One of my favorite cinema events is the annual Festival of Preservation (FOP) produced by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and presented at the Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood.
From classics like Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise (1932), early animated Paramount shorts, silent films, documentaries including The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971) and a 1965 KTLA-TV Nancy Wilson concert, the Archive’s preservation activities encompasses the full spectrum of the moving image.
The Film Noir Foundation has funded (whole or in part) nine different films that have been restored by UCLA along with the striking of numerous preservation prints of other noir titles.
It was a privilege to introduce the March 4 presentation of Los Tallos Amargos (1956) which was partially funded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). The timely rescue of the cameral negative by Argentinean archivist Fernando Martin Peña and FNF founder Eddie Muller enabled restoration of a film that ranks as one of the most suspenseful and best-photographed noirs ever.
On Friday evening, the Archive screened a double bill of He Walked by Night (1948) and Open Secret (1948).
He Walked by Night established the modern police procedural. During my introduction, I touched on director Anthony Mann’s participation (the film’s credited director is Alfred J. Werker) and John Alton’s extraordinary mood lighting, particularly during the climax filmed in the Los Angeles sewer system that predated the more famous use of another underground conduit in The Third Man (1950). The film also paired actor Jack Webb with LAPD technical advisor Sgt. Marty Wynn, sparking Webb’s groundbreaking (and oft-imitated) Dragnet series. Highlighted by Richard Basehart’s chilling performance as a true-life sociopath, He Walked by Night is a suspenseful and visually stunning film.
(For more about Mann, Alton and this film, here is my 2009 interview with Arnold Laven https://www.filmnoirfoundation.org/arnoldlaven.pdf)
Open Secret (1948) is a forgotten programmer that addressed anti-Semitism a year after Gentlemen’s Agreement and Crossfire. Like his fellow Poverty Row artisan Edgar Ulmer, director John Reinhardt1 (High Tide, The Guilty, Chicago Calling) consistently imbued meaningful quality into some of the most austerely budgeted films. Although the film was dismissed for portraying anti-Semites as a bunch of Cro-Magnons hanging out in the back of a grubby dive bar and the word “Jew” is not mentioned, the film’s crystal-clear message continues to resonate. When a Jewish shop owner is told to “go back to his own country,” he responds, “You mean over to the next block where I was born?”
Tied off by a neat finale, an effective cast headed by John Ireland, Joyce Randolph, Sheldon Leonard, Arthur O’Connell and Roman “Bud” Bohnen transcends the picture’s production limitations. Herschel Burke Gilbert’s score evokes a baby-boomer nostalgia jam as the music was recycled for The Adventures of Superman (1952) TV program that continues to thrive in rerun perpetuity.
Both of these prints were superbly restored. Dr. Jan-Christopher Horak, head archivist Scott MacQueen, Todd Wiener and the UCLA Film & Television Archive team deserve kudos for their continuing mission to bring these cinematic gems back to the big screen.
The UCLA Festival of Preservation runs till March 27, 2017. You can find out more about it here: https://www.cinema.ucla.edu/programs/ucla-festival-preservation
1 I discovered several years ago that my maternal grandfather was a close friend of John Reinhardt. In 1922, they took the S.S. Saxonia ocean liner together from Germany to New York City, then bought a jalopy and drove across the country to settle in Hollywood.