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Monday, August 16, 2010

Capitolfest 2010 Report

Capitolfest Report Day 1, August 13, 2010 at the Rome Elks Club Rome, N.Y.
All films were shown in 16mm and featured excellent accompaniment by Avery Tunningly.

The 1929 silent feature KING OF THE RODEO stars Hoot Gibson as The Montana Kid. The “Kid’s” fondess for racing horses over a college education gets him booted off his family’s Montana ranch by his disapproving father. The "Kid" and his two sidekicks (Slim Summervile and Jack Krapp) travel to Chicago - via horse and saddle - and take part in the Chicago Rodeo. While there he meets, flirts with and wins over pretty Dulcie Harlan (Kathryn Crawford), competes in the rodeo, and even manages to capture a thief who not only stole his white shirt, but the Rodeo box office as well. This act of courage finally enables the “Kid” to gain his unyielding father's approval. A fun film that features lots of exciting authentic rodeo footage from Soldier Field and some nice location shots of Chicago. 

Courtesy of serialsquadron
The LEATHER PUSHERS series of silent comedy/drama shorts starred Reginald Denny as former wealthy college athlete Kane Halliday now a down on his luck boxer by the name of Kid Roberts. This short is titled ROUND TWO and revolves around the "Kid" being depressed from thinking back about his relationship with wealthy fiancé Irene (Helen Toombs) and his current hand to mouth existence as a “leather pusher.” Cute comedy that also depicts some seedier aspects of boxing's lower rung and the assorted denizens who inhabit it. The short also shows Denny and cast in some authentic Central Park location footage.
Courtesy of
If video below doesn't work, click HERE to watch THE COLLEGIANS-THE RELAY 1929
The Collegians series of silent comedy shorts were a series of 44 shorts spanning four years (1926-1929) which followed the antics of a group of mostly likeable young adults making their way through college. THE RELAY, directed by Wesley Ruggles, was the seventh in the series and starred George Lewis with future stars Sally Blane, Andy Devine and Robert Livingston also in the cast. THE RELAY offers a generous dose of healthy, good looking men and women participating in various college hijinks, pranks, fights, dances, athletic competitions and other assorted craziness all crammed into two reels. It’s a fun comedy short and I would like to see more of this series.

Courtesy of robberdotcom
FROGLAND (LES GRENOUILLES QUI DEMANDENT UN ROI) or THE FROGS WHO WANTED A KING is a fascinating short animated film by Ladislaus Starevitch.  This short was evidently intended to be a satire or parable of a political situation or event of the time. Exactly what I have no idea but it held everyone's interest throughout the 9 minute running time.

HIS PEOPLE aka PROUD HEART was directed by Edward Sloman and starred Rudolph Schildkraut, George Lewis, Rosa Rosanova, Arthur Lubin, Blanche Mehaffey and Kate Price. This fine silent drama follows an Jewish immigrant father's sacrifices and struggles raising a family on New York's Lower East Side with particular focus on his complex relationship with his two sons. Acting is uniformly excellent from the stars down to the supporting players and the film features authentic settings of a Lower East Side tenement and neighborhood. 

Capitolfest Report Day 2. August 14, 2010 at the Capitol Theater Rome N.Y. All films were shown in 35mm.
U.S. debut of the Vitaphone short with Billy “Swede” Hall as a Swedish cleaning lady named Hilda. Judging by this short I could say Billy “Swede” Hall was a comic genius, underappreciated by contemporary audiences and unjustly ignored by his peers. A man whose comedic legacy sat languishing in relative obscurity these many years, patiently awaiting  re-discovery and re-assessment by a sophisticated audience possessing the ability to understand and appreciate the brilliant subtleties of his unique brand of humor. Someone whose time had finally come after evidence of his great talent had been discovered and rescued from previously unexplored depths of Vaudeville's murky past. But I won't because I'd be lying. Billy “Swede” Hall's drag comedy ranges from slightly amusing to pure cornball. There is nothing subtle about his character "Hilda" nor is there meant to be. Needless to say I like this short for those very reasons and also for allowing me a glimpse into a past, previously lost record of Vaudeville where many long forgotten performers didn't possess the talent of a Headliner, but perhaps believed they did.

