Saturday, September 6, 2014

What's New to Preview?

My apologies for falling OUT of the blogging habit in a big, big way. If anyone has checked me out ten times and seen the same old discussion about Rare Italian Films, then you deserve to get one for free. Send proof that you visited ten times to ....

Coming soon -- Halloween! 
By special request I amended my old Monster Mania DVD chock full of two hours of horror trailers and a couple of cartoons to make it half-and-half. Yes, more than half the running time is now cartoons and the rest is ... well, here are the entire contents:

Spook Show Opening
Casper in BOO MOON
Phantom Creeps - Robot attacks Chapter Ending
Pathe Freres "Red Spectre"
Felix the Cat cartoon: SURE-LOCKED HOMES
"Phantom of Opera" Highlights
Robot Monster Trailer
White Zombie Trailer
Oswald Rabbit cartoon: MECHANICAL MAN
Giant Claw Trailer
Betty Boop Cartoon: IS MY PALM RED?
Superman cartoon: UNDERGROUND WORLD
King Kong trailer
Shrunken Heads Toy
Trailers for Dracula, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
Trailers: Frankenstein, The Wolf Man
Superman Cartoon: THE MUMMY STRIKES
Trailer: Frankenstein Meets Wolf Man and Mummy's Hand
Buster Keaton silent short (with music): THE HAUNTED HOUSE
Trailer: House of Frankenstein
Godzilla Ad for Dr. Pepper

This was custom made for a movie theater that is having an open house at Halloween. They plan to run the show (with or without the sound) while other events take place in the theater. They can also run selected portions before a regular film show. Them, and YOU, can use the poster any way you like - print it out or download the Jpeg for your own website from the Festival Films Website. Just go to this page, scroll down to the poster, drag it to your desk top and open full size.

Movie Memories -- November 1
In a major break through, Movie Memories segments will be carried into 1,600 Senior residences by It's Never Too Late. is the developer of customized, state-of-the-art adaptive computer systems for nursing homes, assisted and independent senior living communities, memory care settings and adult day programs. Ten or more new Movie Memory segments will be rotated in every two months, starting around November 1. Because the first batch will run through December, half of them will be Christmas related. This is the chance I have been looking for to see Movie Memories enjoyed by tens of thousands of seniors. Check my website to see how Movie Memories is a unique Activity for seniors that could become a part of their daily lives just like Bingo and "The Price is Right."

Here is a totally revised video about How Movie Memories Work. Voice over narration is by Derek Myers.

And then Christmas!
Joy to the world, and buy the Gospel Films Archive Christmas Collection. These are the same six films that we tried to market ourselves in 2011 as "Heavenly Christmas Film Classics." 

The big difference is that the DVD re-release is being exclusively distributed by the largest wholesaler of Christian films in the country -- Vision Video. You can read about the six films at the Vision Video website. The DVD is available to purchase right now.

The discount price is around $12 and should be for sale from numerous online dealers as well as in many top Christian book stores. It now has the chance to sell many thousands of copies for the simple reason that everyone needs new presents to give to friends and family at Christmas time. Here is a trailer for the collection:

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Rare Italian Films - First Time on DVD!

Region 2 "Iron Crown" Release
Before the year 2000 or so I sold lots of obscure, rare and wonderful foreign films on VHS to colleges and video stores. The video sales were mainly thru large wholesalers Facets Multimedia, Tamarelle Films and a few I can't recall now. This was back when video stores were flourishing and progressive ones near colleges wanted foreign classics to stand out from competitors. The pricing was good compared to now, with suggested retail at $59.95. This meant, very roughly, that I sold to the middle man for $30 and they re-sold for $42. Those were good years and fun ones.

Believe it or not, major classics of world cinema were public domain in the USA because they had not been properly registered and renewed as required for US copyrighting: Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Exterminating Angel, Open City, Paisan. In fact I sold all of these to colleges on 16mm before home video started around 1980.

Focusing this discussion to Italian films, here are some I sold on video: Triumph of the Will, Il Sorpasso with Vittorio Gassman, White Nights with Marcello Mastroianni, La Grande Guerra with Gassman, Joyful Laughter with Anna Magnani, the wonderful medieval fairy tale The Iron Crown, Children are Watching, Voyage to Italy, Stromboli and many other Rossellini films.

