Neither Carole Lombard nor William Powell ever got a chance to "thank the Academy" for their performances in "My Man Godfrey" (although both were nominated for Oscars). However, we as movie buffs have plenty of reason to thank the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences this summer...especially if you live near, or will be visiting, Los Angeles on any Monday night other than July 4.
That's because starting tomorrow and continuing through Aug. 8, the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater is showing what you might call best pictures before Best Picture. "What's he talking about?", you ask. Throughout much of the 1920s, Photoplay magazine, among the first (and, at its peak, certainly the greatest) of the fan magazines, gave out a Medal of Honor award to the best film of each year -- as voted by readers.
Some of the selections may not be what film buffs of today would have chosen in retrospect, and a few are barely remembered today. But all have something going for them and are worth examining. (Lombard probably saw most of these in the '20s, either as a fan or as a professional actress.) Moreover, each program will feature guest hosts and additional films -- short subjects, fragments of lost films, or both. Here's the schedule:
* June 13 -- "Humoresque" (1920). This stars Alma Rubens and Gaston Glass and was directed by Frank Borzage, based on a Fannie Hurst story with a screenplay by Frances Marion. (The 1947 film of the same name with John Garfield and Joan Crawford is a continuation of Hurst's story.) This is from a 35mm restored print at UCLA, and will be introduced by Cari Beauchamp, a Marion biographer. Also on the bill is arguably Buster Keaton's greatest short, "One Week."
* June 20 -- "Tol'able David" (1921). Two years after his triumph in D.W. Griffith's "Broken Blossoms," Richard Barthelmess established himself as a star in this story of a Virginia farm boy who becomes involved with criminals. Film historian and preservationist David Shepard will do the introduction, and the evening opens with Harold Lloyd in "Never Weaken."
* June 27 -- "Robin Hood" (1922). If you're only familiar with the Errol Flynn "The Adventures Of Robin Hood," check out Douglas Fairbanks (seen above with Enid Bennett) in one of his prime derring-do roles; you'll understand how he influenced stars for generations to come from Flynn to Jackie Chan. (The print, courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, is tinted as theatergoers saw it in 1922.) Film historian and Fairbanks biographer Jeffrey Vance will introduce the film, and also on the program is Fairbanks' United Artists cohort Charlie Chaplin in "Pay Day."
* July 11 -- "The Covered Wagon" (1923) and fragments from "Abraham Lincoln" (1924). The former is one of the first epic westerns (and Will Ryan and the Cactus County Cowboys will provide appropriate musical accompaniment). The latter, alas, does not survive in complete form (and is not to be confused with Griffith's 1930 talkie of the same name).
* July 18 -- "The Big Parade" (1925). King Vidor directed John Gilbert in this World War I classic, a colossal hit in its day. And introducing this film is none other than the man who has done so much to enhance our appreciation of silent cinema, Kevin Brownlow.
* July 20 -- "The General" (1926). Brownlow will stick around for this Wednesday comedy special, a Keaton masterpiece. (More on "The General" later.) Preceded by a “then-and-now” presentation by John Bengtson outlining the filming locations for silent era comedies by Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd.
* July 25 -- "Beau Geste" (1926). Powell (shown with a camel) and Ronald Colman star in this French Foreign Legion rouser, to be introduced by film historian Frank Thompson with live musical accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. The comedy short is "Saturday Afternoon" by Harry Langdon, who in 1926 was at his short-lived peak.
* Aug. 1 -- "7th Heaven" (1927). While "Sunrise" may be the best-remembered Janet Gaynor film of 1927, this was the one selected by Photoplay readers. Directed by Borzage, who won the initial Oscar for directing (dramatic picture). Film historian Janet Bergstrom will introduce the feature. The bill includes the always-reliable Charley Chase in "Mighty Like A Moose" (1926) and a surviving fragment from Ernst Lubitsch's 1928 "The Patriot."
* Aug. 8 -- "Four Sons" (1928). Not many silent films by John Ford (above, second from right) exist; this tale of four brothers during World War I is one of them. Before the feature, see Laurel & Hardy in "Two Tars" and a fragment of Josef von Sternberg's "The Case Of Lena Smith."
You can obtain a pass for all nine programs for $25 ($20 if you're an Academy member). Comedy shorts and fragments begin at 7 p.m., with the feature showing at 7:30. To learn more, visit http://www.oscars.org/events-exhibitions/events/2011/06/summer-of-silents.html.
Oh, on "The General": As mentioned last week, it will air tonight at 8 (Eastern) as part of TCM's "Essentials Jr." (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/416091.html). What follows is also worth checking out. At 9:30, TCM will show Laurel & Hardy's Oscar-winning short, "The Music Box" (1932), followed by "Merton Of The Movies" (1947), starring Red Skelton, at 10:15 (Keaton, uncredited, supplied many of the gags on this and other Skelton films.) At midnight, "Silent Sunday Nights" has a splendid comic twin bill -- first, Max Linder, who preceded Chaplin as silent comedy's first star, in "Seven Years Bad Luck" (1921), followed by Lloyd's "An Eastern Westerner" (1920) at 1:15 a.m.