THE VIRTUOUS HUSBAND is a 1931 Universal feature starring festival tribute performer Jean Arthur. Also with Elliot Nugent, Betty Compson, J.C. Nugent, Alison Skipworth and Tully Marshall. The plot revolves around the difficulties encountered by a newly wedded wife whose husband remains tied to his deceased mother's apron strings via a series of advice letters full of not very good advice. Good cast in a generally well acted adaption of the Dorance Davis play APRON STRINGS. Jean Arthur does well as a very patient bride. Elliott Nugent plays the dense husband. Alison Skipworth and J.C. Nugent make a good comedy team and provide plenty of laughs with their portrayal of domineering wife and milquetoast husband. Betty Compson isn't given much to do with her limited screen time. The outdoor scenes feature nice photography and include attractive close-ups of Jean Arthur. There is some clever dialogue and plenty of funny situations throughout. All in all this was quite an enjoyable early comedy.

Part talkie comedy feature from 1929 with Charley Chase and Kathryn Crawford and includes Jean Hersholt and Anita Garvin in support. The film is comprised of silent, synchronized sound and talking segments. Modern Love depicts the trials and tribulations of everyman John Jones (Charley Chase) as he clashes with career driven wife Patricia (Kathryn Crawford). John's desire to appease Patricia results in humorous situations which get even sillier after an amorous Frenchman (is there any other kind?) sets his sights on her. Although there are some rough patches throughout where not everything works, the film does contain some funny bits. Chase and Crawford are seen to best advantage during the silent segments and Anita Garvin makes the most of her scene. Being a Charley Chase fan, this was one of the films I was really looking forward to viewing at the festival. 

Drug Store Cowboy is a silent western with Franklyn Farnum, Robert Walker and Jean Arthur. In what may be a case of art imitating life, Boston born Farnum portrays Marmaduke Grandon, a greenhorn from back east who goes west to become a film Cowboy. Lots of good guy vs. bad guy cowboy action and Jean Arthur stands around looking pretty, which is nice. 

Evelyn Brent and Maurice Chevalier in PARAMOUNT ON PARADE
Featuring an All Star Cast. One of the main reasons I attended this year's event was to see the restored 100 min. version of this film. One of the best of the early talking All Star Studio revue films, PARAMOUNT ON PARADE is filled with entertaining performances.  Although difficult to pick favorites with so many enjoyable sequences, audience choices appeared to be Maurice Chevalier and Evelyn Brent in the Lubitsch directed ORIGIN OF THE APACHE, regarded as one of the best sequences in the film and one which received some of the loudest applause. Clara Bow’s confident and polished musical performance in the TRUE TO THE NAVY sequence also received loud and sustained applause.  The restored two-strip Technicolor sequences included TORNA A SORRENTO with Nino Martini displaying his celebrated singing voice. Although visually pleasing, the DRINK TO THE GIRL OF MY DREAMS was missing the sound elements. Dennis King's commanding presence dominates the NICHAVO sequence. The ISADORE THE TOREADOR sequence with dialect comedian Harry Green features Kay Francis' lone appearance in a color film. Kay had just one line and her role is purely ornamental. Unfortunately the sound elements for this sequence also remain lost. Or so everyone thought. Here's some great news. Evidently one of the projectionists had in his collection a set of sound discs for this sequence and the sound elements were played for the audience. Folks, please check your attic. UCLA will be doing a restoration of the sequence with the newly found sound discs. 

An absolutely beautiful print of this film was screened at the Capitol theater. This 1931 film is a send up of the Hollywood child actor and stage mother phenomenon with scene stealing actors Mitzi Green, Edna May Oliver, Louise Fazenda and Jackie Searle leading the cast. Stage mothers Bessie Tait (Edna May Oliver) and Maggie Tiffany (Louise Fazenda) reap the fruits of their children's labor. Famous but unhappy child actress Daisy Tait (Mitzi Green) just wants her childhood back. Mitzi Green proves to be an exceptional child actress and carries the more emotional scenes. Edna May Oliver and Louise Fazenda provide laughs as former friends who are now uneasy rivals. I'm curious to know if Don Knotts was familiar with Edna May Oliver's comedy performances and facial expressions. He seems to have employed similar facial mannerisms in his role as Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show.

