03 February 2008

"Not Quite Decent"

Joan Blondell (left) will figure in the feature item for this entry, a casual examination of the inexplicably lost 1933 Warner Bros. pre-code potboiler "Convention City," --- but we'll open this post with a glance at an earlier but equally lost title, Fox's 1929 synchronized part-talkie, "Not Quite Decent."

Directed by Irving Cummings, featuring Louise Dresser, June Collyer and Allan (pre-"Rocky") Lane, and released in April of 1929, "Not Quite Decent" was described plainly in period press material distributed to newspapers:

"'Not Quite Decent' is a talking picture in the sense that it has Fox Movietone sequences in generous amount."

"Based on the story by Wallace Smith, 'The Grouch Bag,' it tells, primarily, the story of Mame Jarrow (Louise Dresser,) a former big-time vaudeville singer who has reached her mid-forties and is still an entertainer but not of the stage -- rather, she appears in an underground speakeasy of which she is half owner."

"Mame is just as young in spirit as ever, though the wrinkles have begun to appear and the figure has lost its former perfection, but she carries on. Eventually, to the speakeasy comes her daughter (June Collyer) whom she has not seen since infancy. She recognizes her, but the girl has always believed her mother dead, so Mame lets her keep on thinking so."

"When the daughter is in the toils of a wealthy philanderer, the mother decides it is time for her to do a little mothering. She saves the girl, disillusions her with the life she is trying to lead, but all is accomplished at cruel cost to the mother."

"The close of the picture finds the girl going back home with her childhood sweater (Allan Lane,) never knowing that it is her own mother who has saved her."

If all that sounds rather cut and dried, well... it is. In an odd turn of events, we can actually learn a bit more of the plot detail via the AFI database:

"On her way to New York for her first stage appearance, Linda Cunningham (June Collyer) meets Mame Jarrow (Louise Dresser,) a nightclub singer. Linda later drops by to hear Mame sing, accompanied by her angel, Al Gergon (Paul Nicholson,) a wealthy roue. Mame gradually comes to realize that Linda is her own daughter, from whom she was separated years before by pious relatives."

"Using all her wiles, Mame attempts to keep Linda from falling prey to Gergon, and when all else fails, she sends for Jerry Connor (Allan Lane,) Linda's small-town sweetheart. Linda returns home with Jerry, and Mame sings her heart out in smoky rooms, never disclosing to Linda that she is her mother."

All in all, perhaps the advertisement (from a Logansport, Indiana newspaper) summed the picture up best:

"Bright lights dance with dark shadows when a blue singer gets the blues!"

If that wasn't food for thought enough, the reader is then presented with this puzzler: "Just what is decency? A new and compelling answer is given in this story of life on the fringe of the night clubs."

At a mere five reels in length, and synchronized throughout with a Movietone orchestral and effects score, I suppose one or even a half reel of spoken and vocalized word would qualify as the "generous amount" cited in the press release, and surely a hefty chunk of the "talking sequence" was given over to Dresser's warbling of the film's theme song, "Empty Arms." (You can be sure I tried my level best to turn up a 78rpm recording of this tune --- alas, I must admit failure, but if one turns up you can be certain it'll be offered in an upcoming post.)

A musical interlude before we toddle off to "Convention City"...



There's as much of interest in Irving Kaufman's late 1928 rendition of "Ever Since the Movies Learned to Talk" as there is in the photograph of the singer himself (at left) which, admittedly, dates from some ten years prior to the recording itself.

Enlarge the image and you'll note all manner of fussy, busy decorative details in the apartment where Kaufman then resided with his wife and infant child: the riot of patterns, the confusing attempt to hide away the fireplace with pillows and draped linens, the scroll-work on the radiator (do any of us remember seeing radiators that weren't coated with decades of peeling paint or hidden away behind grids?) and, of course, Mr. Kaufman himself --- replete with freckled visage. As for the recording, well --- few escape the biting lyrics, not even Emil Jannings or Rin Tin Tin, and its fun to match up the descriptions of performers with our suspicions of whom is being discussed. "Ever Since the Movies Learned to Talk" was the sort of tune that lent itself to numerous interpretations on record, and a variety of lyrics too --- but this is, I believe, the best of the lot.

"Ever Since the Movies Learned to Talk" (1928)

While the 1928 Osa & Martin Johnson film "Simba" likely would have gotten by on visual content alone, especially as the pair were as adept at marketing and self-promotion as they were at capturing (or manufacturing) their adventures on film, "Simba" was made available in a synchronized version as well. (One period ad refers to the sound system employed as "The Dulcetone.")

