The following is guest post by Jenny Paxson, Administrative Assistant at the Packard Campus and the Packard Campus Theater programmer for December.
We’re all film buffs of some kind or another, having our favorite genres, stars, decades and movies. I am one of the lucky ones, a professional film buff who gets to combine my passion–watching and studying movies (mostly older movies)–with my work. This month I had the fun of selecting the fiIms shown at the Packard Campus Theater.
Since my husband Larry Smith and I moved to Culpeper from Dayton, Ohio, the former location of the Library’s motion picture preservation lab and the nitrate film collection, I have been assisting with various aspects of the theater screenings. Once the schedule is set, I write descriptions for the press release and web site, make up the monthly flyer, send out the program to local press contacts and create the slide shows that run before the screenings. Larry and I also regularly serve as theater house managers. So I didn’t hesitate for a second when Moving Image Curator Rob Stone asked me if I would like to be a guest programmer. Many thanks to Rob for giving me this opportunity and to projectionists David March, Richard Hincha and Amy Gallick for their hard work inspecting and projecting the prints.
The first week seemed the perfect occasion to pay tribute to my favorite movie actor, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who was born on December 9, 1909. The son of silent film superstar Douglas Fairbanks (The Thief of Bagdad, Robin Hood, The Mark of Zorro, et al), Fairbanks, Jr., was one of the earliest and most successful second generation Hollywood stars, beginning as a teenager in the silent era with such films as Stella Dallas with Ronald Colman and The Power of the Press directed by Frank Capra. With an interruption for service in U.S. Navy during WWII, his acting career continued on film, radio, stage, and television through the 1980s. Fairbanks, Jr., also produced a number of his films and the television anthology series Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Presents. We have already played two of his major titles that are on the National Film Registry at the theater: The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) and Gunga Din (1939), so I have chosen three that are less commonly shown. The Barker (1928, December 4), an early part-talkie, is one I’ve wanted to see for years. Thanks to the UCLA Film and Television Archive for loaning us their highly-praised recent restoration print. The pre-Code drama Union Depot (1932, December 5) is the picture that got me hooked on the charismatic Fairbanks, Jr., in the first place, and the historical swashbuckler The Exile (1947, December 6) about England’s King Charles II, is one he also wrote and produced; thanks to Digital Film Preservation Specialist John Carter for his work on this one.
Of course, the last week of the schedule had to be Christmas movies, including my favorite movie of all time Remember the Night (1940, December 20) starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. The first time I saw it twenty years ago was on a VHS tape recorded at 6 hour speed when it played on television with commercials. It didn’t matter–I was instantly gobsmacked with this touching and sometimes funny love story of both the romantic and family kind. When Sterling Holloway sings “The End of a Perfect Day,” I defy you not to get a tear in your eye or a lump in your throat. The print we’re showing was preserved by the Packard Campus film lab in 2012 from the original picture and sound negatives–quite an improvement from my first viewing!
Another special Christmas pick is Holiday Affair (1949, December 19) starring Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum. Gordon Gebert, who plays Leigh’s impish son Timmy in the film, will be joining us for the screening. Gebert came to the Packard Theater in 2012 when we played Chicago Calling, a 1951 film noir he made with Dan Duryea, which he hadn’t seen since it came out. He is looking forward to a return visit and has agreed to stay for a Q&A after the film.
And in the middle are three of my “Desert Island” movies–ones I’ve enjoyed again and again and wanted to share. I especially hope you’ll take a chance on The Castle (1997, December 11), a lovable quirky comedy from Australia that will tickle your funny bone while it warms your heart…which is exactly the kind of movie I like the best.
Thursday, December 4 (7:30 p.m.)
The Barker (Warner Bros., 1928)
Wanting a better life for his son Chris and in an effort to get him to go away to law school, sideshow barker Nifty Miller tries to break up the boy’s romance with a tough carnival girl. George Fitzmaurice directed this romantic pre-Code drama, produced before the enforcement of production-code moral guidelines. It also stars Milton Sills, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Dorothy Mackaill and Betty Compson. Completed as a silent picture in the summer of 1928, The Barker was put back into production in November so that Vitaphone talking sequences could be added one month before the film’s New York premiere. Despite the short deadline, the interchange of soundtrack and picture in the part-talking version was unusually sophisticated for 1928. This rare screening of The Barker is made possible by UCLA Film and Television Archive, which provided the recent restoration print.
Friday, December 5 (7:30 p.m.)
Union Depot (Warner Bros., 1932)
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., then one of Warner Bros.’ top male stars, gives one of his best performances as homeless jailbird Chick Miller in this pre-Code drama set in a bustling train station. When Chick stumbles upon some lost cash, he helps out a stranded and penniless chorus girl, played by Joan Blondell, who is being pursued by a sinister man. The tale of crisscrossing fates set in real time brings to mind MGM’s glossier Grand Hotel, which beat Union Depot to the screen by only three months. Directed by Alfred E. Green, the fast-paced story showcases a number of Warner Bros. contract players, including Guy Kibbee, Frank McHugh and Alan Hale. The astoundingly elaborate Union Depot set was used in Warner Bros.’ films for years to come.
Saturday, December 6 (7:30 p.m.)
The Exile (Universal, 1947)
Masterful German-born filmmaker Max Ophuls made his American directorial debut with this historical drama, written and produced by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Fairbanks also stars as England’s King Charles II, who was exiled to Holland during the period known as the English Commonwealth, led by Oliver Cromwell. In this fictional account, Paule Croset plays a young farm girl who captures Charles’ heart, with Maria Montez in the role of a former paramour, the French Countess Anbella de Courteuil. A swashbuckler in the manner of Douglas Fairbanks Sr., the younger Fairbanks in the film gets to show off some dashing swordplay and acrobatics. In fact, Fairbanks even uses a sword in The Exile that his father had used in the making of The Iron Mask (1929). Also featured in the cast are Henry Daniell, Nigel Bruce and Robert Coote.
For more information on our programs, please visit the web site at www.loc.gov/avconservation/theater/.