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My Picks for Cinecon 53 (Please Enjoy Without Me)

August 15, 2017

Cinecon returns to the Egyptian Theater for round 53 on August 31! Worlds apart from TCMFF, the other classic movie-centric film fest that comes to town every year, Cinecon delights by presenting mostly obscure, forgotten features and shorts; some titles are so rare I have little doubt their programming will satisfy the most hardcore film fan. I noted on Twitter that I hadn't heard of 3/4 of the pictures scheduled for this year, but upon closer inspection, that number lowers to about 7/8; out of 40 movies on this year's slate, not counting programs that don't list the individual shorts or clips, I'd only heard of 5, and of those, I've only seen 2 (1928's Steamboat Bill, Jr. and 1934's Now I'll Tell, both screening opening night).

Cinecon 53 banner from their website

But as I alluded to in the title, and as I mentioned in my post-Cinecon recap last year, I already knew that I wouldn't be able to attend this year's festival, as one of my best friends scheduled her Nevada wedding the same weekend, without even consulting my classic film calendar. (Oh, and I'm co-Maid of Honor.) So as I sweat it out in the Vegas desert, hopefully I'll find some comfort in the fact that in LA fellow classic film fans will be reveling in Cinecon's diverse programming all weekend. Actually, I think I'll be feeling a tad more jealousy and less comfort, but nevertheless. (I don't like missing out, OK?) That being said, I present you with my Cinecon 53 picks - titles I think I'd enjoy if I were able to pop in to the fest this year. My one hope is that someone out there will read this and subsequently check out some of these screenings so I can somehow live vicariously through them.



6:30pm - Introduction, Music and Chat with Norman Lloyd

One name: NORMAN LLOYD. The man is a national treasure. If you live in LA, or if you'll be in town for Cinecon, I'd advise you NOT to miss this chance to bask in his greatness. At 102, Lloyd is still animated, sharp and incredibly endearing. Every Q&A of his I've attended has felt like a private performance/master class/out-of-this-world history lesson.


7:15pm - Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

Buster Keaton on the big screen with a live orchestra? How can you pass that up?

Forever obsessed with this Swedish Now I'll Tell poster. 

8:45pm - Now I'll Tell (1934)

Pre-Code alert! Over the past few years, I've been exposed to several of Spencer Tracy's Fox pre-Codes (thanks, UCLA Film and Television Archive), many of which I've enjoyed, including this title. Loosely based on the life and exploits of New York gangster Arnold Rothstein, Now I'll Tell was unavailable for many years. I'm not sure if it was lost or if there were rights issues, but regardless, now that UCLA has preserved the picture, I highly recommend attendees watch it. If you do, you'll get to hear glowing pre-Code-sque gems like:


Peggy Warren: I was born in the Virgin Islands. 
Murray Golden: You must have left there when you were quite young.

How have I not heard of this picture?!


9:10am - Woman Chases Man (1937)

A Miriam Hopkins-Joel McCrea comedy I didn't know about? Sign me up! This summary reads the right kind of looney for my tastes: basically, Hopkins plays an architect who cons money out of McCrea. Question: Cinecon, is there a way to set up a private live broadcast of this picture?  Asking for a friend...


10:35am - The Lion, The Lamb, The Man (1914)

Lon Chaney plays the lion. Really, that's all I can glean from this title, and that's all you need to know.

Check out that swimming attire! 

3:10pm - Sensation Seekers (1927)

I first heard of this rarity while reading a biography on Lois Weber - Sensation Seekers was one of her last directorial efforts. The picture stars Billie Dove as a free-spirit - standard for the late 1920s, but still a type of character I love to watch - and apparently boasts a ship wreck that was deemed a "sensation" at the time. And there's also the above (hand colored?) lobby card. Everything about this picture is 100% up my alley.


5:15pm - No More Women (1934)

Pre-Code alert! Hmm, a deep sea diving pre-Code. That's a new one. The story also has me intrigued, with Edmund Lowe and Victor McLaglen as two rival boat captains and Sally Blaine as the new ship owner who moves aboard. Naturally, I was already sold at 'pre-Code,' and I'd also be very interested in checking out that underwater photography.   

8:10pm - Boys will be Boys (1932)

I have no idea what Boys will be Boys is about, though I obviously have some presumptions. But... it's a pre-Code era short directed by George Stevens, so I'd totally be down. 

For some reason, I always assumed The Brat was made in the mid-1920s. Go figure. 

8:30pm - The Brat (1931)

Pre-Code alert! The Brat (star Sally O'Neil), a young chorus girl accused of stealing food, is taken in by a novelist (Alan Dinehart) looking for inspiration and in turn puts her street smarts to work to the betterment of Dinehart and his family. The summary of this John Ford picture, apparently inspired by George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, also reminds me a lot of My Man Godfrey (1936). I would love a pre-Code version of My Man Godfrey. Or even anything remotely similar. (I'm also rather shocked that I've never seen this movie before!)


