Saturday, September 21, 2019

Tonight's Movies: Hit Parade of 1941 (1940), Crooked Streets (1920), and Chatterbox (1943) at Cinecon

And finally, a look at my final day at this year's Cinecon Classic Film Festival!

I spent Labor Day at Cinecon 55 watching a trio of films back to back: HIT PARADE OF 1941 (1940), CROOKED STREETS (1920), and CHATTERBOX (1943). It was a fairly diverse lineup, starting off with a musical, then going back in time a couple of decades for a silent suspense film, then jumping back to the '40s for a comedy.

HIT PARADE OF 1941 was in my top three favorites of the nine films I saw at the festival. It was right up my alley, with great singing (Frances Langford) and marvelous dancing (Ann Miller). It even had a touch of the WWII-era "Good Neighbor Policy" promoting our allies to the south, which I'm always interested to run into in early '40s films; in this case there was a South American themed fashion show and dance.

The plot is a bunch of lightweight yet engaging silliness, thanks to the talented cast. A ding-a-ling business owner (Hugh Herbert) buys the radio station which plays the show where he's been advertising and tries to make a success of it. This includes also broadcasting the latest craze -- television!

Another station sponsor, department store owner Emily Potter (Mary Boland), agrees to pay for a TV show to showcase her daughter Annabelle (Miller) and her singing talent. The only problem is, Annabelle doesn't have much singing ability, despite many lessons -- but she's a heck of a dancer!

Foreshadowing SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) a dozen years later, station manager David (Kenny Baker) persuades lovely radio singer Pat Abbott (Langford) to dub Annabelle's singing voice. Annabelle becomes a huge TV singing star, but Pat's sister Judy (Patsy Kelly) becomes increasingly frustrated with Pat being hidden in the background, especially as Pat loves David but he's often too busy promoting Annabelle to spend time with her.

Judy deliberately exposes the dubbing hoax during a telecast, but all's well that ends well, as Pat and Annabelle can each now be appreciated for their true talents.

I wondered when I watched this if anyone behind SINGIN' IN THE RAIN had seen this film, as there were definitely a couple of parallels. It was quite a fun movie, with faces like Phil Silvers, Sterling Holloway, Franklin Pangborn, Donald MacBride, and Barnett Parker in support of the leads. Herbert manages to be slightly less annoying than usual, and Boland is quite amusing as the dimwitted store owner.

Langford is a joy to hear singing, and it boggles the mind that dancing dynamo Ann Miller was just 17 when she made this! She's lovely; her dark coloring and hairstyle in this made me think of Snow White.

The movie received two Oscar nominations, including an Original Song nomination for Jule Styne and Walter Bullock's "Who Am I?"

HIT PARADE OF 1941 was an 88-minute Republic Pictures film directed by John H. Auer and filmed in black and white by Jack Marta. The movie was later shown on TV as ROMANCE AND RHYTHM, as seen in a poster above.

For more on this very enjoyable film check out Mark Fertig's 2012 review at Cin-Eater.

CROOKED STREETS was a real change of pace, but I also found it an entertaining time, accompanied by live piano music.

Gail Ellis (Ethel Clayton, a new name for me) applies for a job serving as secretary to an antique dealer (Clyde Fillmore) and they travel to Shanghai, along with the dealer's wife (Josephine Crowell) and adult son (Clarence Geldart).

Gail has a mysterious reason for wanting to make the trip to such an exotic place, and when she explores the more dangerous parts of the city she runs into difficulty. Gallant Britishman Rupert O'Dare (Jack Holt) battles a nasty French sailor (Frederick Starr) to rescue Gail.

It will later turn out that Gail repays the favor and rescues Rupert, but I won't spoil the rest of the story...there are some fun plot turns.

This was quite a fun watch, with great atmosphere. I'm sure this was the earliest film I've been Holt in, and I was amused that he played a Brit -- since it was silent, the lack of an accent didn't matter! Clayton was very good as the enterprising, determined Gail.

CROOKED STREETS was directed by Paul Powell and filmed by William Marshall. It ran 63 minutes. The movie was produced by Famous Players-Lasky Corporation and distributed by Paramount-Artcraft Pictures.

My final film of the day was CHATTERBOX, a Republic Pictures comedy starring Joe E. Brown and Judy Canova. (A side note, this film has no connection to a 1936 Anne Shirley film of the same name.) The movie was introduced by Canova's daughter Julieta. Incidentally, some readers may be more familiar with Canova's other daughter, actress Diana Canova, known for the '70s comedy SOAP.

I was a bit dubious about seeing this film, as Brown and Canova are known for the kind of broad slapstick comedy which doesn't appeal to me, but it proved to be a reasonably entertaining 77 minutes.

Brown plays Rex Vane, a radio cowboy who's signed to a movie contract but doesn't know the first thing about actually being a cowboy.

When Rex runs into trouble riding a horse at a personal appearance, he's saved by Judy (Canova). The public is dismayed to learn Rex can't ride, so the studio attempts to salvage the film Rex has signed to make by cashing in on publicity and casting Judy as his leading lady.

There were some pretty funny scenes, especially when Judy, who can't act, is asked to emote the line "My lover, he's been shot!" Her repeated deadpan deliveries had me in stitches. Canova brought a certain sensitivity to the role, along with the comedy, and I enjoyed her in this more than I expected.

A longish sequence with Brown and other actors in drag was less amusing, but I liked the movie's Western filmmaking theme and overall it was a pretty good time.

I was drawn to the film in part by some of the supporting cast members, but they all received relatively short shrift. Rosemary Lane had a decent amount of screen time, including setting up the final set piece with Rex and Judy endangered by explosions, but her role didn't really take advantage of her talents, including her singing ability.

Similarly, the Mills Bros. are in the film, but their appearance was quite short, singing at a cookout.

A young Anne Jeffreys was prominently billed, her 11th film released in a bit more than a year, but she was little more than an extra. I think she had one line near the end! Her next film was CALLING WILD BILL ELLIOTT (1943), which I recently wrote about for Classic Movie Hub, and from there her career began to pick up speed, with numerous leads in "B" films and increasing prominence in films such as DILLINGER (1945).

CHATTERBOX was directed by Joseph Santley and filmed in black and white by Ernest Miller. Some of the scenes were filmed in the familiar environs of Iverson Ranch in Southern California.

I had a terrific time in my 48 hours at this year's Cinecon, enjoying nine films, a two-reeler short, and a cartoon. I hope to attend again in 2020!


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