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Back on the Big Trail

July 08, 2001|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Wayne was named the No. 1 favorite movie star of all time in a Gallup Poll this past March. His movies continue to post high ratings when shown on television. Several of his classic films were recently released on DVD. He's even appearing in a new Coors beer commercial. These are pretty heady accomplishments for Wayne, considering he died 22 years ago at age 72.

And now American Movie Classics is devoting its ninth annual Film Preservation Festival to the Duke's illustrious career. The festival, which kicks off Thursday and continues through July 16, features 35 Wayne pictures, including his first starring role, in 1930's "The Big Trail"; two of his seminal pictures for John Ford, 1939's "Stagecoach" and 1956's "The Searchers"; and 1969's "True Grit," for which he won his only Oscar.

Over the past eight years, the festival has celebrated film genres such as musicals and comedies, and directors John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock, while raising more than $2 million for the Film Foundation, established by Martin Scorsese. Promotional spots during the festival solicit donations, which are divided among the foundation's seven member film archives, including the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

AMC chose Wayne because "he's larger than life," says David Sehring, the network's senior vice president for acquisitions and programming. "His films tend to be that way too. He has a very important role in film overall, and American film for that matter."

Wayne's son, Patrick, says the family finds its "pretty exciting" that their father is as popular now as when he was alive.

But his tall, rugged father--who excelled at playing flawed American heroes--would have been shocked. "He never believed his [popularity] when it was happening," says Wayne. "He appreciated it and respected it and respected his fans. He was always mobbed wherever he went. He would stop and sign every single person's autograph until the last person was left."

Patrick Wayne says that even though "The Big Trail" was not one of his father's best films, fans will be able to recognize a lot of the expressions and looks that served him so well throughout his career.

"There were a few things that he did in that movie in terms of performance that he recognized worked, and he kept them," says Wayne. "In the later years, when he got into 'True Grit' and 'The Shootist,' he had just so much security [in his talent] and was more at ease."

Nine of the Wayne movies airing during the festival have either been restored or preserved. The UCLA Film and Television Archive was responsible for restoring "Stagecoach," the 1949 John Ford Technicolor western "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," the 1947 western "Angel and the Badman," the 1940 historical drama "The Dark Command," the 1944 war drama "The Fighting Seabees," the 1944 western "Flame of the Barbary Coast," and the 1942 action epic "Flying Tigers."

"She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," says Tim Kittleson, director of the UCLA archive, is one of its earliest and best film restorations. "It was really cobbling a lot of [film elements] from a lot of sources. If we don't [have original elements] to work with, we reach out to our brethren in the archival film community and say we need your help."

The AMC festival, says Kittleson, has been a real boon for the archival field in general "because it draws the attention of people who love these movies to what we have to do to make sure they are going to survive."

Among the most recent films restored by UCLA, which Kittleson says is the largest university film archive in the world and the second-biggest archive in the U.S. after the Library of Congress, are the 1955 atmospheric thriller "The Night of the Hunter" and the 1954 drama "The Barefoot Contessa," with Humphrey Bogart.

For the first time in the festival's history, AMC will open the event with a live TV auction (tied to an Internet link for bidding and information) of movie memorabilia, such as the Cowardly Lion costume from "The Wizard of Oz" and lunch for four aboard Wayne's yacht. A portion of the proceeds also will benefit the Film Foundation.

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The ninth annual Film Preservation Festival begins Thursday at 6 p.m. on AMC and continues through the early-morning hours of July 16. Check logs for schedule of films and times.

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