Glorious new 35mm prints of important classics, nearly-lost masterworks, neglected treasures, and rediscovered rarities are showcased in the UCLA Festival of Preservation this month at Cinematheque (1131 Howe St.). Beginning tomorrow, March 4, and running until March 17, the showcase includes a trio of works featuring Canadian-born “America’s Sweetheart” Mary Pickford, cinema’s first-ever zombie movie, and more.
This most recent edition of the biennial festival includes works by Hollywood luminaries John Ford, Anthony Mann, Douglas Sirk, and cult favourite Edgar G. Ulmer, and a lively all-star musical revue featuring Bing Crosby in his first starring role. The series highlights UCLA Film and Television Archive’s preservation and restoration work, and spans more than a century of American film history.
There are 10 films in all. You can see a complete lineup and showtimes at Cinematheque.ca. In the meantime, here are a few of our picks.
Her Sister’s Secret (1946, screens March 10) – B-movie auteur and cult favourite Edgar G. Ulmer is responsible for one of the greatest noirs of all time, Detour. In Her Sister’s Secret, Ulmer worked with a rare bigger budget to make this wartime melodrama about two sisters, one of whom has a child out of wedlock. “Feverishly romantic, visually resplendent … Ulmer cuts loose with a wild creativity [and] a keen view of traumatic times” (Richard Brody, The New Yorker).
The Big Broadcast (1932, screens March 13) – This musical comedy features Bing Crosby in his first starring role, along with George Burns and Gracie Allen in their feature-film debut. The story of a failing radio station is an excuse to present on-screen performances by some of the era’s leading musical stars, including the Mills Brothers, the Boswell Sisters, Kate Smith, and Cab Calloway. Calloway performs “Kickin’ the Gong Around,” a song with drug references that were permissible during Hollywood’s brief, less-censorious pre-Code era.
Bachelor’s Affairs (1932, screens March 13) – Also from pre-Code 1932, this fast-paced sex comedy stars Adolphe Menjou and Joan Marsh. From the website’s description: “A middle-aged New York millionaire feels his years when he weds a beautiful but brainless younger blonde in this saucy, cynical, lightning-fast sex comedy from Hollywood’s naughty pre-Code era… Marsh is a revelation as ditzy Eva Mills… Bachelor’s Affairs, based on the play Precious by Canadian-born James Forbes, was nearly forgotten until 2014, when it was revived — and proved the audience favourite — at Syracuse’s Cinefest, devoted to rare classic cinema. “There’s just one word to describe it: hilarious” (Leonard Maltin, Indiewire).
White Zombie (1932, screens March 17) – Following 1931’s Dracula, Bela Lugosi took on the role of a Haitian voodoo master (the fantastically named Murder Legendre) “who uses his evil powers to provide zombie slave labour to local plantations. When fetching innocent Madeleine (Madge Bellamy) arrives on the island to wed her fiancé, smitten Legendre sets out to cast a spell on her too. Low-budget indie brothers Victor (director) and Edward (producer) Halperin filmed this gothic-horror and pop-culture milestone on the Universal Studios lot, using sets left over from Dracula, Frankenstein, and other films.”
The Crime of Dr. Crespi (1935, screens March 17) – Erich von Stroheim stars as Dr. Crespi in this low-budget chiller from future B-noir director John H. Auer. It’s described as “a loose riff on Poe’s ‘The Premature Burial.’ Crespi harbours a grudge against the fellow doctor who married his ex-sweetheart. When an accident lands that colleague on his operating table, Crespi seizes the opportunity to take a particularly gruesome form of revenge. The movie, independently produced by Auer, uses extreme close-ups to menacing effect. ‘The first film to be released under the Republic Pictures brand … Crespi nods to Carl Theodor Dreyer and Universal monster movies with a Vampyr-inspired cemetery trek and the casting of Dracula and Frankenstein sidekick Dwight Frye as an unorthodox hero’ (Scott MacQueen, UCLA).”