Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jason goes to the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival--Day 3

Which is the last day. It's a short festival, but a heck of a lot of fun.

The day started with a pair of Helens, Helen Holmes and Helen Gibson (born Rose Wagner, became Rose Gibson when she married Hoot Gibson, and became Helen Gibson when she took over the lead role in Hazards of Helen fame--Holmes of course was the original). There was an introduction by film historian Larry Telles and Shirly Freitas, the great-granddaughter of Helen Holmes. Then we saw a couple of their films, both featuring that staple of stunt films from the time--trains:

WEBS OF STEEL (1925): Helen Holmes is the daughter of a railroad magnate. Her dad wants her to marry Jim Haggerty (Arthur Morrison), but she's got her eyes on the new guy who saved her from danger, John Andrews (Bruce Gordon). But he's got a troubled past that Haggerty means to expose. Oh, and there's a train robbery they've got to stop and some amazing stunts that Holmes did herself.

GHOST OF THE CANYON (1920): The rare moments when Helen Holmes used a stunt double, her double was Helen Gibson (back when she was still Rose Gibson), so she was a natural to step into the role when Holmes left. This movie feels like the inspiration for a Scooby Doo mystery, with a ghost haunting a railroad trestle. Tons of fun, with more amazing stunts.

And then the second show of the day, and the last of the festival, featured our own inimitable Baby Peggy (aka Diana Serra Cary). Born in 1918, I met her at her 90th birthday celebration, and she's still spry and sharp as a tack (and an entertaining and lively silent film historian, with several books to her name). I hope she never dies, but rest assured we will keep her memory alive here in Niles (where her dad worked as a movie cowboy for Broncho Billy Anderson for a short time). Anyway, the film was a delight.

THE FAMILY SECRET (1924): Baby Peggy is that secret, as her parents were married in secret. See, Margaret and Garry loved each other and got married, even though her father disapproved. When he catches him in the house, he sets him up as a burglar and has the police take him away for 4 years. In the meantime, Peggy is born and starts growing up. Her mom is depressed and spends days in bed. Her nanny is at best humorless and at worst negligent as she reads romance novels while Peggy wanders off. The nurse won't let Peggy stay with mommy because she gets to nervous. Grandpa has little time for her. So she spends her time playing with the cook and the maid, who dote on her as she gets into all sorts of hijinx. Meanwhile Garry is finally released from prison, but doesn't know how to find his daughter (even though they're still living in the same home. That seems like a plot hole to me). But you know what, I'll overlook that plot hole. The real heart of the movie is how Baby Peggy can melt anyone's heart. Her grandfather's character arc is particularly nice. And I loved how the audience was totally into it, cheering the good guys and hissing at the villains. A great screening to cap the weekend.

And like that, the festival was over. I had a barbecue dinner from the Florence with the rest of the Niles gang, as we chatted well into the early evening before I headed home. What a weekend.

Total Running Time (estimated): 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 241,419

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