I See A Dark Theater's Cinecon 54 Preview
August 16, 2018
Labor Day weekend is around the corner, and you know what that means: CINECON!
This year's festival banner (from Cinecon's website).
As I’ve noted in previous articles, Cinecon and TCMFF are worlds apart, even though both festivals cater to classic film fans. Basically, Cinecon is like a newly released Netflix show—this event is meant to binge, from 9am till midnight, with built in meal breaks and a few minutes respite in between movies. The films are rarer, the focus is trained on the silent era through the 1940s (there are two 1950s titles this year), and less emphasis is placed on guests. With that said, 2018’s program is fabulous, and the few names lined up are killer: Baby Peggy, Eva Marie Saint, Cora Sue Collins, and (crossing fingers/not confirmed) Marsha Hunt. That’s three ladies in their 90s and one centenarian! And perhaps most different of all: The schedule is designed so that almost all the films play in a row. Now, admittedly, I can’t marathon movies like that, but I appreciate the fact that 95% of the time, no hard decisions have to be made.
This festival sounds wonderful, right? It is. However, for the second year in a row, I’ll be missing out on Cinecon due to a wedding. Last year, I was the Maid of Honor, and this year my boyfriend is the Best Man (at another wedding, obviously). So, there was really no getting out of either of those, but I’ve made it a point to attend Cinecon’s first and final days this year. Despite my incredibly light attendance, I’ve still previewed the whole fest—well, the movies I would like to see—which is about 70% of them, so please enjoy!
Helen’s Babies (1924)
Cinecon’s opening night gala film, which was produced 94 YEARS AGO, will have a co-star in attendance. That is indeed a true statement: Diana Serra Cary, better known as Baby Peggy, celebrates her CENTENNIAL this year. Oh, and this is also a premiere restoration featuring footage NOT SEEN SINCE THE MOVIE’S ORIGINAL RELEASE. Sorry for all the caps, but this program is spectacular. And, it’s one of the only events I can actually attend! EXCITED.
Scotland Yard (1941)
The tagline on IMDb is priceless: “He stole a banker’s face—and his wife!” I find plastic surgery/identity stealing plotlines incredibly ludicrous (see: 1933 pre-Code The Mad Game), and I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend the 10pm hour on Cinecon’s opening night.
Little Orphant Annie (1918)
Yes, Orphant, not Orphan. I guess that was a word a century ago? Aside from the anniversary, this picture is also noteworthy as Colleen Moore’s earliest surviving role. While it would certainly be interesting to see how this classic tale was told 100 years ago, the Moore factor is a way stronger pull for me.
It’s Great to be Alive (1933)
Pre-Code. Sci-fi. Musical. Comedy. If there’s anything I like more than your run-of-the-mill pre-Code, it’s a pre-Code that sounds absolutely crazy. It’s Great to be Alive is about a disease that kills every fertile man on earth... except one, who finds he’s the planet’s only chance for survival? Yeah, I’d love to see how the era treated this material.
That Certain Feeling (1956)
Somehow, I’ve never seen this comedy, and with a cast featuring Eva Marie Saint, Bob Hope, and the devilish George Sanders, I feel like I need to correct that oversight. However, I think I’m a bit more bummed about missing Saint’s conversation; she’s such a lovely lady and I adore hearing her speak. (Not to mention, with Hope and Sanders as co-stars, I can only imagine the stories she’s got!)
So Long, Letty (1920)
Is this turning into a Colleen Moore festival?! If so, I’d be 100% down with that. Man, does this synopsis sound nuts. Wife swapping? Platonic trial marriages? (That second point brings back memories of the deliciously acerbic On Approval from 1944). I adore watching the 1920s go hog wild on film, and I am ecstatic that I actually will be able to experience this Friday night program!
The Ape (1940)
As Cinecon’s website put it: “So... how often do you get a chance to see a Monogram film on the big screen in a sparkling new 35mm print?” I believe the correct answer is almost never. The Ape combines just the right amount of classic horror and B-movie absurdity to qualify as rollicking good time: Boris Karloff stars as a lone scientist in a rural desert town surrounded by an escaped gorilla, vintage circus acts, and of course, murder. What’s not to love?
Naughty Baby (1928)
“Naughty Baby, the girl with Champagne ideas and a home-brew income!” What a tagline. And what a cast: Alice White, Jack Mulhall, Thelma Todd. Naughty Baby was only unearthed by the Museum of Modern Art last year, which means we basically owe it to the film to give it a chance, and I think this audience will be all too happy to do so.