Being 1928, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the sound version of "Simba" was blessed with a theme song, and this being Vitaphone Varieties, it shouldn't come as a surprise that you can hear this theme song right here and now:

"Song of Safari" (1928) Frank Munn

While it's fashionable to despise adventurers, films and even song lyrics of this sort today, I must admit to finding it all very lovely indeed. Oh, not so much for the content that adheres to these elements even today --- but for the fact that there was a point in our history when such things were looked upon in wonder as incredibly romantic and thrilling rather than something that must be stopped at all cost. How intent we all are today in wringing out and discarding every bit of magic and fancy from our lives, save for that which is pre-approved.

Also dating from 1928, but likely familiar to readers of these pages from its inclusion in the soundtrack of the 1929 UA film "Alibi" is the tune "How About Me?," which accompanies that marvelous long tracking and trick shot early on in the film in which the viewer is first drawn into the nightclub.

If this sketchy description doesn't ring any bells, the tune will. You'll see!

"How About Me?" (1928)

In late Autumn of 2003, the Vitaphone Project's online and print newsletter lamented what appears to be the utter and complete loss of both picture and sound elements for the 1933 Warner Bros. film "Convention City":

"This was a major feature with a cast boasting many of Warner's top stars: Dick Powell, Adolph Menjou, Frank McHugh, Hugh Herbert, Joan Blondell, Guy Kibbee, Mary Astor and Ruth Donnelly. The tale goes that (the film) was so risque that it singlehandedly brought the Legion of Decency's wrath on Hollywood and that Jack Warner destroyed all prints as penance."

"This story is is unlikely. The reality is that there were many much more notorious features released at the time, and all of them survive. That every known print of 'Convention City' worldwide should have been destroyed seems unlikely. Yet, no prints have surfaced. It does not appear to have been part of Warner's television package in the 1950's, although rumors persist that it was shown on British television in the sixties."

A search of the Warner vaults yielded nothing, not even the trailer. "In 1998, John Leifert was viewing some stock footage his employer, Getty Images, had purchased. One reel contained mute 'Convention City' footage of Atlantic City establishing shots, convention train arrivals, and boardwalk scenes as the apparent background (footage) for the opening titles."

As with so many lost or missing films, the title's legend seems far greater and certainly more alluring than the reality. Or is it? Here's a reel-by-reel encapsulated view of the film. You decide.

Reel 1: "Convention City" opens within the offices of the Honeywell Rubber Company, where a heated board discussion is in progress concerning the location of the company's upcoming convention. New Orleans, Los Angeles and Montreal are all in the running --- but company chairman, J.B. Honeywell (Grant Mitchell) will have his way: "Gentlemen, gentlemen, please! The discussion is closed. As usual, I suppose I shall have to make the decision personally. Let me see, where did we hold our annual convention last year?"

The directors all reply in unison: "Atlantic City."

"And we'll hold it there this year," decrees Honeywell. "Miss Logan, see that the usual preparations are made! Gentleman, the meeting is adjourned. Oh, these weighty decisions...."

We then meet some of the main players in the film:

T.R. Kent (Adolphe Menjou) a slick Honeywell salesman who uses every trick in the book to sell Honeywell rubber products to hesitant vendors, including waterproof coats: "Now Mr. Maxwell, I want to bring to your attention the particular water-proof features of this coat, making the coat practically hermetically sealed!"

Meek Honeywell salesman George Ellerbe (Guy Kibbee) and his domineering wife (Ruth Donnelly) who is busily arranging George before the pair leave for church: "Turn around. Let me see how you look. You know, you never get that thing on straight!" she chides, referring to what must have been the most horrid, unconvincing toupee ever seen on the screen.

"Oh but darling, why do I have to wear a toupee? The darned thing's so itchy!" moans George.

A messenger boy brings word of the confirmed locale for the upcoming convention, and Mrs. Ellerbe announces she plans to accompany George this time: "You'll not miss a chance of being made sales manager this time."

We're next introduced to Arlene Dale (Mary Astor) as Honywell's sharp and shapely female saleswoman, who sadly announces to her card playing pals: "Well boys, it's breaking my heart. I can't play tonight. I just got a wire from the Home Office and I got to shoot right back East for that Sales Convention."

