Film Festival Highlights 2009

2009 Windy City Film Highlights

Friday:

12:00 pm — The Mark of Zorro (1920). The first Zorro film is also the most faithful adaptation of Johnston McCulley’s “The Curse of Capistrano,” serialized in All-Story Weekly during August and September of 1919. Dashing Douglas Fairbanks was already a popular leading man when he essayed the role of Don Diego Vega, but Mark of Zorro’s surprise success turned him into one of the cinema’s first true superstars. Although this film has always been available in one form or another, we’re showing the most recently restored version, which was mastered from archival film elements deriving from the original negative and boasts a newly recorded orchestral score. If you think of silent films as hopelessly creaky, sit in on Mark of Zorro. You just might be surprised.

02:00 pm — Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective (aka The Raven Red Kiss-Off, 1990). This year our convention celebrates the Diamond Anniversary of the Spicy pulp line, and this made-for-TV movie was the second of only two films we’ve identified as having been adapted from Spicy yarns. Based on a Robert Leslie Bellem story and scripted by regular Windy City attendee John Wooley, this fast-paced mystery is a bit too campy but great fun for pulp fans nonetheless. Note: We’re showing the seldom-seen Fries Entertainment home-video cut, which contains a few shots of partial nudity that weren’t in the original broadcast version.

04:00 pm — The Return of Wild Bill (1940). This above-average “B” Western, directed by cult favorite Joseph H. Lewis, was adapted from Walt Coburn’s “The Block K Rides Tonight,” which appeared in the July 1939 issue of Star Western. Popular cowboy star Gordon “Wild Bill” Elliott plays the two-fisted lawman who avenges the murder of his father. Lovely Iris Meredith, who played Nita Van Sloan in the Spider serial we showed last year, assumes leading-lady chores. We ran an old 16mm print of Return of Wild Bill at our 2003 convention, but this DVD has been specially mastered for us from a 35mm archival print.

Following Friday Night Auction — Bombay Mail (1934). An extremely rare film, never made available on home video or to cable movie channels, this nifty programmer combines high adventure and murder mystery. It was adapted from a Lawrence G. Blochman novel of the same name, which originally appeared in the August 15, 1933 issue of Complete Stories. The first of several Blochman yarns featuring Detective Inspector Leonidas Prike (renamed Dyke for this movie), Bombay Mail revolves around the murder of a British official aboard a Calcutta-Bombay train. The suspects include a Maharajah, a Russian opera singer, several Americans, and anti-British rebels. Edmund Lowe plays Dyke; the supporting cast includes Shirley Grey, Ralph Forbes, Onslow Stevens, and Hedda Hopper. Pieces from the evocative musical score by Heinz Roemheld were reused in part many times in subsequent years, most notably in the Flash Gordon serials.

Saturday:

09:00 am — Blackmail (1947). This fast-paced, action-packed Republic Pictures whodunit was the first Dan Turner film and, therefore, the first adapted from a Spicy pulp story. William Marshall, a blond “himbo” who Republic desperately tried to make a star, plays the hard-boiled private eye, called to investigate the blackmailing of a famous movie director (former matinee idol Ricardo Cortez). Luscious blonde Adele Mara and haughty brunette Stephanie Bachelor are the femmes fatale, and Grant Withers appears as Dan’s foil, Police Inspector Donaldson. Fans of Robert Leslie Bellem’s yarns will get a kick out of hearing the author’s wacky dialogue spouted by these colorful characters, their verbal exchanges alternating with fistfights and car chases galore.

10:15 am — Blue, White and Perfect (1942). An entry in 20th Century-Fox’s Michael Shayne series, this polished whodunit was actually adapted from a Borden Chase novel featuring “Smooth Kyle.” Chase’s yarn, bearing the same title, was serialized in Argosy during September and October of 1937. Fox’s screenwriter Samuel G. Engel simply appropriated the pulpster’s plot and substituted Shayne for Kyle. One of the suspects is played by TV’s future Superman, George Reeves. Fast-moving and fun, Blue, White and Perfect is among the two or three best entries in the entire Michael Shayne series.

12:00 pm — Saturday Matinee: The Ivory-Handled Gun (1935) plus selected short subjects. We’re replicating a complete program that any American kid might have seen at his neighborhood theater on a Saturday afternoon in the mid ‘30s: coming-attractions trailer, cartoon, newsreel, serial episode (Chapter Two of Gordon of Ghost City, a 1933 chapter play loosely adapted from a Peter B. Kyne story), and feature film. The main attraction is The Ivory-Handled Gun, a Buck Jones Western adapted from the Charles E. Barnes novel of the same title published in the Second October 1930 issue of Ace-High. It’s one of Buck’s best starring vehicles of this period.

02:00 pm — I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes (1948). No Windy City film program would be complete without a movie taken from one of Cornell Woolrich’s pulp yarns, and this year we’ve dug up one of the scarcest. Based on the novelette of the same title published in the March 12, 1938 issue of Detective Fiction Weekly, this Monogram “B” stars Don Castle, Elyse Knox, and Regis Toomey in an adaptation scripted by former pulp writer Steve Fisher. It’s an exercise in low-budget film noir revolving around the familiar Woolrich situation of an ordinary guy framed for a murder he didn’t commit. Afraid that Woolrich’s ambiguous denouement wouldn’t make a satisfactory ending for the movie version, Fisher actually called his fellow pulpster for advice. Woolrich suggested that Fisher graft onto Shoes the ending from one of his famous stories—but you’ll have to see the film here to find out which Fisher tale was thus cannibalized.

03:30 pm — Private Detective (1938). Perky Jane Wyman stars in this minor but zippy little “B” from Warner Brothers, based on Kay Krause’s “Invitation to Murder,” published in the May 1937 issue of Pocket Detective. A seemingly routine child-custody hearing leads to murder, and female detective Myrna “Jinx” Winslow cracks the case with timely assistance from police lieutenant Jim Rickey (Dick Foran). Clearly fashioned after Warner’s popular Torchy Blane series (adapted from Frederick Nebel’s MacBride-Kennedy stories in Black Mask), Private Detective sports a supporting cast that’s practically a Who’s Who of popular ‘30s character actors.

Following Saturday Night Auction — The Law of the Forty-Fives (1935). An obscure little Poverty Row horse opera forgotten by all but the most rabid Western-movie fans, this is the first screen adaptation of a “Three Mesquiteers” novel by prolific pulpster William Colt MacDonald. The movie only features two of the three heroes, however; in his novel of the same title (serialized in Quick-Trigger Western from December 1929 to April 1930 and published in hard covers in 1933), MacDonald focused on his already-established twin protagonists, Tucson Smith and Stony Brooke. A deputy sheriff, Lullaby Joslin, joins them at story’s end and becomes the third Mesquiteer. This movie, which stars Guinn “Big Boy” Williams as Tucson and silent-screen comedian Al St. John as Stony, doesn’t give a name to the deputy character (played by Curley Baldwin). But let’s not quibble. The film is great cornball fun, with the numerous shortcomings—most owing to a minuscule budget and truncated shooting schedule—adding to its charm. And you won’t see it anywhere but here.

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