Mar 14, 2014 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Every March, the Syracuse Cinephile Society’s annual Cinefest draws hundreds of vintage film fans from around the world to little ol’ Liverpool. The attendees view rare movies, most of them shot during the first half of the 20th century.
This year’s screen gems include “Thanks a Million,” a nearly-forgotten1935 musical starring crooner Dick Powell and featuring performances by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and vocal specialties by the Yacht Club Boys.
Noted film critic and author Leonard Maltin, a Cinefest regular, describes “Thanks a Million” as a “very entertaining musical…Good fun, with several breezy tunes.”
Directed by Roy Del Ruth, “Thanks a Million” will be shown at 9 a.m. Sunday, March 16, at Cinefest 34, at the Holiday Inn, on Electronics Parkway. Registration for all four days of Cinefest costs $85, or $30 per day. Screenings begin at 9 a.m. on Thursday, March 13 and run through 5 p.m. Sunday, March 16. Movie memorabilia rooms will be open to the public on Saturday; syracusecinefest.com; 409-4625.
Jazz band politician
Dick Powell was tailor-made to play the lead in “Thanks a Million.” His character, Eric, fronts a jazz band that makes a living playing political rallies. At one such gig, when the candidate shows up drunk Powell pinch-hits for him, and the party machine decides to make the crooner their candidate for governor.
Along the way, Fred Allen portrays a wisecracking manager, Ann Dvorak plays Powell’s sweetheart and Raymond Walburn appears as a blustery politician. And the music truly shines.
The Whiteman Orchestra spotlights mono-monikered Ramona on piano along with The King’s Men singing “New O’leans.” When she was born in Ohio in 1909, Ramona was named Estrild Raymona Myers. No wonder she opted for a single first name. Ramona had replaced Mildred Bailey as Whiteman’s featured vocalist in 1932, and she worked for “The King of Jazz” for most of the decade.
Powell sings the film’s title tune (an Arthur Johnston-Gus Kahn composition which became a hit for him) along with the song “Pocketful of Sunshine.” Fred Allen warbles “Happy Days are Here Again,” and Ann Dvorak and Patsy Kelly sing and dance to “Sugar Plum.”
The Yacht Club Boys, a quartet of comic singers popular in the 1920s and 1930s, also appear in “Thanks a Million” singing “Sittin’ on a Hilltop” with Powell and a tune called “Square Deal Party” based on Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Another Cinefest film of interest is “Dancing Pirate,” a 1936 musical starring Frank Morgan and Charles Collins screening at 4:25 p.m. Saturday, March 15. A young and unbilled Rita Hayworth appears as one of the movie’s Royal Casino Dancers.
Cinefest 34 kicks off at 9 a.m. Thursday, March 13, with “Main Street to Broadway” (1953) in which Rogers and Hammerstein create a new song, “There’s Music in You,” then perform it for their friends. The film’s musical director was Ann Ronell, composer of the jazz standard “Willow Weep for Me.”
Powell’s Indy roots
By the way, Dick Powell broke into show business in the mid-1920s singing for the Charlie Davis Orchestra in Indianapolis. Charlie and I became friends in the 1970s when he lived his later years in Oswego where I worked as a cub reporter at The Palladium-Times. Charlie always knew Dick Powell would become a big star. He had that “leading man” presence and a pleasant personality to boot.
Did you ever go to movies at the Lakeshore theater? No, not the drive-in, but the upstairs theater that operated in the 1920s above what is now Nichols Discount Liquor store on First Street. If you remember the Lakeshore, you should join the Historical Association of Greater Liverpool as the group presents film historian Norm Keim discussing “Flicker shows at the Lakeshore,” at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 13, at Liverpool Public Library; lpl.org; 457-0310.