In 1994 a new worldwide copyright law was passed -- Copyright Restoration Under the Uruguay Round Agreements Act -- that came to be called GATT. This said that foreign film makers could reacquire rights to their films by filing papers with Library of Congress. Most of them did. Some filed who had no connection with the films, like an individual in Mexico who claimed to own hundreds and eventually went to jail over it, or so I heard. They were supposed to file within a few years of 1996 but applications were accepted for at least ten years. 

So I stopped selling those Italian films. Criterion is an excellent company that bought rights, restored and reissued many of them, although someone claimed rights to The Iron Crown (1941) but has still not been released it in the USA. With no video stores and declining DVD sales, it is no longer viable for the owner to issue on DVD. The constitutionality of re-protecting public domain films and music was challenged by Stanford University Law School in a suit that lasted roughly from 2002 to 2012 and ended as a loss in the Supreme Court. I was part of that lawsuit.

Although GATT ended a thriving business for me, not every single foreign film was properly reclaimed and it is now too late to do so. Only recently did I become aware that Roberto Rossellini's thrid feature film, Man with a Cross, was not protected under GATT. I just posted it for sale at Amazon and expect to sell through Alpha Video and Movies Unlimited.

I also acquired two Italian comedies from the late 1950s that have never been issued on video in the USA. An official search revealed no original registration with Library of Congress, no renewal, and no GATT filing in the late 1990s to reclaim rights. These are the English dubbed versions with complete credits and no copyright notices (©) anywhere. 

Love and Larceny
 (1959, Italy) 92 min. Directed by Dino Risi. English dubbed version released in the USA in 1963. Starring Vittorio Gassman, Dorian Gray, Peppino De Filippo, Anna-Maria Ferrero.

Love and Larceny is a delightful, charming comedy about happy-go-lucky Gerardo. To pick up easy money he is caught in a con and goes to prison where he learns how to swindle creatively. He then embarks on one petty scam after another, from stealing shoes and Christmas pennies to bilking motorists posing as a cop. His long-time girlfriend tries to get him a real job, which he purposely muffs. He forms an alliance with the crook who sent him to jail and they escalate into jewelry thefts and a complicated swindle involving a general and fake air force contract. Impersonating Greta Garbo to scam photographers brings his first girl back into his life, who now wants to be his accomplice, she says, but the plot only thickens.

Angel in a Taxi 
(1958, Italy) 87 min. Directed by Leon Viola. Written by Leon Viola and Mario Monicelli. English dubbed version. Original Italian title: “Ballerina e Buon Dio.” Starring Vera Tschechowa, Marietto, Gabriele Ferzetti, Roberto Rossi and Vittorio DeSica as God.

Angel in a Taxi is a charming comedy/fantasy in the tradition of Miracle in Milan that tells the story of a precocious and endearing six-year-old orphan boy, Marietto, who imagines that his lost mother is a ballerina whose picture he saw in a newspaper. When adoptive parents take him home, he runs off and joins acrobats, still harboring the dream of finding his beautiful mother. When he does locate her at the opera, he moves right in with an easy grace that brings Camilla under his spell and her life choices into focus. When Marietto feels rejected and disappears, Camilla’s true feelings surface.

Guiding Marietto’s quest and surprising destiny is an angelic figure played by the great Italian director Vittorio DeSica in three separate roles. First he is a policeman who helps Marietto pay for pastries, then a messenger who suggests he visit the opera where his “mother” is rehearsing, and finally a philosophical taxi driver who reunites Camilla and Marietto while performing a minor miracle.

Man With a Cross 
(1943, Italy) 72 min. Directed by Roberto Rossellini. Italian language with English subtitles. Original Italian title is L'Uomo Dalla Croce.

