Film fanatics will be gleefully sitting on their acetates for more than 50 hours during the Syracuse Cinephile Society’s annual Cinefest, a movie marathon of hard-to-see titles from old-school Hollywood, which is set to unspool Thursday, March 19, through Sunday, March 22. Founded in 1980 by the late Cinephile Society honcho Phil Serling, most of this year’s Cinefest again holds court at Liverpool’s Holiday Inn, 441 Electronics Parkway, with screenings galore of 16mm films in the hotel’s convention center. Also back for another year is Eastwood’s Palace Theater, 2384 James St.; out-of-town Cinefesters should appreciate the lovingly restored vaudeville-era bijou as it showcases rare 35mm prints on Saturday morning and early afternoon, March 21.
Cinefest 29 will feature author and film historian Norm Keim, who will autograph copies of Our Movie Houses: A History of Film and Cinematic Innovations in Central New York (Syracuse University Press; $24.95) on Saturday, March 21, 4 to 5 p.m. Returning once more with piano accompaniments on the silents will be Philip C. Carli and Makia Matsumara, plus Cinefest newbies Donald Sosin and Ben Model. Film critic-historian Leonard Maltin, a Cinefest regular, will again be pressed into service as the co-host of the annual auction of movie memorabilia on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. And despite the global economic downturn, this year’s Cinefest has already reached its reservation capacity, with latecomers encouraged to billet at the nearby Comfort Inn on Buckley Road, with shuttle buses provided.
Thursday kicks off with Duke Ellington in the 1933 Paramount musical short A Bundle of Blues (9 a.m.), then segues into Paramount’s 1930 pre-Code musical comedy Safety in Numbers (9:10 a.m.) with three Manhattan chorines (Carole Lombard, Kathryn Crawford and Josephine Dunn) assigned to baby-sit a budding millionaire-songwriter (Charles “Buddy” Rogers). Rogers’ wife, Mary Pickford, follows this flick in 1916’s silent Less Than the Dust (10:40 a.m.), with the star playing a Hindu Indian (!)—or is she?
Beauty shopping: Charles “Buddy” Rogers (center) is surrounded by lovelies (clockwise from lower left, Kathryn Crawford, Carole Lombard, Virginia Bruce, Geneva Mitchell and Josephine Dunn) in 1930’s Safety in Numbers, screening Thursday at Liverpool’s Holiday Inn as part of this weekend’s Cinefest 29.
Following a lunch break will be the 1934 short The Caretaker’s Daughter (1 p.m.) with Billy Gilbert and Eddie Foy Jr.; the 1919 silent marital farce All Wrong (1:25 p.m.) with Mildred Davis, soon to become Mrs. Harold Lloyd; a batch of old coming attractions (2:25 p.m.) presented by host Ray Faiola; Patrick Aherne in the 1929 British yarn City of Play (3:30 p.m.), all about the downsides of hypnosis and parachuting; and director Frank Borzage’s Doctors’ Wives (4:50 p.m.) with Warner Baxter and Joan Bennett in a 1931 20th Century Fox drama—and it’s not part of the recent Borzage DVD box set issued by Fox Home Entertainment, either. (Nor should it be confused with the 1970 soaper starring Dyan Cannon and Carroll O’Connor.)
Two shorts open the evening. including 1955’s abstract, clay-animated Gumbasia (8:10 p.m.), director Art Clokey’s test run for his eventual Gumby career. Then Fred Allen plays a Jersey newspaper editor with some debts to square in the 1929 one-reeler The Installment Collector (8:20 p.m.), with Depression-era one-liners like, “I stopped in at the bank and my balance was so bad I was afraid to get back on my bicycle again.”
