Friday, August 31, 2018

Tonight's Movies: Helen's Babies (1924), Sweet and Low-Down (1944), and Scotland Yard (1941) at Cinecon

Thursday evening I attended the opening night of the Cinecon 54 Classic Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, California.

The evening kicked off with a reception in the theater courtyard, including a live music combo. Many familiar faces from the Los Angeles classic film community were spotted in the crowd, including film historian Michael Schlesinger, dance historian Debra Levine, and the UCLA Film & Television Archive's Jan-Christopher Horak.

Also on hand was former child actress Cora Sue Collins, who will be honored later in the festival with a screening of her very first film, THE UNEXPECTED FATHER (1932). She was photographed here at the reception, wearing green and black.

Festival honoree Diana Serra Carey, otherwise known as Baby Peggy Montgomery, was unable to travel to Southern California for the festival, so Scott Lasky went to visit her in Northern California. They recorded a video so that Diana could greet her fans.

Diana briefly shared memories of making the first movie shown last evening, the silent film HELEN'S BABIES (1924), which was filmed when she was five years old. She remembered working with Edward Everett Horton as a wonderful experience and also shared that she was in awe of Clara Bow's beauty, saying Clara seemed as though she were from another world. Her recollections, though brief, were all positive; she clearly appreciated the opportunities she had at a young age, and she also appreciated that so many of us continue to be interested in her work.

In turn the audience at the Egyptian sang "Happy Birthday" in honor of Diana's centennial this October. A recording of our singing will be sent to her along with a copy of the film.

HELEN'S BABIES was presented with Lasky conducting the Famous Players Orchestra. I counted 19 musicians along with the conductor. Needless to say, that was quite a treat in and of itself!

The movie was the premiere of a Library of Congress restoration, and it was quite entertaining. Harry (Horton) is the author of a book on raising children, so when he arrives in town for a visit, his sister Helen (Claire Adams) and her husband (Richard Tucker) decide it's the perfect time to take a little getaway trip, leaving their daughters Toddie (Montgomery) and Budge (Jean Carpenter) in Harry's capable hands.

The reality is that Harry only wrote the book because his publisher said it would sell, but he really knows nothing about children and doesn't even seem to like them much...and Toddie and Budge would drive the most experienced child expert to distraction! They don't mean to be naughty...they just can't help it, whether they're climbing trees, helping their uncle unpack his trunk, or chasing after a dog.

Fortunately babysitting "Helen's babies" also leads Harry to get to know the very lovely neighbor (Bow) next door!

This amusing film was filled with funny bits, and Montgomery was really quite good at a very young age, with some delightful reaction shots. I was impressed with how natural she was, particularly in a sequence where she tries to repack a box of Harry's collars.

This was my second Clara Bow film, having seen her in GET YOUR MAN (1927) a couple of years ago, and she also has a nice comedic touch. I was glad I got to see it, especially with live music!

Although IMDb lists the original running time as 85 minutes, the print screened was 63 minutes. I didn't notice any obvious continuity problems; indeed, the running time seemed just right!

HELEN'S BABIES was directed by William A. Seiter and filmed by William H. Daniels, who would each have careers extending far into the sound era.

The second film of the evening was SWEET AND LOW-DOWN (1944), a 76-minute 20th Century-Fox film directed by Archie Mayo and filmed by Lucien Ballard.

The lamebrain plot concerns Benny Goodman (playing himself) adding a talented trombone player named Johnny (James Cardwell) to the band. Johnny, who has a mile-wide chip on his shoulder despite his lucky break, flirts with band singer Pat (Bari, who was dubbed by Lorraine Elliott) and falls for wealthy Trudy (Darnell).

Cardwell, in his second film, was utterly unlikeable; one wonders if so many of the studio's leading men were tied up with wartime service that they didn't have anyone else!

The reasons to see this film are Benny Goodman, Linda Darnell, and Lynn Bari. The movie was worthwhile for almost non-stop big band music from Goodman and his orchestra, plus a Mozart quintet for good measure, and I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect.

The print shown was absolutely pristine, with Darnell and Bari looking glorious in black and white on the big screen. (Incidentally, it got me wondering how many times Bari played a band singer at Fox, that was a regular assignment for her!) It may not have been a good film, but it had enough going for it that I enjoyed it.

The supporting cast included Dickie Moore, Allyn Joslyn, and Jack Oakie.

SWEET AND LOW-DOWN is available on DVD in the Fox Cinema Archives line.

The final film of the evening was SCOTLAND YARD (1941), a real rarity from 20th Century-Fox starring Nancy Kelly, John Loder, Henry Wilcoxon, and Edmund Gwenn.