The Man with a Cross is a 1943 Italian war film directed by Roberto Rossellini and starring Alberto Tavazzi, Roswita Schmidt and Attilio Dottesio. It was only Rossellini’s third feature film and the final part of his "Fascist trilogy" following The White Ship (1941) and A Pilot Returns (1942).  To this period belongs his friendship and cooperation with Federico Fellini and Aldo Fabrizi. The Fascist regime collapsed in 1943 and just two months after the liberation of Rome (June 4, 1944), Rossellini was already preparing the anti-fascist (Rome, Open City 1945).

The film is loosely inspired by Reginaldo Giuliani, an Italian military chaplain who had been killed on active service. The film is set in the summer of 1942 in Ukraine where Italian troops are fighting those of the Soviet Union. A military chaplain volunteers to stay behind with a badly wounded Italian soldier, even though this means certain capture.

All three DVDS are for sale at Amazon, or from Festival Films directly.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Gospel Films Restoration Project

While some Gospel Films of the 1950s-'70s era were shot in 35mm for television -- like Crossroads being a fine example -- many from Family Films and others produced for the church market were shot and distributed as 16mm film rentals. This movement was spurred along by the thousands of 16mm projectors left over from entertaining the troops during World War-II. No longer wanted, the projectors were donated to churches. Religious rental companies sprang up in every major city. This trend continued until the advent of home video in the early 1980s.

Most of the films were not issued on VHS, they were simply put in storage and viewed less and less as the years went by. The messages never dated, but the films were considered "old hat" or not delivering the gospel quite the way that present generations embraced. Exceptions that were issued on VHS and later DVD are color films about the life of Christ like "I Beheld His Glory" and the 12 part "Living Christ" series by Cathedral Films made in 1951. The Loyola Films parables from the Bible were shot in black and white and so did not make the transition.

Many films in Gospel Films Archive are these 16mm film prints once distributed to churches. The producing companies went out of business years ago. There are no known master film negatives. There are only the 16mm prints that GFA and other archives like Wheaton College, Regent University and Notre Dame have acquired. Unless a film was shot on Kodachrome film stock, like the rare print of "This My Son" that GFA has, the color fades in time.

There is hope! Color can be corrected and scratches can be removed utilizing amazing but costly technology! The cost to acquire, transfer from film to digital, restore as needed and reissue each GFA film averages $500. We have a goodly number of worthy films that deserve to be seen again, but we can't issue them until they are restored.
This dilemma gave birth to GFA's "Adopt-A-Film" program. We invite you or your organization to pick a specific film to support. A Sole Sponsorship is $500, or for $250 you can become one of two Co-Sponsors of a restored film. We will send you our Unrestored Films Packages plus copies of other films awaiting reissue for you to choose from. When the film is released on DVD and shown on television, your Sponsorship will be acknowledged onscreen in a special slate at the end of the film. 
Here are brief scenes from 6 of these inspirational films that currently await color correction and scratch removal. Please watch the video and read below how you can help GFA get these and many more Christian films back into circulation:

Film restorations are performed by the expert team at Film and Video Transfers, Inc. using enhanced Rank Cintel and Wet Gate technology. Doug and Susan have been serving the restoration needs of Hollywood's classic film industry since the dawn of home video. Here is a sample of their restoration work on one needy GFA film: "Man on a Skate Board."

Further information about the films you can help restore with a donation is at the GFA "Adopt-A-Film" web page. Please share this post with Friends and Family and "like" us on Facebook.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Gospel Films Archive - Off and Running!

Gospel Films Archive: a project to restore the films and TV shows that spread the Gospel to 20th century audiences and reissue them in historical context Gospel Films Archive has made major jumps this year, with great help from my partners Bob Campbell and Derek Myers. The biggest news is that we have a DVD distributor -- Vision Video -- the largest, most respected seller of Christian videos for 40 years.  Gateway Films/Vision Video produced "The Cross and The Switchblade" with Pat Boone way back in 1970.  VV has an extensive website, printed catalog and many thousands of followers. An  artist designed the professional boxes as you can see.  VV is also producing the DVDs and boxes, promoting them along with their other catalog films and filling orders.

We don't need to search for the audience that Vision Video has built up for years.  Our future role will be to acquire more films for the Archive, restore them as needed and program them into thematic DVD packages.  We are planning two or three Christmas releases now of rarely seen shorts and TV shows.