George Kelly’s domestic comedy in one act POOR AUBREY was filmed in 1930 as a Vitaphone short with Franklin Pangborn, Helen Ferguson, Ruth Lyons and Clara Blandick. POOR AUBREY is a reasonably amusing comedy revolving around gasbag Aubrey Piper’s (Franklin Pangborn) hapless attempts to put on airs in order to impress his wife’s friend. 

WOMANHANDLED is Gregory La Cava directed silent comedy starring Richard Dix as wealthy playboy Bill Dana and Esther Ralston as Mollie, the object of his affection. After a chance encounter in Central Park, Bill becomes smitten with the lovely Molly and would like nothing more than to make her his one and only. When Bill learns that Mollie prefers Western tough guys to Eastern softies he decides to trade his Manhattan polo pony for a Montana bronco. The comedy follows Bill's attempts to toughen up on his uncle's Western ranch, but the rough-and-tumble West just ain't what it used to be. This was an enjoyable comedy with plenty of humorous situations. I actually preferred the beginning portion of the film where the action took place in the East and felt the film lost just a little bit of steam after the scenes moved out West. The lead and supporting roles were well played and Esther Ralston looked stunning. I don't have a name to credit for the excellent accompaniment due to my notes being incomplete for this entry. 

FISH FEATHERS is a two-reel RKO comedy short starring Edgar Kennedy and Florence Lake as married couple Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy and Dot Farley and William Eugene portraying Edgar's ever present In-Laws. The comedy revolves around a Kennedy family fishing trip which quickly degenerates into a fiasco. Although this short had the potential to be a great comedy - and there are some funny gags - it doesn't quite make it. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's still an entertaining short. 

A beautiful 35mm print was shown. SCANDAL FOR SALE is a potent newspaper drama starring Charles Bickford as hard-nosed newspaper editor Jerry Strong, Rose Hobart as his neglected wife, and Pat O’Brien as ace reporter and loyal family friend. Newspaperman Jerry Strong's uncompromising dedication to his work leads to disastrous results for those closest to him. The three leads give good performances with Bickford particularly effective. Look for unbilled Glenda Farrell as an unrepentant murderess.

Capitolfest Report Day 3. August 15, 2010 at the Capitol Theater Rome N.Y. All films were shown in 35mm.
Although I was familiar with Harry Fox’s earlier work as an actor through available episodes of the 1916 serial BEATRICE FAIRFAX, I was always curious as to what one of his vaudeville performances might look like. The restoration of the 1930 Vitaphone short HARRY FOX AND HIS SIX AMERICAN BEAUTIES has made that possible. Harry Fox, the man who may or may not have originated the fox-trot, was born Harry Messman in San Francisco in 1882. Fox was already a longtime successful musical theater performer and vaudeville headliner before appearing in this 8 min. short. He had worked his way up from café entertainer and burlesque performer before coming to prominence around 1909 as a vaudeville solo act. He then went on to partner with The Melnotte Twins, The Millership Sisters, and then later formed on and off stage partnerships with both Yancsi Dolly and Beatrice Curtis. This Vitaphone short shows Fox to be a talented, confident performer. He gives an amusing performance and shows off a capable singing voice. Also known as an eccentric dancer, he unfortunately doesn't display that talent in this short. If anyone gets a chance to view this short, keep your eyes on the six American beauties to see if you can recognize one of the girls. Here’s a hint: she would go on to become a famous and beloved film comedienne. A few years after making this short Fox would team with Evelyn Brent on a successful Vaudeville tour. The two teamed as well in a successful offstage partnership that would last until Harry’s death in 1959.

This Michael Curtiz directed 1930 comedy starred Frank Fay, Raquel Torres, Myrna Loy, Noah Berry and included a cast of familiar supporting players. Viewing a beautiful print of this 1930 feature on the big screen in glorious two-strip Technicolor was a tremendous film going experience. UNDER A TEXAS MOON is truly a feast for the eyes. Although actually filmed in 1929, this is no stagy, static, technically primitive early sound comedy/musical. It's a funny, well paced, beautiful to look at film. Frank Fay's acting was really an eye opener for me as I didn't expect him to carry the film with such a fine comedy performance. Not playing the role too broadly, Fay managed to keep just the right amount of tongue in cheek. He even employed a Mexican accent which by no means was terrible for the comedic tone of the film. Curtiz deserves much credit for the keeping the comedy rolling along and for some beautifully composed shots. The action follows Mexican Caballero Don Carlos (Fay) fighting and romancing - not necessarily in that order - his way across the Texas/Mexico border and leaving a trail of broken hearts in his wake. Judging by audience reaction, this film was one of the big hits of the festival.