And, before the scene shifts to Atlantic City, we meet Frank McHugh as Will/Bill Goodwin, whose hotel tryst with his girlfriend Lulu (Barbara Rogers) is cut short by a bellhop arriving with a telegram: "Honey, I got to go to he convention. I just got time to catch the Dixie Flyer." When Lulu pouts and pleads "Oh, honeybunch, don't go leave me tonight" and wraps her arms around his neck, Goodwin pulls himself up and announces, as the scene fades out:

"Darling, the saddest words of tongue or pen are these: 'It Might Have Been.' Scram!"

We then meet Nancy Lorraine (Joan Blondell) as a young lady with, shall we say, an eye for opportunity. She and her friends are comparing notes on the various conventions scheduled for the town. One girl displays the riches yielded from a hapless member of the International Glue Company and Nancy breathlessly prattles off: "Yes, they're in town and so are the Carbon Removes of Detroit, the United Gold Miners of Nevada and the Associated Trust Company--- and the Ever Ready Bandage Company, and you'se girls lay off the lads because they belong to me!"

When word arrives that the Honeywell Rubber Company starts Monday, the girls cheer in unison and one says wearily "Thank heaven! I'm so tired of that Ever Ready Bandage Company!" An off-screen voice replies "Listen sister, if they tire you, you better leave town before the Hercules Tool Company gets here!"

So ends the first reel of "Convention City."

Reel 2: We're aboard a train speeding towards Atlantic City and as the camera travels down the length of a car we overhear bits of conversation as we pass clutches of passengers:

From a crap game: "Leave your palm up baby, let me see that nine!"

The drunkard: "I want a couple o' bottles of White Rock. Hey Porter, gimme a couple of bottles of White Rock!"

Two sets of wives, holding much the same conversation: "I told Harry I was going along." "So was Tom, but he has a fat chance of losing me." "That's just what I told Harry. I know what these conventions are."

Another pair of wives, regaling one another with their medical woes: "Go ahead, Mrs. Wickerhsam, tell us about your operation. How large is the incision?" "It was thirty-two inches around the waist, and forty-four inches from neck to ankle!"

Salesmen, telling old and familiar jokes: "And so the gentleman in the upper birth leans down and says: 'For goodness sakes, kiss her and we can all go to sleep!'"

The camera pauses before Mr. and Mrs. Ellerbe, and George is still struggling with his ill-fiting, itchy toupee as Mrs. Ellerbe drones on: "And when I say I'll go with you, I mean it! Here's one convention where you'll not come home from with a brassiere in your suitcase!" The camera moves on to Arlene Dale and T.R. Kent, the latter lamenting his unhappy marriage:

"I'm willing to give her a divorce and a nice settlement. But she'd like to catch me in the wrong hotel room so she could have some judge award me the gold in my teeth."

Arlene's personal interest in Kent seems more than casual, and prompted by her questions we learn that all T.R. Kent hopes for is to rid himself of his vitriolic, clinging wife and to land the job of Honeywell Sales Manager: "I want that job more than I've ever wanted anything and it isn't just the big money either. It'd mean that all the tough years I spent with this company finally counted for something." Arlene Dale wishes him luck, and he excuses himself to visit the gent's facilities --- where he encounters George Ellerbe. "What are you doing in there?" he asks of George.

"A haven of quiet and refuge. The only place on the whole train where my wife can't annoy me."

"How did you get away?"

"She fell asleep, the old Frigidaire!"

Reel Three: The setting is the bustling Atlantic City train station. As the Mayor delivers a long-winded, oft-repeated and wholly insincere farewell speech to departing members of the Ever Ready Bandage Corporation, Nancy (Joan Blondell) is attempting to put the final clinch on one of that company's salesmen --- by threatening him with a Breach of Promise suit. As she waves a handful of damning letters at the salesman, he snatches them from her just as his train pulls out --- leaving her with nothing except determination not to make the same mistake twice with members of the newly arrived Honeywell Rubber Company. Arriving on scene to make sure she succeeds the next time is Phil Lorraine (Gordon Westcott) Nancy's husband --- and, well, for lack of any other word, her pimp. It's made clear that Nancy's profits are shared with Phil --- and that he keeps watch on her actions.

Arlene Dale and T.R. Kent step off the train: "I want to listen to the Mayor," says Dale. "I want to see if he's changed his speech this year." Chuckles Kent, "He hasn't changed it in twenty years. I'll recite it to you on the way to the hotel."

In the background, the Mayor's florid speech drones on: "Ladies and gentlemen of the Honeywell Rubber Company, Atlantic City welcomes you with open arms. The freedom of this fair city is yours."

