Thursday, August 28, 2014

Even more movie ads!

 After my last post reviewing Capitolfest, I was informed I haven't been posting much and it's true. Life has gotten in the way of adding stuff here on a regular basis and hopefully I can change that in the near future. Although it might not seem it, the research into the life and career of El Brendel DOES continue on my end as I am in constant search for any tidbits I may be able to gather from what's out there on the net, in libraries, from generous collectors and other means.

Stay tuned friends, more stuff coming in the future! And sorry, guy who thought I should be posting more, I will try my best. Until I come at you with another article, he's some vintage move ads to tide you over:


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Capitolfest 2014 review

WOW! Just got home from the Capitolfest 12 in Rome, NY and it was another weekend of tremendous films. This year’s “featured star” was William Powell and there were many of his films served up. Nearly all the films are shown in 35mm. Below you’ll find my brief reviews and ratings on all the films I saw. Films are graded from one (meh) to four (excellent) stars and yes, these are MY opinions, your mileage may vary. Let’s go!

Partners of the Sunset (1922) ** ½ . This film stars Allene Ray and concerns two sisters who leave all the “high life” in the big city for their recently inherited farm out west and of course there is a bad guy who wants to rob them of their land. Good story, cliff hangers galore, & decent acting moved this picture along. Many missing bits here and there but it didn’t affect the continuity at all.

Derelict (1930) ***.  George Bancroft starts with Jessie Royce Landis in this story of a sailor who is given a chance to prove his work on the high seas but his love of a woman and the jealousy of a fellow sea-goer are his undoing. A solid movie in a beautiful print. I love these early 30’s Bancroft features as he usually plays a hard-ass with a heart of gold.

Hearst-Metrotone News, vol. 4, no. 303 (1933) **. The Capitol attempted to present a vintage “film going experience” and this short kicked off the festivities. The film, and the next 3, recreate the year 1933. You know exactly what you are getting here, brief clips of some interesting historical stuff. For film buffs, there is a clip of Lionel Barrymore presenting an award to May Robson. Nothing earth shattering but nice to see.

Musical Journeys no. 1, “Exploring the Pacific” (1933) **.  Warner Brothers travelogue of the Pacific. Just what it says. Lots of people enjoying their life and a woman gets up and does a hula dance.

Sing with the Street Singer (1933) no stars. One of those “sing-along” shorts which I fucking hate. BY FAR, the worst film of the weekend.

Horse Play (1933) * ½. I really wanted to like this Slim Summerville & Andy Devine film. They play two cowboys who sell their house for a million dollars (some rare mineral under the house) and use the $$$ to follow Leila Hyams to England because Slim is sure he can win her heart. There were certainly some funny parts but some gags just seemed to go on and on like the director said, “Action! Now do something funny”.  

Marvels of Motion (1926) *. This Fleischer produced short is another I wanted to like but it just left me cold. A short which shows the processes of stop mothing and slow motion using bubbles and performing tumblers. We do get some animation late in the film when a smiley face is drawn on a bubble and animated. Meh.

The Bright Shawl (1923) **1/2.  This Richard Barthelmess feature concerns the Cuban revolt against the Spanish. Lots of intrigue and super creepy villains drove this story home for me. Loved seeing Edward G. Robinson in an early role.

Ladies’ Man (1931) **3/4.  William Powell plays the titles role as the man who is suave with the ladies but when he falls in love the tables are turned on him. Have seen this one before in a crappy VHS copy so it was great to view a nice 35mm print. Kay Francis & Carole Lombard are the main ladies here and how can one resist them?

Roman Scandals (1933) ***1/2. This was my first time seeing this Eddie Cantor feature (I know, I know, you can stop laughing now) and I loved it! Eddie gets thrown out of his town and while walking away, his mind wanders and he is magically transported back to ancient Rome. LOTS of great and funny one liners & scantily clad woman.  And FINALLY, something David Manners is in where he doesn’t play the milksop. A young Lucille Ball gets screen time as one of the Goldwyn Girls and although the program mentions Paulette Goddard as being in it, I couldn’t spot her. The print appeared to be a 40’s or 50’s reissue with replacement titles.

