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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cinefest 'Round The Bend

Some (I hope a lot) of you will be headed for Syracuse next week (March 19-22) for the annual Cinefest. I was a regular until 2002, my last year of attendance, so this will be an opportunity to see how much the show has (or hasn’t) changed since. Cinefest is one of those rare weekends you can spend surrounded by hundreds of people that know who William S. Hart is. Kindred spirits all, gathered in a large banquet room to watch dozens of silent films and early talkies, Cinefest-ers are fans of the hardest core. Program selections are from among those least accessible … unseen even by devotees who faithfully monitor TCM and DVD output. These are movies the folks back home never heard of. Significant others best pass on Cinefest, as time and conversation are almost entirely taken up with matters so arcane as to seem like foreign language to those outside the life. It’s always snowing in Syracuse, or there’s a foot on the ground. I like that because it reminds me of weather we used to have down here. Flying in is reminiscent of the final scene from Airport. The hotel is fine, but I can never sleep at these shows (except during movies I stayed up particularly to see). Iron men (and women) will sit fourteen hours through a dozen features in straight-backed hotel chairs not unlike Barbara Steele's Iron Maiden accommodations in The Pit and The Pendulum. I used to slide two or three together, prop myself up on pillows, and lay there like Theda Bara in repose, but that drew attention if not censure, so this year I’m trying a fold-up seat like people use at ball games (now there’s a question --- how many Cinefest-ers also attend sporting events?). Food is good at the hotel and surrounding restaurants. They pop corn to go with screenings. There’s a dealer’s room with guys who’ve lugged in merchandise since stone built the pyramids, and I salute their enduring backs, wishing indeed that my own were as resilient. A highlight of Cinefest is the 35mm show at Syracuse's Palace Theatre, a picture palace as James Mason might have called it, where archival prints are often unveiled for the first time. The journey’s made worthwhile by this event alone. Cinefest is four days of viewing joy and fellowship. Anyone who can get there should get there. It is that weekend’s greatest entertainment bargain. Go here for further info at the official Cinefest site.

What follows is the film schedule recently posted at Cinefest’s Facebook site:

Thursday, March 19th
9:00 am A BUNDLE OF BLUES (1933) with Duke Ellington, Ivie Anderson.
9:10 am SAFETY IN NUMBERS (1930) with Buddy Rogers, Carole Lombard.
10:40 am LESS THAN THE DUST (1916) with Mary Pickford, David Powell.


1:00 pm CARETAKER’S DAUGHTER (1934) with Billy Gilbert, Eddie Foy, Jr.
1:25 pm ALL WRONG (1919) with Bryant Washburn, Mildred Davis.
2:25 pm TRAILER MANIA SHOW II Hosted by Ray Faiola.
3:30 pm CITY OF PLAY (1929) with Chili Bouchier, Patrick Aherne.
4:50 pm DOCTOR’S WIVES (1931) with Warner Baxter, Joan Bennett.


8:10 pm GUMBASIA (1955) A film by Art Clokey.
8:15 pm THE INSTALLMENT COLLECTOR (1929) with Fred Allen.
8:30 pm THEY SHALL PAY (1921) with Lottie Pickford, Allan Forrest.
9:30 pm LOVE NEVER DIES (1921) with Lloyd Hughes, Madge Bellamy.
10:50 pm THE LAST TRAIL (1933) with George O’Brien, Claire Trevor.
11:55 pm WHAT PRICE VENGEANCE (1937) with Lyle Talbot, Wendy Barrie.

Friday, March 20th

9:00 am THE DESERT SONG (1929) with John Boles, Carlotta King.
10:50 am WOMAN (1918) with Warren Cook, Florence Billings, Ethel Hallor.


1:00 pm THE WHEEL OF LIFE (1929) with Richard Dix, Esther Ralston.
2:10 pm GREENBRIAR PICTURE SHORTS presented by John McElwee.
3:15 pm NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS (1931) with Edgar Kennedy, Pert Kelton.
3:40 pm THE DANCIN’ FOOL (1920) with Wallace Reid, Bebe Daniels.
4:35 pm THE SECRET MAN (1958) with John Loder, Marshall Thompson.


8:00 pm THE BANK SWINDLE (1930) William J. Burns Detective short.
8:15 pm JOAN CRAWFORD HOME MOVIES with Joan Crawford.
8:45 pm THE CIRCLE (1925) with Eleanor Boardman, Malcolm McGregor.
9:45 pm THE PERFECT SPECIMEN (1937) with Errol Flynn, Joan Blondell.
11:20 pm DOCTOR X (1932) with Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Lee Tracy.

Saturday, March 21st

7:45 am: The buses will begin to load from the front entrance of the Holiday Inn for the 35mm presentations at the Palace Theatre. Last bus leaves at 8 am 8:30 am (Films may not be presented in order shown on program):
EVERYBODY’S SWEETHEART (1920) with Olive Thomas.
A MILLION BID (1927 with Dolores Costello, Warner Oland.
20 DOLLARS A WEEK (1924) with George Arliss, Ronald Colman.
LUNCH BREAKBEGGER ON HORSEBACK (1925) with Edward Everett Horton.
SHOPWORN ANGEL (1928) with Gary Cooper, Nancy Carroll.
BACK PAY (1924) with Seena Owen, Matt Moore.

