Catching Up With Chaplin, 3-D, Hitchcock And More

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by Leonard Maltin
December 3, 2012 1:00 AM
1 Comment
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Michael Chaplin (in hat) speaks with filmmaker Matthew Sweet.
So many movie-buff discoveries, links, DVD releases and publications cross my desk that it’s not possible to keep up with them all, but I’d like to try catching up a bit. Let’s start with a Charlie Chaplin radio documentary. I don’t know how it escaped my notice for almost two years, but BBC radio in England produced a two-part documentary about the Charlie Chaplin archives. To quote the program listing, “Writer, broadcaster and film buff Matthew Sweet travels to Vevey in Switzerland where he meets Chaplin's son, Michael, to explore the house and get unprecedented access to some of the amazing revelations of the archive. We hear recordings of Chaplin composing and Michael Chaplin shows Matthew a document, found in a locked drawer after his death, which could lead experts to revise one of the most basic assumptions made about his famous father… Helping to guide us and explain the significance of these discoveries through Chaplin's music, his Victorian Poverty and his women are Timothy Brock, composer, conductor and restorer of Chaplin's music, Dinah Birch, historian and Neil Brand, a respected authority on Chaplin.” Curious? Click HERE and listen in.

Charley Chase never attained Chaplin’s stature, as a performer or filmmaker, but he was an audience favorite in the 1920s and 30s and his latter-day reputation has steadily grown among discerning film buffs. Kino was the first distributor to release DVDs of his best silent comedies, from the Lobster Film collection. Now Milestone has issued an equally rewarding two-disc set called Cut to the Chase!, comprised of 1920s shorts from the Hal Roach studio, directed by comedy experts like Leo McCarey. While many titles overlap the Kino releases—including such hilarious shorts as Dog Shy, Mighty Like a Moose, and Isn’t Life Terrible—there are a number of new comedies, including some rarities I’d never encountered before like Be Your Age, Charley My Boy, Mama Behave, and What Price Goofy? Pictorial quality varies from one title to the next, but as the original negatives for these films no longer exist, we must be grateful for what survives. These prints were culled from the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art, the John Hampton Collection at the Stanford Theatre Foundation, and the Rusty Casselton archives. Watch Cut to the Chase and you’ll be smiling from start to finish.

Last week marked the 60th anniversary of the premiere of Bwana Devil, the movie that launched the 3-D boom of the 1950s. Its premiere was November 26, 1952, and it’s ironic that this truly awful movie, masterminded by the iconoclastic Arch Oboler, sparked a short-lived revolution, but it did. As Bob Furmanek writes, “Within two months, nearly every studio in Hollywood had a 3-D feature in production. Warner Bros. began filming House of Wax; Paramount started re-shooting Sangaree (it had begun as a flat production); Universal-International started on It Came from Outer Space; RKO sent a crew to Mexico for Second Chance; Columbia began to rush Man in the Dark and Fort Ti through production and MGM started on Arena. Even budget conscious Allied Artists got on the dimensional bandwagon with The Maze.” Despite all expectations, the public got tired of 3-D pretty quickly. If you’d like to read how and why it fizzled, I encourage you to click HERE and visit the always-interesting 3-D Film Archive site for an article titled “What Killed 3-D?”

History is repeating itself today, as audience ennui—and resentment over paying for 3-D glasses—has taken its toll once more. But I can tell you that Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is a notable exception that not only justifies donning those pesky glasses but rewards you for doing so…much as Martin Scorsese’s Hugo did last year at this time.

Finally, you may have already taken the opportunity to stream the recently discovered Alfred Hitchcock silent feature The White Shadow, which is part of the cache of long-lost films from the New Zealand Film Archive that the National Film Preservation Foundation is restoring. I wrote about the movie’s “re-premiere” HERE, never dreaming that within a year it would be available for all to see online. In the interest of full disclosure I should say that I am a board member of the NFPF. I couldn’t be prouder of Annette Melville and her hard-working staff for making these treasures accessible to film buffs and students around the world. To check out the film and read an essay about its importance, click HERE.

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1 Comment

  • Norm | December 3, 2012 6:26 PMReply

    What price 3-D ? In the continuing struggle to maintain a reasonable market share, 3-D has its' share of promoters as well as detractors. personally, it appears better in animated films and/or fantasy. As far its' impact on dramatic or comedy films, comedy would probably benefit, especially with slapstick(3- Stooges) had a shot.
    Shrek had a 4-D try at Universal, I guess the wind blown look hasn't caught on either.

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