The Czar of Broadway (1930) ***. John Wray is an underworld figure bent on controlling everything in New York, John  Harron is the reporter assigned to befriend him and bring him down. Betty Compson is the moll caught in the middle. I really liked this one, a fast paced crime drama which left you guessing at some points and really entertained throughout.

Fashion News (1929) *1/2. This Multicolor short was one of the few digital presentations of the weekend. It features Mary Carlisle, Lew Cody, Natalie Moorehead, Mary Lansing, and Barbara Weeks and looked beautiful. Shows the ladies in the new fashions of 1929 and seems to have been produced for the JJ Haggerty clothing store in L.A. Nice clothing, beautiful color, but not much more than that.

High Treason (1929) *1/2. Here’s another one I really wanted to like but on the whole just left me flat. I think this film showed how a simple skirmish at a border crossing can nearly start a war. I think. I mean I yawned so much during this movie I think I missed a third of it. This British is like a cross between “Just Imagine” (minus the Swede and the songs) and “Metropolis” (minus the great story and acting). It gets the grade for the wonderful sets & the way it was  interestingly filmed, but it just left me cold.

Screen Snapshots (1927) ***. I love these shorts and could watch them all day. Behind the scenes footage of stars like Mary Astor, Phyllis Haver, Rod LaRocque, Franklin Pangborn, etc.   

Ince Studio Tour (Ince, circa 1920) **. Another ‘behind the scenes” short in the same vein as “Screen Snapshots but concerning the players at the Thomas Ince studio.  Fascinating but I found it way too long. Contains stars Wesley Ruggles, Louise Glaum, Hobart Bosworth, Florence Vidor, and more.

Morals (1921) **. This William Desmond Taylor directed feature concerning a young English girl brought up in Turkish harem and during an attempt to sell her to the highest bidder she escapes with a man and eventually ends up in England and the man who helped her escapes is killed and she is destitute until she meets a benefactor who eventually falls in love with her. Whew!  The story for this feature dragged in a lot of places which is why it warrants the two stars I gave it. May McAvoy is pretty decent in the lead, though.

Meet Mr. Mischief (1947) ***. This Harry Von Zell Columbia short was pretty darn funny. Harry likes to pull pranks on everyone but when the tables are turned on him by his wife, things get out of control. Lots of funny bits and one liners from Harry and the usual “knock-about” in the Columbia style. Christine McIntyre looks great, as always, as Harry’s wife and the whole “bow to Cantor” gag brought the house down.

Steady Company (1932) ***. Norman Foster plays a truck driver and part time pugilist who tries for a shot at the big time boxing game.  June Clyde is his “stand-by” girlfriend and ZaSu Pitts plays her pal in her usual “oh dear” character which we all know and love. For me, though, it’s Henry Armetta who steals the show. He’s sweet, funny and a lot over the top, which I find to be one of his most admirable talents! Lots of fun.

Round About Chicago (1929) *.  A film tour of Chicago showing it’s places and sights. This short was pretty good at the beginning showing Michigan Avenue and other street scenes but spent WAY too much time at the zoo. Could have been a great 5-7 minute travelogue, but just ended up being tedious.

Forgotten Faces (1928) ****. Maybe the best film of the weekend. Clive Brook, plays a thief who, when screwed over by wife Olga Baclanova, goes to prison. Before being sent up the river, Brook and partner William Powell steal Brook’s baby with Baclanova and leave the child at a “well to do” house so the child can be brought up by good parents who will not allow her to turn out like her mother. Brook leaves instructions for Powell to look after the child, send him periodic updates, and make sure Baclanova keeps out of her life.  I won’t spoil the rest but I have to say that this is a terrific, forgotten film which should be seen again and enjoyed by the masses. Great story and acting, the camera work was pretty damned great and I have to say the film looked TREMENDOUS! According to James Cozart from the Library of Congress this film was transferred from the original camera negative which survived in superior condition and it looked like it. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a silent film look this good. See this at all costs.

