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.