Saturday, February 1, 2014

"Missions to the World" & "Family Films" DVD Releases!


Since my last blog post, the Gospel Films Archive team has released the first 5 collections on DVD.  Quality is very good to excellent on each film and, while they could be improved by new transfers to High-Def, they really only need that kind of restoration for television.  Rather than ask for contributions, we can now reward any help at the $25 level with DVDs of forgotten Gospel films.  Any profits on the DVD sales will help acquire more films and begin needed restoration of many that would benefit from color correction, clean-up, etc.

"Missions to the World" contains 4 films about Christian missionary work, and yet they will have wider appeal to secular audiences as well.  All are expertly made by Hollywood professionals.

Africa and Schweitzer (1961/27m Cathedral Films) Superb documentary on Albert Schweitzer's Christian missionary work in Africa. Narrated by Lowell Thomas and exquisitely photographed in the Belgian Congo by Sven Nykvist, Ingmar Bergman's famed academy-award winning cinematographer.  This forgotten film (can't find any reference to it on the Internet) includes footage of the legendary Schweitzer at work in Africa just four years before his death.

A Christian in Communist China (1961/color/19m Film Services) A defiant Chinese Christian pastor, who has been conducting secret religious services in Communist China, is discovered and tortured. He escapes, but as he sails into Hong Kong harbor in a small fishing boat and hears a church choir singing in the distance, he decides to turn back to the people in his homeland who have looked to him for faith.  The subject of this 53-year-old film is still relevant today.

No Greater Love (1960/color/30m Film Services) Richard Denning and Evelyn Ankers in the dynamic story of a nurse who opposes her doctor husband’s desire to volunteer with other Christian professionals for work in the mission fields.  They travel to Madagascar where the story ends with heartfelt impact and a call to Christian dedication and service.

Richard Denning was an early TV star in the mystery-comedy "Mr. and Mrs. North" (1952-'54), and the hero of 1950's sci-fi films like "Creature from the Black Lagoon."  "No Greater Love" was made just before his solo private eye series "Michael Shayne" in 1961-'62.  Denning was married to Evelyn Ankers, horror film queen of "The Wolfman" and other Universals of the 1940s.  Ankers came out of retirement to work with her husband in what became her last screen appearance.

Art Linkletter also appears in the film to moderate a seminar that convinces Denning to volunteer his dentistry skills in Madagascar.  Many celebrities contributed their time and talents to these films, or worked very cheaply, because they believed in the messages.

Wings to the Word (1951/30m Protestant Film Commission)
Narrated by Alexander Scourby. The Reverend Rodger Perkins, a Presbyterian missionary to Brazil, portrays himself in this true story of a young missionary flyer who travels between remote villages in an impassioned campaign to use "wings to speed the Word of God."


"Family Films" was founded by entrepreneur Sam Hersh in 1946 to create entertainment for the entire family. Top Hollywood talent enhances these 4 inspired mini-movies. Former Child star Dickie Jones stars in the first two, which are not included in this IMDB filmography.  Dickie first appeared as a young child in 1934, played a teenager in several Gene Autry westerns of the late 1940s and sidekick in "The Range Rider" TV show 1951-'53.  Still very much a TV cowboy star, he played "Buffalo Bill Jr." (1955-'56) after these two films for Family Films.

This My Son 
(1954/30m/color) Dick Jones plays a modern day prodigal son from Luke 15. A young son is seduced by big city life and sells his interest in the family ranch to his father and brother. Strong acting and production values enhance this fine film commissioned by the Southern Baptist Convention. Release prints were in black & white and this is the only known color version. 

Missionary to Walker's Garage 
(1954/28m) Dick Jones plays Mark, who wants to be an automotive engineer and a Christian businessman. His parents want him to join the clergy. An inspired and literate script brings to life the "all things work together" message of Roman's 8:28 "

Rim of the Wheel 
(1951/23mGale Storm, after ten years as a star in Monogram features and right on the brink of TV fame as My Little Margie, shows off her considerable acting chops.  The story of a young wife who is on a constant round of social activities and neglecting her home and family. Through the fatherly advice of an elderly neighbor, she comes to realize that religion has a definite place in the home and that the church is important in her life.

Honor Thy Family 
(1951/27m) A cast of familiar faces adds fun to this comedy-Drama about an Italian immigrant father and son learning to appreciate each other. The script is a charming blend of the prodigal son of Luke 15 and the "Honor thy father and mother" message of Ephesians 6:2. 

I will discuss our other 3 first releases next time - Christopher Films, Loyola Films and Cathedral Films.  You can read about them now at Indiegogo or the GFA Website.

This large body of outstanding, professionally made "church" films that helped spread the Gospel in the 20th century is unknown to most today.  The films are still powerful and inspiring and well deserving of re-release.  They will have wide appeal to both film fans and Christians who are unaware of this lost history. P
lease help spread the word by telling any friends, bloggers, websites, etc., who might also be interested.  Help us get these films back on television where they can reach a wide audience.  We thank you!


Monday, January 20, 2014

Gospel Films Archive

A truly "Lost & Rare" library of films comprises the many religious films produced by Cathedral Films, Family Films, Loyola Films, The Christophers and others to distribute as audio-visual aids to churches (hence sometimes called "church films") and use in missionary work overseas.  My partners (Bob Campbell, Derek Myers) and I have been building such a library that we call Gospel Films Archive or GFA.  These films were primarily made and widely shown in the 1940s thru 1960s.  Since each generation slightly alters their views on what to preach and how, churches felt that a 1950 film was too dated to keep using and that a 1980, or 2014, re-interpretation of Christian stories and beliefs would somehow be more relevant. This is largely why many of the vintage films slipped out of use and out of the public consciousness.

