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Early Films To Recall Technicolor's 'Glory'

January 13, 1986|KEVIN THOMAS

UCLA Film Archives' nine-week series "Technicolor: The Glory Years" will be warmly welcomed by everyone who is intrigued by the development of the increasingly expensive three-strip color process in the '50s and who lamented its passing.

Launching the series Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in UCLA Melnitz is the recently restored "The Toll of the Sea," a 1922 Metro (pre-Goldwyn-Mayer) silent written by Frances Marion, one of Hollywood's most important and durable screenwriters, and directed by the long-forgotten Chester M. Franklin. The delicacy of the film's two-color process enhances the poetic charm of its "Madame Butterfly"-like romance about an exquisite Chinese girl (Anna May Wong) who rescues a handsome American (Kenneth Harlan) from drowning only to be betrayed by him.

Quite apart from its color, the film is a genuine discovery, especially for its Gish-like performance by the 15-year-old Wong, usually relegated to supporting roles. With it (but unavailable for preview) will be "Redskin," a 1929 Paramount Western starring Richard Dix.

Among the last two-strip Technicolor films were the Warner Bros. horror pictures "Dr. X" (1932), screening Saturday, and the better-known "Mystery of the Wax Museum" (1933), to be shown a week later. Both were directed by Michael Curtiz and have almost identical casts.

"Dr. X" is a typical mad-scientist tale that today is hokey fun rather than being scary or even spooky. But if it sounds corny, it looks great. Anton Grot's Gothic Deco sets and laboratories with their bizarre props are stunners, enhanced by desaturated hues that give the film a surprisingly contemporary look, much like that of "To Live and Die in L.A." Lee Tracy's breezy reporter is a pleasure, as are Fay Wray's wit and loveliness. "Dr. X" will be preceded at 7:30 p.m. by the 1930 Paramount musical "Follow Through," with Charles (Buddy) Rogers and Nancy Carroll (unavailable for preview). Phone: (213) 825-2581.

With his six-hour, two-part "Die Nacht" ("The Night"), Hans-Juergen Syberberg, that obsessed celebrant of German culture, puts his admirers to their severest test yet. Described by Syberberg as the "swan song of Europe," it consists entirely of Edith Clever, spotlighted in a dark expanse, reciting from the works of Plato, Shakespeare, Goethe, Nietzsche, Novalis, Hoelderlin, Wagner and Beckett. Each part is preceded by a prologue (in pale color) shot in the ruins of the Danish Embassy in Berlin; the first prologue consists of Chief Seattle's eloquent speech at the time of his 1855 treaty, with apt interpolations by Syberberg; the second prologue is inexplicably without subtitles.

"Die Nacht" is done in by a monotonous lack of tension. This is a shame, because there are glorious moments--Clever's singing (this time in her own voice, not dubbed as in "Parsifal") of Isolde's "Liebestod" and Brunnhilde's Immolation Scene, her acting out of Wagner's youthful love letters, her expression of Wagner's poisonous, murderously prophetic anti-Semitism. More than anything else, "Die Nacht" demonstrates that even a great actress cannot sustain a one-woman show in a vacuum for six hours.

The Nuart's new series of Greek films starts Sunday with an exceptionally satisfying double feature, Yorgos Tseberopoulos' "Sudden Love" and Tonia Marketai's "The Price of Love"--the second screened last March in the Fox International's women film makers series. Both deal with the difference in attitudes of men and women in love. The first is an elegant, highly personal romantic drama involving a man (A. Theodoracopoulous) and woman (Betty Livanou, especially impressive) in their 30s, married to others but who rendezvous in Lisbon; the second, set in turn-of-the-century Corfu, is a lusty, passionate account of the seduction of an impoverished young woman (Anny Loulou) by a handsome wastrel (Stratas Tsopanellis) and her growing determination to take charge of her own life. Phones: (213) 478-6379, (213) 479-5269.

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