Cinecon 2022 in Review: Part Two
September 26, 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. Last week, I covered the films I loved. This week, I'm sharing my thoughts on some of the more bizarre movies I watched and the few that I didn't click with.
The Devil Tiger (1934)
Ah yes, the days when you could sit down at a table with a stranger and be hired for a jungle safari within two minutes. That’s how The Devil Tiger starts. One knowledgeable dude takes a guy he met like five minutes ago and a woman whose father died by a mysterious devil tiger into the jungle with a band of natives to find and kill said animal. Nothing weird will happen, right?!
Water buffalo vs. python, hyena vs. bear, lion vs. tiger, monkey vs. crabs, leopard vs. snake, tiger vs. crocodile, man vs. crocodile, man vs. snake, man vs. man, man vs. woman, an elephant stampede – The Devil Tiger showcased all that and then some. That’s basically the gist of the movie, plus the barest amount of plot possible… and a cute child. Seriously, the film played like a feature intercut with documentary-like narration bluntly displaying the above battles in the jungle world. But, just to make sure you know this movie hailed from the pre-Code era, it does include a nude swimming sequence. So... there's that.
The Lady Escapes (1937)
Honestly, I’ve never witnessed two characters more utterly unsuited to each other. Gloria Stuart and Michael Whalen star in The Lady Escapes as Linda and Michael, a couple whose marriage consists of 80% quarreling and 20% making up. They actually become bearable when the unique twist comes in to play – they agree on a divorce (thank goodness), but Linda doesn’t want to be alone and frets she won’t choose her next husband wisely. Solution: Michael will help her find her new man!
I wish the film continued down this path, because it could have led to some humorous exchanges. But alas, Linda jets off to Europe and meets a French George Sanders and becomes smitten with him. Chaos ensues, and Linda and Michael reconcile at the end. There were a few witty lines sprinkled throughout, but overall I found The Lady Escapes very predictable and somewhat grating.
My Lips Betray (1933)
My Lips Betray was one of my most highly anticipated films of the fest. Did it deliver? Well, it was a charming… mess.
The film begs you to suspend reality, which is fine – it’s a fantasy – but the biggest head scratcher was that King Rupert (John Boles) was not recognizable to his constituents. Yes, the man who was on postage stamps! That’s the whole gist of the misunderstanding here: waitress and wannabe singer Lili (Lilian Harvey) is invited to take an innocent ride in the King’s opulent car… by his goofy chauffeur Oswald (El Brendel). So starts the gossip – apparently, she’s now the King’s lover, which is news to him! – and it catapults her to fame and lands her jobs. Of course, the King seeks her out without revealing his true identity, and naturally, they fall in love while she’s trying to keep up the charade that she’s seeing him, when she actually is now. Does it make sense? Not really, but it made for an amusing watch.
For me, the highlight was German-English actress Lilian Harvey, whose awkward charm and bumbling mannerisms and expressions were quite endearing. Not going to lie, I found her anxiety, ambivalence and insecurity highly relatable. (And not to mention, her costumes were divine!)
Invaders from Mars (1953)
Director William Cameron Menzies did not waste time in Invaders from Mars; stuff gets weird REAL quick. Basically, people keep falling into a hole near David (Jimmy Hunt)’s home… and they come back as aliens. For as technically advanced as these Martians seem to be, they made some dumb mistakes: 1. Wiping the personality from everyone they take over, a dead giveaway for many and 2. Failing to patch up their surgical insert so normals only have to take a gander at the back of one’s neck to confirm whether the person is human or alien controlled.
The film got a little slow and repetitive near the end with the action – they even recycled some shots! – but overall, Invaders from Mars is an amusing sci-fi romp, and I really enjoyed hearing star Jimmy Hunt speak afterwards.
Pirates of the Skies (1939)
Who knew air cops were (are?) a thing? Pirates of the Skies, the one directorial credit of Joseph A. McDonough, who worked extensively with James Whale, follows a stubborn flyer, Nick (Kent Taylor), who goes to work for the air cops and disobeys all kinds of orders. BUT, he nabs the bad guys in the end, so it’s all good. (I also must mention that raising chickens is the cover for one of the villains, which I love.)
I found it hard to get into the action in Pirates of the Skies, despite the remarkable high-flying stunts. To be honest, that also could be attributed to the fact that I was getting tired by this point! Perhaps I should give it another go… but then again, there are so many new movies to discover.
Island of Lost Men (1939)
This is Island of Lost Souls (1932) meets Safe in Hell (1933), post-Code. Truly, truly nuts. The gist is: Psychotic Gregory Prin (J. Carrol Naish) ‘founded’ a jungle island solely to rule over the natives. His off-the-beaten-path homestead provides refuge for men running from the law, including Herbert (Eric Blore) and Chang (Anthony Quinn). Prin takes singer Kim Ling (Anna May Wong) there; she’s searching for her father, a general who disappeared in the jungle. Stuff gets wild from there. For one, Chang is acting undercover, trying to locate Kim’s father as well. Also, a young Broderick Crawford shows up as a shady, shady man who adds more chaos to the proceedings. And there's more – much more.
Island of Lost Men is a gnarly, absurd, surprisingly violent movie that delivers one of the most satisfying endings. Seriously, when Prin gets his comeuppance at the end, the crowd broke into delighted applause. What a payoff!
Youth on Trial (1945)
It’s not often you get to see a movie from the 1940s with its star in attendance! This was the first film I’ve seen with Cora Sue Collins as a teenager, and it was actually her final movie.
In Youth on Trial, Collins plays Cam, the daughter of a female judge (Georgia Bayes) who’s been sentencing an awful lot of young people lately. We’re to assume Cam's a good girl, but she’s very curious about bad boy Tom (David Reed), and she doesn’t listen to anyone who tries to warn her that he’s no good. Cam and Tom had the bad luck of going to a local club that Cam’s mom ordered raided. Luckily, the two get away, but things nosedive from there. Ostracized after Tom beats a kid up, they lean hard on each other and decide to get hitched. (Really!) Tom eventually robs and accidentally kills his dad and gets shot – Cam does too! – in a shoot-out at the end. (Yes, really!)
Youth on Trial goes much farther than I thought, flying right by teen drinking and diving headfirst into violence and murder in one of the quickest teenage spirals I’ve witnessed on film. That said, it all comes to a screeching halt at the end. For an exploitation flick, I don’t think Youth on Trial hit the point it was going for. While the action kept things moving, it’s just a little too outrageous for me. Or were teens actually like that in the 1940s?
That’s a wrap on my Cinecon 2022 coverage! If you attended the fest, what were some of your favorite selections?
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