Lottie Pickford, Mary’s party-hearty sister, headlines the 1921 silent drama They Shall Pay (8:30 p.m.), followed by that same year’s Love Never Dies (9:30 p.m.), director King Vidor’s drama of romance, scandal and train wrecks that a long-ago Variety review dubbed as “an exceptional photoplay.” The Last Trail (10:50 p.m.) is Fox’s 1933 horse opera, derived from a Zane Grey yarn, with George O’Brien, Claire Trevor and comic relief supplied by El Brendel. Topping the night is 1937’s low-budget crime story What Price Vengeance (11:55 p.m.), a Canadian-filmed quota quickie starring Lyle Talbot as an undercover copper in pursuit of some pistol-packing hombres.
A Million Bid with Dolores Costello
The morning slate for Friday, March 20, commences with the 1929 Warner Brothers moneymaker The Desert Song (9 a.m.)., an early talkie version of the Sigmund Romberg-Otto Harbach operetta, with hunky lead John Boles, scene-stealer Johnny Arthur (Darla’s prissy pop from the Our Gang two-reelers) at his most fey, and a hotsy Myrna Loy on the fringes. The 1918 silent Woman (10:50 a.m.) is film pioneer Maurice Tourneur’s ambitious salute to the ladies, with one episode devoted to Adam (Henry West) and Eve (Ethel Hallor).
Afternoon flicks include 1929’s India-based romantic tragedy The Wheel of Life (1 p.m.), with Richard Dix in an early talkie from Paramount; John McElwee presents an offbeat quartet of selected shorts (2:10 p.m.), including a 1950s TV appearance with Buster Keaton; the 1931 RKO comedy short Next Door Neighbors (3:15 p.m.) features the slow burn of Edgar Kennedy and the vintage prissiness of Franklin Pangborn; and Wallace Reid plays the hoof-happy lead in the 1920 silent The Dancin’ Fool (3:40 p.m.). The afternoon ends with The Secret Man (4:35 p.m.), a 1958 British programmer starring Marshall Thompson that fell through MGM’s distribution cracks and was never released to stateside theaters; 83-years-young Richard Gordon, the film’s uncredited executive producer (and the cultish shlockmeister behind such 1970s British horror nasties as Tower of Evil and Horror Hospital), will introduce the screening.
The nighttime lineup commences with the 1930 short The Bank Swindle (8 p.m.), another of the old William J. Burns detective stories that is so popular with Cinefesters, followed by a selection of Joan Crawford’s home movies (8:15 p.m.) that may shine some light into mommie dearest’s off-screen behavior. Frank Borzage’s 1925 The Circle (8:45 p.m.) has Crawford in a small role amid the love triangles devised by W. Somerset Maugham in this MGM silent.
Errol Flynn, Joan Blondell and Hugh “Woo-hoo” Herbert star in Warners’ 1937 screwball comedy The Perfect Specimen (9:45 p.m.); the 16mm print actually comes from Flynn’s private collection, which he would unspool during parties. Wrapping the night has ace screamer Fay Wray plus Lionel Atwill and Lee Tracy in Warners’ 1932 scare package Doctor X (11:20 p.m.), to be screened in a rare, alternate black-and-white version instead of the two-strip Technicolor print that is in active circulation.
Saturday’s Palace screenings of 35mm flicks start at 8:30 a.m. The roster includes the 1920 silent Everybody’s Sweetheart with flapper icon Olive Thomas in her final film; later that year she died from accidental poisoning at age 25 after swallowing mercury bichloride. The 1924 silent comedy $20 a Week presents George Arliss and Ronald Colman as father and son, respectively, in the old only-in-Hollywood-movies plot about millionaires who pretend that they’re impoverished. Speaking of millionaires, Warner Oland (from the Charlie Chan series) plays a wealthy villain who interferes with the happiness of his wife (Dolores Costello) in director Michael Curtiz’s 1927 Warner Brothers silent A Million Bid.
