Swedish dialect comedian who sounded as though he was suffering from a terrible case of laryngitis. The short wasn’t that great but I have to say the funniest part of the whole film was watching Billie’s female partner unable to control her laughter during some of the unfunniest comedy I have witnessed. I think that is the only reason this short gets more than one star.
James Cozart from the Library of Congress introduces "The Virtuous Husband"
The Virtuous Husband (Universal, 1931) **** - Jean Arthur marries probably the most boring man in history, Elliot Nugent, who for some reason is stuck on following his dead mothers advice through a series of letters his mom wrote to him before her demise on how to live every aspect of his life. I mean, the honeymoon scene where Ms. Arthur is wearing the skimpiest of negligee to entice her husband into bed only to be rebuffed, leaves the viewer baffled, but it’s all in fun and there are tons of laughs here as well as pre-code raciness. Walter Brennan makes a surprise appearance as an elderly hotel bellhop.
Modern Love (Universal, 1929) ****1/2 - having seen this movie about a month before at Slapsticon I was happy to catch it again as the picture was one of the highlights in Rosslyn. Charley Chase plays Kathryn Crawford’s husband who wants his wife to be a stay-at-home one, whilst she wants to build a career in the fashion industry. Charley loses his job at the same time she has an opportunity to go to Paris to study under the head of the company she is working for. Tons of funny episodes in this one, with the dinner scene where Chase screws with Fashion company President Jean Hersholt much to his other guests dismay, stands out as the gutbuster for me. Anita Garvin must be singled out for her brief but welcomed supporting role. THANK YOU Universal for restoring this one for us all to enjoy!
The Drug Store Cowboy (Independent, 1925) ***1/2 – Franklyn Farnum plays a guy who works at a drug store who has dreams of being a Hollywood cowboy star. He sends a letter to the company making a western picture who just lost their starring villain offering his services. In a plot that can only happen in a motion picture, the studio takes a chance and makes an offer to Farnum to come out so they can see his acting chops. He gets robbed along the way and while changing clothes with the thief, in an attempt to by the crook to throw off his trailers, gets mistaken as a criminal the sheriff has been trailing. Does it all work out??? What do you think??
The Galloping Dude (Independent, 1925) – this Franklyn Farnum & Jean Arthur feature was scheduled but didn’t make it to Rome this year (promised for next year) so the staff decided to show a promotional film made in 1929 by the Elgin Watch Company titled “Time” (***) which was a commercial for the importance of strict adherence to time and what better way to do that than with an Elgin Watch. This short inadvertently spawned an “in joke” for the rest of the weekend where any actor who looked at their watch, murmurings went through the crowd saying, “ah, it’s not an Elgin”.
Paramount on Parade (Paramount, 1930) **** - probably the best of all the early talkie all-star revues, the UCLA restoration of “P.O.P” was certainly one of the highlights of the weekend. Although there are still bits and pieces of the film and/or soundtrack missing from the screened print the film was highly enjoyable. Two cool things about the screening to report, Ron Hutchinson from the Vitaphone Project sent over a recording of the original opening number (the film uses a re-recorded opening and utilizes photographs to make up for the lost footage) and most amazing of all, projectionist Bob Hodge had in his collection the previously missing soundtrack for the Harry Green number “Isadore The Toreador” which was played after the film was finished. We were also told it that UCLA would like to use this recording and insert it into their restoration. Too many great performances to go into here, but for me the stand out was the “crime” section with Dr. Fu Manchu (Warner Oland), Philo Vance (William Powell), Sherlock Holmes (Clive Brook), and Sgt. Heath (Eugene Pallette) all making humorous appearances.
Forbidden Adventure (Paramount, 1931) ***1/2 – now I am not a huge fan of many movies that have kids as their major leads, in fact I usually hate them, but for some reason this one wasn’t as terrible as it could have been. For sure, after 5 minutes of dealing with Tiny Tim Tiffany (Jackie Searl) as the spoiled child star, I was ready to throw him in a wood chipper, but the great performance of Mitzi Green more than made up for the other shortcomings. Add to that, SUPER supporting roles by veterans Edna May Oliver and Louise Fazenda as the mothers of two child stars trying to outdo each other by showing absolutely no class at all while thinking they had sophistication in spades. Good stuff.
Universal Studio Tour - missed
Poor Aubrey (WB, 1929) - *** - well, we got back a bit late from dinner, missed the Universal tour short and a bit of the Vitaphone, so the review is a bit off. “Poor Aubrey”, I think, concerned a guy (Franklin Pangborn) who was a bit show off and something concerning his bald head. Maybe I didn’t see enough of this to make an accurate criticism, but what I saw had some funny moments, especially the dialog between Pangborn and his condescending mother-in-law.
Womanhandled (Paramount, 1926) **** - I am a huge fan of these silent Richard Dix roles. They have run a couple at past Capitolfest’s so it was good to see another added this year. City dweller Dix falls in love with Esther Ralston who for some reason is obsessed by the crazy notion that men from the West are the only “TRUE” men and she cannot stand city men who are “womanhandled”. So Dix travels out to his Uncle’s house in the West to rough it but is shocked when he finds out that the old West is history and flivvers have replaced horses and all the cowboys are from urban areas. Dix tries to fool Ralston, when she announces her trip to see how much of a cowpoke he’s turned into, by trying to make his house and “cowboys” look the part, and she eventually buys it. Some old female friends from back East make a visit to the ranch and Ralston’s discovery of them changes her mind and she believes again Dix is still “womanhandled”. The final reel of the film is missing, so we had to read what happened and knowing other Dix films, I’m pretty sure the climax was a real barn burner.
