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September 24, 2011

Festival Report – Cinesation 2011, Part 1

by HELEN GEIB

Cinesation 2011 Day 1 – Friday, September 23

The Gun Woman (1918)

Friday started with two incomplete films. The Gun Woman was incomplete only due to personal circumstances: it was the first feature of the day and Indianapolis is a five hour drive from the Lincoln Theater in Massillon, Ohio. What I saw of it was of interest as an early work by director Frank Borzage and for its saloon owner heroine, played by Texas Guinan. She’s a curious mixture of wronged woman and “good badwoman,” a sort of female William S. Hart. The story plays out much like a Hart film would play out- which is not the ending one expects a heroine in a film of that era to meet.

Love’s Prisoner (1919)

The last part of Love’s Prisoner is lost, but what survives of the film is more than enough to judge it laughable in its awfulness. A forgettable Olive Thomas stars in the tale of a tenement girl who, after a whirlwind courtship represented entirely by a scene of her being chatted up in a drugstore by an English peer, is married and widowed- in a single title card! The second act introduces the real love interest, a brilliant detective- and war hero! He’s on the track of a daring bank robber slash society jewel thief- who is none other than the tenement girl! The current cliffhanger ending leaves us to wonder what heights of overstuffed melodrama the story scaled in its final reel.

Double Trouble (1915)

Double Trouble is Douglas Fairbanks’ second film, which presumably explains why it’s by far the worst of his silent features that I’ve seen. You can usually count on a Fairbanks film to have verve and polish, and if not both, then at least one or other. This story about a man who switches between dual personalities- the first effeminate, the second rough character- had neither. The promising comic premise is wasted by an ineptly written scenario that among other problems, veers wildly between simpleminded comedy and Victorian melodrama; the titles are clunky; and the direction is monotonous. Even Fairbanks, who would make a great hit with a similar “dual personality” role five years later in The Mark of Zorro, brings little to the screen but flashes of promise.

The Cop (1928)

The Cop is one of those entertaining genre pictures that’s more than the sum of its parts. It’s really much more entertaining than you’d think from the hackneyed plot, involving working stiff (William Boyd) striking up friendship with gangster (Robert Armstrong), becoming a cop, taking a liking to gangster’s moll, witnessing mentor shot down in robbery orchestrated by gangster, and collaborating with tough lieutenant (Alan Hale) to bring gangster to justice. The writing is a lot better in the small moments than the big picture, and it was easy to forgive the ridiculous parts for the sake of the characters and the natural, appealing way they talk to each other. Other points in the film’s favor: the actors, snappy pacing, generous character-based humor, crisp black and white photography, and on-location filming in New York City.

Still for The Cop from the Fall Cinesation website

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Cinesation 2011, Part 2
Cinesation 2011, Part 3

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