Cinesation 2009 is currently taking place at the Lincoln Theater in Massilion, Ohio. The four-day festival, which ends on Sunday, will screen a number of hard-to-find titles, including:
- James Cruze's 1925 political-historical Western The Pony Express, starring Betty Compson, Ricardo Cortez, Wallace Beery, and George Bancroft in a tale of powerlust and media manipulation. Hey, sounds like life in the early 21st century? Well, that's a mere coincidence, as The Pony Express is set in mid-19th-century California, a time when Sen. Glen (Al Hart) and his Knights of the Golden Circle scheme to have the state secede from Union, annex another chunk of Mexico, and form a new empire.
- The 1918 Mary Pickford vehicle M'Liss, in which Little Mary is another mid-19th-century California denizen; one who becomes enmeshed not with the Knights of the Golden Circle but with Thomas Meighan, the hero of several Cecil B. DeMille sex comedy-dramas. There's no annexation of Mexico in this one, but as per the Cinesation website there's lots to compensate for that, including “a false arrest, fraud, a lynching and a murder.”
- Sidney Franklin's 1924 romantic comedy Her Night of Romance, in which the invariably delightful Constance Talmadge plays an American heiress wooed by an impoverished British lord impersonating a doctor. Ronald Colman is the impersonator in question. Talmadge and Colman would sort of switch roles the following year, when she impersonated her own (fictitious) sister so as to lure back husband Colman in Sidney Franklin's first-rate comedy Her Sister from Paris.
- John Cromwell's Rich Man's Folly (1931), starring a fast-fading George Bancroft and relative newcomer Frances Dee (long before I Walked with a Zombie). Adapted by Grover Jones and Edward E. Paramore Jr. from Charles Dickens' novel Dombey and Son, Rich Man's Folly is a modern-day drama set in the Depression-mired United States, where an ambitious shipbuilding magnate chooses his frail son (David Durand) to become his successor. For that, however, the boy must be turned into a Real Man. (John Cromwell, by the way, was the father of actor James Cromwell.)
- Doris Kenyon is the star of the 1917 adventure-melodrama The Great White Trail, in which a woman named Prudence is accused of infidelity – the (unfairly, I'm sure) accused is played by Kenyon – and then places her little baby in a basket in the woods. A dog finds the basket, but Prudence loses her memory. Now, will the baby ever learn the identity of its real mom? Directed by Leopold Wharton and Theodore Wharton.
Also at Cinesation: This Way Please (1937), with Charles 'Buddy' Rogers and a pre-stardom Betty Grable; the 1936 remake of M'Liss, with Anne Shirley in the old Pickford role (Shirley, then still known as Dawn O'Day, can also be seen in a small role in Rich Man's Folly); Pleasure Cruise, a 1933 pre-Coder starring Genevieve Tobin and Roland Young as a married couple who decide to bring excitement to their marriage by having separate vacations; and the 1920 melo Crooked Streets, starring 1910s star Ethel Clayton as a woman who gets caught up in a kidnapping-smuggling plot in mysterious China.
And last but definitely not least, two Sessue Hayakawa vehicles: Reginald Barker's O Mimi San and Charles Swickard's The Devil's Claim. The former is a 1914 melo in which a Japanese emperor's son (Hayakawa in his first film role) is torn between an East Asian woman (Tsuru Aoki, who not long afterward would become Hayakawa's wife) and white woman Mildred Harris (who would marry Charles Chaplin). The latter film stars Hayakawa as a novelist who uses his love affairs as inspiration for his work – and then ends up involved in some real drama. Future superstar Colleen Moore has a supporting role in this one.
The only Cinesation presentation I've seen is Otto Preminger's 1946 Fox musical Centennial Summer, which is worth a look chiefly because of its cast (Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Constance Bennett, Dorothy Gish, William Eythe, Cornel Wilde) and Ernest Palmer's vibrant color cinematography. Music by Jerome Kern. (I've also seen the Spanish-language version of Pleasure Cruise, but that doesn't really count.)