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Classic Hollywood

Cinecon hopes you haven't heard of these films

Cinecon Classic Film Festival is for hard-core fans of vintage movies

The Cinecon Classic Film Festival, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is for the hard-core vintage-movie enthusiast who is willing to take a chance on films that haven't been seen in some cases since they were first released.

"I suppose the biggest question I get from would-be attendees is that I haven't heard of any of the films you are running. To which I say that's the point," said film historian and Cinecon President Robert Birchard.

"I would say at least half the schedule this year — and for many years in the past — none of us on the committee have seen. I used to say that no revival theater would go broke if they ran a double bill of 'Citizen Kane' and 'King Kong' every week. But regulars who have been coming many years are adventurous and want to see stuff they haven't seen before."

Cinecon 50 opens Thursday and continues through Monday at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood with a memorabilia show and a banquet honoring veteran actors Ruta Lee, Margaret O'Brien, H.M. Wynant, Diane McBain, BarBara Luna and Francine York at the Loews Hollywood Hotel.

The 41 movies may be rare, but Cinecon is aware of the importance of star power. The films feature well-known stars such as William Powell and William S. Hart, and directors John Ford and Allan Dwan.

And the festival always tries to screen the films in 35 millimeters with the best possible prints available.

Cinecon is shining a spotlight this year on comedic actress Constance Talmadge with the U.S. premiere of the EYE Film Institute Netherlands' restoration of the 1922 film "East Is West." Talmadge, whose career was overshadowed by her sister Norma's, stars as Ming Toy.

According to EYE silent-film specialist Elif Rongen-Kaynakci, "East Is West" was considered lost until a nitrate print from a collector came to the Nederlands Filmmuseum in 2005.

"The film has become a bit difficult to swallow due to the changing morals; today there is too much racism in the subject matter than we are used to dealing with," she said in an email.

Still, she added, "during the four-year restoration period, all of our staff members who got to see the film came to adore Connie Talmadge and her extraordinary energy. Considering that today Connie Talmadge is largely forgotten, we find it important to bring Connie back to the audiences and let them see and experience her comedic talent for themselves."

Other highlights:

— "Travelin' On" (1922): A Hart western. The third reel is missing.

— "Paths to Paradise" (1925): One of silent comedian Raymond Griffith's best-known vehicles was screened at Cinecon nearly 30 years ago. The last reel is lost.

— "Hold That Blonde" (1945): Remake of "Paths to Paradise" starring Eddie Bracken and Veronica Lake.

— "World and the Flesh" (1932): John Cromwell directed this epic about the Bolshevik revolution starring George Bancroft as a sea captain and Miriam Hopkins as a ballerina.

— "Kentucky Pride" (1925): Ford directed this silent horse race drama starring the famed thoroughbred Man o' War.

Of course, not everything is obscure. Cinecon is screening Olympic ice skating champion Sonja Henie's first film, 1936's "One in a Million," and the 1940 Jack Benny comedy "Buck Benny Rides Again."

"We've wanted to run this picture for years," said Stan Taffel, Cinecon vice president, film and TV archivist-historian, of the Benny farce.

Charlie Chaplin, Taffel's favorite comedian, will be represented with three early shorts including his first appearance as the Tramp on screen 100 years ago in "Kid Auto Races at Venice."

Author and film historian John Bengtson, who explores historical settings in classic films, will also be on hand to discuss Chaplin and lead a lunchtime walking tour on Cahuenga Boulevard, where many silents were filmed.

A centennial birthday tribute to "The Lone Ranger" star Clayton Moore is also on the schedule with Frank Thompson, who collaborated with Moore on his autobiography "I Was That Masked Man," and the actor's daughter Dawn Moore presenting clips.

Cinecon will be screening a silent serial program, as well as some early Mary Pickford shorts, including a recent discovery, 1911's "Their First Misunderstanding," and 1914's "Behind the Scenes."

Taffel is particularly thrilled the 1940 Gloria Jean musical "A Little Bit of Heaven" made the schedule.

"Gloria Jean has been to Cinecon in the past," said Taffel. "What I like about the film is that it shows off Billy Gilbert, a very loved character actor. It's one of the best roles I've seen him in. Everyone has to have a chance to see him in this."

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