ALIAS THE DEACON is an Edward Sloman directed 1927 silent comedy starring Jean Hersholt, June Marlowe, Ralph Graves and Ned Sparks. The plot follows Jean Hersholt as a “Deacon” who’s “religion” is Poker and whose “service” to the flock is separating the unworthy from their earnings. “The Deacon” is a righteous fellow though, in that he takes only from those who deserve to be taken and gives generously to those worthy of being helped. June Marlowe and Ralph Graves play a previously down on their luck couple trying to turn their lives around. Ned Sparks is also on board a crooked fight promoter. This film went over pretty well with the crowd. Many in the audience were impressed by Jean Hersholt’s performance and found the intertitles rather clever. I was in the minority with the feeling that Hersholt's acting lacked subtlety (please, no hate mail from Jean Hersholt fans) and many of the intertitles were not as witty as intended. That's not to say it wasn't an enjoyable comedy. The accompaniment was first-rate but I am unable to give proper credit due to my notes being incomplete for this entry.

SHE WHO GETS SLAPPED is a recently restored 1930 one-reel Vitaphone short starring Tommy Dugan as another in a long line of husbands suffering an overbearing wife affliction. Tommy meets a man who claims to have a surefire “cure” for the “wife” problem. Hilarity does not ensue. Just an okay comedy, but early Vitaphone shorts are all treasures as far as I'm concerned.

A stunning 35mm print of THE GANG BUSTER was viewed at the Capitol Theatre. Edward Sutherland directed this fast paced comedy featuring Jack Oakie as compulsively superstitious insurance salesman Charlie “Cyclone” Case and Jean Arthur as his love interest Slyvia Martine. The cast also includes William “Stage” Boyd and Wynne Gibson. Ace insurance agent Charlie “Cyclone” Case sells Andrew Martine (William Morris) a large life insurance policy and falls for his lovely daughter Sylvia. Seems that no one besides "Cyclone" would sell insurance to Andrew due to his risky association with ruthless gangster “Sudden Mike” Slade (William “Stage” Boyd). “Cyclone” and Sylvia end up getting in deep trouble with Slade and his gang. This is a gem of a film. The scenes at the gang's hideout feature a great set with beautiful photography. Oakie’s tendency to mug is held in check and he gives a fine, funny performance. Jean Arthur is charming in the ingénue role. This film was a big hit with the audience and one of the most enjoyable of the festival.
Jack Teakston’s Short Subject Follies - Jack presented four interesting and enjoyable short films.
A funny short featuring Bela spoofing his ghoulish celluloid persona in a mock interview with Dorothy West.

The second short presented was a 1950s theatre sponsored (I assume) study on the importance of employing polite, well mannered, attentive staff to run a customer- centric business. Yes, I just said customer-centric. Don't hate me for it. 

The third short was a school educational film from the early 1930s which stressed the vital importance of having good oral hygiene. The consequences for an otherwise sanitary young man continually disregarding his daily brushing regimen are a jack-o’-lantern smile and the air, quickly and unconscionably given him by a previously sociable female companion. Animation then demonstrates proper tooth brushing methodology. Folks, please brush your teeth. Shown was the existing first reel of a what originally was a two reel short and it was a mighty interesting time capsule.

The highlight of the presentation for me was the last short subject. It was a manufacturer sponsored short touting the efficiency of their all electric appliances. The film demonstrated how Sally Homemaker saves time and energy by using Manufacturer X’s kitchen appliances. This immaculate 1934 print was in dazzling, eye popping three-strip Technicolor. 

If for some reason anyone happens to read this post and is able to tell me the titles of the last three shorts, it would be much appreciated.

William Wellman directed this silent film starring Florence Vidor, Lowell Sherman, Clive Brook and El Brendel. Unfortunately I had to leave after about 30 minutes into what appeared to be a well crafted and acted silent drama with fine accompaniment by Dr. Phil Carli.