These forgotten Gospel films educated and enlightened millions around the world in the 20th century.  They constitute a lost history of Christian outreach, and this historical aspect will interest many. Since the films are as powerful and inspiring as ever, which may come as quite a surprise, reissuing them with introductions that put each film into context will not only chronicle this history but inspire modern viewers with their timeless messages.

Many of the films in Gospel Films Archive do not look dated at all in style or content.  Bible stories are period pieces set more than 2,000 years ago.  Many of the GFA films are in color. Many were crafted by some of Hollywood's most talented and prestigious producers, directors, writers and actors expressly for Christian denominational organizations and faith-based groups. Other films tell engaging stories with strong spiritual themes and were produced by film and TV companies primarily for secular audiences.

A Christian in Communist China (1961/color/21m Film Services) could have been made today.  Doesn't the title alone make you curious about seeing it?  A defiant Chinese Christian pastor, who has been conducting secret religious services in Communist China, is discovered and tortured. He escapes, but as he sails into Hong Kong harbor in a small fishing boat and hears a church choir singing in the distance, he decides to turn back to the people in his homeland who have looked to him for leadership and faith.

Boyhood of Jesus (1947/30m Loyola Films) In 1946 Loyola University commissioned veteran B-movie filmmaker John T. Coyle to assemble a pool of Hollywood actors and technicians to create 16 half-hour Bible films faithfully based on scripture. This one from the Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus' birth and life to age 12.  We contacted Loyola University and discovered that no one there even knew the films had been made, despite having a film archive, or bunch of films in a room, that had seemingly never been looked at.  All of the Loyola Bible films were made in 1947-'48.


John T. Coyle began his career in the 1930s doing special effects at Mascot and on Republic serials like Dick Tracy.  His crowning achievement was the 12-part color Living Christ series in 1951 for Cathedral Films.  Cathedral has a long history and one GFA rarity is "No Greater Power" from 1942 in original sepia color.

No Greater Power (1942/24m Cathedral Films) The story of Zaccheus as recorded in St. Luke 11 shows him as an impoverished potter who takes advantage of circumstances to gain the exalted position of tax collector in Jericho. He uses his wealth and power to further his own selfish ends, but everything changes when Jesus comes to supper. The film was shot by veteran cinematographer John Alton (Elmer Gantry) and is notable for its effective use of light and shadow, most notably when Jesus is strongly backlit giving a halo effect. 

So we have accumulated quite a library, and rapidly growing, of little-known films that will be of interest to many film buffs and Christians.  Rather than put them out on standard DVD in their present form, we hope to restore them to pristine condition and transfer to Hi-Def.  Future plans include DVD releases arranged around themes, preparation of "Gospel Films Showcase" for television and eventually producing a series of documentaries about the films.  We are supported in this endeavor by The Christophers, Vision Video, Wesscott Distributing, Loyola Films, Christianfilms.com and others who believe these films should be restored and returned to the public.

The first step is film restoration, which can be costly.  To get going we have just launched a fund-raising campaign on Indiegogo.  You can greatly assist us to spread the word by visiting the IGG page and telling friends who share your interest to pay us a visit as well.  More news is at the GFA website and Facebook page.

Film clips and future Gospel Films Archive plans are in this short video.  Thanks for watching!

Please visit the Indiegogo Campaign and spread the word!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

New Finds of Old Films!

Every January First the number of american films entering the public domain is a big fat -- Zero.  However many rare films that happen to be public domain are found, restored and made available to film fans every year.  Here are my reviews of some obscure but quite fascinating forgotten gems that are newly available from Festival Films.

KING OF THE CIRCUS
aka THIS WOMAN IS MINE (1935)

Circus movies nurture the dream of joining a world of glamour, excitement and sudden danger.  Many have tapped into this fantasy world from Chaplin’s The Circus (1928), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Trapeze (1956) to the recent Water for Elephants (2011).  Conflict often centers on the most colorful headliners -- the trapeze artists, magicians, clowns and lion tamers -- who still draw crowds today.

King of the Circus (1935) is set in the world of European circuses where the artistes are as acclaimed as opera stars.  A permanent arena replaces the familiar big top and the evening performances are attended by adults only.  Pompous Nikita (Gregory Ratoff) is the star attraction, a lion tamer who acquires a ferocious lioness, Caprice, who killed her previous trainer.  With the lion comes the daughter of the victim, Lida, who Nikita raises from child to young woman.  They inevitably marry but without real love from Lida, whose pain and confusion are evident to all except her husband-to-be.  Enter a matinee-idol magician named Trelawyne (John Loder) to challenge Nikita for star billing and the affections of Lida, while Caprice paces her cage awaiting revenge.

Gregory Ratoff was born in Russia in 1897 and entered the Moscow Art Theater after fighting for the Czar in World War-I.  Ratoff had a long and respected career in Hollywood playing comedy foreigners with heavy accents from I’m No Angel (1933) to Exodus (1960), with his most famous role being Max Fabian in All About Eve (1950).  He was also a prominent writer and director from Ingrid Bergman’s first american film Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939) to Oscar Wilde (1960).  

It is both a surprise to see Gregory Ratoff starring in a dramatic role (that he wrote for himself) and a true delight at how effectively he portrays the obsessed Nikita.  His compassion at raising an innocent Lida to adulthood turns to blindness to her revulsion and fear at marrying him.  At heart a good man, he can not conquer his raging jealousy.  The film was originally titled “This Woman is Mine,” which accurately nails the raw theme.  Retitling it “King of the Circus” may have attempted to reach a wider audience, but make no mistake -- this is one circus film that is not for children!