As Nancy canvases the crowd for likely prospects, her arm is grabbed by an impudent Jerry Ford (Dick Powell) --- who arrived with the Honeywell train. He asks Nancy "How are you babe? When can I see you again?" "You're fresh, aren't you?" notes Nancy. "Well, that's the way we all are out in Seattle where I come from," replies Jerry. Surprisingly, Nancy invites him to the Bijou Theater that night if he wants to see her again. "You a chorus girl down there?" inquires Jerry. "In a way," responds Nancy, cryptically.

The scene shifts to an assembly hall within the Atlantic City hotel where the Honeywell group is settled. J.B. Honeywell himself is addressing the boisterous crowd. As he does, his words are contrasted with shots of action which suggest that anything but business and productivity will be the order of the day for this convention:

"Friends and fellow workers! This enthusiasm warms my heart and makes me proud of this organization. First, let me say that today's session will be a short one. I recognize that we're all tired from our trip and need a good night's rest before we settle down to business. Bear in mind, members of the great Honeywell happy family, that we are assembled here in this great city to work and plan for the coming year. Of course, you will enjoy yourselves among the many diversified pleasures abounding in this beautiful resort --- but I trust that you will keep the dignity and importance of this company in mind and will draw the line between decent, honest enjoyment and - er - profligacy. It is obvious that some of us are in no condition to attend to business today. We will sing the company song and adjourn until 9:30 tomorrow morning. Rise please. Mr. Travis, will you do the honors?"

As the third reel closes, Mr. Travis (Johnny Arthur) leads the delegation in the company song:

"Oh Honeywell, oh Honeywell, your trademark brings us glory. When feet are cold, and pulse is low, Hot water bags make our hearts glow..."


Reel Four: A party in T.R. Kent's hotel room is in full swing. The radio blares forth dance music. Among the attendees are Nancy (Blondell) and Jerry (Powell.) A knock at the door announces the arrival of George Ellerbe: "My wife sent me over to tell you there's too much noise -- she can't sleep."

"Well, that's fine! Turn up the radio! Go on everybody, let's have a dance!" suggests Kent.

A browbeaten George slumps down onto a seat, where Nancy joins him. "Oh, what's the matter, Pop?" "Wife trouble." "Go away from her." "I wish I dared." "Come on, let's you and me have a drink together." "Oh, I can only stay a minute." "Oh, I can do plenty in a minute."

Nancy's gentle chiding and the drink loosen George up considerably. She plucks at the offending toupee: "You sure look cute in that door mat!" "Say, if I knew I was going to meet you, I'd have had 'Welcome' painted on it!" responds George, grinning coyly.

Jerry (Powell) spots Nancy and George, and attempts to break things up, but George announces he has to be leaving anyway and toddles off to his room and awaiting wife.

Jerry announces he doesn't feel well. "Well, no wonder after all the sheep dip you been drinking!" responds Nancy. "Come on over here and lie down on the bed." Jerry does, and the scene fades out.

Morning. Nancy is shaking Jerry awake. They're alone in the hotel room --- and her well rehearsed routine is about to be set into action. Jerry awakens, and is startled to see Nancy.

"What are you doing here?"
"You locked the door, and wouldn't let me out."
"Did you stay here all night?"
"Oh, what will mother say!"
"Do you have to tell her?"
"She'd know the minute she looked into my eyes! And she'd tell father."
"Is your father here too?"
"Yes, him and my three brothers. They're policemen!"
"Say listen, Nancy, don't cry. Now wait a minute. It's all my own fault. If I hadn't been so drunk I'd never done a thing like that."
"Oh, my family will throw me out! Oh!" (crying) "They're so strict! Father said he'd kill the man who ---"
"Would money ---??"
"Are you trying to insult me?"
"Darling, please. No, I didn't mean it that way. I meant that maybe I could --- could sort of repay you for the wrong I've done."
"Well, if you put it on that basis ---"
"Sure! Just to show you how sorry I am. Come on, now. Wouldn't you accept a little gift from me?"
"Maybe I would. I could take mother south for her kidneys. I could get her out of town before she'd tell father about us."
"How much would you need?"
"About a thousand dollars in cash."
"Why, I haven't got that much!"
"Do you want me to face my family?"
"Now what a minute, wait a minute. Now, I didn't say no. A thousand dollars? I've only got four hundred dollars. That wouldn't do your mother's kidneys any good."
"No, they're awfully big kidneys."
"Look, you stay right here. I think I know where I can borrow the money. You wait right here!"

Jerry dashes over to T.R. Kent, explains his dilemma, and asks for $600. Kent sizes up the situation at once, tells Jerry to stay put, and saunters into his room to confront Nancy.

