Offering marathon screenings of rarities and rediscoveries reaching back to the earliest days of silent movies, Cinecon, the Society for Cinephiles, descends on Hollywood on Labor Day weekend for its 40th annual film festival and memorabilia show.
The festival's opening lineup tonight at the Egyptian Theatre features "The Intruder" (1962), one of the most straightforward films ever made about integration and one of the most serious -- albeit least commercial -- movies ever made by Roger Corman or its star, William Shatner. No masterpiece, this bold portrait of racial injustice has plot contrivances and occasional amateur acting that are more than compensated for by an aura of authenticity, plus a superb performance by Shatner as a suave rabble-rouser.
Corman captures the oppressive atmosphere of summertime in the South, making it suggest impending doom as effectively as any Gothic setting in one of his horror movies. The director will be on hand for a Q&A session after the screening.
Hints of bygone era
Few Cinecon offerings are ever available for preview, but two that were are gems, throwbacks to the era when Hollywood regularly turned out lively, unpretentious entertainment with an endearingly effortless quality.
"That Certain Thing" (1928), Frank Capra's first film for Columbia, is only 67 minutes long. It's just the right length for this breezy Elmer Harris tale -- and Al Boasberg's even breezier intertitles. Viola Dana's pretty, vivacious Molly, a hotel cigar-stand clerk, meets the handsome playboy son (Ralph Graves, a Capra favorite) of a self-proclaimed restaurant king (Burr McIntosh), who disowns his son after he marries Molly a mere six hours after meeting her. Then the fun begins in earnest.
William K. Howard was one of the more serious directors of the '30s, but "Transatlantic" (1931) found him in a light mood. Variety called this handsome Fox production "an aquatic 'Grand Hotel,' " which can't be topped for succinctness. Written by the veteran Guy Bolton, it takes place during a voyage aboard a luxurious Art Deco ocean liner, whose design won an Oscar for art director Gordon Wiles. Edmund Lowe stars as a gentleman thief with a conscience. He's concerned that John Halliday's smug banker is openly flaunting his affair with Greta Nissen's sexy dancer, much to the pain of his beautiful young wife (Myrna Loy). Also aboard are a mutually devoted father (Jean Hersholt) and daughter (Lois Moran), and a crooked Earle Fox and his gang, intent upon relieving the banker of his fortune. "Transatlantic" is witty and sophisticated in the grand '30s manner, featuring Dolly Tree's elegant costumes and superb James Wong Howe cinematography. There are a few, but not crucial, sound glitches on the soundtrack.
Cinecon will reprise two convention favorites, Allan Dwan's robust "Robin Hood" (1922), which opened the Egyptian in 1922, and Paul Leni's spooky 1927 "The Cat and the Canary," newly restored by film historian Kevin Brownlow. The first stars Douglas Fairbanks at the height of athletic grace and charm and features Wilfred Buckland's monumental sets -- the biggest sets Hollywood had seen up to that time.
The second is a classic "old house" suspense thriller in which an eccentric millionaire with a gloomy castle fears his greedy relatives are driving him insane. When he dies he makes them wait 20 years for the reading of his will. Demure Laura La Plante is named his sole heir -- but there's a hitch, to be sure. Adapted from the 1922 John Willard play, "The Cat and the Canary" combines visual flair in the Expressionist manner with broad humor and attests to Leni's talent for creating striking, ominous imagery.
Cinecon runs through Monday. Other events related to the festival, as well as showrooms for memorabilia dealers, will be at the nearby Renaissance Hotel.
Among the films screening in the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival, Tuesday through Sept. 13 at the ArcLight, is Kevin Ackerman's exceptional 30-minute "Lonely Place." A period-perfect vignette set on a Fresno peach farm in 1949, it stars Tess Harper as a dutiful housewife with a lord-of-the-manor husband (Kurtwood Smith) oblivious to the dangers of hiring a sexy drifter (Tomas Arana). What makes this film special is how it subtly suggests that the wife is both attracted to and afraid of the mysterious drifter.
* Today: "Life Begins at Forty," 6:35 p.m.; "The Intruder," 8:10 p.m.
* Friday: "Robin Hood," 10:35 a.m.; "That Certain Thing," 9:25 p.m.
* Saturday: "The Cat and the Canary," 8:45 p.m.; "Transatlantic," 10:45 p.m.
Where: Lloyd E. Rigler Theater at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
Info: (800) 411-0455 or www.cinecon.org
Los Angeles International Short Film Festival
* Wednesday: "Lonely Place," 9:45 p.m.
Where: ArcLight Cinemas, 6360 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood
Info: (323) 851-9100