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"Convention City" is one of those fabled films that seems to have grown
with time. This is supposedly one of the films that brought about the
production code and the censorship of movies under Will Hays. The film
today is thought to be lost, and a user on this site states that Jack
Warner himself, about a decade after the film was made, ordered that
all prints of the film be destroyed, along with the negative. While I
have yet to read that anywhere, it does appear that the film is no
longer in the Warner Brothers archive.
From what I can best tell, the movie was filmed in the summer of 1933 and was released around Christmas of 1933, playing into the early months of 1934. Reviews of the film noted that it was very funny, and that the audiences wee roaring with laughter. Adolphe Menjou was singled out as the best actor in the film. The reviewers note that if you are a fan of drunks, then this movie has more then enough drunk scenes, that after a while can become tiresome.
So apparently the film was shown publicly as there were reviews in the paper. I own a copy of the script as well as several original stills from the film. A copy of the movie however appears to be lost. Now lets, talk about the film being "lost" for a moment.
When a film is shown, hundreds of prints could be made of the movie to be shown at various theaters across the country. The films usually open in a larger market first, then the films are packed up and shipped from one theater to another, until at the end of the run, the films are shipped back to the studio. The studio would tend to destroy most copies of the film, and keep just a few. There is always the chance that a copy of the film never made it back to the studio and is in private hands.
If Warners does not have the prints of negatives, there is a chance that the film might exist in a foreign country. Many US made films were shown overseas after having been dubbed into a foreign language. This is probably the case, though not definite, for this film. A copy of the film might reside in a small unchecked film archive in some other corner of the globe.
So, what does remain from the film. The shooting script, the dialogue script, stills. I have also read that some musical scores from the film remain, as well as establishing shots and scene shots, that show Atlantic City, where the film took place. This footage does not show any actors.
For many people this film is considered to be a Holy Grail...and I am sure a copy of the film exists out there somewhere as of yet undiscovered.
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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