Rendezvous with Cinecon

Lynch Mob Scene from The Conquest of Canaan (1921)

Labor Day Weekend. It was Cinecon time once again, where I view old and rare films looking for diamonds in the rough, Like last year, however, this year’s Cinecon meet was changed into an online event because of the Covid-19 resurgence.

I have seen the first two days’ programs and am looking forward to the next two days. So far, I have seen four features:

  • Dynamite Dan (1924), directed by H. Bruce Mitchell, a typical Horatio Alger type story involving boxing
  • Rendezvous with Annie (1946), directed by Allan Dwan, one of the cinema’s most underrated directors, here treating a Preston Sturges-like script
  • Blue Blazes Rawden (1918), directed by and starring William S. Hart, which I had seen before, set in the Pacific Northwest in a lumberjack camp
  • The Conquest of Canaan (1921), directed by Roy William Neill—who gave us the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films

A Brilliant Comedy by an Underrated Filmmaker

By far the best of the four films were The Conquest of Canaan and Rendezvous with Annie. The older film was shot on location in Asheville, NC, and dealt with a community run by a hypocritical judge and newspaper publisher that persecutes a young man and even sends a mob against him—though the young man triumphs in the end. The other film is about a corporal in WW2 London who goes AWOL for a weekend to visit his wife and impregnate her, only to be shocked when he has difficulty proving the child is his.

Allan Dwan had a long, distinguished career directing films from all the way back in 1911 and ending fifty years later in 1961. Perhaps my favorites among his films are Brewster’s Millions (1945), Silver Lode (1954), and his greatest, Slightly Scarlet (1956). To date I have seen only a small sliver of his output: 32 films from the silent and sound eras.

I won’t pretend that the films shown by Cinecon are among the greatest ever made, but they are almost all rarely seen and worthy productions. Each year, there are some great surprises in the pictures screened. For more info, click here. Be sure to check out the schedule page.

Fifty Years in Hollywood

A Film Director for 50 Years, His Work Shows Signs of High Quality Throughout His Career

There were undoubtedly Hollywood directors who worked in the industry longer than Allan Dwan, but few of them were as consistently good for the entire half century while at the same time being so little-known. I know about him because he is one of the discoveries of the politique des auteurs to which I subscribed for many years. According to the auteur theory, as it is also known, there were within the Hollywood studio system some directors whose work was almost a guarantee of quality, almost irrespective of genre, studio, or stars.

Consider the following highly shortened list. How many films in it do you recognize?

  • Robin Hood (1922)
  • East Side, West Side (1927)
  • The Iron Mask (1929)
  • Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938)
  • The Three Musketeers (1939)
  • Up in Mabel’s Room (1944)
  • Getting Gertie’s Garter (1945)
  • Brewster’s Millions (1945)
  • Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)
  • Silver Lode (1954)
  • Cattle Queen of Montana (1954)
  • Slightly Scarlet (1956)

Most of these look and sound like typical studio products which Hollywood turned out by the hundreds each year. But even toward the end of his career (he retired in 1961), Dwan was doing amazing things. In Silver Lode, a B Western starring John Payne, Lizbeth Scott, and Dan Duryea, there is a tracking shot through a Western town of which even Orson Welles would be proud—some two years before Welles’s amazing opening credits shot in Touch of Evil.

Lobby Card for Cattle Queen of Montana (1954)

Today, I saw Cattle Queen of Montana for the second time. The role of Barbara Stanwyck as Sierra Nevada Jones was a natural for this great star. Even Ronald Reagan managed to shine as a Federal agent investigating suspicious sales of guns to the Blackfeet Indians. There weren’t any directorial fireworks as in Silver Lode, and perhaps there were too many coincidences in the plot, but the aging Dwan showed he still knew how to cut the mustard.