|Early Birds Prior to the First Screening Friday|
Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore is a alternately predictable and bizarre Monogram film starring beautiful Simone Simon. It begins in a train. Kathy is reading a magazine and stumbles upon an advertisement (for what I don't know) warning viewers to watch out for Gremlins. One appears and begins harassing the leading lady who tosses salt over her shoulder in order to ward off bad juju. It doesn't work. She arrives at her destination to find that the woman who invited her to room with her has just eloped and wants privacy. Kathy walks day and night and can't find a vacancy, and it is by chance that she stumbles upon a man off to join the military who won't be needing his room for a while. "How did you know my name is Johnny?" he asks her. "I call everybody Johnny," she sweetly responds. He sublets her his room but fails to tell her about the many keys he has distributed to various friends around town, all of them male. They pop in for a beer at night and for a shower in the morning and each time she has to sternly inform them that "Johnny doesn't live here anymore." Of course several of them are taken by her beauty and do all they can to get an invitation to stay. I liked this movie so much I bought a lobby card depicting the scene toward the end where Kathy is asked to choose between the two men she cares for.
My opinion of Shooting Stars was much different than most people I talked to. While I found it to be technically above average, the routine storyline and adequate acting left me feeling that the movie was okay but not special. The story concerns an acting couple (Brian Aherne, Annette Benson) who are starring in a film together. Meanwhile, she is having an affair with a comedian working on the same lot. There are some beautiful shots in this movie, such as the overhead tracking shot which follows the action of various activities on the movie set, the moving camera which follows a dangerous descent down a hill on a bicycle, and the poignant ending which tracks a washed-up actress's slow departure from a set. These moments are the reason to watch the film.
I've been watching a lot of Elvis movies lately. Loving You is among the best because it has a plot which excuses the many musical numbers. The talented auxiliary cast makes it worth your time too. Elvis is a small town boy with an impressive stage presence, so a publicity agent (Lizabeth Scott) recruits him to help assist the waning popularity of her ex-husband's (Wendell Corey) traveling western show. The gimmick works wonderfully but people begin to become suspicious of her motivations. Shot in Technicolor, this film is a feast for the eyes, and if you're an Elvis fan, essential viewing.
The Senator Was Indiscreet was another big hit with the audience. I am in the minority in my indifference to William Powell, but he usually makes good films, and this was no exception. A stuffy senator who is counting his chickens decides he wants to run for president even though he isn't even a candidate yet. He panders to all types, from native Americans to country folk to southern gentlemen, on a road tour across the country. Every day he records his experiences in a diary, something he has been doing for years, much to the chagrin of his manager. Of course someone steals the diary, and the senator and his associates frantically try to recover it before his and other politicians' reputations are ruined. There are lots of good jokes and the audience responded well to them.
Lloyd Nolan is billed first in Undercover Doctor, although his part is not the biggest. This is proof that not every film made in 1939 was a classic. The movie is a programmer, a film depicting true crime which isn't an unpleasant way to kill an hour, but which doesn't leave the viewer with anything when it is done. A doctor begins padding his pockets by treating gangsters who have been wounded in shootouts. The cops are out to find out who he is, and they do eventually. Unremarkable.
A few years ago, I was invited to join a group to watch 16mm films in a friend's hotel room, a common occurrence at film festivals. This year we had the luxury of the Monsterbash room. Among the short comedies (Our Gang, The Three Stooges, a Danny Kaye comedy), cartoons, and trailers were a few soundie shorts, including one that was particularly odd and poorly made, and therefore highly entertaining. I hope you like it as much as I did.
The Saturday morning Annual Animation Program always plays to a packed house. The highlights included Porky Pig in The Case of the Stuttering Pig which concerned a monster and a dark house, Donald's Dilemma which featured Donald Duck singing like Bing Crosby, and Lonesome Lenny which shows an overzealous dog smothering Screwy Squirrel to death.
If you like pre-code movies, you will like Luxury Liner. The story surrounds George Brent and his wife who is running off to be with a millionaire aboard a cruise liner. He becomes the ship's doctor to confront her about it. Meanwhile an enthusiastic blonde (Alice White) spends her time schmoozing men to get ahead in life. Her scenes are the most comedic, and the most scandalous. The ending is abrupt and silly, but the rest of the film is entertaining.
Each year there is a Charley Chase festival, and this year all of the shorts were silent. I don't recall ever seeing silent Chase films before, and I was excited to check them out. With this limited introduction, I still prefer the talkies, but these movies were fun too. The first, One of the Family, was the weakest of the offerings and concerned Jimmy Jump becoming a chauffeur. Hello Baby got more laughs by recycling jokes from other comedies of the era. Many Scrappy Returns revolves around suspected marital infidelity and features an elaborate door routine which is very well done. A One-Mama Man has Chase as a Count who is hired to impersonate himself at a party and evokes a lot of laughs.
The next film was Take the Stand, a rare Thelma Todd feature which is rumored to be the only copy outside of one trapped in an archive. My friends were bustling about how excited they were to see it, and I planned to watch it because of its rarity, but after the Chase shorts my butt couldn't take it anymore. I made a good choice. One friend left after about 20 minutes, and another groaned about sitting through the whole thing expecting a payoff and never getting it. "Some films are lost for a reason," he said.
I would have enjoyed 99 River Street had I not been dozing off periodically throughout it. It is a standard noir story which reminded me of the Hard Case Crime book series I love with superior acting performances, particularly by Evelyn Keyes. A taxi cab driver and his wife are no longer in love with each other. She resents him and he's given up trying. She embarks on an affair with a gangster and winds up dead and he goes on a mission to avenge her death even though his heart isn't totally in it.
I missed the first movie on Monday when I overslept. I forgot to set my alarm. Running on only a few hours of sleep each night definitely takes its toll.
San Francisco Docks was my least favorite film of the weekend. A couple of convicts escape from prison and ride back to shore in a fishing boat. At a dockside bar, a few men get into an arguement and later one of them ends up dead. A man is accused but claims innocence, and his sweetheart and friends at the bar step in to try to find the real murderer before he hangs. They flirt with comedy without achieving it occasionally, and attempt suspense but fall flat there too. This film is trying to be lots of other films and fails all around to be very entertaining at all. I did get a chuckle out of one line though, which said one man was "just in time to be too late."
I knew Melody Parade would have a thin plot and lots of musical numbers. Both are quite forgettable but they make for a pleasant ending to a great show. A nightclub is in trouble financially, until a wealthy woman promises to back them. At least they think she's wealthy because she has the same name as a millionaire, but she's the 4th, not the 3rd. No matter; she hires a stuffed shirt at $1000 per week (to make it more impressive) and starts bossing the boss around. Cinevent began and ended with a pleasant Monogram feature.
Losing Cinevent founder Steve Haynes was unfortunate, and the difficulty finding a new hotel after the last one closed added a wrench into an already stressful situation, but Michael Haynes and the other Cinevent organizers did an amazing job of keeping the show going and in the same tradition of years past. This is a show that celebrates nostalgia and sometimes attendees are resistant to change, but most everyone seemed willing and enthusiastic to adapt to the changes and enjoy themselves.
If you have any suggestions for next year's Cinevent, please let me know. And be sure to check out blogs of the attendees, like Jim Lane's Cinedrome, Caren's Classic Cinema, Cleveland Movie Blog,etc.