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MOVIES WORTH SAVING—AND SHOWING

My Dad always loved my definition of a film buff: someone who will intentionally watch a bad movie. My wife and I put that to the test Monday night when we attended the UCLA Film and Television Archives’ Festival of Preservation.

We were treated to a double-bill: crisp, newly-struck prints of the all-star horror cheapie Vampire Bat (1932) with Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, and Melvyn Douglas—with a re-creation of its hand-colored fire-torch scene—and the least-known film directed by the great William Cameron Menzies, Almost Married (1932). Menzies’ granddaughters were there along with his biographer James Curtis, who explained that the 51-minute film (yes, 51) brought derisive laughter when it was previewed in December of 1931. This caused Fox to commission Menzies and co-director Marcel Varnel to shoot additional scenes before giving the film a desultory release some months later. It almost certainly hasn’t been screened since then. Ralph Bellamy stars with an overripe Alexander Kirkland (who co-wrote the screenplay with Guy Bolton) and stage actress Violet Heming, whose charms were lost on Hollywood. It is a ridiculous combination of espionage, murder and romance that isn’t worth the time to describe in detail.

UCLA’s restoration of Vampire Bat (1932) included the hand-colored torches you see here

The print had to be pieced together from a beat-up 35mm nitrate studio print in the Fox collection and a recently-discovered Italian negative. What’s more,  UCLA had to re-create its opening title sequence. If they hadn’t invested this time and effort the film would remain a mere footnote, relegated to second-hand opinions formed 90 years ago. Now we know it’s a stinker…but at least we know it for ourselves.

A Spencer Tracy rarity: The Mad Game (1933) with Claire Trevor, Matt McHugh, and Willard Robertson

I hasten to add that UCLA is not in the business of rescuing crummy films. The opening night of the series last Friday, which was sold out, featured one of the greatest movies ever made, Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise. Despite its impeccable reputation this film had preservation issues, as well, and the print that archivist Scott MacQueen supervised resulted from the same kind of exacting effort as the turkey we viewed on Monday.

The stars of Max Fleischer’s Color Classic Raggedy Ann and Andy (1940), another recent UCLA restoration

What I admire most about UCLA’s periodic programs, where they unveil their latest restorations, is the range of material they show: documentaries, newsreels, 1960s television shows, vintage cartoons, silent features, talkie trailers, American avant-garde work and the best of Hollywood’s golden age. The estimable Kenneth Turan never fails to give these shows major coverage in the Los Angeles Times, and for good reason: it’s a rare opportunity to see a wide variety of films in the best prints on earth. You can read his article HERE

I offer a deep bow of gratitude to Dr. Jan-Christopher Horak and his hard-working team at the Archives for the heroic work they do… and thank them for  sharing these goodies with an audience on a big screen, where these films belong. You can find the entire schedule HERE.

 

 

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight.

He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies.

His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia.

He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation.

He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?)

He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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