KING OF THE CIRCUS (aka. This Woman in Mine)  1935.  69 min.  Directed by Monty Banks.  Written by Gregory Ratoff.  Cast: Gregory Ratoff, John Loder, Benita Hume, Kathryn Sergava, Richard Bennett.  A USA/UK joint film production for Allied Pictures.  Released by Paramount.

MISSOURI NIGHTINGALE
aka St. Louis Woman (1935)

Athletic, likable and movie-star handsome, actor Johnny Mack Brown started at the top but soon descended into the “B” films he is famous for today.  MGM signed him to a contract in 1926 that found him playing opposite Marion Davies (The Fair Co-Ed, 1927), Norma Shearer (A Lady of Chance, 1928), Joan Crawford (Our Dancing Daughters, 1928), Mary Pickford (Coquette, 1929) and four films with Greta Garbo.  However, with the advent of talkies Brown’s acting limitations became evident along with his southern accent.  

When John played the title role in King Vidor’s 1930 Billy the Kid an attribute emerged that type cast him the rest of his career -- he looked good on a horse!  After starring in the 1933 Mascot serial Fighting with Kit Carson and The Rustlers of Red Dog for Universal in 1935, he went on to make countless “B” or series westerns for Monogram Pictures and other small companies.  When the Saturday Matinee and B-western died with the advent of television in the early 1950s, Brown semi-retired and only made a few TV guest appearances.

Missouri Nightingale (1935) is a rare chance to see John (as he is billed here) in a dramatic role before becoming a cowboy.  It opens with him winning the big college football game, which was the sport that brought him to Hollywood.  Invited to a night club John meets blonde chanteuse St. Louis Lou (Jeanette Loff) who gets friendly to persuade him to play professional ball, but breaking training causes him to be kicked out of school and lose any chance of becoming a doctor.  His professional career gets off to a rocky start when his team sabotages every play, but Lou intervenes and he makes good.  As she falls further in love she hatches a plan to get John back into college.

Jeanette Loff was a promising singer with a pleasing personality.  She sang three numbers in King of Jazz (1930) but only appeared in “B” pictures like this one the rest of her short career that ended in a small part in Monogram’s Million Dollar Baby (1934).  Both stars click with engaging chemistry, one on the way to early retirement while the other is about to ride the range on a twenty year quest to uphold justice.  Johnny’s many fans are glad he learned to ride.

MISSOURI NIGHTINGALE  (aka. St. Louis Woman)  (1934)  62 min.  Directed by Albert Ray.  Cast: Jeanette Loff, John Mack Brown, Earle Fox, Roberta Gale, Tom London.  Produced by Screencraft Productions.

WOMAN TO WOMAN (1929)

In interviews actress Betty Compson always sited Woman to Woman as her favorite of all the films she made.  They failed to ask her which version, since the 1923 silent film for which she was paid $3,500 a week appears to be lost and this 1929 early talkie remake has been unavailable for many years.  Both were based on a 1921 stage play by English dramatist Michael Morton.  The 1923 version was produced in England and gave Alfred Hitchcock his very first writing credit.

Betty entered vaudeville in 1915 at the age of 18 in an act “The Vagabond Violinist.”  Comedy producer Al Christie spotted and hired her to make dozens of one and two-reel slapstick comedies which he also directed.  Her big break came in 1919 when she was cast opposite Lon Chaney in The Miracle Man and the film became an enormous hit boosting both of their careers.  She appeared in 58 films in the 1920s, most for Paramount Pictures and usually top billed.  Her fame is largely forgotten today since so many films fall into the “lost” category.  One fact that attests to her box office draw is that she was paid $5,000 a week at the height of her popularity.

Compson’s acting skills may be appreciated as a prostitute in Josef von Sternberg’s Docks of New York (1928), in her Oscar-nominated role in The Barker (1929) with Milton Sills and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and as the dancer obsessed over by egocentric ventriloquist Erich von Stroheim in The Great Gabbo (1929).  Woman to Woman was released right after Gabbo.  Having made a successful transition to sound films, but over the age of 30, Betty found herself on the brink of a swift decline.  Brief RKO and Warners contracts in “women’s pictures” gave way to smaller parts at poverty row studios Chesterfield, Continental and Monogram before she retired in 1948.

Woman to Woman is a four-star tearjerker that shows Betty at the peak of her skills.  As a cabaret dancer in Paris during WW-I she meets and falls for a young English officer.  They have a night of love and plan to be married the next day, except he is called to the front, gets amnesia in battle and disappears.  Four years later Betty is a celebrated dancer performing in London who runs into her love again and restores his memory, but alas he is married to a shrewish wife who will not budge.  They have a four-year-old son and other complications escalate from there to a heart-breaking, surprising climax.  Woman to Woman can only add to Betty Compson’s legacy that has been unjustly forgotten.

WOMAN TO WOMAN  (1929)  77 min.  Directed by Victor Saville.  Cast: Betty Compson, George Barraud, Juliette Compton, Margaret Chambers.  A Tiffany-Stahl Production.

CHEATING BLONDES (1933)
Shop girl Thelma Todd is implicated in a murder, so to hide out she visits her twin sister who is a night club singer who wants a vacation.  They switch places and Thelma sings one musical number outfitted as the Butterfly Girl, shown in the film clip below.  The scene where the two Thelmas meet is missing from the extremely rare print that I found and supplied to Alpha Video/Oldies.com.  Thelma's reporter/boyfriend tries to expose her new life just for the story, and she justly jilts him at the end.  Includes a nice role for Hal Roach actress Mae Busch.  Produced, but never registered, by the obscure Equitable Motion Pictures Corp. The two Thelmas must be the "blondes" in question, but despite the title there is no "cheating" by either of them! 


Visit my website at Festival Films.




Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Movies are Magic!

Tis the Season to watch movies, happy vintage films from childhood past!

