Film Festival Highlights 2008

2008 Film festival included:

FRIDAY

11:30 am:  The Bat Whispers (1930). Based on the novel by Mary Roberts Rinehart (from the play by Rinehart and Avery Hopwood), originally serialized in Flynn’s Magazine during July and August of 1926.  This marvelously creepy old-dark-house chiller features a grotesque costumed villain that, reportedly, was one of Bob Kane’s inspirations for Batman. Chester Morris, later to gain fame as Boston Blackie, plays a no-nonsense detective sent to an abandoned country estate in search of the Bat, who covets a fortune in embezzled money secreted in the mansion by a crooked banker who turns up dead. This groundbreaking early talkie was shot in both conventional 35mm and 65mm widescreen versions.  We’re showing the rarely seen widescreen version.

01:00 pm: The Spider’s Web (1938). Chapters One through Three.  The Master of Men leaped from the pages of his Popular Publications pulp magazine to the silver screen in this fast-paced 1938 serial, a non-stop orgy of gun-blazing action.  We’re running all 15 pulse-pounding episodes this weekend.  Wealthy criminologist Richard Wentworth (played by Warren Hull) disguises himself as both the Spider and underworld habitué Blinky McQuade while attempting to foil the Octopus, a ruthless criminal mastermind whose campaign of terrorization and destruction is aimed at bending the entire country to his will!  With the lovely Iris Meredith as Wentworth’s sweetheart, Nita Van Sloan.

02:15 pm: Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975). Like the Spider, Doc Savage made his first appearance on the nation’s newsstands in 1933.  As part of our 75th-birthday tribute to this pulp-fiction superstar, we’re showing not one but two versions of the 1975 George Pal production starring former Tarzan Ron Ely as Lester Dent’s Man of Bronze. This afternoon we’re running the original theatrical version; tomorrow you can see an unauthorized revision reportedly edited by a Doc fan to remove scenes deemed objectionable or irritating.

04:00 pm: The Spider’s Web. Chapters Four through Six.

05:00 pm: Savage Fury (1956). Feature-length version of a 1935 serial, Call of the Savage, adapted from Otis Adelbert Kline’s “Jan of the Jungle,” originally serialized in Argosy during April and May of 1931. Noah Beery Jr. stars as Jan, the jungle boy who grows up wearing a wristband on which, unbeknownst to him, is inscribed a formula that will cure infantile paralysis. The formula is coveted by two unscrupulous scientists (Walter Miller and Frederic MacKaye), who plan to collect a half-million dollar grant offered for its development. They follow Jan and his companions, Mona (Dorothy Short) and Borno (Harry Woods) to the lost city of Mu, where perilous adventures await them!  Great fun, but not to be taken seriously.

09:00 pm: Phantom Lady* (1944). Based on the masterpiece of suspense written by “William Irish” (Cornell Woolrich) and serialized as “Phantom Alibi” in Flynn’s Detective Fiction during 1942, prior to publication in hardcover as Phantom Lady. Unhappily married Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) goes out for a night on the town with an unnamed woman he meets in a bar. He returns home to find his wife slain, and the police arrest him for murder. Scott’s inability to produce or even name his anonymous pick-up renders his alibi useless, so he’s convicted and sentenced to death. It remains for his loyal secretary (Ella Raines) and best friend (Franchot Tone) to find the phantom lady before the sentence is carried out. This movie, brilliantly photographed by Woody Bredell, established many of the visual conventions of film noir, a sub-genre made to order for the doom-laden fever dreams committed to pulp paper by the haunted Woolrich. A not-to-be-missed classic, not available on DVD and unseen on TV for many years.

10:30 pm: Outlaws of the Prairie* (1938). Based on Harry F. Olmsted’s “Trigger Fingers,” a novelette published in the June 1934 issue of Dime Western. As a boy, Dart Collins witnesses his father’s murder at the hands of cruel rancher Bill Lupton. When the lad swears to get revenge, Lupton cuts off Dart’s trigger fingers. The boy grows up to become a Texas Ranger (played by Charles Starrett) and learns how to “fan” a six-gun, constantly practicing in anticipation of the day his trail crosses that of his father’s killer. This grim little “B” Western also features the Sons of the Pioneers and introduces several songs that became cowboy-music classics: “Song of the Bandit,” “Open Range Ahead,” “My Saddle Pal and I,” and the haunting “Blue Prairie.” Briefly made available to TV in the mid ‘50s, this entertaining little horse opera disappeared from view nearly a half-century ago.

SATURDAY

10:00 am: The Maltese Falcon (1931). The first film version of Dashiell Hammett’s genre-transcending whodunit, serialized in Black Mask during 1929 and 1930 prior to its publication in hardcover by Knopf.  Ricardo Cortez, a Latin-lover type, is slightly miscast but appropriately hard-boiled as private eye Sam Spade. Silent-screen star Bebe Daniels plays Brigid O’Shaughnessy, with character actor Dudley Digges as Casper Gutman and Dwight Frye as Wilmer. If you’ve only seen the Humphrey Bogart version of Falcon, you owe it to yourself to give this earlier adaptation. Although not as perfectly cast or executed as the highly regarded 1941 remake, it’s a darn good little movie in its own right.

11:30 am: The Spider’s Web. Chapters Seven through Nine.

12:30 pm: Doc Savage. This is the aforementioned “fan edit” of the film. It’s not all that much shorter than the theatrical version, but the cuts and alterations make a significant difference, as you’ll see.

02:15 pm: The Spider’s Web. Chapters Ten through Twelve.

03:15 pm: We’re in the Legion Now (1936). Based on J. D. Newsom’s “The Rest Cure,” published in the April 1934 issue of Adventure. Reginald Denny and Vince Barnett play small-time gangsters on the run. Winding up in Morocco, they join the French Foreign Legion in a misguided attempt to avoid danger. Silent-screen star Esther Ralston lends her patrician beauty to this odd little movie, a modestly budgeted comedy-adventure. To enhance the film’s marketability, producer George Hirliman had Legion shot and printed in “Hirlicolor,” his personal version of a limited-palette color process employed by some studios before Technicolor became the industry standard. Later 16mm prints, struck for rental libraries and TV stations, were printed in black & white. We’re running a DVD mastered from the sole surviving 35mm color print, which shows some wear and signs of deterioration.

04:15 pm: The Spider’s Web. Chapters Thirteen through Fifteen.

11:00 pm (time approximate, pending completion of the Auction): The Ringer* (1952). Based on Edgar Wallace’s novel (serialized in Detective Story Magazine during April and May of 1925, prior to hardcover publication) and the play he adapted from it. One of Wallace’s most enduring characters, the Ringer was a master of disguise who dispensed vigilante justice while always keeping one step ahead of Scotland Yard. This film, the third British-made adaptation, stars Herbert Lom as the crooked lawyer responsible for the suicide of the Ringer’s sister—and the vigilante’s next target! A Windy City exclusive: This film was shot with two different endings—one intended for the U. S. market and one for the U. K.  For the first time in this country, The Ringer will be seen with both endings!

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