"Good morning, small pox! I understand that you'd like a thousand dollars?"
"Is that any of your business?"
"Certainly. I'm the paymaster. Now, here's a nice, new, fresh, crisp twenty dollar bill straight from the United States mint."
"I'll take fifty of 'em."
"Shall I call the house detective?"
"He's a pal of mine."
"And the District Attorney? Is he a pal of yours too?"
"I'll take a hundred bucks."
"Twenty. Twenty, darling. That's generous -- even for conventions. Are you listening?"
"Why you good-for-nothing-rubber-goods peddler!"
"Nice day for a walk. Come on baby. Come on, sleeping sickness. You're wasting my time."
"You think you're smart, don't you?
"No, not smart -- just experienced."

As he ushers the half-dressed Nancy out of the hotel room, a shocked Mrs. Ellerbe witness the departure from the hotel corridor and storms back into her room: "George! What kind of a place is this? Disgraceful! Outrageous! Disgusting?"

"What's disgusting, dear?" inquires George.

"Oh, that Kent person had a woman in his room all night! I just saw her leave. The idea of such conduct right across the hall from me! I'm moving out. I refuse to stay another second in this -- this house of ill --"

"Now, now darling --- it may just be some lady who knocked on his door by mistake. Or something."

"Or something! Well, anyhow, I'm certainly glad I didn't let you come to this convention alone!"

"Oh, I wouldn't think of it dear."

Reel Five: The fifth reel of "Convention City" opens with a conversation between T.R. Kent and George Ellerbe, the latter still bemoaning the fact he's doomed to spend the entire convention under the hawk-eyed observation of his wife: "It's worse than being in jail! She won't let me out of her sight!"

Kent has an idea: "Has your wife any relatives that might get sick and send for her?"

"You're a marvel! Her sister Ella, in Cleveland. Oh but Ella isn't sick. The whole family's too mean to get sick."

"Forget about it. What's Ella's name and address?"

"Oh boy --- say, if she ever gets suspicious, I'm moving to Australia!"

"Relax. You're wife's practically out of town now."

Of course, Kent's willingness to secure Ellerbe's liberty isn't purely out of kindness. He knows that if Ellerbe's sterling reputation could be tarnished a bit, he'd be a cinch to land the Sales Manager job they're both in the running for. So, when Ellerbe inquires about the little girl who sat on his lap the night before --- Nancy, Kent eagerly provides him with a way to contact her.

Two new characters and players are introduced here: Patricia Ellis as Claire Honeywell (daughter of J.B. Honeywell) who is seemingly as fond of Jerry Ford as he is of her --- and the much despised Mrs. Kent, played by Shelia Terry, who is intent on catching her husband in actionable circumstances.

Although Mrs. Ellerbe hasn't yet left town to rush to the side of her supposedly ill sister in Cleveland, Nancy loses no time in hustling George to a furrier, where she is modeling an expensive full-length model: "And what a bargain! Only fifteen hundred dollars," gushes Nancy. George is appropriately aghast.

"Oh, but you can't say 'no,' you cute little cupcake! You'll break a baby's heart!"

"Well, fifteen hundred dollars is an awful lot of money ---"

"But I'm an awful sweet girl!"

A new customer arrives at the fur shop, and George's reaction leaves little doubt as to who it is.

"What's the matter? You having a stroke?" asks Nancy.

"So this is why you sneaked out of the room! I'll teach you to buy hussies fur coats!" rants Mrs. Ellerbe.

The quick thinking Nancy cuts in: "Now that the Madame is here, perhaps she'd like to model the fur coat herself?"

"Model? Oh! Oh! I beg your pardon dear! You were getting a surprise for me! And I've spoiled everything by walking in on you this way!"

George all but collapses, but gathers himself enough to vow to repay Nancy in any way she wishes: "You saved my life --- I'll see you tomorrow!"

In scenes that follow, we learn that Mrs. Ellerbe is to leave for Cleveland on the morning train, and that Jerry brags to Kent and Arlene Dale that he has a date with Claire Honeywell --- both of whom think highly of her and advise Jerry to play up to her for all he's worth.

Reel Six: It seems that T.R. Kent hasn't lost time in capturing Claire Honeywell's attentions as well, and the two went for a moonlight ride upon the boardwalk the previous evening --- not for romantic purposes, but for Kent to impress Claire with his ability and to cement the notion that he is the best candidate for Sales Manager. Claire agrees --- and tells her father as much. A meeting between J.B. Honeywell and T.R. Kent suggests that Kent will get the position:

"There are reasons why I might choose you in preference to Ellerbe. Though, as you know, he too has been with the company for twenty years and is a man of the highest moral standards!"