DVD CoverHeavenly Christmas Film Classics
6 rare films in an exclusive DVD that makes a nice Christmas gift!  
Special price to blog readers -- just $15, postage included!
Silent Night: Story of the Christmas Carol
(1953) 13 min., color. Beautifully told true story of how Franz Gruber created the iconic 1818 Christmas carol.
Christmas is Magic
(1953) 24 min. Robert Hutton plays a war vet with amnesia who is taken in by widow Frances Rafferty and her son on Christmas Eve.  You can watch the complete film below.
Star of Bethlehem
(1956) 12 min., color. The Nativity told using the silhouette animation style of Lotte Reiniger.
Three Young Kings
(1956) 28 min. Episode of “DuPont Theater.” In Latin America three boys follow a village tradition of carrying Christmas gifts to the mission church children dressed as the Three Wise Men. In the poor section of town they give the presents to the ragged children instead, causing a crisis in conscience over the true meaning of giving.
Star of Bethlehem
(1954) 26 min. Produced, directed by and starring James Mason. After Mason reads sections from the bible that lead up to the birth of Jesus, the Nativity is enacted starring a cast of children. A heartfelt, inventive and personal religious project by a Hollywood star.
Starlight Night
(1939) 30 min. Opulent British docu-drama about the creation of the famous Christmas carol centers on a stern father estranged from his daughter.
Order from Ron Hall -- fesfilms@aol.com -- or 952-470-2172

DVD Cover
Religious Films
I recently added a page of RELIGIOUS FILMS to my website and list them here.  Most of these have been available for some years.  However, in 2014 we plan to release many similar but much rarer films for the first time on video.  Details soon! 
Feature Films:
CONSTANTINE AND THE CROSS 
(1961, color) 120 min. Cornel Wilde. Somewhat fictionalized dramatic account of Late Roman Emperor Constantine, his rise to power, and his establishment of religious tolerance among Roman subjects.
DAVID AND GOLIATH 
(1960, color) 92 min. Orson Welles stars as King Saul. The story is adapted from the Old Testament: The Philistines declare war on the Israelites and wrench the Arch of the Allience from them. Saul, the king of Israel, listens meanwhile to the words of the prophets who tell him that the new king will be a young shepard called David. But still David has to fight the enemy in form of their mighty giant Goliath.
ESTHER AND THE KING 
(1960, color, Italy) 109 min. Joan Collins stars in the biblical story about Esther, an orphan raised by a relative named Mordecai, as she is chosen from all the maidens in the land to become queen. She must risk her life to save her people from a treacherous plan of the charmingly wicked prince Haman.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW 
(1964, Italy, subtitled) 130 min. Director Pier Paolo Pasolini's celebrated life of Christ story stars Enrique Irazoqui as Jesus. Filmed in the actual locations.
MARTIN LUTHER 
(1953) 106 min. The first motion picture portrayal of the incendiary beginnings of the Protestant Reformation. This excellent film brings to life Luther's growing realization that the religion, to which he had dedicated his life, was flawed. His character is shown to mature in believable stages, culminating in acts of ferocious courage.
THE OLD TESTAMENT
(1962, Italy/France, color) 89 min. The Jews of Jerusalem are driven out by their Syrian rulers. They gather their forces, and return to drive out their oppressors.
SAUL AND DAVID 
(1964, Spain/Italy, color) 113 min. The story of the relationship between David the slayer of Goliath and Saul the King of the Israelites.

Church Films
Films by Family Films, Cathedral Films and similar religious groups to spread the Gospel.  These were shown primarily in churches or on Sunday morning TV.  Many were intentionally released into the public domain to find the widest possible audience.
ALL THAT I HAVE 
(1949, Family Films) Dr. Charles Greyson is a famous and wealthy former surgeon. His nephews take him to court to challenge his competency, due to his recent inexplicable gifts of large amounts of cash to the church. Message being that all that we are we owe to God, and the profits gained from our God-given abilities require care and thought before sharing.
THE LIFE OF CHRIST (aka. The Living Christ Series) 
(1951, color) 300 min. Cathedral Films. Each of the twelve 20-30 min. programs faithfully illustrate aspects of the teachings and the ministry of Jesus Christ, in chronological order, from the Nativity in Bethlehem, to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Last Supper. The Life of Christ gives historical context with maps and graphics, and the believable dialogue makes these Bible stories come alive. Robert Wilson gives a strong, sensitive performance as Jesus Christ.  Here is more info.
OLD TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES 
(1955, color) 212 min. Concordia/Family Films series relates stories from the Old Testament: Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Ruth, Samuel, David, Solomon and Elijah.
PILGRIMAGE PLAY 
(1949,color) 92m. A Roland Reed Production tells the story of the life of Jesus Christ, starring Nelson Leigh as Jesus.
REACHING FROM HEAVEN 
(1948) 80 min. Drama with strong spiritual overtones that concerns itself with the eternal question, "Can the God whose hand formed the sun and the moon and the stars be concerned about the lives of little men?" In a small American town we meet one such "little man," a European immigrant long-separated from his wife by the war.
POWER OF THE RESURRECTION 
(1958, color) 60 min., Family Films.  A young man, facing torture and possibly death for his Christian beliefs, confesses his fears to Peter, who awaits a similar fate. Peter tells him of fear he felt in following Jesus' arrest in the Garden of Gethesamene, when he denied knowing him three times - and yet Jesus told him that he would be the rock upon which the Church was built. Peter goes on to relate the events of the passion week, including the Christ's crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.

