Well, another FANTASTIC Capitolfest has come and gone and
what a great time I had! The friends, food, and especially the films make this
weekend one of the ones I look forward to year after year. And if everything I
mentioned before wasn’t enough, they ran one of my “holy grail” films, El
Brendel’s “Mr. Lemon of Orange”.
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 EttingVitaphoneshort 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Just a brief update on the showing of "Mr. Lemon of Orange" yesterday at Capitolfest. It went over extremely well and many people told me they absolutely loved it. Will write more about it when I return but it appears we have another winning film from El which no one know about!
That's right, in less than a week, Capitolfest will be starting in Rome, NY. As I have posted before, they will be running the rare El Brendel feature, "Mr. Lemon of Orange" which hasn't been screened publicly in over 80 years! There is still time to register and come join in on the fun (and see all the great films), just follow the link below for all the details (films, lodging, etc.):