It is Monday, Memorial Day, and I once again find myself expelled from the magical fun-house of Cinevent, back into the real world where Dick Powell has been dead for 50 years and no one knows which episode of the Little Rascals my quote came from, let alone that it is a quote at all.
Rumors abound that this was the last year for Cinevent at the Ramada on Sinclair, and this made me acutely aware that so many of the sensations I attribute to the show are intangibles associated with the hotel. The smells of the strong cleaning products in the bathroom, the soft patterned carpeting that decorates the stairs, the waft of breakfast food aromas and the clanking of dishes from Justin's Place, the contrast between the bitter cold in the screening room and the oppressive humidity of the elevator to the 6th floor, the scrolling marquee outside that announces that Cinevent is really here and that it is not just a dream. I tried to memorize these things like Haley Mills making a memory of her grandfather in The Parent Trap, sensing the finality of it all.
In the space between movies I managed to get 5 Dick Powell lobby cards, a Bowery Boys card, 3 stills, several DVDs, and a book. But onto the movies!
The Headless Horseman (1922)
I always liked the Disney version of this story and since I like Will Rogers and I find it fascinating to see silent versions of more modern films I like, I made my way into the screening room for the first time. I didn't get a great seat, which is no good for silent movies because you find yourself swaying back and forth just to read the titles. It didn't much matter though. The buildup to the reason to watch the movie, the headless horseman, was so long and dull, that I found myself nodding off several times, as were many of the people around me. The climax came much too late and suddenly to justify watching this movie. It was a dud.
Annual Animation Program
This was an interesting film as it starred George Raft as George Raft, reminiscing on the good old days of the 1920s when he was trying to become famous as a hoofer at a nightclub. Flashback to a time when Raft flailed around like a knock-off James Cagney amid a group of girls who look suspiciously more like 1940s pin-up girls than 1920s flappers. It had plenty of action and a great cast, although it was relatively predictable and Raft's last line leaves us with a pressing, unanswered question. Definitely entertaining and worth searching out.
Festival of Charley Chase
These Charley Chase movies have the same music as the Little Rascals (because they were made at the same studio) so they left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling, but these shorts were not as good as those I have seen in the past. Nonetheless, I began wishing there was a set for Charley Chase that wasn't silent, as I prefer his talkies and they're not available all together in a set. Life Hesitates at 40 was the highlight, an odd short where Charley's whole world pauses for a few seconds, but the people keep talking, and they say some very contrary things. This short also shows an amusement park, which for some reason I love to see in old movies.
Even though I bought that Laurel and Hardy set that recently came out, I have much more fun watching their films at Cinevent where the room is filled with laughter. Night Owls features Kennedy the Cop who is in hot water with his boss because he hasn't busted the burglar who has been ravaging the neighborhood. His solution is not to catch the guilty party but to blackmail Stan and Ollie into robbing the police chief's house so he can catch them and look like he's doing his job. Of course, it doesn't go as planned.
I wanted to see this one because of Stanley Smith. He's an obscure name today, but in 1933 he was to take Dick Powell's role in Footlight Parade when Dick got sick with pneumonia. When Dick got well, Stan was out, and he never amounted to much. Judging by his performance in this film, I can see why. He reminds me of Lawrence Gray, who was adequate but lacked that something special that made audiences want to see him again. The film also starred Nancy Carroll who was quite beautiful, Helen Kane who won me over with her cute voice and silly antics (she is introduced sitting in a tree shooting the man she loves), and Jack Oakie who is quite attractive here in this early part, and brimming over with the personality that made him famous. The scenes are incredibly beautiful, mostly set on a college campus, and the music is fun but none of it is very memorable, except for "Alma Mammy" which turns the alma mater into a jazzy Jolson-style number.
Among the Living (1941)
This is an interesting b-movie about twins, one who lives a normal life with his wife and business, and the other who everyone believes is dead because the family locked him away in their decaying manor due to a mental handicap. The hidden son comes into the city and meets a beautiful girl (Susan Hayward) after committing murder, and the two work together to find the killer. The film has its highs and lows, but the ending is certainly exciting.
This was the first time that they've shown a Dick Powell movie since I've been attending Cinevent. I got to write the notes in the program too, so I won't go on about this one, except to say that I was happy that it went over so well with the audience. It got the kind of response I'm using to hearing, slight confusion but genuine amusement. It is definitely an odd little movie, but it is a lot of fun.
The Princess and the Pirate (1944)
This was my second favorite thing I saw at Cinevent this year, mostly because it is what I most like to see there, lighthearted comedies with lots of laughs from the audience. The more the other people like it, the more I seem to like it too. I never go into a Bob Hope movie with excitement; sometimes he's funny and sometimes he's not. But he got me straight away with this in the prologue which explains that The Hook is a fearsome pirate and Bob pops into the corner and says, "That's not me, folks. I play the coward!" From there on out with was gorgeous Technicolor, great costumes, lots of locations, and a solid story that kept me entertained from start to finish.
The Foreman Went to France (1942)
My favorite of the whole weekend was probably the most serious movie of the whole weekend as well. This is the story of a British worker who sees that the German army is invading France and that the British machines that make weapons for airplanes are in danger of being taken by the enemy. He takes it upon himself to go to France to take them back home, and along the way meets a blonde, two soldiers, and a group of orphans. This movie takes us on a journey and it is never dull though it seems quite a bit more realistic than the highly optimistic war movies from America.
Leslie Howard is a head waiter who falls in love with one of the wealthy women that comes into his restaurant. He is so smitten with her that he follows her and leads her to believe that he is wealthy too. His acquaintance with a king makes her assume he is a prince, and that his concern for their class differences is an example of his arrogance, but he cannot tell her the truth. This movie is cute but nothing special with lots of beautiful actors and a few good pre-code moments, such as one where Elizabeth Allen tries to seduce Howard in his bedroom on his bed--and tells him so too!
Who Done It? (1942)
This Abbot and Costello film is a lot of fun, but when you've been getting no sleep all weekend, it is hard to stay awake, even in the uncomfortable chairs at Cinevent. I found myself coming out of dazes and laughing quite a bit, and enjoying the murder-mystery-in-a-radio-station plot, but this one would have been better if it had been played earlier in the day.
Fired Wife (1943)
Since there was some extra time to fill before the last feature, they played a series of Spike Jones songs, a brilliant way to close the show, which is always depressing. There was a sing-along sequence, and when the audience joined in, the joy and kinship of this moment struck me as one of my favorite experiences of this year, and an excellent example of what is so great about the show. There are people of all ages there, although for obvious reasons the average age is several decades more than mine, and there are people there from all over the country and some from outside, but we all gather there as people with an interest outside of the mainstream and this common ground makes it possible for us to just be ourselves and enjoy the things we love without shame. This is what keeps me coming back year after year, and keeps me meeting new people and learning new things each time too. It revives me when my interest wanes or when I'm feeling like the only person in the world who lights up when I hear Roy Shield's music. For those who have never been, you must make it out. You'll not regret it.