The Gospel on Television
Mainstream TV shows with a religious theme that often showed around Christmas or Easter.
HILL NUMBER ONE 
(1951) 57 min. Family Theater Production. A respectful interpretation of what might have happened among Jesus's followers in the three days before Crucifixion. The story is told in the modern context of an US Army company stationed in Korea during the Korean War.
THE NATIVITY 
(1952) 59 min. Hurd Hatfield, Robert Shaw, Paul Tripp in dramatization of the birth of Jesus was produced for television by Studio One.
PICTURE OF THE MAGI 
25 min. In 1956 Communist-dominated Hungary young Aranka (Judy Morris) stumbles across the hideout of three ruthless blackmarket smugglers. When the girl discovers one of the men is named Melchoir (Walter Coy) she believes they are actually the Three Wise Men.
PONTIUS PILATE 
(1952) 59 min. Episode of Westinghouse Studio One TV series. Cast: Geraldine Fitzgerald, Cyril Ritchard, Francis Sullivan. The tale of Pontius Pilate, the Roman administrator of Judea and the man charged with trying and sentencing Jesus to death, in spite of his reservations.
A STAR SHALL RISE 
(1952) 29 min. Raymond Burr stars in the story of the birth of Jesus and the visit of the three wise men.

Crossroads
(1955-'57) Half-hour TV anthology series dramatizes the lives of clergymen of all faiths and the problems they face in both their professional and personal lives.
A Bell for O'Donnell  -- A reverend learns a lesson in forgiveness when is is swindled by a fast-talking con man (Edmond Lowe).
Cleanup -- A pastor (Vincent Price) exhorts his parishioners to take back their city from the gangsters and corrupt politicians who have taken it over.
Call for Help -- Richard Carlson plays a priest who works with troubled youths, when a gang fight leads to a fatal shooting.
Dig or Die, Brother Hyde -- A new preacher on the harsh Dakota frontier is severly tested. With Hugh Marlow.
God's Healing -- Vincent Price plays a priest who heals an old woman's embittered heart.
The Good Thief -- US Army chaplain (James Whitmore) is tortured by Red Chinese captors for ministering to his fellow prisoners of war.
The Judge -- Brian Donlevy does double duty in a lawless town as a preacher and a judge.
Mother O'Brien -- A police detective is torn between family and duty when his younger brother is involved in a petty crime.

A Christmas Mystery....
Christmas is Magic is one of the six films on our Heavenly Christmas Film Classics DVD release promoted at the top.  An extraordinary discovery was brought to our attention last Christmas by a customer the day before Christmas Eve -- a vision of the face of Jesus Christ appears several times.  The face of Jesus is clear to both Christians and non-believers alike in numerous scenes.

Because the Face appears more than once, it may have been an intentional although subliminal insertion by the film's producer, Sovereign Films.  Another theory is that it is an artifact of the 16mm to video transfer process.  Yet others may claim that we altered the film to attract publicity, and I can assure everyone that is not at all the case.  The DVD was released by Festival Films over three months ago and today is the first time I and my two partners became aware of this phenomena.

Christmas is Magic was the Christmas episode of an anthology TV series called Your Jeweler's Showcase.  It was first shown on television on Dec. 13, 1953, and may have been syndicated on 16mm prints for a few years.  Our source is an original 16mm syndication print.

A WW-2 war veteran (Robert Hutton) with amnesia gets off a train in a town he never heard of on Christmas Eve.  In the village square he meets a young widow (Frances Rafferty) whose husband was killed in the war and her 8-year-old son.  The son and man, who calls himself John Doe for lack of his real name, quickly bond and he goes home with them to wait for Santa to arrive.  The mother and son pray together in a moving scene not often found on television.  Later John Doe helps trim the tree while the widow helps him remember his past.  Miracles happen.

Robert Hutton and Frances Rafferty
If indeed a Face of Jesus Christ was inserted secretly into a 1953 television show, then why has it taken 59 years for anyone to notice?  I don't have an answer.  I do have a theory as to what might happen next in this wonderful age of the Internet when social media has the power to spread unusual news at the speed of light.  Word about this sighting of the Face of Jesus might attract many viewers to see for themselves.  Interest in unexpected images of Christ is always high.  While deciding yeah or nay, coincidence or intentional, or what it all might mean, viewers will experience a profoundly moving Christmas story about love and childhood and memories and renewal.  Was the Face from 1953 intended to focus world attention on Christmas is Magic on this Christmas week in 2012?  Stranger miracles have happened at Christmas time.

We urge you to watch the film from the beginning to end first to experience the full effect of the story, then explore the Face.  Still pictures do not capture the Face of Jesus Christ very well.  It is much more apparent in the youtube video just below.  Most will see it -- eyes, nose, nostrils, beard and hair in the traditional image of Christ as depicted on the Shroud of Turin and in religious paintings.  One can see faces in almost anything, but this has symmetry, does not disappear after a few frames and is, of course, a very special face.  Look closely at the fabric of Robert Hutton's tweed suit from 14:00 to 14:25.    Once you see the Face you will spot it in other scenes both before and after.  The indication of a face could be a coincidence or it could have been woven into the fabric on purpose.  You decide.  By all means, tell your friends!  Spread the mystery. Spread the word.  Spread the joy.  Foremost, enjoy the film!

And the merriest of all Christmases to every one of you!



Visit my websites at Festival Films and Lost and Rare.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

First BUCK ROGERS Film Re-Visited Once Again!


The first version of this article appeared in the Bijou Blog on May 16, 2008, and the second version in my blog on 9/11/2010.  At that time I re-uploaded the First Buck Rogers film to the Cafe Roxy Youtube channel where it has just been viewed more than 10,000 times.  You can view it below. The film is also included on the free Café Roxy Sampler disc. It is on that DVD last, so that you don't need to show it if your audience is not hip enough to enjoy "campy" fun.

