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Unearthing Hollywood Treasures : Movies: The annual extravaganza from UCLA's Film and Television Archive offers a cornucopia of treats.

April 05, 1995|KENNETH TURAN | TIMES FILM CRITIC

It probably wasn't planned that way, but the title of Thursday night's opening attraction at UCLA's always anticipated Festival of Preservation, "A Man for All Seasons," could serve as the theme for the entire event.

For this seventh annual extravaganza from the university's Film and Television Archive is, even more than its predecessors, a cornucopia of wide-ranging film treats destined to appeal to all possible tastes. Scheduled for screenings at Melnitz Theater are silent classics from Europe, legendary newsreel footage and even those curios of 1940s animation, George Pal Puppetoons. No wonder this month of programming creates more excitement among the city's film buffs than its rival Los Angeles events.

Anyone curious as to how the nature of films that win half a dozen Oscars has changed in the past 30 years can check out "Seasons," which won six in 1966, including best picture, director (Fred Zinnemann), screenplay (Robert Bolt) and actor (Paul Scofield).

The story of the conflicts of conscience that bedeviled Sir Thomas More when England's King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) broke with the Catholic Church, "Seasons" is thoughtful, literate and beautifully made (its other Oscars were for cinematography and costume design). And though he did not go on to an extensive film career, the considerable impression Scofield made here was probably a factor in his recent nomination for "Quiz Show."

For those fascinated by film history, however, the festival's key moment will be April 13's unveiling of a short--unseen in public for 70 years and thought intentionally destroyed--that offers a critical footnote to one of the most famous lines in film history, Al Jolson's ad-libbed "You ain't heard nothin' yet" in the ground-breaking 1927 Vitaphone sound feature "The Jazz Singer."

Though it is fairly common knowledge that "The Jazz Singer" was preceded in August, 1926, by a less popular Vitaphone program featuring a talking "Don Juan" starring John Barrymore, what is less known is that two months after that a second Vitaphone program was made, which UCLA will show in its entirety, including the World War I feature "The Better 'Ole" starring Sydney Chaplin.

The star of the program, however, is Al Jolson. Wearing his trademark blackface, he sings "Red, Red Robin," "April Showers" and "Rockabye Baby With a Dixie Melody," says his trademark "You ain't heard nothin' yet" line several times (a full year before he used it in "The Jazz Singer") and in general is more relaxed and confident than in that later, more famous appearance.

Once "The Jazz Singer" became a sensation, Warner Bros. shrewdly withdrew and destroyed all copies of the earlier, livelier short. Or so it was thought until the Library of Congress found a copy in a mislabeled can. Just as difficult to locate was the Vitaphone disc holding the soundtrack. Only one could be turned up, but it had been broken into four pieces and awkwardly glued back together. A restorer spent months dissolving the glue, refitting the pieces together and transferring the contents to tape with the aid of a tilted turntable and strategic blowing on the tone arm.

Another intriguing footnote to film history is the archive's "My Darling Clementine" program (April 15), which took shape when a staff member noticed that the copy in UCLA's possession was markedly different from the final release print of the classic 1946 John Ford-Henry Fonda Western about that gunfight at the OK Corral.

Darryl F. Zanuck, maximum leader of 20th Century Fox, had some problems with the version the director handed in and, with Ford's permission, made a number of changes. UCLA's version is closer to what Ford wanted and, given the man's reputation, is surprisingly more reserved and less addicted to sentiment than what the studio turned out. UCLA will screen its version plus "Frontier Marshal," a 1939 Allan Dwan film that influenced Ford, and the archive's preservation officer, Robert Gitt, will use clips to compare and contrast the two "Clementines."

Perhaps the least known and most intriguing film in the festival is 1923's "The Bright Shawl" (Saturday), long considered a lost item until crumbling copies were found in Los Angeles' Silent Movie Theater. Starring Richard Barthelmess and Dorothy Gish in the story of an American who goes to 1850s Cuba to help that beleaguered island seek its independence from Spain, "Shawl" is notable for its subject matter, its atmospheric use of genuine Cuban locales and the later history of some of its lesser players. Watch for Edward G. Robinson's first and only silent film appearance, as well as out-of-character cameos by beginners Mary Astor and William Powell.

This UCLA festival is also noteworthy because of the participation of the Lumiere Project, a team preservation effort among several European archives.

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