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World Premiere of Newly Restored White Zombie (1932)

Credit: Plaza Theatre
Credit: Plaza Theatre

 

This Friday, January 18, 2013, at Atlanta’s Historic Plaza Theatre, is the world premiere restoration of White Zombie (1932), starring Bela Lugosi. After Lugosi’s successful performance in Tod Browning’s Dracula, brothers Victor and Edward Halperin cast him in the lead role as the evil voodoo master, Murder Legendre. The film was made independently and distributed by United Artists. Large portions of the movie were filmed at Universal Studios. The Halperin brothers borrowed sets from other popular Universal horror films, such as Frankenstein and Dracula.

For years the only available copies of White Zombie were of very poor quality and all original 35mm negatives were thought to be lost. Holland Releasing in Los Angeles discovered an original 35mm print and invested in a 5-year digital restoration of the film.  The restoration was completed by Algosoft Technology, located outside of Atlanta, GA. Friday’s premiere at the Plaza will mark the first time White Zombie has been seen in its intended format on the big screen in 80 years. The film will be released in select theatres across the United States and Canada following the Atlanta premiere.

In addition to the film, members from the restoration team will be on-hand for a Q&A session following. There will be a rare screening of the  Betty Boop cartoon “Is My Palm Read“, by famed animator Max Fleischer. Also shown, a short interview with Bela Lugosi, filmed at his home during the production of White Zombie.

On January 29th, Kino Classics is releasing this remastered version on DVD and Blu-ray! You can pre-order on Amazon.

Stay tuned for more details!

 

 

World Premiere Restoration of White Zombie (1932) starring Bela Lugosi
Friday, January 18, 2013 at 8:00 pm
Tickets: $15
Plaza Theatre
1049 Ponce De Leon Avenue
Atlanta, GA

 

 

Wonderful Day in Atlanta

On Thursday night the TCM Road to Hollywood Tour made a stop in the network’s hometown of Atlanta, GA, with a screening of Stanley Donen’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). The event was held in the Rich Theatre at Woodruff Arts Center in Midtown Atlanta. Thanks to TCM I received two VIP tickets which guaranteed me a reserved seat at the free event. My guest for the evening was Tony Dayoub, owner of the film blog Cinema Viewfinder. Confession: neither Tony nor I had seen Seven Brides for Seven Brothers prior to this special event. What a way to see it for the first time!

The Richard H. Rich Theatre is a small venue, seating approximately 420 patrons. Although I would have much preferred the palatial setting of The Fox Theatre for this event, I appreciated the small and intimate atmosphere for a first time viewing of a beloved musical. The space was filled to capacity and the excitement was at a high. Promptly at 7:30 the adored and revered Robert Osborne took the stage amidst a roar of applause to introduce the film and the evening’s special guest Jane Powell.

Mr. Osborne graciously thanked the audience for their enthusiasm and began highlighting some of the most anticipated events for the 3rd Annual TCM Classic Film Festival in April: the opening night gala screening of Cabaret (1972) featuring co-stars Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, the rare presentation of How the West Was Won (1962) at the Cinerama Dome, and Disney’s first full length animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Osborne accidentally spilled the beans when he announced director Mel Brooks as a featured guest at the Festival. He stopped short of naming the film Brooks is scheduled to introduce saying “Oops! That hasn’t been announced yet!” The audience gasped, and everyone had a good laugh.

Robert Osborne speaks to the audience before the screening. Photo by Jill Blake
Robert Osborne speaks to the audience before the screening. Photo by Jill Blake

After Osborne’s brief plug for the Festival, he welcomed Jane Powell to the stage. Entering the theatre to a standing ovation, Ms. Powell skipped down the aisle with the same energy and grace that made her famous in the MGM days. Upon her arrival to the stage, an audience member on the front row handed Powell a bouquet of flowers. During their pre-film chat, Osborne asked his good friend of her time as a contract star at MGM. Powell noted that she was incredibly lonely, as much of her family back in Oregon turned her away because of her stardom. Luckily Powell had the love and support of her parents, who she happily credits for much of her success. Powell also talked about her relationship with Elizabeth Taylor. When Powell married her first husband Geary Steffen in 1949, Taylor was a bridesmaid. In 1950 Powell returned the favor when Taylor married first husband Conrad “Nicky” Hilton. Powell laughed and said, “I’m glad we stopped being each other’s bridesmaids. We would have done it for our whole careers!” During a brief Q&A session with the audience, Osborne and Powell talked about the filming of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Powell said the budget for the film was very small because MGM placed all its focus on the filming of Brigadoon (1954). When it was time for its release, Seven Brides premiered at Radio City Music Hall, in the spot originally set for Brigadoon. In addition to questions about the film, one audience member asked Powell what was on every single mind in the room:  ”You look fantastic! How do you stay so young?’  Powell replied,  ”Pilates. Every day. And lots of walking.” Note to self: start Pilates immediately.