10pm - The Perfect Woman (1920)

Anita Loos wrote the script, and Constance Talmadge portrays "a vamp with designs on a wealthy man." Both of those elements (almost) always guarantee a good time.

I believe this green poster is from a 1940s re-release of The Black Room, though the scantily clad lady is more reminiscent of early 1930s advertising, in my opinion. 

10:55pm - The Black Room (1935)

By no means do I consider myself a horror buff, but I'm kind of surprised I've never heard of this Boris Karloff-starrer. In addition to two Karloffs - one good twin and one bad twin - this picture boasts a murder (or maybe murders, I'm not sure), an ancient family prophecy, a castle, and a secret torture chamber, just to name a few genre conventions. Sounds like a standard bonkers 1930s horror entry to me!   



11:30am - Harold Lloyd: Timeless Comedy Genius (2016)

I'm a fan of any classic Hollywood-related doc, so naturally I'd recommend Harold Lloyd: Timeless Comedy Genius. Plus, this is a German production, which makes me wonder how an outside cultural perspective would shade a documentary on an American comedic legend.

For some reason, I'm really taken by the design of this poster.

2:30pm - Bellboy 13 (1923)

1. I'm very drawn to this poster. 2. Any Cinecon plot summary that reads, "... taking a cue from the recent Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, he leads his co-workers in a strike" has me very intrigued.


2:30pm - Kinecon at Cinecon

For the most part, Cinecon does not screen films against each other. But sometimes, special instances warrant a presentation in the smaller Spielberg Theater, which is the case here. This program will feature early television kinescopes (recordings of TV programs or live broadcasts on regular motion picture film) from Cinecon Board of Governors President Stan Taffel's personal film archive. What makes this event so unique, as far as I'm aware, is the fact that kinescopes are rarely screened publicly. Like, even less than silent movies. (Don't quote me on that, but personally, I've seen many more silent films in theaters than Kinescopes.)

Marsha! Marsha! Marsha! 

3:35pm - The Accusing Finger (1936)

Normally, I'd be all about the Kinecon at Cinecon program because special, one-of-a-kind presentations are my jam, BUT pretty much the only thing that could top that at this fest would be...a Marsha Hunt picture. You can spare me the plot details, because the mega-Marsha fan in me would already be all-in. But just for those who want to know what this picture is about: it's a murder mystery in which a hot shot DA who only cares about his conviction rate - not justice - finds himself accused of murdering his estranged wife. To be honest, this B-picture definitely sounds like something I'd enjoy, regardless of Marsha's presence. Oh, and Cinecon is hoping that she'll make an appearance for this screening, which would be a huge treat indeed. 


7:55pm - Saturday Nitrate Fever Program!

Nitrate's the hot new (old) kid in town, especially since the Egyptian's Rigler Theater recently underwent a massive retrofitting so the American Cinematheque could screen pictures on the flammable format. So, you know this is going to be a special - not to mention, packed - evening, which kicks off with some TBA shorts and Hare Ribbon (Director's Cut), a Bugs Bunny programmer from 1944.


8-something pm - Untamed (1940)

Patricia Morison will be on hand for a discussion before Untamed, a romantic drama adventure co-starring Ray Milland, who plays a doctor attacked by a bear in Canada. (Yes, that's right.) Milland is cared for by Morison's husband, Akim Tamiroff, but of course, he falls in love with Morison, and then he has to deal with pressing concerns, like tracking down serum for an epidemic outbreak in the middle of a blizzard. You know, business as usual. Aside from this being a nitrate print, Untamed was also shot in Technicolor. Cue the 'ahhhhhs.'

They're all suspects! At least I'm assuming they are...

10-something pm - Murder Among Friends (1941)

What a title. I love film noir and B-crime dramas, but comic mysteries? They may be my favorite of all. (The Thin Man, anyone?) The tagline above roars, "Laughs and thrills! Kisses between killings!" It's like they were marketing directly to me... a mere 45 years before I was born.




9am - Rolling Along (1930)

From IMDb: "George Sidney and Charles Murray are both bus drivers who hate each other but then are assigned to the same bus for a wild ride with crazy passengers." This sounds like a rollicking short to start the day with.

The cast is a big selling point for this one.

9:20am - Anything Goes (1936)

As I've mentioned before, I'm not the biggest fan of musicals, though I'm getting there. BUT, I am most definitely a fan of rare movies, and according to the internet, Anything Goes is one of those seldom-screened pictures. Oh, and this early adaptation of the famous 1934 musical (sans many of Cole Porter's original songs) boasts Bing Crosby, Ethel Merman, Charlie Ruggles and a young Ida Lupino, to boot. What a treat!


