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
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.
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.