Classic film festival Cinecon: Lots of rarities + pre-scandal Mary Astor & Mary Miles Minter
There’ll be rare movies aplenty at Los Angeles’ mini-film festival Cinecon. For starters, apart from calamitous last-minute changes and cancellations, Cinecon-men and -women will be able to watch the 1928 gangster melo Dressed to Kill – no relation to Brian De Palma’s 1980 thriller. Directed by Irving Cummings (co-director of the first “outdoor talkie,” In Old Arizona), and starring Edmund Lowe and future Best Supporting Actress Academy Award winner – and scandalous diarist – Mary Astor, Dressed to Kill had the following tagline as per the IMDb: “A fascinating revelation of gangdom’s evolution from the brass-knuckled thugs of yesterday to the sleek-haired ‘Dressed to Kill’ dandies of today.”
Another movie that can’t be missed is the recently restored 1927 melodrama Sorrell and Son, a touching father-love tale that was a Best (dramatic) Direction Academy Award nominee (for Herbert Brenon) in the period 1927–1928, the first year of the awards. Sorrell and Son stars a superb H.B. Warner (Jesus in Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings, made that same year) as the father who sacrifices it all for the love of his son (Mickey McBan as a boy; a much-too-powdered Nils Asther as a young man).
Also in the all-star cast are Alice Joyce, Mary Nolan, Louis Wolheim, and two great Bitches from Hell, Carmel Myers, as a mean-spirited married woman who has the hots for the chaste Warner, and Anna Q. Nilsson, highly effective as the ex-Mrs. Sorrell, a selfish, money-hungry gal who loves her grown-up son just a little too much.
In addition, attendees will have the chance to watch the reconstructed – and scandalous – Baby Face (1933), now in its full amoral glory, with an outstanding Barbara Stanwyck as the girl who knows what she wants, and who has the determination, the brains, and the hot body to get it.
Here’s another one: Ladies Should Listen (1933), about the romance between a switchboard operator (Frances Drake) and a businessman (a very young Cary Grant), with the added bonus of future Warner Bros. star Ann Sheridan in a bit part.
Norma Talmadge movie rarity
Also, the rarely seen Norma Talmadge vehicle The Wonderful Thing (1920). Norma who? you ask. Well, merely one of the biggest box office stars Hollywood has ever produced. The pretty and capable Norma Talmadge was a much-admired film goddess from the mid-teens to the late ’20s, starring in numerous glossy melodramas of the period.
The Wonderful Thing, however, directed by Sorrell and Son‘s Herbert Brenon, is hardly one of Talmadge’s best-liked vehicles. In the film, Talmadge plays the daughter of a millionaire hog raiser, ending up married to a poor – though titled – Englishman (Harrison Ford, no connection to the star of Raiders of the Lost Ark). The problem is, does the British nobleman love her or her father’s money-making hogs?
Either way, the New York Times was unimpressed, asserting that The Wonderful Thing “might be the work of almost any of the many mediocre actresses and directors in the numerous studios between the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts.” Be that as it may, in 2005 a screening of a Norma Talmadge vehicle, no matter how “mediocre,” is something to be cherished by any silent film lover worth his nitrate.
Snippet from the New York Times’ The Wonderful Thing review via Greta DeGroat’s Norma Talmadge website.
Mary Miles Minter
Mary Miles Minter, now largely forgotten though she was Mary Pickford’s biggest rival in those days, stars in the slow-moving Peggy Leads the Way (1917), a romantic melodrama set in Northern California, with Minter as the cute little waif who fights big (and heartless) business. Another long-forgotten top star of the 1910s and ’20s, Thomas Meighan, can be found in William Beaudine’s The Canadian (1925), while cool and elegant Florence Vidor can be seen in her last film and only talkie, William A. Wellman’s Chinatown Nights (1929), co-starring Wallace Beery and Warner Oland. (Image: Mary Miles Minter, Allan Forrest Peggy Leads the Way.)
A screening of the longer (by about three minutes) version of the 1955 Best Picture Academy Award winner Marty, starring Best Actor winner Ernest Borgnine, will be followed by a Q&A with the film’s Oscar-winning director, Delbert Mann. Academy Award winner Patricia Neal (for Martin Ritt’s 1963 drama Hud) will also be on hand for a Q&A after a screening of the politics & romance tale Washington Story (1952), co-starring Van Johnson.
Cinecon: Alfred Hitchcock & the Andrews Sisters
Other titles include Alfred Hitchcock’s British-made Downhill (1927), starring West End heartthrob Ivor Novello; the futuristic (and pacifist) 1927 British drama High Treason, directed by the renowned Maurice Elvey; the musical Moonlight and Cactus (1943), featuring the boogie-woogieing Andrews Sisters singing about, one assumes, moonlighting and cactuses; and the rarely seen (and mildly amusing) Loretta Young who-done-it (if something has indeed been done) The Second Floor Mystery (1930), a romantic “thriller” co-starring Young’s then husband, Grant Withers.
As so often in the past, Cinecon 2005 will be held in the heart of Hollywood, with most screenings taking place at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. The five-day film marathon kicked off Thursday evening with the showing of one episode from the 1934 serial Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
Dozens of movies later, this cinematic smorgasbord will come to a close on Monday afternoon, with a screening of the Baby Face-ish 1951 melodrama I Can Get It for You Wholesale, with a screenplay by blacklisted writer-director Abraham Polonsky, and starring Susan Hayward as a fashion designer ruthlessly making her way to the top in a man’s world.
If you appreciate old and rare movies, be equally ruthless and make your way to the front line of the Egyptian’s box office to buy either a full-day or a festival pass. For more information on Cinecon, visit the festival’s website.
Mary Miles Minter, Allan Forrest Peggy Leads the Way image: Cinecon.
Dressed to Kill Mary Astor image: Cinecon.