From "Dracula" to "Jaws," "All Quiet on the Western Front" to "Schindler's List," Universal singles out a baker's dozen from its 100 years of moviemaking
To celebrate its 100th anniversary, Universal has singled out 13 films from its library of more than 5,000 features. Here are the chosen few that are being restored and reissued, with comments from the studio's Director of Archives, Jeff Pirter.
Universal executives first narrowed the company's output down to about 100 significant films, then chose 13 to undergo restoration and re-release.
Universal's first Best-Picture Oscar winner, from 1930, was all in the family. "It was one of the early films that was produced by [founder's son] Carl Laemmle Jr.," said Pirtle. "It was one of the first times that Universal put a lot of money into the production of a film, and it showed. And with its anti-war message, the film really had an impact on audiences all over the world."
"Those classic monsters are such an important part of Universal's history that we definitely wanted to include some of the titles," said Pirtle of the studio's calling card in the early '30s. First up: the 1931 Bela Lugosi classic "Dracula."
While Tod Browning directed the Lugosi version of "Dracula" during the day, George Melford took over at night and used the same sets to film the movie in Spanish with a new cast that included Carlos Villarias and Lupita Tovar. Some think they made a more stylish movie (the crew got to watch Browning's dailies before shooting their version), though Villarias reportedly chews the scenery.
James Whale is one of only two directors to land two films on the list, and both of his entries focus on Mary Shelley's Gothic horror tale. This is the original 1931 "Frankenstein," with Colin Clive's Dr. Frankenstein creating Boris Karloff's indelible monster with a triumphant cry: "It's alive!"
Whale's second entry is his sequel, 1935's "The Bride of Frankenstein," in which the monster gets a mate. Karloff becomes more sympathetic over the course of the film, and classic scenes like his encounter with a blind man may well make it the greatest horror movie of all time.
When the 1935 musical "Show Boat" ran over budget, the Laemmles lost control of the studio to Standard Capital Corporation, which slashed budgets and changed management. "It was really Abbott and Costello's comedies and Deanna Durbin's musicals that kept the studio alive," said Pirtle. "They were a huge cog in Universal's history, and 'Buck Privates' was really the film that made them bona-fide movie stars."
A 1959 version of "don't ask, don't tell?" "Pillow Talk" is a romantic comedy featuring two frequent Universal stars: Doris Day, who was nominated for an Oscar for best actress, and Rock Hudson, who Pirtle said was in 46 Universal features beginning in 1950. "Including this was sort of an homage to their contribution to our film library over the years," he said.
Robert Mulligan's 1962 adaptation of the Harper Lee novel (with a script by Horton Foote) stars Gregory Peck as small-town lawyer Atticus Finch, in a performance that caused the American Film Institute to call Finch the greatest movie hero of the 20th century. The drama was also Robert Duvall's screen debut, in a small but pivotal role as "Boo" Radley.
Alfred Hitchcock had made some of his earliest American films for Universal in the 1940s, when the studio had strong ties to the U.K. through a deal with International Pictures. He returned to the studio in the 1960s with "The Birds," which has stirred up plenty of stories about Hitchcock's treatment of his leading lady Tippi Hedren, but also stands as one of the director's final classics.
Pauline Kael grumbled that George Ray Hill's seamless 1973 caper movie "The Sting" was "really a celebration of celebrity and stardom," but viewers had no trouble embracing stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and making this finely-tuned crowd-pleaser one of the first huge movies in a decade that would come to redefine what a huge movie could be.
"The 1970s was really a key period for us," said Pirtle. "It was the apex of the MCA period. That's when Steven Spielberg started making movies here, and that's when we invented the blockbuster movie with 'Jaws.'"
Sydney Pollack's sweeping Meryl Streep/Robert Redford drama "Out of Africa" is quintessentially old-fashioned widescreen filmmaking: lush, romantic, slowly-paced, gorgeously shot and boasting a fine literary pedigree. The 1985 release was nominated for 11 Oscars and won seven, including Best Picture.
The earliest film on the list deals with World War I; the latest film is Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning look at the Holocaust in World War II, 1993's "Schindler's List." "It was a hard decision to only give him two films on the list," said Pirtle of Spielberg. "His contributions to Universal really are immeasurable."
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Tue, 2012-07-10 19:04