11:05am - Captain Blood (1924)

Action/adventure is another genre I wouldn't call my favorite (boy, am I picky!), but this formerly lost picture was reconstructed by the Library of Congress, and reconstructions endlessly fascinate me.


2:20pm - Fort Lee Program        

I believe it was last year at Cinecon that I saw a short 1930s documentary on Fort Lee.  From the dilapidated buildings to film reels and negatives strewn about, I was absolutely stunned by the disrepair the town fell in to a mere two decades following its prime. As a New Jersey native, I feel it would be my duty to attend this presentation - if I were at Cinecon, of course. (And if you're as enthralled by early film history as I am, you'd probably find this fascinating too.)

Hugh Herbert's expression is everything in this poster.

4:35pm - La Conga Nights (1940)

Hugh Herbert, as a rhumba-loving millioniare playboy, tackles eight roles in this picture. How could a classic film fan not want to see that?

8:40pm - Spring Tonic (1935)

Ever since catching The Mad Game (1933) at UCLA's Festival of Preservation earlier this year, I've been slightly obsessed with young Claire Trevor. And I've always been obsessed with Lew Ayres, at any age. These two are the stars of this screwball comedy, which boasts "moonshiners, local crazy people and a wild animal circus with an escaped tiger," according to Cinecon's website. Wonder what that escaped tiger would think of the proceedings. They were certainly used in screwball comedies a lot! (OK, at least two movies that I can think of.)


9:50pm - Polly Redhead (1917)

Recently preserved by Universal, Polly Redhead sounds like a delightfully charming frolic. Plus, it was directed by Jack Conway, who helmed some of my favorite laughers from the 1930s and early 1940s, including Red Headed Woman (1932), Libeled Lady (1936), Love Crazy (1941) and Julia Misbehaves (1948). I'd be very interested to see such early work from him (though he had been behind the camera for about 5 years by this time).

Very curious about this title...


10:25am The Salvation Hunters (1925)

By all accounts, The Salvation Hunters was an auspicious debut for Austrian director Josef von Sternberg. Termed America's first independent picture by some historians, the film caught the attention of Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin, and the duo released it through their United Artists banner. Cinecon's website points out how unusual the movie was for its time, but then again, the symbolism and "dark, moody and gritty cinematography" doesn't sound at all odd when you consider von Sternberg's subsequent work and the stylistic trademarks he'd become renowned for in just a few years time.


11:40am - Power of the Press (1943)

Former reporter turned writer/director Samuel Fuller penned the story for this B-entry. According to Cinecon's site: "A corrupt newspaper publisher is committing wartime treason against the U.S. for his own personal gain. To cover up his crimes he has his partner assassinated. Then he plays up the murder in his paper to boost circulation." Random thought: I could totally picture this movie being remade today.

Can someone please see this for me and report back? Thanks.

2:10pm - The President Vanishes (1934)

A political thriller in which the President fakes his own kidnapping? Um, yes please. Cinecon reports that the picture was deemed immoral by the Catholic Legion of Decency and "was one of the films that lead directly to the enforcement of The Motion Picture Production Code." The latter piqued my interest, because in all of my pre-Code research I can't recall reading about this title. Being me, I investigated, and upon further inspection in the Academy's Production Code Administration (PCA) files, it was revealed that the first correspondence with the PCA regarding this movie was in September 1934, two-three months after the Production Code went into effect in the summer of 1934. So, I don't believe that second claim to be true, though if anyone has information to the contrary, please feel free to correct me. However, the film certainly raised red flags within the PCA, particularly for its negative portrayal of US government employees, and it did undergo some cuts from various states when it was released widely in January 1935. Regardless of all that, The President Vanishes seems like a timely, gripping picture - certainly one that I'd love to see someday.


3:45pm  - When Dawn Came (1920)

Colleen Moore plays a blind girl whose sight is restored (not sure how) by a man who falls in love with her. Hmm, that story sounds a little bit familiar - City Lights, perhaps? As a Colleen Moore fan, I have to admit that I've never seen Moore this early in her career - that would be the major selling factor for me.



Are you attending Cinecon 53? If so, 1. What are your top picks? and 2. Please come back and share your thoughts on the fest and the movies you see so I can live vicariously through you.

thanks for stopping by!

I See a Dark Theater is a website dedicated to classic movie-going—and loving—in the City of Angels. Whether it's coverage on screenings, special presentations, or Q&As around Los Angeles that you're looking for, or commentary on the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of classic cinema, you've come to the right place for a variety of pieces written with zeal, awe, and (occasionally) wit. Enjoy.

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