Written in Ink

Convention City: The notorious pre-Code comedy lives on 80 years later.

I've been spending the weekend and most of my goof-off time today tracking down information regarding this film and have been very excited to see that the good people at Film Forum in NYC have indeed performed a recitation of the original script, once in 1994 and again this year in February.


From a NitrateVille forum poster that was present at the event:

Here's how it began:

First off, the three screening rooms at the Film Forum aren't that large, so it's a relatively intimate setting. They had the 14-15 actors sitting below the screen at the front, each with a copy of the final shooting script. Bruce Goldstein (who's been head of the repertory department there) gave a rousing 20-minute or so introduction to the movie, its history, the effort to track it down (complete with overhead shots of various newspaper ads from around the world showing that it was screened as late as 1942), introduced various VIPs in attendance (for example, Ron Hutchinson), talked about the existence of the stock footage and the key books, as well as their purposes, introduced the pianist, Peter Mintun (who was also a cast member), and explained how everything was going to take place. The theater was sold out, of course, and everybody there was completely into the whole thing.

The way it went down was this:

It began with Covention City's "opening credits", done in the style of Warners photo credits of that era, which were remarkably well-done by, again, Peter Mintun. You'd think they were the real credits from Convention City, though obviously they couldn't be (you can see these "opening credits" on youtube). The director, Andrew Rickman (who was also narrator and cast member), would briefly speak the stage direction/set-up directly from the script and then the actors would speak their lines. At first, some of them would just read their lines from their chairs, but very quickly after, they all started getting up and acting their roles out more. It was a lot of fun, and they all were obviously having a good time. The beginning involved a lot of stock footage of trains and shots of maps as characters from all over the U.S. would be informed of the convention they'd be attending. Then, once in Atlantic City, all goes pretty much as one might expect from a bunch of drunken, lecherous salesmen at a convention, along with the requisite chorus girls (read: gold diggers) and whatnot. Lots of leering "adult" dialogue and double entendres (for instance, the two companies represented were called "Honeywell Rubber Co." — wink, wink — and "Hercules Tool Co." — wink, wink — whose names were, of course, not accidents), and lots of intrigue, having to do with Honeywell itself (as a couple of the main characters scheme to get the big promotion that's recently come available), and having to do with treacherous romantic endeavors, as well.

As all this acting and stage directing is going on (as well as occasional (very) brief piano interludes), overhead shots of stills from the key book or stock footage would be shown overhead on the screen, which was really helpful in order to follow who was saying what to whom. The Film Forum Players were generally solid, though most of them didn't really sound or have the mannerisms of the original actors, which was to be expected and could be forgiven, but I couldn't help myself from imagining the voices of the original actors as I was listening to the lines being acted out, which actually was kind of fun in itself. A big exception, remarkably, was Bruce Goldstein himself, who among his other hats was also a member of the cast, playing the Frank McHugh role. Not only was he a good actor, but he was a good mimic. He had all of Frank McHugh's speech patterns and mannerisms down cold.

In the end, it was a very fun and, I think, unique time (unless they get the bright idea to do this every year). I'm very glad I went. Though I'd really like someone to find Convention City, already, if for no other reason than to see Joan Blondell as the gold digger who, as the stills from the key book seem to hint, was apparently threatening to fall out of her dress the whole time she was on-screen.

All in all, a grand time was had by all. I hope they do it again.

Indeed, classic film preservationist Bruce Goldstein, who was profiled by Gothamist in 2005, is the most likely proprietor of the remaining script. His production company, Rialto Pictures, does not list Convention City as one of their licenses, and the actual copyright or production rights on the script itself (if any) is unclear.


Also worth mentioning is the film's spiritual successor, The Merry Wives of Reno, a film by the same writer that shares many cast members and plot points and an equally debauchery-filled pre-Code nature. TCM has a copy of the original trailer (NSFW-ish?):


The Merry Wives of Reno escaped the fate of Convention City, and is available on DVD from Amazon. If you happen to have information on the whereabouts of a copy of the script of Convention City, please let me know below (anonymity is fine) as I and a number of other people would be very interested in obtaining a copy.

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