"Oh, the very highest, Sir."

"But he lacks your ability and determination. And then too, my daughter Claire, always speaks of you in the highest terms."

"That's very gratifying, Sir."

Kent leaves the meeting virtually walking on air --- but he suddenly suffers pangs of guilt over setting George up with Nancy, and by cooking up the scheme that resulted in his wife leaving Atlantic City on the morning train. He expresses his doubts to Arlene Dale: "Listen, if that Nancy Lorraine gets George over a barrel, I'll be responsible."

"Nothing's going to happen, his wife's out of town."

"Yes, and I sent her there. Don't forget that."

"So what?"

"So what? If I get the job as Sales Manager and George Ellerbe, who after twenty years with this company gets into a scandal, I'd have to fire him and I got him into it! I'd never forgive myself!"

"Are you George Ellerbe's wet nurse? He's over twenty-one."

"Well, I don't like it."

Kent's prophecy of doom isn't only accurate, but it's being played out that very moment up in George's hotel room --- where he and Nancy are in the midst of a game of "Catch and Kiss."

Either due to a cigarette or cigarette lighter, Nancy's frock catches fire. Although she's unharmed after being doused with water, the dress is ruined. George advises her to take it off before she catches cold. "Ain't you the one?," muses Nancy, "Just a guy what sets little girls on fire!"

"Oh, you haven't seen anything yet baby! Now don't worry about that dress. I'll get you another one --- a hundred of 'em if you want."

"How do I know you'll get me a new one?"

"How do you know it? I'm going to prove it to you babe. I'm going to have to buy you a new dress. There it goes --- out the window!"

With that, Nancy's burnt, wet dress is flung out of the hotel window --- and, as it got caught on a hook on the frock, so is George's toupee!

A knock at the door. A male figure pushes into the room. Phil Lorraine. Nancy's husband and "business" partner. The old, old scam ensues.

"What do you mean by pushing in here like this?" demands George.
"I'll tell you what I mean! I saw you come into this room with my wife!"
"Y-y-your wife?"
"I'm Phil Lorraine. Nancy's husband. You heart thief! You home wrecker!"

Nancy and Phil set George up for a financial killing.

"Phil! Don't! It's all my fault! Don't kill him! He didn't know I was married!"

"All right, I won't dirty my hands on him. Nor you, either, you dirty little double crossing --- Just wait 'till I get you in court!"

"Court! Court!" exclaims George, his eyes all but popping out of their sockets. "Oh, now wait a minute, Mr. Nancy ---"

"Huh?"

"I mean, Mr. Lorraine. Listen, we -- we got to use our heads! We got to talk this thing over coolly. Now wait a minute. Now sit down and listen to me. Do I look like a man that would break up a home?"

"Yes."

The scene shifts to the hotel lobby where another unwelcome presence is newly arrived: Mrs. Ellerbe, who flew back to Atlantic City with a vengeance after learning that her sister was in the pink of health.

Kent spots her, and begs Will Goodwin (Frank McHugh) to stall her in the lobby while he dashes upstairs to check on George. He attempts to do so with inane conversation involving a canary that sports a full set of teeth, and by asking her advice on which breed of dog makes for the best pet.

Upstairs, George and Phil Lorraine are talking cash settlements. Phil demands five thousand dollars to forget about the incident. George admits to only having one thousand on hand --- and Phil agrees to take it. George beams at having put one over. "And a check for the rest," adds Phil. George's smile fades.

Reel Seven: Kent, the Fixer Upper, arrives in George's suite with the news that Mrs. Ellerbe's arrival on the scene is imminent. Understandably, George panics. Kent instructs him to go into the bathroom and get dressed as fast as he can. He then turns on Phil and Nancy Lorraine.

"So, your name is Phil Lorraine and that is Mrs. Lorraine, your wife?"

"Yes, he's my husband."

"It's a swell act, but I've seen it before. It's the badger game." He then reveals to an astonished George and the two disgusted scammers that Phil Lorraine is actually one Frank Wilson, a con-man --- not Nancy's husband at all. Phil is tossed from the room and Kent enters the bathroom to check on George --- and finds Nancy with him.

"Oh Ted, I don't know how I'll ever thank you --- you've saved my life!" bleats a shaken George.

"I'll tell you how you can thank me. Come here. You get down in that lobby and meet your wife as fast as you can -- pretend that nothing has happened. I don't know how long Bill Goodwin can stall her!"

