My time in Rome for Capitolfest 2014

I had the most fantastic festival recap ever written ready to go when I read Norm Landis’ “Film fest ‘jewel’ grows’ piece in the Rome Sentinel and thought, “what’s the point?’  Mr. Landis not only covers all the important points, stats and highlights from last week’s Capitolfest, but does so much better than I ever could.  So, if you attended Capitolfest, are considering attending in the future or are simply curious about this event read his write-up.  But that doesn’t mean I’m foregoing my own commentary on my weekend at Capitolfest 12.

The lodging:

I was one of the six lucky Capitolfest attendees who stayed at the Angel’s Nest Bed & Breakfast and already added my name to the list for next year as did the others.  My companions for the weekend at Angel’s Nest were Annmarie, Nora, Coleen, Jim and Bill.  I couldn’t possibly have asked for a better group to share breakfast with each morning.  As we sat around the table enjoying delicious breakfasts made by our hostess, Mary Davis the conversation revolved around classic movies, classics stars and cemetery visits.  What more could I have asked for?  The six of us clicked instantly, a fact that lead Mary to think we’d all known each other for years.



The venue:

The magnificent Capitol Theatre and the gorgeous Möller organ it houses make for the perfect venue in which to watch classic movies, particularly silents during which one can experience the accompaniment of such masters as Dr. Philip C. Carli, Bernie Anderson and Avery Tunningley.  It was pure joy to listen to the music for every film.  Congratulations must be given to Art Pierce, Executive Director of the Capitol Theatre and his entire staff for the fantastic job they did in the planning and execution of the three-day event.  I haven’t attended other festivals that feature early films in the same way, but can’t imagine a group more dedicated to ensuring early films are given such reverence.  And that’s done by ensuring they are shown in their original format as if they were new and careful planning goes into the programming to include newsreels, cartoons and various shorts so that you get a real sense of what the movie experience was like.  It’s really fantastic.

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I must extend a sincere thank you to Jack Theakston, the Capitol’s Assistant Manager.  The week before the festival, Mr. Theakston offered to give me a tour of the projection room sometime during the weekend and what he did was give up an hour of his dinner break on Saturday, one of the few breaks he’d get all weekend I’m sure, to show us as much of the Capitol Theatre as we wanted.  It turned out to be a fascinating brick and mortars tour and it is greatly appreciated!  I put together a slide show of just a few of the pictures from the tour and several of the displays that were set up throughout the Capitol Theatre.  You may want to pay special attention to the following:

  • On display – a counter used at the Capitol Theatre to sell war bonds during WWII
  • Original Capitol Theatre ticket stubs
  • Canisters holding the film reels, the weekend’s prized possessions
  • Original theatre seats with fedora holders
  • And, still located in the projection room, the projectionist schedule from the 1940s

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The movies:

In all I believe seventeen features were showcased during Capitolfest in addition to the various other entries mentioned above.  Following are the ones I enjoyed the most throughout the weekend and rather than repeat myself, several of these were surprises or films I didn’t necessarily think I’d enjoy as much as I did:

PARTNERS OF THE SUNSET is a great Western from 1922 directed by Robert H. Townley.  The film stars Allene Ray, Robert Fraser, Mildred Bright and J. W. Johnson and features a great story and impressive stunts.

allene ray
Allene Ray

HORSE PLAY from Universal in 1933 directed by Edward Sedgwick and starring Slim Summerville, Andy Devine, Leila Hyams, Ferdinand Gottschalk, May Beatty and Una O’Connor.  For some reason this movie has not been screened since its initial release, which is a shame because the slapstick farce had many of us in stitches.  One scene between Summerville and Devine and a couple of top hats made at least a couple of us cry!  Great fun!


LADIES MAN from Paramount in 1931, directed by Lothar Mendes.  I can’t say I loved the story depicted in this movie, but the cast is so wonderful I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen – William Powell, Kay Francis and Carole Lombard to start.  And I must add a comment about the clothes the ladies wear in this movie, a strange comment from non-fashionista me, but simply GORGEOUS!

Francis, Powell and Lombard
Francis, Powell and Lombard

ROMAN SCANDALS (1933), from Samuel Goldwyn, directed by Frank Tuttle and starring Eddie Cantor, Gloria Stuart, Edward Arnold, David Manners, Ruth Etting (in her feature debut) and the added bonus of then Goldwyn Girl, Lucille Ball throughout.  This is the second of Eddie Cantor’s handful of films that I’ve seen and loved.  His ego may have been huge, as the story goes, but Cantor was a great talent.  Hilarious sequences and fantastic songs with choreography by Busby Berkeley make ROMAN SCANDALS another picture I’d love to have in my collection.


Lucille Ball, one of the Goldwyn Girls in ROMAN SCANDALS

THE CZAR OF BROADWAY from Universal in 1930, directed by William James Craft and starring John Wray, Betty Compson, John Harron, Claude Allister and Wilbur Mack.  Terrific early talkie gangster picture with impressive photography.