Fish Feathers (RKO, 1932) ***1/2- One of the early Edgar Kennedy ”Average Man” comedies that concerned him going fishing with his always “slow burn” inducing family. Florence Lake was great in this as the never-stop-talking wife and Tom Kennedy in a brief appearance as the fishing ship captain.
Scandal for Sale (Universal, 1932) **** - in this gritty drama, Charles Bickford stars as a newspaper editor who will stop at nothing to get his rag more circulation. Not multiple lawsuits, not death threats, not the death of his son, and not even when his wife (Rose Hobart) says she’s going to leave him. He only gets wise after he sends pal Pat O'Brien to his death. A perfect film to end a full day in a theater, so it was off to get a few Utica Club’s at the Black River Ale House then back to the hotel for a snooze.
Sunday’s line up started with a Vitaphone short:
Harry Fox and His Six American Beauties (Warner Bros., 1929) ** – not one of the better Vitaphone shorts, this Harry Fox film has him singing about towels from major hotels. Yup, you read that right. If I didn’t have 3 cups of high test in me for breakfast I may have dozed off on this one. An unbilled Marjorie Main was one of the six “American Beauties”.
Under a Texas Moon (WB, 1930) ****1/2 – I wrote the program notes for this film before even seeing it. The period reviews of the film were very positive but I was still thinking, “there is NO WAY in hell Frank Fay could be great in this??” Boy was I wrong. This may have been the best film of the entire weekend, for me at least. I found Fay’s Don Juan portrayal to be really good, some of the slime dripping offa him as he speaks his lines, and he’s pretty believable as a ladies’ man (not so much in “God’s Gift to Women”). Raquel Torres, Armida, and Myrna Loy looked exquisite as the women he lusts over, even more so in Technicolor. This one SHOULD be out from the Warner Archives, so get on it, would ya???
Federated Screen Snapshots no. 12 (1927) – I don’t remember seeing this, was it dropped from the schedule??
Alias the Deacon (Universal, 1927) **** -Jean Hersholt returns as an older (and wanted by the police) card sharp who has a heart of gold. June Marlowe and Ralph Graves are two transients who meet by chance and try to make it on their own in a small town before some shenanigans start happening with a villainous boxing manager, played supremely by Ned Sparks. Tom Kennedy makes another film appearance as the pugilist who helps Graves and Marlowe in the end. Hersholt is terrific, spinning scripture in a most eloquent way and getting the most out of a deck of cards. Another gem that everyone should see.
She Who Gets Slapped (Warner Bros., 1930) *** - The last Vitaphone short of the weekend starred Tommy Dugan who gets wrapped up in a schemer’s tale on how to tame your wife, which involves hitting and kicking her. Sounds nuts but it’s all in good fun. George “Gabby” Hayes, sans beard, plays a small unbilled part at the beginning.
The Gang Buster (Paramount, 1931) **** - Jack Oakie stars as an insurance salesman who get wrapped up in lawyer William Morris’s business after saving him from getting rundown by some gangsters. Of course, it’s easy to get tangled in a web when the lawyer’s daughter is the dreamy Jean Arthur. William “Stage” Boyd plays the gangster who wants to wipe out Morris as the defender has much information on his illegal dealings. Since they can’t get Morris directly, they kidnap Arthur and Oakie takes it upon himself to find and free her, often leading to comical results with Oakie playing his naïve best. Great supporting roles from Wynne Gibson, as the gangster’s jilted moll, and once again Tom Kennedy makes an appearance as one of the goons wearing unique squeaky shoes.
Jack Theakston's Short Subject Follies - **** - I always look forward to Jack’s spot of shorts and this year’s didn’t disappoint. First he showed an early 1930’s interview with Bela Lugosi. I don’t care what anyone says, this guy was creepy even out of character. Next up was an educational film for the 50’s; I think, on how to run a courteous movie theater. Then we had the first reel of a two-reel silent educational film on kids brushing their teeth which was fun and fascinating and utilized some primitive cartoon work to show us all how to keep them choppers in tip top shape! Lastly, he ran a 1934 Technicolor short named “Dinner for Eight” that was taken from the original negatives that looked absolutely breathtaking. I guess it was produced by some electric company on the left coast as a way to promote all the time saving appliances mother could use in the kitchen that were all powered by electricity.
UFA Oddities, "The Leader" (UFA, 1929) **1/2 - “Oddities” is the name all right. This short showed some of the sport in Switzerland that had to do with men wrestling each other by trying to pull up your opponents’ shorts and then pinning them on their back. Lots of cool shots of the mountains and farmers, if you like that sort of thing.
You Never Know Women (Paramount, 1926) **** - This is the film that I have been dying to see since I read that it existed. One of only 2 El Brendel films from his Paramount stint that survives complete (the other is “Wings”. Most of the others are lost although a rumor is that part of “Man of the Forest” also survives). Florence Vidor stars in this tale of romance. She is loved by her long time stage partner, Clive Brook, and by a new sleaze ball on the block, Lowell Sherman, who always arrives when Vidor is in some kind of distress and appears to rescue her. Set behind a Russian acrobatic troupe the story is one of love and heartbreak and was pretty captivating. Although there is a bit of comedy on his part, El Brendel plays the majority of his part in a dramatic role, which makes me wish he could have played more of these types in his career as he was excellent in this flick. Another one that awaits rediscovery!
This brought the end of another amazing Capitolfest. I want to thanks all of the staff and volunteers from the Capitol Theater who made this weekend HIGHLY enjoyable, I can’t wait for 2011’s show!