Cinecon 2022 in Review: Part One
September 19, 2022
Cinecon 2022 wrapped this past Labor Day. I saw a total of 15 features, several shorts and one special presentation across five days of programming, which is a lot for me! It was actually so much that I’m splitting my review into two parts. First up: the films I loved.
Anything Goes (1956)
As I mentioned in my preview, I’m not the biggest musical fan, but oddly, I love seeing live musicals on stage. Anything Goes, which I knew absolutely nothing about aside from the names Mitzi Gaynor, Bing Crosby, Donald O’Connor and Cole Porter, delivered the energy and moves that I expect of a live show. The cast was a thrill to watch, their singing and dancing absolutely stunning. And of course, star Mitzi Gaynor, the night’s honoree, knocked my socks off. Could this be the film that changes my mind about movie musicals? Perhaps…
I found Daddy absolutely charming even though it’s rather a downbeat film. After a series of tragic events, Jackie (Jackie Coogan) runs away and befriends a broken-down former violinist, Cesare (Cesare Gravina), who takes him in. Wouldn’t you know it, Cesare just so happened to teach Jackie’s father Paul (Arthur Edmund Carewe), now a famous musician, who also happens to be playing in the same town! Father and son eventually reunite and surprise the old couple who Jackie stayed with after his mother died by buying their old farm house back. Daddy marches through a lot of heartache, but the end delivers just the opposite. Everyone, Coogan most definitely included, was a delight. (And his spaghetti-eating scene is a riot!)
Kinecon at Cinecon
As always, this program was a gold mine of rare television footage from the 1950s and early 60s. My favorite clips included a snippet from a 1954 episode of The Betty White Show (the earliest I’ve seen her), in which White sang, read some letters and told a few jokes, and a hilarious episode of The Jack Benny Show from 1960 co-starring George Burns, Tony Curtis, Robert Wagner and Eddie Anderson.
The Mad Game (1933)
The Mad Game was as entertaining as I remembered it! Spencer Tracy and Claire Trevor, both very early in their film careers, were remarkable. Trevor’s Jane, a hard-nosed journalist with a heart of gold, and Tracy’s Ed, a tough but broken man out to do some good in the world after a stint in the underworld, play off each other so incredibly well. It’s an outrageous story, no doubt about it – we’re talking Ed being sent up on tax charges and undergoing plastic surgery to get back at his former gang who are now in the kidnapping business – but it’s tight, thrilling and compelling. Tracy also delivers a resounding speech about how he’d fix crime – no guns, no parole – which elicited quite a response from the audience.
A Temperamental Wife (1919)
AKA the trials and tribulations of a jealous woman. Billie (Constance Talmadge) can’t stand having a man who will even look at another woman, so when she hears Senator Newton (Wyndham Standing), who seems terrified of women, will be vacationing at the same resort as she is, she goes to work. Through dedication and some deception, she wins him over. But there’s one thing: his secretary, Smith (Eulalie Jensen), isn’t a man, as Billie thought; she’s a woman. So, Billie freaks out and proclaims that it’s the secretary or her.
The third act reveals Smith has a husband and twins, painting her as the breadwinner of the family, which is a fantastic twist. This, of course, basically fixes everything, and Smith delivers a searing lecture to Billie: Why would she settle for having someone else’s husband during office hours only? She just wants the same as Billie – a man to herself and a family of her own! It’s a rousing speech that puts Billie in her place and paves the way to a happy ending.
His Butler’s Sister (1943)
I’ve only seen a few Deanna Durbin movies, and I must say, I do find her a joy to watch and should seek out more of her films. In His Butler’s Sister, the fourth times the charm. That is, composer Charles (Franchot Tone) narrowly misses out on identifying the woman whose charming voice he hears singing three times. Of course, the outcome is expected: the voice belongs to Ann (Durbin), who visits her ‘rich’ brother Martin (Pat O’Brien) on Park Avenue only to find that he’s actually a butler… to Charles, the composer she’s dying to meet, no less. Ann assumes the role of the new maid and makes waves in the household almost instantly, including with Charles. It’s all very, very implausible but in a sweet, amusing way.
Kathy O’ (1958)
One of the few movies I’d seen before, Kathy O’ was just as charming (and a little more risqué!) as I remembered it. Patty McCormack shined as the titular child star, Kathy, who has everything but nothing at the same time – a completely different reality from her life as a young star. In fact, the whole cast delivered lovely performances, especially Dan Duryea as Harry, the studio PR man who begrudgingly takes Kathy in when she runs away, and Jan Sterling as Celeste, Harry’s ex who’s writing a story on Kathy. I was particularly enthralled with Sterling’s turn playing against type as a driven, lonely career woman. All in all, Kathy O' is a feel-good film that appeals to both kids and adults.
Changing Husbands (1924)
As I mentioned in my fest preview, this film's poster won me over. And after seeing it, I’ve been won over by Leatrice Joy. She plays dual roles here, one as a rich society wife, Gwynne, who wants to make it on the stage, and the other a woman, Eva, already a star who yearns for peace and quiet. In a Parent Trap-like plot, they switch roles for a few weeks. Gwynne’s husband Oliver (Victor Varconi) and Eva’s beau Bob (Raymond Griffith) weren’t supposed to show up, but for the sake of drama, of course they do.
Surprisingly, each woman finds that the man and life she’s living after the switch are much more suited for her respectively, so once the charade’s up, they actually stay where they are! Changing Husbands certainly subverted expectations with that ending. It’s a delicious twisting of norms, and it makes me wonder what audiences and reviewers in 1924 thought of it!
Star for a Night (1936)
Cinecon has made me a bona fide Claire Trevor fan, and truthfully, it took way too long. I loved her in The Mad Game and thought she turned in a splendid performance in this sweet B-picture as Nina, a chorus girl who, along with her sister Anna (Evelyn Venable) and brother Fritz (Dean Jagger), lied to their blind mother (Jane Darwell) in Austria about their success in the Big Apple. Now we know they aren’t getting away with those lies! Sure enough, the kids scramble when they find out mother is coming to town AND getting miracle eye surgery that allows her to see again. Boy, it’s pure luck that Nina’s chorus girl pal Ellen (Joyce Compton) has a rich sugar daddy who provides hers with a beautifully grand apartment they can borrow to impress their mom!
Like a few other films screening at Cinecon this year, Star for a Night requires the viewer to suspend reality. However, whereas that quality made some other entries harder to swallow, it elevates this script for me. Star for a Night is a heartwarming tale where everyone means well and tries their best – whimsical, yes, but a reality I wouldn't mind living in, and definitely a lovely way for me to end my Cinecon experience this year!
Next week I’ll be back to share some of the more bizarre selections from the fest, in addition to the two or three films I just didn’t click with. Stay tuned!
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