Recent research uncovered these tickets required to see the Buck Rogers "Show."  I had always assumed the movie was shown free since it is so short and amateurish, but one actually had to pay. Since admission for children to get into the entire 1934 Chicago World's Fair was only a quarter, it seems doubtful they would have charged more than a dime for any midway attraction.

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In 1934 an obscure movie short called Buck Rogers in the 25th Century -- An Interplanetary Battle with the Tiger Men of Mars was released, but not in theaters. David Stelle accurately describes it in the IMDb: “A signal from Buddy Deering on Mars warns Earth that the Tiger Men of Mars and their cruel king have broken their treaty and are attacking. Buck Rogers and Wilma Deering go to rendezvous with the Earth battlefleet before setting off to fight the tigerships. Baldpated genius inventor Dr. Huer uses the ‘cosmic radiotelevision’ to watch the space battle. Which side will be victorious? The tigerships and their paralysis ray? Or our Earth forces, armed with the flash ray and Dr. Huer's new magnetic ray?”

You might well ask -- “What the heck is this anyway?” -- either before or after you watch it. One viewer at youtube thought it might be a recently photoshopped in-joke.  While not exactly a Hollywood movie, it is a jaw-dropping curiosity.

The first Buck Rogers film was shown to the public during the second year, 1934 edition, of the Chicago World's Fair. The Century of Progress International Exposition was held in Chicago in 1933 and 1934 to celebrate the city's centennial. The theme of the fair was technological innovation. Its motto was "Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms" and its architectural symbol was the Sky Ride, a transporter bridge perpendicular to the shore on which one could ride from one end of the fair to the other. After a winter break, the 1934 Fair ran from May 26 through Oct. 31 and included a new Island Midway area that faced Lake Michigan. The "Buck Rogers Show," as it was called on admission tickets, was located on the Enchanted Island playground for children, at #125 on the left hand section of the 1934 Fair Map. It is unknown whether this film was the entire show, or if fans were treated to some live action event as well for their dime. It is certain that after watching the movie, visitors could purchase the very same toy spaceships and ray guns they had just seen. Pretty tricky, huh?

Buck first appeared as Anthony Rogers in an issue of the pulp magazine Amazing Stories in August, 1928. John F. Dille, president of the National Newspaper Service syndicate, saw the potential of the futuristic adventure and arranged for the author, Philip Francis Nowlan, to turn it into a comic strip for Dille's syndicate. The strip was re-named "Buck Rogers," inspired by the name of cowboy star Buck Jones, and that name was used for the character from then on. Dille assigned staff artist Lt. Dick Calkins (shown here) to the project, and he successfully drew the strip for the next 18 years.


The 1934 film on a zero budget resembles a “home movie” hastily thrown together with lots of spirit but little skill by amateurs. It was in fact produced by the John F. Dille Co. and filmed in the studios of the Action Film Company of Chicago. Dick Calkins appears briefly at his drawing board.

The actor playing Buck is John Dille, Jr., the son of the strip’s owner! While Junior looks the part, his, um acting, um, speaks for itself. The actress playing Wilma Deering was Junior’s girlfriend when the film was being shot. Their onscreen chemistry hints at the length of the relationship. The listless delivery of her last line -- “Oh, Buck, wasn’t that a battle!” -- is priceless. Dr. Huer is played by Harlan Tarbell, a stage magician and illustrator, who also “directed” the film but never directed or acted in any other film. His baldpate make-up positively flops around on his head. The sets and special effects are equally impressive. This camp classic must be seen to be believed, so we won’t give away more of the fun!

1934 Chicago Midway where Buck Rogers could be seen!
The film may well have thrilled fair goers, particularly young kids who had never seen anything quite like it. The futuristic serials The Phantom Empire, Undersea Kingdom and Flash Gordon did not hit movie screens until 1935 and 1936, while the Buck Rogers serial with Buster Crabbe came later in 1939. Also keep in mind that Buck’s fans in 1934 avidly listened to his weekly radio exploits. The narrated space battle sounds much like a radio show and is actually more exciting, though far less funny, with your eyes closed! If the spaceships in the big battle look like toy models, that’s exactly what they are, and darned good ones we all wish we had today. To top it off, the show neatly fit into the futuristic theme of the Century of Progress.

There is no indication this first Buck Rogers film was ever shown in movie theaters, where even matinee audiences might have found it laughably amateurish. The June 1936 issue of the trade magazine “Toys and Novelties” reports that the film had a second life by being shown in department stores to promote Buck Rogers merchandise. More Buck toys were sold in the 1930s than Mickey Mouse, with countless games, puzzles, figurines, Big Little Books, ray guns, spaceships and even a full costume for boys. Toy stores devoted entire sections and Christmas displays to Buck and the film doubtless attracted even more customers.

A granddaughter of John Dille discovered a 35mm print of this forgotten film in her basement around 1983 and donated it to UCLA, who struck a new print. It was unleashed on the modern world at the 1984 Cinecon convention in San Francisco. The auditorium rocked with laughter. UCLA gave me contact info to the granddaughter, who sent me a VHS copy and I reviewed the film for "Movie Collector's World" in 1984.

The 1935 © notice must have been added for department store showings, since it was definitely first shown at the 1934 World's Fair.  Despite this copyright notice, the film was never registered with the Library of Congress and so is in the public domain for all the world to enjoy.


Then blast off to my website at Festival Films and request the Free Roxy Sampler DVD.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Blazing WESTERNS!

I have found increasing interest in (public domain) westerns this year, so much that I created a second Matinee Series called "Blazing Westerns."  I feel the films are slightly better than in the first "Sagebrush Saga" series.  I will give links to both pages below.