Also at the Palace is The Shopworn Angel, a mostly silent 1928 Paramount romantic tale offers budding star Gary Cooper and an Academy Award-nominated turn from Nancy Carroll. A 1924 George S. Kaufman-Marc Connelly Broadway satire paved the way for the 1925 film adaptation of Beggar on Horseback, with Edward Everett Horton as a classical composer who experiences a surreal nightmare. And get out your hankies for director Frank Borzage‘s 1921 drama Back Pay, an adaptation of a Fannie Hurst soap opera with Seena Owen as a small-town girl who gets wise in the big city.
Back at the Holiday Inn, the afternoon screenings include Louis Armstrong singing “(I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead) You Rascal You” amid plenty of soap suds in the jumping 1932 Paramount short A Rhapsody in Black and Blue (4:30 p.m.), followed by Paramount’s 1934 comedy Enter Madame (4:40 p.m.), with Cary Grant as a spouse who tires of playing second banana to his much-in-demand opera-star wife (Elissa Landi).
The evening’s moving pictures begin with a batch of short subjects: Cinefest’s second William J. Burns sleuthing item, 1930’s Starbright Diamond (8 p.m.); 1929’s Paramount short Weak but Willing (8:10 p.m.) with a pre-stardom Jean Harlow; footage of a 1925 birthday party for the dog of Hollywood showman Sid Grauman (8:35 p.m.); and the 1915 Charlie Chaplin short In the Park (8:50 p.m.).
Three evening features start with the 1927 silent White Gold (8:50 p.m.), starring French beauty Jetta Goudal as a Mexican bride who can’t cope with life at an Arizona sheep ranch. Frankenstein director James Whale guides Universal’s posh 1934 drama One More River (10:10 p.m.), based on John Galsworthy’s final novel in The Forsyte Saga trilogy, with Diana Wynyard, Frank Lawton and a gripping courtroom climax. Saturday’s nightcap offers the 1933 Fox title Paddy the Next Best Thing (11:40 p.m.), with Janet Gaynor and Warner Baxter in a breezy Irish-themed romantic comedy.
Doctor X with Fay Wray
Before the Sunday-morning auction commences, Cinefest threads up Universal’s 1940 musical-comedy The Boys from Syracuse (9 a.m.), which transplants Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors with a Rodgers-Hart score, as Allan Jones and Joe Penner play dual roles as mixed-up twins. The world premiere took place on July 18, 1940, at three downtown Syracuse bijoux (RKO Keith’s and Schine’s Paramount and Eckel), with stars such as Abbott and Costello on hand for the festivities. Syracuse wouldn’t host another premiere of that magnitude until 2008’s The Express, the story of SU gridiron great Ernie Davis, which proved to be a box-office disaster throughout the nation—except at Central New York’s multiplexes.
After the auction will be a noontime salute to Justin Herman, the writer-director behind three 1949 comedy shorts from the Paramount Pacemaker series: The Football Fan, My Silent Love and Roller Derby Girl. Hard-to-see programmers round out the afternoon, such as silent-film star Billie Dove’s attempt to revive her career in Warners’ 1931 diamond-smuggling yarn The Lady Who Dared (12:30 p.m.). Fox contract player Don Ameche marks time in the Ellis Island drama Gateway (1:30 p.m.), followed by Preston Foster in Fox’s 1942 wartime melodrama Little Tokyo U.S.A. (2:45 p.m.), a rarity these days because of the film’s rabid anti-Japanese-American overtones. And Cinefest concludes with Universal’s 1937 Westbound Limited (3:50 p.m.), with Lyle Talbot as a railway engineer who is wrongly accused in a choo-choo mishap.
Admission for all four days is $70, with daily ducats fetching $25. A $25 fee will also be charged for the Palace’s Saturday screenings. The dealers’ room, chockablock with all kinds of stills, posters, videos and books, is available to festival attendees, and will also be open to the public on Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a $5 admission. For Cinefest information, call 468-6147 only from 7 to 9 p.m.; for Holiday Inn details, call 457-1122.; for Comfort Inn info, call 457-4000.
Enter Madame with Cary Grant and Elissa Landi.