- Cinecon overview part 1: In this five-part article, film historian Joseph Yranski provides a brief look at an eclectic array of movies – both silents and talkies – presented at this year’s Hollywood-based festival of mostly rare, decades-old American titles.
- Among those mentioned in the text below: Early stars Herbert Rawlinson and Cleo Madison, both seen in the “male bonding” silent epic Damon and Pythias; silent era actress Margaret Livingston (best remembered as the city vamp in Sunrise); and Nigel Bruce, Dr. Watson in Universal’s Sherlock Holmes movies of the 1940s.
Cinecon overview: ‘Male bonding’ silent epic Damon and Pythias & a pre-Dr. Watson Nigel Bruce among notable attractions
Note from the Editor: In this five-part article, New York City-based film historian and researcher Joseph Yranski, formerly associated with the New York Public Library’s Donnell Media Center, offers a brief overview of various movies screened at this year’s Cinecon.
Included below: Damon and Pythias (1914), Murder in Trinidad (1934), The Devil’s Bait (1917), Acquitted (1929), and Modern Love (1929).
Held on Labor Day Weekend at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, Cinecon is a film festival chiefly devoted to decades-old, hard-to-find U.S. releases.
Damon and Pythias (1914)
One of the first films produced at Universal City in California, Damon and Pythias (Universal Film Manufacturing Company) is a true gem of a restoration by James Cozart and the Library of Congress. Recreated without continuity sheets or a work print, the entire film was put back together by utilizing the novelization of the Grosset & Dunlap Photoplay book edition, which was released at the time the movie came out.
Directed by Otis Turner, Damon and Pythias features high production values and displays remarkable sophistication. In the cast: William Worthington as Damon and Herbert Rawlinson as Pythias, plus Cleo Madison, Ann Little (as Anna Little), Harry Davenport*, Duke Worne, and future two-time Best Director Academy Award winner Frank Lloyd (The Divine Lady, 1928–29; Cavalcade, 1932–33).
* Not the Harry Davenport who played Dr. Meade in Gone with the Wind.
Murder in Trinidad (1934)
In a pre-Dr. Watson role, Nigel Bruce plays a peanut-eating detective on the trail of diamond smugglers in the tropics in his third American film, Murder in Trinidad (1934, Fox Film Corporation). The movie itself is very funny, while Bruce is a delight as the bumbling detective with more upstairs than meets the eye.
Directed by Louis King, this was one of my favorites of the Cinecon weekend. Also in the cast: Heather Angel, Victor Jory, and J. Carrol Naish.
Five years later, Murder in Trinidad was remade as a Mr. Moto feature (Mr. Moto in Danger Island, starring Peter Lorre), but without the excellent swamp sequence at the climax.
The Devil’s Bait (1917)
Featuring silent era serial star Ruth Roland and future two-time Best Director Oscar nominee Henry King (The Song of Bernadette, 1943; Wilson, 1944), The Devil’s Bait (Balboa Amusement Producing Company | General Film Company) is an unusual drama.
The plot revolves around the premise that Satan created jewels – a very large ruby, in particular – in order to tempt people to sin. This strategy pretty much works, as characters commit infidelity, theft, blackmail, murder, and other pesky indiscretions to possess the gleaming gem.
As explained by James Cozart before the screening, the print could use a re-restoration; even so, The Devil’s Bait was still entertaining. Also in the cast: William Conklin. Director: Harry Harvey.
Featuring an interesting premise, Acquitted was the first talkie for three stars out on loan to Columbia Pictures. Here are the basics: Margaret Livingston falls for cute doctor/prison inmate Lloyd Hughes, who is innocent of the murder for which he was convicted. To free him, she has to go back to her old partner/gangster Sam Hardy.
For Columbia to avoid paying for new music, the characters endlessly play the radio or phonograph with Irving Berlin’s recording of “What’ll I Do.” Director: Frank R. Strayer.
Modern Love (1929)
Made as a loan-out to Universal, Modern Love is comedian Charley Chase’s – very enjoyable – first (part-)sound feature. Chase and Kathryn Crawford want to marry, but since she plans to maintain her career they keep separate apartments and hide their marriage. The movie wanders from melodrama to hysterical comedy – a dinner party sequence with Chase giving etiquette tips to Jean Hersholt is a hoot – with its first half mostly silent and its second half mostly with sound. Director: Arch Heath.
“Damon and Pythias’ Male Bonding + Bumbling Detective Nigel Bruce: Cinecon Movies” follow-up post:
“Damon and Pythias’ Male Bonding + Bumbling Detective Nigel Bruce: Cinecon Movies” review text © Joseph Yranski; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“Damon and Pythias’ Male Bonding” endnotes
Ann Little and Herbert Rawlinson Damon and Pythias 1914 image: Universal Pictures.
“Damon and Pythias’ Male Bonding + Bumbling Detective Nigel Bruce: Cinecon Movies” last updated in September 2022.