The serial that unites the 12 week series of features and shorts is "Zorro Rides Again" from 1937, starring John Carroll as a dashing modern-day Zorro who encounters trucks, planes and skyscrapers as he helps complete a railroad line to Mexico.  The fast riding and stunts feature Yakima Canutt behind the mask, while Republic's two best serial directors took turns behind the camera -- William Witney and John English.  One of the best chapter endings has Zorro's foot caught between train tracks, with escape seemingly impossible, as a speeding locomotive runs him down.

A second mini-serial in episodes 2-3-4 is the first 3 episodes of The Lone Ranger TV series starring Clayton Moore from 1949.  This tells the origin story about how the Ranger's outfit was ambushed, he was found and nursed back to health by Tonto, then acquired his horse Silver and eventually captured the bad guys that killed his buddies.

Five of the twelve features in Blazing Westerns series are in color.  The first and last are Trucolor Roy Rogers films -- "Springtime in the Sierras" and "Under California Stars" from 1947 and 1948 and both with Jane Frazee as leading lady and Andy Devine as the main sidekick.  Roy's future TV comic sidekick, Pat Brady, is prominently featured as one of the Sons of the Pioneers singing group.  Many of Roy's late-40s color westerns no longer exist in color, only 3 public domain ones survive in color, and "Springtime" was only restored recently not only in color but uncut at 75 minutes.  Here's a review from Imdb:

Springtime In The Sierras finds Roy Rogers trying to help Harry Cheshire who is animal lover and conservationist against out of season poachers. Cheshire runs an animal shelter and hospital from his place in the mountains where he also has a crusade against those who poach. Cheshire is convinced that there is an organized gang of poachers operating in his woods. His investigation proves right and he's killed for his troubles. That brings Roy into the picture big time.

Roy has two women in this film good girl Jane Frazee whose brother Harold Landon is mixed up with the poachers and Joan Lorring who heads the poachers along with her number one aide, perennial western villain Roy Barcroft. In the climax Roy and Roy mix it up along side a dandy chick fight with Jane and Joan. I also have to say that Lorring is one evil villain in this film.

Andy Devine who did several Rogers films in the Forties is in this one in his usual befuddled state. Andy was a good ally to have, but he was kind of slow and there isn't a Roy Rogers film in it where he doesn't to have Roy patiently explain the situation. Of course it's a plot device to make sure the Saturday afternoon kids understood exactly what was happening, still it made Andy look stupid. 

As someone who is not particularly fond of hunting other than as a means for food and regulated at that, I have a soft spot in my heart for this particular film. I wish I had seen a full length version, but what I saw was cut down for television back in the day.


The other three color films are "Daniel Boone: Trail Blazer" from 1956 with Bruce Bennett and Lon Chaney Jr., and big budget "A" westerns "Rage at Dawn" (1955) in which Randolph Scott tracks down the Reno Brothers gang, and the railroad construction story "Union Pacific" (1953) starring Sterling Hayden.  Daniel Boone program includes an episode of the 1956 TV series "Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans" in which Lon Chaney also plays an Indian.  "Union Pacific" has an episode of Republic's 1954 "Stories of the Century" TV series which is also about a railroad investigator.

"Ghost Town Gold" (1936) is the second film in Republic's popular Three Mesquiteers series and the first with ventriloquist Max Terhune rounding out the trio with Ray Crash Corrigan and Bob Livingston.  We learn how Max won his dummy Elmer in a rigged carnival game.  In "Trailing Double Trouble" (1940) the 3 Range Busters take care of a baby and search for its mother.  This series copied the 3 Mesquiteers with Crash Corrigan and Max Terhune (now called Alibi instead of Lullaby) joined by John "Dusty" King.

Other features in the Blazing Westerns series are Gene Autry's "The Old Corral" (1936) with the Sons of the Pioneers (Gene and Roy Rogers actually have a fist fight!), two of John Wayne's 1934 Lone Star westerns: "The Star Packer" and "Blue Steel," and a third Roy Rogers "Song of Texas" (1943).  "Trouble in Texas" (1937) stars Tex Ritter and Rita Hayworth when she was still billed as Rita Cansino.  Rita is an undercover federal agent and Tex is after the same bad guys who killed his brother.  Lots of authentic rodeo action.  In this scene Rita dances, followed by a face-off between Tex and Yakima Canutt.


The Blazing Westerns! series is designed to be shown in small, vintage movie theaters as Saturday Matinees or evening fare.  They also fit well with creative programming by small, indie TV stations.  The old westerns still pack a whale of a punch, real action by stuntmen rather than special effects and solid family values.  Check out our two series at Blazing Westerns and the original Sagebrush Sagas.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Discovering Edgar Kennedy

Edgar explains Kickstarter to his Hal Roach pals.
The Edgar Kennedy Restoration Project has gone to Kickstarter to seek crowd funding to produce a Pilot Episode of "The Edgar Kennedy Show."  Please visit to show your support and also pass the link along to any friends who share your interest in classic comedy.  The story is told from a different perspective in this Press Release.

It has been a joy to delve so deeply into the long film legacy of Mr. Kennedy, and I hope to continue until we reawaken worldwide interest in enjoying his films, particularly the nearly forgotten body of his 103 RKO shorts.  

The process of discovering Edgar Kennedy has led me to think back on a lifetime of viewing vintage films.  When did I first notice Edgar and in which films?  So the rest of these notes are about me and old films rather than an ad to go check out Edgar on Kickstarter, but before I forget, please do that using the link at the end....

I’m certain the first time I ever saw Edgar was in the Universal serial “The Great Alaskan Mystery,” one chapter a week in a summer park series in the tiny Wisconsin town of Deerfield.  I was 8 or younger at the time.  Of course I did not know Edgar Kennedy from the hero, Milburn Stone.  Edgar was just the hero’s pal who survived a sinking ship, a glacier turning over, a crashing plane, a shack blowing up and a plunge down a mine shaft.  Edgar did not play a comic sidekick like Smiley Burnette, but a likable good-guy with character.  