Before George can flee, Mrs. Ellerbee arrives. Kent hides George and Nancy behind the bathroom door and explains to Mrs. Ellerbe that he was using George's shower because his was out of order. He asks her to leave the room so he might dress. Mrs. Ellerbe consents to return to the lobby.

Once she departs, Kent instructs George: "Listen, out the window and down the fire escape. Meet her in the lobby. Hurry!"

"Oh, if I ever get out of this, I'll never look at another woman. I'll enter a monastery! But what about her? (indicating Nancy)"

"That's my department," responds Kent. George departs out the window.

"Now get your dress on and scram!" orders Kent to the glowering Nancy.

"George threw it out the window. Besides, I like it here and I'm going to stay. I want to meet Mrs. Ellerbe. In fact, I think I'll receive her in the bedroom."

Down in the lobby, Mrs. Ellerbe is rescued from Bill Goodwin's ongoing discussion of dog breeds by the arrival of George: "Well! Marjorie darling! This is a pleasant surprise! Well, well, well --- I suppose my dear little sister-in-law is better?"

"Where's your toupee?"

"Oh, well --- that's funny. It must have blown off!"

"Too bad your head didn't go with it."

Mrs. Ellerbe isn't quite done stirring the pot. She waves over Mrs. Kent from the side of the lobby, who saunters up to George and his wife in the company of two detectives. Mrs. Ellerbe directs them up to George's room where she informs Mrs. Kent "I think I've got an eyeful waiting for you."

Mrs. Kent and the detectives burst into the Ellerbe room, where they find the undressed Nancy and T.R. Kent in the midst of discussion. Camera flashbulbs pop. "This'll double your alimony, Mrs. Kent," observes one of the detectives.

"Sorry to intrude Ted," gloats Mrs. Kent, "but we'll only stay a second. Thanks, Miss, I've been waiting for years to catch him this way."

In lieu of cash, Nancy picks up Mrs. Ellerbe's new fur coat off the chair and dons it --- but things turn from bad to worse for Kent when Claire arrives at the hotel room door and Kent weakly explains that Nancy is his kid sister, visiting from Washington. Claire seems to buy the ruse, but in the lobby, Kent, Nancy and Claire encounter Mrs. Ellerbe --- who recognizes her coat on Nancy.

The remainder of the reel plays out with Kent and George attempting to untangle themselves from the worst of all scenarios. Kent insists Nancy is his sister from Washington, Mrs. Ellerbe insists Nancy is the furrier shop girl, and is keen to know why she's wearing it. Etc., etc.

Reel Eight: Despite certain inadequacies in Ted's character, Claire has fallen hopelessly in love with him --- and Ted R. Kent realizes that Claire is the express lane to the position of Sales Manager. In a comparatively sedate dialogue scene with Arlene Dale, he reveals his intentions. Dale tries to convince him not to sell his soul for a corporate position, and it becomes clear that she looks upon Ted as more than a pal and co-worker. She's in love with him. Leaving Ted to plan his triumphant and swift rise to the top, Dale seeks out Claire and encounters her in the hotel lobby --- where she plays her hand beautifully:

"Claire, just a second ---"
"I'm rather in a hurry."
"I know. I know where you're going."
"You what?"

"I know where you're going. I know all about it. Claire, please don't take him away from me. You're so young, so attractive. You can have all the men you want. You've got so much and I have nothing - but Ted!"

"You? You and he?"

"For years he's been my whole life. I can't bear to lose him. I'll do something desperate."

"Now, now, stop it!"

"You're only a child. You can't love as I do. You can't realize what this means to an older woman. Please don't take my Ted away from me."

"Married to one woman and carrying on with you and that creature this afternoon in the hall! Then he tried to get me? Four women! Four! What does he think he is, a Turk with a harem?"

Finally, the time has come for J.B. Honeywell to announce his choice as Sales Manager. With all convention attendees gathered in the assembly hall, the Chairman of the Board takes the podium. As he speaks the camera cuts between the various players in the drama --- all eager to learn who wins the prized position:

"And now, my friends, the time is ripe for me to make a vastly important announcement. In fact, most of you have been waiting to hear it ever since this convention opened. I need hardly say that it concerns the appointment of a new General Sales Manager. The choice is finally narrowed down to two candidates."

"Two candidates, whose ability, sales orders, and time of service with the company were about equal. As is my custom in cases involving a position of trust, I made a thorough investigation into the private lives of these two men, paying special attention to their -- er, morals. I delved. I pried. I studied, and I learned. Then, and not until then, I made my decision, with which I shall now acquaint you."