Betty Compson and John Harron in CZAR OF BROADWAY

MORALS from Realart Pictures/Paramount in 1921, directed by William Desmond Taylor and starring May McAvoy, William P. Carleton and Marion Skinner.  A lovely picture about a British girl who escapes from the Turkish harem where she was brought up and ends up in a relationship with a middle-aged man who protects her.  I really enjoyed this story and the performances, although the resolution caught me a bit by surprise.  I’m now interested in seeking out the 1935 version of this film directed by Miles Mander and stars Lupe Velez and Ian Hunter.

May McAvoy
May McAvoy

The overall consensus on Victor Schertzinger’s FORGOTTEN FACES by Capitolfest attendees was WOW!  This film was specifically preserved for presentation at Capitolfest this year by the Library of Congress.  This was the first screening of the film since its original release in 1928.  It says little that it’s one of, if not the, best silent film I’ve ever seen, but as noted in Mr. Landis’ article, many of those who saw it feel the same way.  FORGOTTEN FACES stars Clive Brook, Mary Brian, Olga Baclanova and William Powell in the great drama with gorgeous photography.

Baclanova and Clive Brook
Olga Baclanova and Clive Brook


A few of us rolled our eyes during breakfast on Sunday morning, the last day of Capitolfest, when it was mentioned that the day’s first feature was about a convent.  I, for one, expected a preachy movie.  But CRADLE SONG from Paramount in 1933, directed by Mitchell Leisen turned out to be anything but.  Starring a fantastic cast that includes Dorothea Wieck, Evelyn Venable, Guy Standing, Louise Dresser and Gertrude Michael CRADLE SONG is a moving, well acted movie with a terrific script.  One, I might add, that had most of us struggling not to blubber.  I had a frog in my throat that lasted until lunch.  Wonderful story.


Finally, my last personal favorite of the weekend was POINTED HEELS from Paramount in 1929, directed by A. Edward Sutherland and starring William Powell, Fay Wray, Helen Kane, Richard “Skeets” Gallagher, Phillips Holmes, Adrienne Dore and Eugene Pallette.  This picture is a hoot, particularly the scenes in which Kane and Gallagher appear.  A huge hit when released in 1929 for pure entertainment, I’m sure.


And there you have my “few” words on this year’s Capitolfest.  I had a blast and encourage every single one of you to pick up your backpack and head to Rome next year for Capitolfest 13, which is scheduled for August 7 to 9.  You won’t regret it!  Next year’s featured star, by the way, is Nancy Carroll.


Since it’s always a special treat to meet new friends who I’ve previously known only through social media I want to mention a few here. First, it was great meeting Shirley Hughes and Marc Wonnacott from the Toronto Silent Film Festival (@tosilentfilm) who I missed meeting last year.  The Toronto Silent Film Festival has a great schedule coming up so be sure to check out the site.  I’m hoping to make it up there one of these days.  It was also great to meet and spend a bit of time with Beth (@missbethg) of Spellbound by Movies and my friend Jim from Mawah, NJ.  We’re practically neighbors and I’ve met him only twice during both my visits to Capitolfest.  I also enjoyed meeting the lovely, Caren of Caren’s Classic Cinema blog and look forward to corresponding on all things classic movies with her going forward.  Finally, I must insist you visit the sites of two of my constant companions during Capitolfest, The Nitrate Diva (@NitrateDiva) managed and written by Nora, one of the most knowledgeable early classics fans and bloggers out there and the Classic Movie Hub (CMH).  If you’re not familiar with Classic Movie Hub (@ClassicMovieHub) it’s a terrific resource for classic movie fans and bloggers.  You can access news, quotes, trivia, classic birthdays databases, events calendars and much more.

A final note of thanks to Doug Swarthout, Capitol Theatre board member and proprietor of the Berry Hill Bookshop in Deansboro, NY. Doug sets up a display of his movie books and memorabilia each year in the lobby of the Capitol Theatre during the festival and is solely responsible for my possibly having to file for bankruptcy this year.  Seriously, Doug’s bookshop is filled with gems of the golden age of cinema and he was kind enough to meet Annmarie and me on the Monday after Capitolfest so we could spend even more money on treasures.  We had a terrific time drooling over his inventory and appreciate his taking the time for us.  Here’s a little pictorial shout out to the Berry Hill Bookshop.  Be sure to visit if/when you’re in the neighborhood.


And visit the Capitol Theatre events calendar for details about the many film screenings and events planned for the coming year.  They have a few classic screenings planned that I wish I could attend.

I think I’m done.  Here’s hoping I see you at Capitolfest 13!  Already counting the days.


@CitizenScreen on Twitter

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A view of the Capitol Theatre from the projection room. Takes my breath away

9 thoughts

  1. Thank you, Aurora, it was great to see you again, too! I think “Cradle Song” was my favorite this year; definitely not what I was anticipating. Like you, I also loved the costumes in “Ladies Man”. “Partners of the Sunset” was excellent…I will have to add it to my list “Westerns I Actually Like”. “Horse Play” was a bit of a revelation; I’ve never seen Una O’Connor play any role other than a domestic! My second Capitolfest was even better than the first.

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