Teapot Town (1938) **1/2.  A digital presentation. This Bray produced animated commercial about tea looked terrific. There is not too much to say about it other than it wasn’t terrible and wasn’t a Scrappy or Andy Panda.

Laughter in Hell (1933) ***1/2. Pat O’Brien is a train engineer whose wife, Merna Kennedy,cheats on him with an old rival. O’Brien kills them both, turns himself in and is sentenced to life with hard labor. The man running the labor camp is the brother man who O’Brien killed. An uprising is organized and O’Brien escapes and a manhunt starts. A really good film, brutally honest (the hanging of the black prisoners has to be seen to be believed, how did it pass the censors scissors?), with good performances from everyone concerned. Another one I hope more people are able to see.   

Horace Heidt and His Californians (1929) ***.  I really liked this Vitaphone short. One from the first batch of restored shorts, this somehow missed being released on DVD, too bad. Great, energetic performances and the 2 and then 4 piano players playing simultaneously has to been seen! Loved it, but what was up with that dog?

Cradle Song (1933) ***. A baby is left with at a nun’s convent and the mother superiors agree that one of their flock should bring the kid up. An absolutely unbelievable story which when it started I thought I was going to hate it but gave it a chance and it turned out to be rather enjoyable. Tugged at my heartstrings, (yes, I have them).
My Weakness (1933) ****. Tied with “Forgotten Faces” for the best film of the weekend. Lilian Harvey is a homely maid who, to save his allowance from being cut, Lew Ayres must give her a make over and get her married off/engaged to a rich society man. LOTS of terrific pre-code one liners. Solid performances by Charles Butterworth & Harry Langdon round out this movie. Another one which needs to escapes the archives more often.

Pointed Heels (1929) **1/2. William Powell (a producer) is in love with dancer (Fay Wray) wo is married to a man committed to writing a symphony (Phillips Holmes). Through a series of misunderstandings, Holmes and Wray break up only to be reunited and the happy Hollywood ending. Helen Kane, “Skeet” (as was listed in the credits) Gallagher provide comic relief. A decent Paramount programmer which gets the job done and ends. Nothing here which really drove me nuts, just a decent film.

Shadow of the Law (1930) ***1/2. William Powell is wrongly accused of murder and sent to prison. The only person who knows the truth and can free his name, Natalie Moorhead is afraid her reputation will be sullied so she disappears. Powell eventually escapes from prison and gets a respectable job in a woolen mill and gets his ex-cell mate to get Moorhead to change her mind but she sees this as a perfect opportunity to blackmail Powell. The film has a semi-gruesome ending but it’s well worth seeing. Another really good one from this weekend. William Powell was excellent as usual (was he ever turn in a bad performance?) as was Moorhead in a truly vile role. Another highlight.

Jack Theakston’s Short Subject Follies ***.  Program says, “A cavalcade of shorts, trailers, & snipes” which is exactly what we saw. A really nice 35mm print of W.C Fields “The Pharmacist” was shown during this and not having seen this in years was really nice. I forgot how funny this one was.

Sharp Shooters (1926) ***1/2. George O’Brien is a sailor who tries to “get with” French girl Lois Moran while overseas, even getting her to think he’ll marry her if she gets to New York. She eventually does but can’t get through immigration because she lost her papers. In desperation, she escapes in a row boat only to be hit by the vessel of gangster William Demarest and rescued by him and she starts working in his dance hall. O Brien and his Navy buddies eventually come into the dance hall and when Moran sees her long-lost love she thinks they can now get married but O’Brien has other plans. There seems to be a lot of these late 20’s George O’Brien features from Fox which are just terrific. Even if they are formulaic, I love them and look forward to seeing any of them. This one was another barn burner and O’Brien plays a real cad at the beginning only to redeem himself at the films end. A real enjoyable picture.

A huge THANK YOU to the staff and volunteers of the Capitol Theatre for putting together a great program of films. Superb accompaniment all weekend by Dr. Phillip C. Carli, Avery Tunningley, Bernie Anderson playing on the vintage 1928 Moller Organ. Executive Director of the Capitol, Art Pierce, announced that the “featured star” for next year’s Capitolfest will be Nancy Carrol! See you there!