Once in a Lifetime (1932)
Plenty of movies used Hollywood’s transition from silents to talkies as a plot device. But a pre-Code comedy with Aline MacMahon, Zasu Pitts and Jack Oakie? That’s a no-brainer. In particular, MacMahon in pre-Code comedy is a tremendous treat.
The Unexpected Father (1932)
Another guest! Another pre-Code! One I’ve never heard of! Really, I could not ask for anything more than this—except, perhaps, to be there in person. Cora Sue Collins enchanted at TCMFF this year, which was the very first time I’ve heard her speak. Obviously, I’d love to see her again and sit back for a new-to-me pre-Code, but alas. Enjoy for me, please.
He Learned About Women (1933)
Nitrate, pre-Code, and there’s no synopsis on IMDb. That’s like a classic film fan’s dream come true. Or at least mine.
San Francisco Earthquake Footage
I’ve seen—and am still fascinated—by the silent short A Trip Down Market Street Before the Fire, shot 4 days before San Francisco's infamous 1906 earthquake and fire. That said, I would be incredibly curious to see what this footage looks like.
Outside the Law (1920)
1. Tod Browning. 2. Lon Chaney plays two characters (I feel like he could never make things easy for himself by accepting ‘regular’ roles.) 3. This is a reconstruction, and those always fascinate me.
The Infernal Triangle (1935)
The phrase “delightfully clever spoof” has my attention, as does the name Phyllis Barry, a tragic actress who I wrote a piece on for Classic Movie Hub recently.
Infernal Machine (1933)
Two titles with the word Infernal?! What a coincidence. This picture was a surprise highlight of the 2017 UCLA Festival of Preservation for me, and I let out a small anguished sigh upon hearing I would miss an encore screening. Infernal Machine is about a bomb being planted on an ocean liner. In case you were wondering, yes, it’s a screwball comedy. And pre-Code! I mean, that has to pique everyone’s interest, no?
Seven Sinners (1925)
I’m a sucker for lost films brought to life again. There’s so much joy in rediscovering a picture that has been long thought gone, and there’s much to celebrate in the process of saving and presenting these movies. Not to mention, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Marie Prevost during her silent days, and this type of screwball comedy sounds right up her alley—and mine!
Asegure a su mujer/Insure Your Wife (1935)
I’m convinced foreign language productions did not have to obtain Production Code approval to be released, because several Spanish-language Fox pictures played like pre-Codes despite being produced after that period. The PCA forbade this movie from being filmed in English, which I find bizarre since this version was shown in America. (Did they believe English speakers had to be 'protected' and Spanish speakers didn’t?) Insure Your Wife is a zany comedy, just what you’d expect a movie about infidelity insurance to be. It seems like a different choice for Cinecon, but I’m glad it made the lineup.
I’m always surprised that there are pre-Codes out there boasting huge stars that still fly relatively under the radar, like I Take This Woman (1931) with Carole Lombard and Gary Cooper. Now, an author hoarding one of the sole 16mm copies held the aforementioned film back for decades, but as for Goldie, well… I’m not sure what’s up with this one. I have a feeling Cinecon’s audience is in for a treat, because not only does this comedy star Jean Harlow as a carnival high diver (what?!), but it features Spencer Tracy, an actor whose pre-Codes I’ve recently come to discover and thoroughly love.
Million Dollar Legs (1932)
“It’s insane. It’s joyous!” It’s also a pre-Code, which makes my heart race. Despite the fact that I’ve never been much of a W.C. Fields fan, I’m all for surreal and outrageous early 1930s comedy having to do with fake countries, which, weirdly, seemed to be a fad around this time. (1933's Duck Soup and Diplomaniacs, anyone?)
The Virginia Judge (1935)
Marsha Marsha Marsha! I’ve officially taken my fangirling to the next level, because I am hopping a plane JUST to attend this event. Not only is The Virginia Judge rarely screened, but it’s Marsha film debut! And to (hopefully) have her in attendance?! I doubt she’s seen this picture in 83 years! LA, YOU SPOIL ME. (And my boyfriend, too. Thanks for agreeing to wake up early to catch a Memorial Day flight.) I CAN’T WAIT.
Miss Tatlock’s Millions (1948)
The first paragraph of this film’s synopsis sounds so incredibly chaotic, and I love it; two of my favorite genres to blend are mystery and comedy. Curiously, Miss Tatlock’s Millions used to run often on television and enjoyed quite a popularity, though it seems to have fallen by the wayside over the last few decades. But friends of the festival proclaim that it merits a spot alongside classic comedies! Now that really justifies a viewing—and I actually get to!
What a schedule—and that's only part of it. If you'll be attending Cinecon this year, feel free to share your picks in the comments below!