Part 1 of a full Saturday with a silent, some pilots and a black lamb.
Early Saturday morning a lot of familiar faces lined up to see Colleen Moore and Neil Hamilton in the silent Why Be Good? (1929). Here’s a nice shot of my three buddies Karen, Stephen and Laura all together for the only time during the fest!
Couldn’t say it better myself! Great to meet Jandy of The Frame who was at a few of the same movies that day.
In the fun introduction to Why Be Good? author and filmmaker Cari Beauchamp told us to keep an eye out for brief glimpses of Jean Harlow and Andy Devine (also in the film were Mischa Auer and Grady Sutton). Moore plays a down-to-earth, decent flapper girl who pretends to be a wild woman so she can fit in with the party crowd and win dance contests. Over the course of one clubhopping evening, in some spectacularly designed nightclubs which alone make this movie worth seeing, she meets Hamilton, sparks fly and they plan for another date. The next day at work, she discovers Hamilton is the boss’s son and the new personnel manager who must reprimand her for tardiness. Big bump in the road to romance, especially with his father pumping him full of nonsense about how loose and promiscuous such a girl must be. Hamilton overdoes it trying to be cool and professional and makes some clumsy and alienating moves before the couple work out their (mis)understanding of each other.
Moore’s parents are just as overcautious and judgmental, writing Hamilton off as nothing more than a playboy and womanizer, but the couple manage to work it out and steady their romance. I’m not at all well versed in silent film beyond horror and comedy, so this was a really new experience for me and I had a great time with this lively, fun and visually impressive movie. While there, Karen told me all about Colleen Moore’s fairy castle which is so fabulous and beyond description that you just have to google it.
Next up was So Dear to My Heart (1948), a Disney picture mixing a little animation with a lot of heartwarming live action to tell the story of little Bobby Driscoll raising a boisterous and destructive but lovable black lamb. Impressed by the horse The Great Dan Patch, Driscoll believes his ram Danny has similar award-winning potential and so he spends every waking moment preparing it for the next county fair. Beulah Bondi is great as Driscoll’s loving but no-nonsense granny, forever frustrated with the ram’s who seems only able to get in the way and destroy everything around the house. She’s a realist, trying to make Driscoll realize his ram isn’t worth all this effort or likely to win any awards, but the boy’s dedication to the pet, his willingness to do hard work, stick to his dreams, sacrifice some very important things and make some tough promises to God, impresses her (and gets her to make some surprising prayers of her own when the ram goes missing). The movie, which also stars Luana Patten and Burl Ives, was introduced by Leonard Maltin who sat for a while in the row right behind us (movie nerd thrills). There’s animation that pops out of a scrapbook, some great songs, beautiful technicolor and loads of warmth and sentiment, making So Dear to My Heart corny, totally charming and my favourite movie of the day. My pic of Mr. Maltin:
I stayed for the third film of the day in the same Chinese Multiplex and with many of the same people. Air Mail (1932) was a John Ford rarity starring Ralph Bellamy and Pat O’Brien as daring postal delivery pilots stationed in the mountains and trying to make it through a brutal winter. Bellamy is the duty-bound, solid authority figure who remains cool despite losing pilots to the storms, while his girl Gloria Stuart wants him to stay safe on the ground. O’Brien is an expert flier, as well as an annoyingly showy and brash one who puts on a stunning demonstration upon his arrival. He’s called to join the crew and spends the rest of the movie puffed up with ego, rubbing everyone the wrong way, including David Landau and Slim Summerville, and getting involved with another pilot’s wife (Lilian Bond– fun coincidence, I just posted on The Old Dark House also with Stuart and Bond). When Bond’s husband Russell Hopton is killed, she runs off with O’Brien, leaving Bellamy to pick up the slack and fly O’Brien’s route himself. Bellamy crashes high in a completely inaccessible section of the mountains and rescue seems impossible; there’s a radio bulletin telling listeners that the many prayers for him are mostly useless considering the weather (!), a bit of blunt realism and dark humour characteristic of the movie. O’Brien thinks the rescuers are just cowards. He knows he has the talent to get a plane up there and dumps Bond to go save Bellamy, giving a memorable razzie to the press assembled on the airfield before taking off.
Leonard Maltin was again on hand to introduce this movie and told us that we weren’t about to see a Ford essential but a simple “bread and butter” movie, and as those go, it was really enjoyable. Ford made this at Universal based on a script by Frank “Spig” Wead, the aviator turned Oscar nominated screenwriter who would be the subject of Ford’s The Wings of Eagles in 1957. Predictably, for a story written by one who lived this life, there’s a lot of realism and unexpected grit thrown in. For instance when a passenger plane has to make an emergency landing and stay with Bellamy’s crew, it leads to the discovery that one of his pilots has been working under an assumed identity, and for good reason; he’s infamous for bailing out of a plane and leaving his passengers to die in a crash! Air Mail depended on miniature models for the aerial shots of the airport, and those looked outstanding as captured from “above” in a snowstorm. Great effects for such an early film, but for all the expertise and realism there was one apparent flub which gave us something to chuckle at in the aftermath of a plane crash; as everyone runs up to the wreckage, a little black doggy joined the crowd excitedly, leading Stephen to speculate it might have been Ford’s dog making an unintended cameo in a shot too expensive to do over.
Saturday was only half over with 3 events yet to go, and here is where I’m happy to repeat myself and say it was yet another great string of movies where I met many more great people.
Next: Saturday winds up with a bit of bunk, home movies and melodrama.