The first five DVD collections of vintage Gospel films (1940s thru 1960s) have already been released!

First is The Missions Collection with four rare films concerning Christian missionary work in the mid-20th century.  Africa and Schweitzer is a rarely-seen, excellent documentary made while Albert Schweitzer was still alive. Narrated by Lowell Thomas and photographed by Ingmar Bergman's cameraman, Sven Nyquist, it gives a revealing look at the great humanitarian.  A Christian in Communist China dramatizes a 1960 story that is just as timely today - the difficulty of preaching the Gospel inside China.  No Greater Love is about a dentist volunteering service in India against his wife's wishes.  It stars TV detective Richard Denning and his wife, 1940s film star Evelyn Ankers, in her last film.  Wings to the Word is a documentary about a young minister in Brazil who flies his airplane to spread the word of God.

The Family Films Collection tells contemporary stories (1950s era) of Christians struggling with problems of faith and family.  They are each produced by Hollywood professionals and peopled with actors you have seen a hundred times.  Dick Jones, who began as a child actor in 1934, took time out to make This My Son (1954) between westerns stints on Range Rider and Buffalo Bill Jr.  Son is a modern re-telling of The Prodigal Son story (as you can see in our video preview down below).  Dick also stars in Missionary to Walker's Garage (1961) as a devout Christian who works in a garage and inspires customers and co-workers.  He wants to become an automotive engineer although his parents would like him to enter the ministry.  Actress Gale Storm, between a 10 year career starring in B-movies and TV fame in "My Little Margie," stars in Rim of the Wheel (1951) as a young housewife so wrapped up in daily living that she drifts away from her faith. Honor Thy Family (1951) is about strife between father and son in an Italian immigrant family.

The Christopher Films Collection is a fascinating look at a movement that appealed to Hollywood stars and seems almost secular in its messages that each of us can help "Change the World" by doing good deeds and that we should get involved in government as one way of making a difference.  Father James Keller gathered 9 Hollywood stars together in Jack Benny's home to explain it all in "You Can Change the World" (1951).  The other famous stars are Rochester, William Holden, Loretta Young (who credits this film experience for her move to television), Irene Dunne, Anne Blyth, Paul Douglas, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.  A Link in the Chain (1957) stars James Cagney in one of his few TV appearances as an aging professor who recalls how he made a difference in the lives of 3 students.  Government is Your Business is the film version of Father Keller's novel about the need to get involved to better the world.  An idealistic young man decides to run for office in the face of corruption already entrenched.

The last two collections tell rarely-seen Bible stories. Loyola Films were produced by Loyola University in Los Angeles and directed by B-movie veteran John T. Coyle from 1946 to 1948.  We have 8 of the 16 films produced and are looking for the others.  Loyola themselves has little knowledge of the series and none of the films.  Boyhood of Jesus dramatizes his birth and first 12 years of life.  The Good Samaritan is the familiar parable fleshed out with more story and character background. The Rich Young Man as recorded in Mark 10 meets Jesus and is told to give away his wealth.  The Unmerciful Servant is a parable about true forgiveness.

Cathedral Films has a long history starting with The Great Commandment feature film in 1939.  Their most lasting achievement that is still shown today is the 12-part, color "Living Christ" series that relates all of Jesus' life.  No Greater Power (1942) tells the Bible story of conniving tax collector  of Jericho Zaccheus who meets Jesus and is transformed. Ambassador for Christ (1949) is one of Cathedral's "Life of St. Paul" series and tells how Paul and Barnabas take the Gospel to Antioch.  Paul preaches that all people, even slaves, are equal in the eyes of God.  I Beheld His Glory (1953) is the story of the last days of Jesus' life told from the perspective of a Roman Centurion who witnessed his trial, crucifixion and resurrection and then converted to Christianity. The color film was first shown on TV during Easter week in 1953 and is the only one of the 18 films in our first five collections that has been widely available before.

Here is a preview trailer of some of these 18 films:

Please visit the Gospel Films Archive WEBSITE.

Like the GFA on Facebook to receive updates on new releases.

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, 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.


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.

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.


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.

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/  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! 

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