Like many of the TCM screenings I have attended, the print shown was 35mm. To be honest, it wasn’t the greatest quality print; the color was quite dull in spots and there was noticeable wear. That said, I savor every chance I get to see a film in its original medium, especially alongside other classic film fans. The audience was engaged in the presentation from start to finish. Some sang along or hummed, tapped their feet, clapped after each number. Although I had not seen the film before, I was familiar with many of the songs including “Goin’ Courtin’,” “Sobbin’ Women,” and the famous  ”Barn-Raising Dance” scene. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, despite the brides’ apparent Stockholm Syndrome. Watching Seven Brides for Seven Brothers with an appreciative and respectful audience enhanced the experience for this first time viewer.

The Road to Hollywood is a brilliant way to bring a tiny piece of the TCM Classic Film Festival to cities across the country. By making these events free and open to the public, TCM has opened the door for all to enjoy. I hope this touring festival continues to grow and the network considers the possibility of hosting other events throughout the year.

Here are some photos from the event, courtesy of TCM Public Relations:

 

A Wonderful Night at the Fabulous Fox Theatre: The Mark of Zorro (1920)

Thursday, August 25th, I attended a very special screening at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre: 1920′s The Mark of Zorro starring the original King of Hollywood– Douglas Fairbanks. Up until last Thursday I had never seen a Douglas Fairbanks film. Something I’m not proud of for sure. The Fox Theatre is truly a gem. For most of the year the theatre features off-broadway musicals and plays, concerts, and ballet performances. In the summer The Fox holds a movie festival featuring classics and newer films. The architecture and décor enrich the moving-going experience. Often described as Arabic, Moorish, and Egyptian, the design is opulent. The main feature of the theatre is of course the auditorium. The ceiling is painted twilight blue with moving clouds and has lighted crystals that twinkle like emerging stars. Sitting near the stage and looking up, one can almost imagine being in a majestic courtyard in some far away land. The Fox also boasts the second largest theatre organ in the country. The “Mighty Mo” is used for pre-show sing-a-longs and silent film accompaniment. The organ also controls a full size baby grand piano! The screening was hosted by TCM and introduced/emceed by Ben Mankiewicz. In his introduction, Mankiewicz discussed Fairbanks’s influence on the action/adventure genre. In Mankiewicz’s words “Fairbanks was Errol Flynn before Errol Flynn was Errol Flynn.” The accompanist for the evening was renowned theatre organist Clark Wilson. He travels around the country playing his original scores for silent films (more info about Wilson in this article).

Don Diego Vega and Sgt. Gonzales
Don Diego Vega and Sgt. Gonzales

Honestly, The Mark of Zorro should be called The Mark of Fairbanksbecause in every scene he leaves his mark as he triumphs over the rest of the cast in commanding fashion. Fairbanks is Don Diego Vega, a wealthy fop who is more interested in performing magic tricks than wooing women. He is socially awkward–hands in his pockets, shuffling around with his head down. Don Diego is the kind of guy who would today live in his parents’ basement. In the opening scene, he is sitting in a bar drinking with a group of rowdy men, including the villain of our story, Sgt. Pedro Gonzales (played by Noah Beery, older brother to Wallace Beery). Led by Gonzales, the men are all discussing the pesky Zorro, champion of the poor and oppressed. Gonzales, right hand man to the governor and his dictatorship, details how he will capture and kill the masked bandit. After an elaborate display by the sergeant, Don Diego stands up and politely makes his exit. In this moment, Sgt. Gonzales has no earthly idea that he will soon receive that famous mark…

Zorro makes his entrance to an unsuspecting Gonzales
Zorro makes his entrance to an unsuspecting Gonzales

Fairbanks’s first entrance as Zorro is one of the greatest in cinema. With smoke and a wicked little smile, the audience knows the bad guys will get what is coming to them…and it is going to be loads of fun.Fairbanks’s Zorro is lean, light, and quick–blink and he’s gone as quickly as he arrived. In between swordplay and ducking flying objects, Zorro easily slinks past his opposition. He lights a cigarette, grabs a drink (he’s thirsty!), and sits back to watch the bad guys fight each other. I imagine Zorro’s motto might be “Fighting evil one prank at a time.” Being a master swordsman, Zorro is also quite the lover. No awkwardness or magic tricks here. Zorro always knows the right things to say or do, especially to the lovely Lolita Pulido (played by Marguerite De La Motte). Currently being “courted” by Don Diego, Pulido is quickly swept off her feet by the dashing and mischievous Zorro. After watching The Mark of Zorro, I now understand the magnificence that is Douglas Fairbanks. His wit, athleticism, and timing is perfect. I thoroughly enjoyed his performance and the film. His athletic style made an impression on many actors and especially on a young Archie Leach. In 1920, Leach was on his way to America to tour with the Pender troupe. During the voyage, he met Fairbanks and new bride Mary Pickford, who were on their way home from a European honeymoon. The newlyweds were nice enough to spend time with Leach, who idolized Fairbanks. The young acrobatic Leach later became Cary Grant. For years, they kept in touch and Grant often cited Fairbanks as being a huge inspiration. Fairbanks’s influence changed the action/adventure genre and many copy cats followed. He is the original Errol Flynn. or Tyrone Power. or Stewart Granger. And in my generation–the original Harrison Ford. Douglas Fairbanks as Han Solo? Hmm…