People seem surprised, or amused, when I tell them that we’ve added more than 300 new movies to my book, TCM Presents Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide. It wasn’t hard to do: my colleagues and I took note of what was playing on cable movie channels and what was being released for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray. I tend not to list films that only survive in archives and aren’t accessible to the public: this is first and foremost a user’s guide.
The new inclusions are incredibly diverse, ranging from European silent films to Hollywood B movies of the 1930s and ‘40s, from a Mary Pickford vehicle to an early Milos Forman feature from the 1960s. “New” titles featuring Clara Bow, Joe E. Brown, Mary Pickford, Conrad Veidt, and Wheeler and Woolsey share pages with features directed by Fritz Lang, Jules Dassin, Julien Duvivier, Frank Borzage, Paul Fejos, Victor Fleming, and even John Ford.
Some of those titles didn’t make the cut in our first two editions because there simply wasn’t room for everything (which is still the case). Others have only become accessible in the past five years. A prime example is John Ford’s entertaining silent comedy Upstream (1927), which was thought lost until a nearly-perfect 35mm print was discovered in New Zealand. It’s now available on DVD, along with other recently-unearthed material, on a disc called Lost and Found: American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive, produced by the National Film Preservation Foundation. (Full disclosure: I am on the NFPF board. Fuller disclosure: I didn’t include another great discovery, an early credit for Alfred Hitchcock called The White Shadow, because only three reels of that 1924 feature survive.)
Since our last Classic Movie Guide came out I’ve been keeping a list of additions and corrections, but until my cohort Spencer Green and I began work in earnest we didn’t realize how much there would be to do.
The Philo Vance mystery isn’t called Bishop Murder Case, but The Bishop Murder Case. The Olsen and Johnson comedy isn’t Fifty Million Frenchmen but 50 Million Frenchmen. For his early Hollywood effort Danger—Love at Work, the director was credited as Otto L. Preminger; he later dropped the middle initial. We always listed Thank You, Mr. Moto as a 1938 movie but it turns out it debuted in December of 1937.
Our primary source for credits is always the film itself. We generally trust whatever it says onscreen, although even here there are exceptions, as when a studio carelessly misspells someone’s name. For further corroboration we attempt to find source material from the time of the film’s release.
One can easily drown in such details, but detective work can be satisfying when one finds a definitive answer. For my rewrite of Naughty Marietta (1935) I wanted to refer to Victor Herbert’s famous song (known to a later generation from Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein), “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life.” Or is it “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life”? Check online and you’ll find contradictory references from supposedly reliable sources. In frustration, I turned to eBay and located a piece of sheet music from the song’s initial publication in 1910—with an exclamation point, not a comma. And that’s that.
Naughty Marietta is also a better movie than I indicated in my earlier write-up. It is just one of many films my colleagues and I have revisited and rerated for this edition. We don’t take these changes of heart lightly, be they positive or negative, but when a film looks better than it did the first time around, or hasn’t aged well, it seems foolish to stand by an outdated opinion.
It’s been great fun to dive into this material, as vintage movies remain my first love. I’m honored that Turner Classic Movies is “branding” the new edition of the Guide and hope that diehard film buffs will find it useful—and enjoyable.