I was particularly interested in seeing it due to my interest in Kelly, the older sister of MAVERICK star (and personal favorite) Jack Kelly. Her films previously reviewed here include FRONTIER MARSHAL (1939), HE MARRIED HIS WIFE (1940), FLY-BY-NIGHT (1942), and DOUBLE EXPOSURE (1944); her best-known films are probably JESSE JAMES (1939) and THE BAD SEED (1956). She's convincing here as an Englishwoman, with a very light British accent.

This 68-minute movie is a crime story set against the backdrop of the London Blitz during WWII. As the film begins, Inspector Cork (Gwenn) of Scotland Yard is on the trail of dashing master criminal Dakin Barrolles (Wilcoxon), who escapes after stealing a car from a quarreling upper-class couple, Sir John Lasher (Loder) and his wife Lady Sandra (Kelly). Barrolles also makes off with a locket which contains pictures of the couple.

Barrolles heads off to fight for Britain -- he may be a crook, but he's also a patriot! -- and when he's wounded and his face disfigured, he's identified as Sir John due to the locket, and a plastic surgeon makes him look exactly like Sir John...who is also in the military and is MIA.

Barrolles goes "home" with Lady Sandra, who can't quite believe her "husband's" new romantic attitude towards her. Barrolles meanwhile starts to think about using his -- or Sir John's -- position at a bank to pull off the crime of the century. But there are Nazi agents afoot, headed by Craven (Leo G. Carroll).

The movie was goofy -- I mean, Wilcoxon turning into Loder partway into the film was kind of a hilarious concept -- but in a good way. The movie had a nice sense of humor, and there were several good laughs along with suspense and a touch of romance. It proved to be the best kind of "B" film, fast-paced and completely entertaining. The audience seemed to enjoy it; I definitely did. Seeing it was worth not getting home from Hollywood till well after midnight!

SCOTLAND YARD was directed by Norman Foster and filmed by Virgil Miller. It does not appear to have ever had a release on DVD or VHS.

Cinecon's goal is to screen rarely seen films, and they surely accomplished that wonderfully on opening night, with three very well-chosen movies. I had a great time!

I'll be returning to the festival for two days later this weekend, so look for further coverage here next week.

Previously: Cinecon Classic Film Festival Opens in Hollywood August 30th. (This post contains links to all Cinecon 54 coverage.)


Blogger barrylane said...

I saw Sweet and Lowdown years ago after having enjoyed the two Glenn MIller films, and no comparison despite Lynn Bari's presence. Sun Valley serenade had John Payne and Milton Berle, along with Tex Beneke and the Miller contingent, all a lot of fun. This is the original source for 'At Las't, on film any way. The other, Orhestra Wives,had Cesar Romero, Carole Landis and an adequate George Montgomery.

Miller for all his stiffness was likeable. Goodman, couldn't cut it that way.

8:14 AM  
Blogger Net - "It's a Wonderful Movie" said...

Oh my, what an amazing experience, Laura! To watch these classics among other film buffs must be exhilarating! I so enjoyed all your stories, especially of the child stars, including the one who came and the other who couldn't. I'm so glad she was still interviewed, however, and her memories of that experience will live on forever!

Thank you for sharing!!! Blessings, Net

8:26 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Barrylane -- SWEET AND LOW-DOWN definitely can't compare with SUN VALLEY SERENADE or ORCHESTRA WIVES, though I thought Benny was fine, and I loved the S&LD music!!

I'd forgotten "At Last" turned up in SUN VALLEY SERENADE. The big performance of it in ORCHESTRA WIVES is one of my favorite scenes of '40s films.

Net, it really was a wonderful evening! I was chatting with friends before the movie and we all agreed how fortunate we are to have not only events like Cinecon but such regular opportunities to see classic films on a big screen, in general. For instance, last weekend while I was at WHITE CHRISTMAS at UCLA, a friend was at TWO FOR THE ROAD at the Egyptian, accompanied by a lecture on '60s film fashion. We have so many marvelous choices!

Best wishes,

9:57 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Laura, you are correct, and my reference should have gone to Orchestra Wives, but my mind was on Etta James -- whose recording has often been referred to as the original. That was annoying. Sorry about the confusion, but two pretty good films in any case.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

It turns out you're correct as well! I looked up SUN VALLEY SERENADE's soundtrack on IMDb and "At Last" is listed being used as background music, including during a skating sequence. I haven't seen that one as often as ORCHESTRA WIVES, need to give it another look!

Best wishes,

10:16 AM  
Blogger Net - "It's a Wonderful Movie" said...

My, I can only imagine how spectacular that must be to see a classic like 'White Christmas' on the BIG screen. Theaters really should play some of the classics, I'm sure there's still quite an audience for them.

3:49 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Net, it's truly wonderful seeing it BIG! Great to be able to see so much detail in the picture and you really get sucked into the movie's world, even more than on TV.

Thanks for stopping by, reading, and commenting!

Best wishes,

12:12 AM  

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