"It affords me great pleasure, ladies and gentlemen, to announce that our next General Sales Manager will be neither of the two men to whom I just referred. But that loyal, efficient, intelligent, moral gentleman --- Mr. William Goodwin!"

"That's me!" pipes up Goodwin (Frank McHugh,) tagging the exclamation with his trademark laugh.

The scene shifts to the train station, where the participants are leaving for home. We learn that T.R. Kent and Dale plan to wed once his divorce from the current Mrs. Kent is final --- and that George Ellerbe's future life with his wife looks to be bleaker than ever --- and that the fickle Claire has secured a position for Jerry Ford as Assitant Sales Manager.

Just before the camera pulls back and out, we see Mrs. Ellerbe and George boarding the train, and George still vainly pleading "Let me explain!"

"You alley cat!" hisses Mrs. Ellerbe to the hapless George an instant before the "End" title appears.

Now, granted this cobbled and imperfect overview of "Convention City" can't begin to even hint at the accompanying screen visuals --- but I suspect you'll agree with my estimation that "Convention City" would be a damned good seventy minutes of pre-code fun (we'll forgive that rather flat ending too certainly!) but as a whole, the film is hardly worthy of the legendary scarlet hued aura that has clung to it over the decades.

The dialogue certainly isn't especially provocative, and neither are the situations when compared to what reached the screen in "Baby Face," "Safe in Hell," and a clutch of other titles of the period. While I won't even begin to guess as to why "Convention City" vanished so completely, we do know --- via period publications, that the film wasn't on the receiving end of public wrath and outrage, and that it enjoyed a normal and healthy distribution --- from the close of 1933 into late summer of 1934, where it was playing on double bills or accompanying vaudeville presentations. Indeed, in at least one case, a theater brought the film back for a repeat run some months after the title's initial booking, indicating it was an audience favorite.

So, in the end, "Convention City" survives today only a fragment of mute stock footage and on paper --- in the form of period reviews, advertisements and dialogue scripts laboriously prepared by state censorship boards eager to find material in need of deletion. In the case of the New York State Board of Censors, "Convention City" passed with flying colors --- virtually unscathed, save for the removal of the dialogue aboard the train wherein a woman boasts of the length of her operation scar, and for Ruth Donnelly's closing description of Guy Kibbee as an "alley cat."

Until a print of "Convention City" turns up --- and that's not an impossibility, given the amount of footage that has been tossed ashore lately from sources far and wide --- we're left with nothing except the hope and expectation that we might some day have the pleasure of seeing not a historic turning point in cinema, or a victim of public opinion --- but simply a terrific adult comedy enacted by some of the best performers on the screen. Such a film as "Convention City" could only come from one studio at one point in time --- the Warner Brothers lot of 1933. As the crowning achievement of pre-code cinema comedy, the absence of "Convention City" is deeply mourned.

To close this post --- some popular music of the period --- some selections being obvious if not certain candidates for inclusion in the background score for "Convention City!"

Until next time!

"When We're Alone" (1932)
Arden & Ohman Orchestra, vocal by Frank "Safari" Munn

"Three on a Match" (1932)
Russ Carlson & His Orchestra

"Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" (1933)
Harry Reser & His Eskimos

"Was That the Human Thing to Do?" (1932)

Rudy Vallee & His Orchestra

"Young & Healthy" (1932)

Ben Selvin & His Orchestra, vocal by Ruth Etting

"Too Late" (1932)
Kate Smith

"Forty Second Street" (1933)
Gene Kardos & His Orchestra

"I've Got to Sing a Torch Song" (1933)

Orquesta Happy Jazz

"Young and Healthy" (1933)

Waring's Pennsylvanians

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3 comments:

Cory The Raven said...

Great post! I agree with you about Simba and the song... In fact, at some point or another I might even quote you ^_^

Also, "When the Movies Learned to Talk" is now one of my official theme songs!

East Side said...

A few years ago, a New York theatre group did a staged reading of "Convention City" from the original screenplay. I never saw it, but read a rave review. The only thing I remember is a running gag involving a drunken conventioneer apparently trying to sleep with a goat!

George said...

Studio records for CONVENTION CITY state that the negative was junked on December 27, 1948. Nitrate decomposition was the usual reason for this. Harry Langdon's feature HEART TROUBLE was junked by Warner five years later for the same reason. Aggravating, yes, but by retaining deteriorating nitrate negatives like these, studios would have been risking the destruction of thousands of other films.