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Sharp films of a certain age share a retouching tale

More underappreciated movies restored from the Sony archives get a chance to win admirers all over again.

January 22, 2006|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Overlooked gems from Sony Pictures Entertainment's archives are featured in "Columbia Restorations: Rediscoveries," a three-week series presented by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. They're films like the gritty noir "The Burglar," the sexy melodrama "Strangers When We Meet" with Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak as illicit lovers, and the saucy screwball comedy "This Thing Called Love," starring farceurs Rosalind Russell and Melvyn Douglas.

"They are not necessarily forgotten, but sometimes underappreciated," says Grover Crisp, Sony vice president of film restoration.

"Rediscoveries" is UCLA's third tribute to Sony's restoration program, which aims to restore each title in its archive, and UCLA's co-head of programming, Andrea Alsberg, says the studio's output of restored films is so prolific that there's the potential for an annual screening of works in the collection.

During the Golden Age of Hollywood, Columbia Pictures was run by iron-fisted Harry Cohn, whose vision, says Alsberg, involved making films cheaply and quickly. "But the people he attracted, from the directors to the stars to the people who wrote the scripts, were all top-notch."

It was Frank Capra, she says, who gave the studio prestige, winning best director Oscars for 1934's "It Happened One Night," 1936's "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" and 1938's "You Can't Take It With You."

Capra, who was at the studio for 12 years, instigated Columbia's trend of producing films on topical themes, Alsberg says. "It was a real ability and desire to take risk. I don't think they were a studio above titillation to pull a profit, but I think they would go a little step further. So the noirs are a little grittier, and the melodramas are a little bit steamier."

Crisp has many favorites in the festival, including 1960's "Man on a String," starring Ernest Borgnine. "It is a virtually unknown Cold War spy drama that moves along in a crisp, crackling kind of way. In some cases it is ahead of its time and has great little performances and is well shot."

Even better, he says, is the taut thriller "The Burglar" from 1957, starring Dan Duryea as a small-time crook and Jayne Mansfield as the daughter of his late mentor. "It's a very artsy film noir," he says. "We have taken this film to a number of film festivals in Europe and it just knocks everybody in their seats."

He also singles out the screwball comedies in the festival, 1941's "This Thing Called Love" and 1940's "Too Many Husbands," with Douglas, Jean Arthur and Fred MacMurray.

Both films ran into problems with the production code because of their risque plots. "This Thing Called Love" was even condemned by the Catholic Church. "The whole premise of 'This Thing Called Love' is a newlywed husband trying to have sex with his wife," says Crisp.

And in "Too Many Husbands," Arthur finds herself married to both Douglas and MacMurray, only to end up staying with both men. "She doesn't have to make a choice," Alsberg says. "It's very, very modern."

Crisp notes that all the films in the festival were difficult to restore because the original negatives had been damaged over the years.

In the case of the 1940 horror film "The Man With Nine Lives," says Crisp, "the last reel is nonexistent in terms of the original negative. It probably deteriorated many years ago. There is no official record of what happened. So we had to use 16-millimeter for the last reel. There is a notable difference [in quality], but that is unfortunately the history of this kind of work. Sometimes you get lucky and have exactly what you need, and sometimes you go with the best material that you can."


'Columbia Restorations: Rediscoveries'

Where: James Bridges Theater, Melnitz Hall, UCLA

Price: $5 to $8

Contact: (310) 206-FILM

or go to


Today: "Mr. Sardonicus," "The Man With

Nine Lives," 7 p.m.

Wednesday: "This Thing Called Love,"

"Too Many Husbands," 7:30 p.m.

Saturday: "Strangers When We Meet,"

"City of Fear," 7:30 p.m.

Next Sunday: "The Burglar," "Man on

a String," 7 p.m.

Feb. 4: "Lilith," "In the French Style,"

7:30 p.m.

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