The buses will leave immediately after the presentations for the hotel.
Program resumes at the Holiday Inn:

4:30 pm RHAPSODY IN BLACK AND BLUE (1932) with Louis Armstrong.
4:40 pm ENTER MADAME (1934) with Cary Grant, Elissa Landi.


8:00 pm STARBRIGHT DIAMOND (1930) William J. Burns, Detective short.
8:10 pm WEAK BUT WILLING (1929) with Billy Bevan, Dot Farley.
8:40 pm IN THE PARK (1915) with Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance.
8:50 pm WHITE GOLD (1927) with Jetta Goudal, Kenneth Thompson.
10:10 pm ONE MORE RIVER (1934) with Colin Clive, Jane Wyatt.
11:40 pm PADDY THE NEXT BEST THING (1933) with Janet Gaynor.

Sunday, March 22nd

9:00 am BOYS FROM SYRACUSE (1940) with Allan Jones, Martha Raye.
10:30 am THE AUCTION (2009) Hosted by Leonard Maltin and His Stooges.
12:30 pm THE LADY WHO DARED (1931) with Billie Dove, Sidney Blackmer.
1:30 pm GATEWAY (1938) with Don Ameche, Arleen Whelan, Gilbert Roland.
2:45 pm LITTLE TOKYO (1942) with Preston Foster, Brenda Joyce.
3:50 pm WESTBOUND LIMITED (1937) with Lyle Talbot, Polly Rowles
(Films and starting times may be subject to change)

My own program, Greenbriar Picture Shorts, is scheduled for Friday afternoon (March 20) at 2:10 p.m. It’s an hour of single- reelers that I hope will be new to those in attendance. Here’s the summary as it will appear in the Cinefest program:

Greenbriar Picture Shorts Presented by John McElwee --- Here are four subjects hopefully unavailable on DVD and not otherwise saturated on TCM. The first is a Warners reel from 1934, Movie Memories, which was actually the second of two tributes to stars recently departed. There are glimpses here of Mabel Normand, Roscoe Arbuckle, and others memorable to Cinephiles. Next is a rare Screen Snapshots from Columbia, Out West In Hollywood --- a 1953 pastische of screen cowboys going back to the silent era, introduced by Ralph Staub and Ken Murray, the latter doubling as pitchman for his current western, The Marshall's Daughter. Then we have a seldom seen complete episode of an early fifties TV series, Life With Buster Keaton. These were shot in a week and taxed the great comedian's efficiency to the limit. Hardly Keaton's best work, but a fascinating curio. Finally, there is a reel Walt Disney prepared for local stations considering purchase of The Mickey Mouse Club. This was for the second season in which the program was available in syndication (1963-64) and all stops are pulled to tempt prospective buyers. Overall, an hour's variety of shorts we hope you've not seen before.

I’ll also be bringing two features to Cinefest, both of which will be shown on Friday night:

9:45 pm: THE PERFECT SPECIMEN (1938, Warner Brothers) Dir.: Michael Curtiz. With Errol Flynn, Joan Blondell, Hugh Herbert,
Edward Everett Horton, Dick Foran, Beverly Roberts, May Robson.

Here is an Errol Flynn comedy with Joan Blondell too long out of circulation thanks to tangled story rights. It's perhaps more silly than funny, as were most Warner attempts at screwball farce, but a game effort for all that, and welcome opportunity to observe Flynn in something other than action mode. Director Michael Curtiz demonstrates his customary versatility. Was there any genre he couldn't address? The 16mm print we'll see is from Flynn's private stash. He was a dedicated collector of his own and other Warner features, which he often threaded up during birthday and yachting parties. Outside of the presumed lost Murder at Monte Carlo and Hello God, this may be about the toughest of the star's films to see.

11:20 pm DOCTOR X (1932, First National) Dir.: Michael Curtiz. With Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Lee Tracy, Preston Foster, John Wray,
Harry Beresford, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Leila Bennett, Robert Warwick.

So why run a feature we've seen over and over on TCM? Well, look closer, for this is the rare alternate black-and-white version of Warner's horror classic which was shot side-by-side with the two-color and now commonly shown edition. It used to be the other way around. For years, we could only see Doctor X in B/W. Now try finding it that way ... except here at Cinefest! There are numerous, if subtle, differences in the two. You'll observe alternate takes, set-ups, and not a few surprises. Some say this is the more satisfying Doctor X. Should an audience straw poll conclude its showing? There'll likely be plenty of discussion among viewers afterward, for this is a Doctor X every bit as spooky and atmospheric as the color one that's since become the ‘official’ version.

On To Syracuse!


Blogger Kevin K. said...

You youngsters have all the fun!

7:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is that a recent development with PERFECT SPECIMEN? I have a VHS from off of TCM that I watched recently. I had been waiting for a new showing to put on DVD but now I know why I haven't had any luck with that.

10:40 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Unless I've missed it, "The Perfect Specimen" hasn't been on TCM for years. Could that VHS recording have come off of TNT? I just can't remember TCM ever showing it ...

10:51 AM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Other missing Flynn footage is the half hour or so from his aborted "William Tell" project. I'm not sure where it is, or if it even exists anymore.

I have a bootleg VHS copy of "The Perfect Specimen" and it is a lot of fun.

There's a trailer for it on, I believe, the "Black Legion" DVD, which makes me wonder if its coming out on DVD soon, perhaps in a future Flynn collection.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Boston University has the "William Tell" footage in its Special Collections library. The college acquired it at least 20 years ago, if memory serves.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Thanks, Scott. It's good to know the footage is not lost. I wonder if we'll ever see it?

11:38 AM  
Blogger VP81955 said...

Just gave Cinefest 2009 a plug (it is being held in my hometown, after all)...especially since "Safety In Numbers" is on the schedule:

Have a great time in the Salt City!

12:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, that's some lineup. I've been collecting rare silents and early talkies for over 30 years and I only see three titles on the list that I have had the chance to watch. Rare stuff indeed. FYI William Tell. All Wiiliam Tell elements at Boston U. are in 35mm NEGATVE form. There is no soundtrack and there are no plans to positive print or publicly show what they have. The mythical 20 minute reel that Errol was supposed to have shown around to prospective backers has never been found.

6:30 AM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Thank you. I remember years ago Filmfax Magazine had a cover story on "William Tell" but I forgot if it said what condition the footage was in.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Your Kennedy brothers image can't help but remind me of one of my April Fool's pranks on alt.movies.silent: "Edgar, The Forgotten Kennedy":

9:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Have a safe trip to Syracuse, John. It will be nice to see you again. I've not missed a Cinefest in about 20 years, but we've missed seeing you there since 2002.
Thanks for bringing some of your rare films. Looking forward to seeing them.

11:11 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Richard, I'll look forward to seeing you there as well, along with a lot of other good folks I understand are going.

As to comments re "William Tell" and other lost Flynns, I'll be taking some of that up, with a few hopefully unfamiliar images, in a follow-up post coming soon on Flynn.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Mitchum, Crawford, Bickford---glad I didn't have to pay the bar tab...

10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, thanks for taking those hotel room torture chairs to task. The main reason I quit attending Cinevent was I couldn't take the iron maiden chairs anymore at age 56. This is a shame, because it was we old-timers, now suffering with arthritis, who long supported the various festivals. I don't know what can be done except to bring a more comfortable folding chair and ignore any/all comments from the younger folks who aren't on Aleve or Advil yet.
I have PERFECT SPECIMEN on an old VHS tape--taped from TNT, not TCM.

12:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I join the others in wishing you a great time in Syracuse. I have never seen "The Perfect Specimen", but would love to as my grandfather had something to do with it, I think. By the way, do you think I might still be on time to catch one of those last two-days on the advertised "Talent Scout"? Out of it came one of my all-time favorite songs of M.K.s', "Born To Love", which probably wouldn't mean a damn thing to anybody now, but was a sizable hit for all concerned in 1937 -- and I only recently discovered that no-less than Billie Holliday did a recording of it that year!

I'm also counting on you to give us an account of "Enter Madame" which was a very early Cary Grant Paramount outing of 1935 (meaning pre-"Topper"), but which I do remember, albeit somewhat vaguely, from afternoon television (The Johnny Grant Matinee) here in L.A. many moons ago. They showed virtually the entire pre-48 Paramount library (Imagine getting to stay home from school and savoring for the first-time the delights of "Shanghai Express" or "Million Dollar Legs"?)
Finally, tell your girlfriend (in a nice way of course) she's out of her mind -- "Black Sabbath" is a GREAT horror pic -- even "The Telephone"! (Lesbians, really? I don't remember that!)

As ever, R.J.

5:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


It was nice to see you again at Cinefest, John.
Thanks for bringing the interesting films. As I told you there in person, I especially enjoyed the Buster Keaton TV show, with its surprise appearance by one of my favorite movie girls, Shirley Mills. Do you know if that episode had a title, and do you know an exact release date for it?

10:50 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hi Rich --- Sorry to say I have no broadcast date or title for that Buster Keaton episode. There are Keaton discussion groups where members are likelier to have this info. They've talked lots in the past about Keaton's TV work ...

2:39 PM  
Anonymous Bill Black said...

Hi John: Nice to meet and touch base with you at Cinefest! I did a net search for The Perfect Specimen and turned up a VHS version and a DVD-R version at Robert's Hard to Find Videos at $19.95 apiece, tho like as not it's that TNT print!! It was a treat to see it on the big screen. Thanks!
Pop by the blogspot "Return of the Copperhead" at if you get a minute!
Cheers, Bill

9:12 PM  

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