TV programming in the 1950s depended on the whims of local stations, and they never showed Laurel and Hardy or Our Gang in the Madison area when I was young.  Unbelievable!  Minneapolis was flooded with Hal Roach shorts and New York saw Edgar’s RKO shorts in a 1970s show called “Reel Camp.”  Not in Wisconsin.  We got The Three Stooges, B westerns, some serials and Paramount features, and I’m not complaining about those.  So outside of “The Great Alaskan Mystery” I had only noticed Edgar in “Duck Soup” by the time I entered high school.  

My interest in silent films began with “Silents Please” on TV in 1960 and I soon found Blackhawk Films.  The first film I ever bought was the 8mm “Leave ‘Em Laughing” with Laurel and Hardy and, quite by coincidence, good old Edgar, though the Boys got all the laughs.  We moved to Madison for my high school and college years, which opened up film society showings at the University of Wisconsin.  Among my most memorable viewings ever, a film class ran “When Comedy Was King” one evening and opened it up to the campus.  The packed lecture hall held more than 400 who laughed until they fell off their chairs.  I mainly recall the “Big Business” finale with Laurel and Hardy, but an earlier highlight was the ice cream mayhem with Edgar from “A Pair of Tights.”

My introduction to Edgar Kennedy’s “Slow Burn” came in 1967 on the cover of Leonard Maltin’s fanzine “Film Fan Monthly” and in the article inside.  Leonard’s 1972 “The Great Movie Shorts” had a brief synopsis of all 103 Edgar “Average Man” shorts.  I could read about the RKO comedy shorts but had no way to view very many until nearly 30 years later.  The first one that made an impression was “Feather Your Nest” that I saw on “Matinee at the Bijou” on PBS in the early 80s.  Edgar must find a chicken that has swallowed an engagement ring, but a wily chicken farmer and yard full of white birds conspire against him.

I caught up on Laurel and Hardy when I moved to Minneapolis in 1969 where they were still on TV.  I watched most Our Gang shorts for the first time when I bought a 16mm collection from a TV station.  Edgar shines in supporting roles in many late silent and early talkie Hal Roach shorts with Laurel and Hardy, Our Gang, Charley Chase, Thelma Todd and The Boyfriends.  But let’s face the truth, Edgar was second banana in these films.  Jimmy Finlayson and Charlie Hall got more laughs, and Kennedy the Cop was easily replaced by Tiny Sandford.  The comic genius of Edgar Kennedy only blossomed in the sound era when he turned 40 and struck out on his own.

Fortunately, someone envisioned Edgar in a new kind of comedy, a domestic situational comedy that mixed family problems with slapstick.  That man was writer, director and Edgar’s good friend Harry Sweet.  Harry borrowed Edgar from Roach to make “Next Door Neighbors” for Pathé in 1931 and quickly followed with “Rough House Rhythm” released by the newly-formed RKO Radio Pictures.  In “Rhythm” Edgar was married to ditzy blonde Florence Lake, who was his screen wife 103 shorts later in 1948. RKO wanted more and turned out six Kennedy shorts every year through Edgar’s untimely death in 1948 of cancer at the age of 58.  In “Lemon Meringue” (1931) Dot Farley was added to the cast as Edgar’s bossy mother-in-law and Billy Eugene as Florence’s “Brother,” as Edgar called him.  Both sponged off poor Edgar and hindered more than helped in their mutual endeavors.  Although actor Jack Rice soon replaced Billy Eugene, the family dynamic began an unprecedented 17-year run that set the stage for all the TV sit-coms from 1949 to today.

Edgar & Harry Sweet
I only really discovered Edgar’s “Average Man” series about ten years ago when I began watching them on DVD.  They are rarely shown on Turner Classic Movies, so vintage film fans have had little chance to see them and never in pristine quality. The Edgar RKOs are so darned inventive, hilarious and relevant today because Edgar always did and still does epitomize the average modern man beset with problems outside his control.  Naturally optimistic and likable, he takes on every challenge with a smile to sell vacuum cleaners, install a hot water heater, decorate a house or run a gas station, but his family and the world conspire to crush all well-meant intentions.  How long will his temper last?  Will pressure build until he explodes?  No, he accepts life's indignities by slapping his face and wiping it in his signature "slow burn" of frustration.

I have been discovering Edgar Kennedy my entire life and have much more to see.  I would love to see him as Daddy Warbucks in “Little Orphan Annie” (1932), in “Charlie McCarthy, Detective” (1939), in the 1938 mystery “The Black Doll” and in “Carnival Boat” (1932) in which Edgar and Harry Sweet play sidekicks to William Boyd and Ginger Rogers. These are not lost films, merely gems to watch for on TCM or at a Cinecon.  Publicity for Edgar and success with the project may lead to unearthing the lost “Lemon Meringue” short, which reportedly contains the largest pie fight ever staged.  My greatest hope is that “The Edgar Kennedy Show” will start others on the same joyous path of discovery.  

Edgar’s RKO shorts are sure-fire crowd pleasers TODAY that every film fan will love to discover for themselves.  Try it!  You can watch many hilarious Edgar "Clips of the Week" starting with "Rough on Rents."  However, the challenge of getting new fans to watch anything old, from Laurel and Hardy to the Charley Chase, is immense, and fewer have even heard of Edgar Kennedy.  This is where all of you can help!  Please visit Edgar on Kickstarter, show your support and pass the link along to friends.  More information is in this Press Release which may also be shared to help spread the word.

Many thanks for helping to restore "Thanks Again" (1931) as the first step toward rediscovering Edgar Kennedy, his Slow Burn and his RKO sitcom short subjects.