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TCM Classic Film Festival: 'Night Flight,' 'The Constant Nymph,' 'Hoop-La'

All-star casts shine in seldom-seen films from the 1930s and '40s.

April 28, 2011|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
  • Clara Bow and Richard Cromwell in "Hoop-La."
Clara Bow and Richard Cromwell in "Hoop-La." (20th Century Fox )

Besides premiering a digital restoration of "An American in Paris" 60 years after its debut and welcoming such movie legends as Kirk Douglas, Mickey Rooney, Leslie Caron and Peter O'Toole, Turner Classic Movies has lined up three rare films for a "Discoveries" program at its second TCM Classic Film Festival that kicks off Thursday in Hollywood.

The most anticipated is 1933's "Night Flight," an MGM drama produced by David O. Selznick that revolves around daring pilots flying cargo and mail in South America who risk all when they embark on the first night-time flights; it's based on a novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (a French aviator best known for his work "The Little Prince"). The film features an all-star cast — John and Lionel Barrymore in their final pairing, plus Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery, Myrna Loy and Helen Hayes — and has been out of circulation since 1942 because MGM had the literary rights to Saint-Exupéry's story only for a limited time. It screens Sunday, but if you miss it, it will arrive on DVD on June 7.

"MGM was usually smart enough to make their deals for all rights in perpetuity," said George Feltenstein, senior vice president of theatrical catalog for Warner Home Video. "Mr. Saint-Exupery wanted to keep a limitation for whatever reasons." Feltenstein and his colleagues pursued the rights for many years before finally succeeding.

Warner Bros.' "The Constant Nymph," released in 1943, has been out of circulation since 1951 when, as in the case of "Night Flight," the rights reverted back to Margaret Kennedy, who wrote the novel on which the film was based. "Nymph" features an Oscar-nominated performance from Joan Fontaine as a teenager hopelessly in love with a handsome composer, played by Charles Boyer. "Nymph" screens Friday.

"We had to negotiate with the estate of Margaret Kennedy who wrote the book, but she also co-wrote the play and the movie was based on both the play and the book," said Feltenstein.

The racy 1933 drama "Hoop-La," made before Hollywood's self-imposed Production Code guidelines would have curtailed such content, was Clara Bow's final film. She plays a carnival hula dancer who seduces a young man (Richard Cromwell), the son of the show's manager. The festival will screen the Museum of Modern Art's new restoration of the Fox release Saturday.

"It has never been on TV and it has never been out on DVD," said film historian David Stenn, author of "Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild," who will discuss the film at the screening along with MOMA film collection manager Katie Trainor.

Though Bow's performance in the film was acclaimed, Stenn said by the time the picture was made, she wasn't very invested being a movie star any longer. "She had gotten married and was ready to start a family," Stenn said. "But she gives her all to the movie and the performance is very poignant to watch."

susan.king@latimes.com

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