by HELEN GEIB
Cinesation 2011 Day 2 – Saturday, September 24
White Oak (1921)
White Oak is a late William Hart Western with an 1850s St. Louis and Independence “gateway to the West” setting. If you’ve seen one Hart film, then you have a good idea of the story and characters of this one (which is NOT the same thing as “seen one, seen them all”- his films work a common theme without sliding into interchangeability). The balance here tilts in favor of action and away from morality play. Hart and his production team were in good form. The 1850s Missouri setting allows for a riverboat, wagon train, Hart in the outfit of a casino dealer and other costumes from a less-familiar Western era, and muzzle-loading rifles. Plus the heroine’s dog saves the day. Some continuity errors are the byproduct of lost footage that was cut for the film’s re-release; the abridged print is the only material known to survive for two of the reels.
Mistaken Orders (1926)
The plot of Mistaken Orders, such as it is, is severely nonsensical; I feel unequal to the task of summarizing it. Suffice to say it revolves around the railroad. I felt a lot better about the movie experience when I realized what I was watching. This is a vehicle for Helen Holmes, the originating star of the Hazards of Helen serial 10-plus years before, and unspools like a new episode of her signature character’s adventures… padded out to feature length by a lot of filler. What saves it is that the filler is front-loaded. The action never lets up from the first-not-the-last time Helen (also the character’s name- and you know I love that!) jumps in her car to speed to the rescue. Also prominently featured are cut telegraph lines, a runaway train, and a raised drawbridge. The day and the hunk in distress will be rescued. It’s pleasing to imagine the serial-like finale as a reprise of one of Helen’s many, many lost film adventures.
The Michigan Kid (1928)
I really enjoyed this contemporary-set Northwoods adventure story. The Michigan Kid came out to the Alaska goldfields to make his fortune and did- by opening a saloon and gambling hall. He still pines for the girl back home, but out of foolish pride left without saying anything and never wrote. His detestable rival unexpectedly appears as manager of one of the mines and she comes out to join him…. Conrad Nagel had me rooting for the Kid from the get-go and co-star Renee Adoree is always a charmer. There are nice character moments and the plot moves briskly along to the exciting action climax. It features knavery, heroics, fisticuffs, a forest fire, and river rapids.
Feel My Pulse (1928)
This festival’s movie I most want to see again, Feel My Pulse is a proto-screwball comedy directed by Gregory La Cava. Bebe Daniels stars as a hypochondriac heiress who heads out to an island sanitarium for a rest cure. Only the place has been taken over by bootleggers, as she discovers after a remarkably funny interlude in which she is kept completely in the dark. Daniels is lovely and delightful and Richard Arlen is handsome and charming as her love interest. It’s a credit to them both that William Powell doesn’t quite manage to steal the show as the suave and utterly without scruples bootleggers’ boss. The titles are exceptionally witty; I just loved all the liquor jokes. The madcap action-packed finale picks up the gag as the heroine turns the rum-rummers’ stock against them.
What have you, my good man? Some local bruise?
Those are no local brews. It’s all imported!
Betty Takes a Hand (1918)
Olive Thomas again, this time mugging as an innocent abroad-variety idiot at the center of a movie that can’t make up its mind whether it’s a romance, a comedy of manners, or an inter-generational grievance melodrama. I bailed after half an hour because it was killing my movie buzz from Feel My Pulse. The best thing going was that the name of one of the actors was Vroom.