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I have not seen 'Convention City', and it's highly unlikely that any print of this film still exists. In 1943, Jack L. Warner ordered the Warner Brothers archivists to burn all known prints of "Convention City", plus the negative. In 1995, Film Forum in New York City borrowed the "Convention City" screenplay from Warner Brothers' script library. At Film Forum, a troupe of amateur actors performed a script reading of "Convention City": three men and two women, doubling and trebling all the roles in the movie. The actors gave straight line readings (no physical business), while a narrator described the stage directions and a few camera movements. I was there, taking notes. Bearing in mind that the final version of a screenplay often differs radically from the actual movie, this web page is probably as close as you'll ever get to seeing "Convention City".
This film went far out of its way to violate the morals of its time. The plot involves statutory rape, bestiality, bootlegging and prostitution ... and treats these subjects with a leer and a wink.
"Convention City" takes place in an Atlantic City hotel, at the annual sales meeting of the Honeywell Rubber Company. Most of the conventioneers are determined to get drunk and have sex, not necessarily in that order. "Convention City" went into production before the Repeal of Prohibition, so every reference to booze or drunkenness in this movie is supposed to be hilarious. (The same way that movies in the 1970s could get cheap laughs just by mentioning marijuana.)
George Ellerby (Guy Kibbee) is angling for the job as Honeywell's sales manager ... but he's too old, so he spends most of the movie wearing a ridiculous toupee in a pathetic attempt to look younger. When good-time girl Joan Blondell tells him to take it off, he replies "I'll make you a deal: I'll take off my toupee if you take off your dress."
Most of the film aspires to this level of wit.
Kibbee's rival for the manager's job is Ted Kent (Adolphe Menjou). Menjou plans to become sales manager by seducing Mr Honeywell's daughter Claire and getting her "in trouble". Menjou figures that "old man Honeywell" will be desperate to avoid a scandal, so he'll force his daughter to marry the man who "ruined" her ... and then Menjou, as the boss's son-in-law, will be quids-in for the promotion to sales manager.
Unfortunately for Menjou's scheme, Claire Honeywell hasn't reached the age of consent. When this is pointed out, Menjou replies: "She's old enough ... ALMOST, anyhow." Menjou knows the exact age of the girl he's planning to seduce, because he's old enough to remember when she was born.
This movie's dialogue is very suggestive. Mr Honeywell is worried that "Honeywell Rubber might go bust". (Hmm...) Menjou tries to recruit a Honeywell salesman named Goodwin (played by Warner Brothers stalwart Frank McHugh) as a patsy in his scheme to seduce Claire. When Menjou tries to exploit Goodwin's company loyalty, Goodwin tells him: "If you want to get a girl in trouble, don't do it through Honeywell Rubber". (Hmm...)
And then there's Elmer the goat. One of the conventioneers keeps trying to entice a billy goat to follow him back to his hotel room. Hmm...
There are a few clever sight gags, such as a scene in which one drunk tries to get a light for his cigar from another drunk. At Film Forum's script reading, the re-enactors described this scene instead of acting it out. Archie Mayo (who directed "Convention City") was an excellent slapstick veteran, so this scene was probably very funny in the original film.
"Convention City", more than ANY other film in Hollywood history, triggered an outcry from American moviegoers for decency standards. This film led directly to the creation of the Hays Office, which ruled that "Convention City" was obscene and unfit for re-release.
For ten years after its 1933 release, "Convention City" was the subject of rumours and curiosity. Warner Brothers were besieged with requests from fraternal lodges and other groups hoping to rent "Convention City" for private showings at bachelor parties, etc. This would have been legal, as a movie screening for private audiences did not require an exhibition certificate from the Hays or Breen Office. But Jack Warner personally denied all such requests, as he did not want to antagonise the Breen Office ... whose good graces he very much needed, in order to continue getting exhibition certificates for other Warner Brothers films. To end the controversy, Warner eventually issued the order to destroy all copies of "Convention City".
However, a private film collector (who has tracked down and obtained several "lost" films) has told me about rumours that several prints of "Convention City" were smuggled off the Warners lot in the late 1930s, to be screened illegally in road-house bookings and at "smoker" parties. A well-worn print of this notorious raunchfest may turn up one day. But "Convention City" has long since been out-raunched by many other films. 'Convention City' is sleazy by 1933 standards; from a modern viewpoint, this movie is merely in very bad taste.
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