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New Year, New Discoveries

by Leonard Maltin
January 3, 2014 9:43 AM
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Lois Moran and Charles Bickford in "Men in Her Life" (1931)
Photo © 1931 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Lois Moran and Charles Bickford in "Men in Her Life" (1931)

For a dyed-in-the-wool film buff, getting a chance to see movies that haven’t been in circulation for decades is always enticing. Beginning tonight, UCLA Film & Television Archive is presenting a series called Columbia in the 1930s: Recent Restorations. Alongside established titles like Frank Capra’s The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933) and Howard Hawks’ The Criminal Code (1931) you’ll find other films that are virtually unknown: Attorney for the Defense (1932), East of Fifth Avenue (1933), By Whose Hand? (1932), Men in Her Life (1931), and Lover Come Back (1931). Stars include Edmund Lowe, Constance Cummings, Pat O’Brien, Lee Tracy, and Charles Bickford. I can hardly wait! I don’t realistically expect to find any buried treasure here, but you never know about a vintage film until you see it with your own eyes; reviews from the period are often misleading.

Some of these titles are obscure because Columbia never released them to television back in the days of syndicated movie packages. Others only surfaced in the nontheatrical market during the 1980s when 16mm distributors like Kit Parker Films made pictures like Washington Merry-Go-Round (1932) available. Still others languished until Turner Classic Movies purchased a wide array of Columbia product several years ago.

One optimistic signpost to the potential quality of these films is their credentials. East of Fifth Avenue and Attorney for the Defense were written by the prolific Jo Swerling, who worked with Frank Capra during his early years at Columbia and later shared screen credit for It’s a Wonderful Life. Men in Her Life was an adaptation by Capra’s other longtime collaborator, Robert Riskin. Cinematographers include such masters as Joseph Walker, James Wong Howe, and Ted Tetzlaff, so at least they should look good.

Most of these obscure titles were directed by journeymen (William Beaudine, Erle C. Kenton, Irving Cummings, Ben Stoloff, Al Rogell) who could sometimes rise to the occasion with a solid script and a good cast. We’ll see how they fared over the next month of screenings.

Evalyn Knapp and Lee Tracy in "The Night Mayor" (1932)
Evalyn Knapp and Lee Tracy in "The Night Mayor" (1932)

The series includes some other Columbia titles that have had a slightly higher profile over the years, like The Final Edition (1932), The Night Mayor (1932), and Let Us Live (1939). What they all share in common is an opportunity to be re-evaluated, and possibly rediscovered, and thanks to Sony’s ongoing commitment to film preservation headed by Grover Crisp, we in Los Angeles are about to have that opportunity. I hope these new 35mm prints will travel elsewhere, especially if they generate enthusiasm among the L.A. film buff community. For a complete schedule, click HERE.

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  • Alan Bargebuhr | January 30, 2014 11:58 AMReply

    Mr. Maltin - Why do I labor under the imression that Tuner Classic Movies has access to every Warner Bros/First National movie ever issued? I guess it's simply because I like to kid myself. The TCM websit proved useless (as usual) in determining whether or not TCM has access to a specific title, much less whether or not it'll ever be shown. This time out, I was inquiring about "The Hot Heiress" which Ken Bloom notes ( HOLLYWOOD SONG, vol. 1, pg. 421 ) as a 1931 Warner Bros-First National 1931 release. Osborne must have been taking his weekly (or week long) nap, because that title elicited absolutely no reply on the TCM site. According to Bloom, the film has four Rodgers and Hart songs written just for the film. That being the case, it would certainly seem like a cinemtic artifact worth an exposure or two. I thought they might schedule it in place of one of the numerous "Whatever Happned to Baby Jane?" showings they weave into each monthly schedule.

  • rafael castro | January 4, 2014 3:53 PMReply

    One problem with the columbia pictures of the 30 is that more of 50 percent are b-westerns that are very difficult to package for sony who has the rights. for this is a great opportunity to see these rare movies on a big screen and great condition.

  • Paul F. Etcheverry | January 3, 2014 1:42 PMReply

    Wish I could be there and Happy New Year!

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