The Crank: ‘After Tomorrow’ Program Notes (1/17/13 Screening)

The Crank is a graduate student organization that runs weekly screenings of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s extensive holdings. The Crank shows films that either are not widely available on video or are such spectacular specimens of nitrate and celluloid that merely to see them on a television set would be a crime both to the student of film and to the canon of film history.


In 1931 Frank Borzage directed the screen adaptation of Viña Delmar’s novel (and subsequent Broadway play) Bad Girl. The film was an enormous commercial and critical success, grossing over $1,100,000 at the box office and earning Borzage his second Academy Award for Best Director.1 Hoping to recreate the success of this stage-to-screen domestic drama, Fox went to great lengths to purchase the rights to John Golden and Hugh Stange’s new play After Tomorrow, a similarly-themed story of two working class lovers attempting to achieve domestic bliss in spite of tremendous financial and familial obstacles. Despite purchasing the motion picture rights for After Tomorrow only a month after the play premiered, the studio’s contract with the playwrights stipulated that the film adaptation could not be released until February 1932 as to not compete with the play’s initial Broadway run. Continue reading “The Crank: ‘After Tomorrow’ Program Notes (1/17/13 Screening)” »

The Crank: ‘Caught’ Program Notes (11/1/12 Screening)

The Crank is a graduate student organization that runs weekly screenings of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s extensive holdings. The Crank shows films that either are not widely available on video or are such spectacular specimens of nitrate and celluloid that merely to see them on a television set would be a crime both to the student of film and to the canon of film history.


In 1946 Max Ophuls was brought on to direct Vendetta (1950) after the film’s director, Preston Sturges, left to focus on another project. The film would have been the German-born director’s first American feature, but he was replaced after one week. Accounts of the event vary: Sturges claims that producer Howard Hughes did not want to employ a “foreigner,” while others claim Hughes was frustrated by Ophuls’s slow shooting schedule. The experience left Ophuls with a rather poor opinion of Hughes, and three years later Ophuls directed Caught (1949), a film inspired, at least in part, by the brief time he spent working for Hughes.

Caught was the last film made by the independent company Enterprise Productions. Enterprise had the rights to the book Wild Calendar, which Ophuls was slated to direct. Originally meant as a Ginger Rogers vehicle, the story was changed quite dramatically under Ophuls’s supervision. Screenwriter Arthur Laurents recalls meeting with the director about the script: “When I met with Ophuls, he said, ‘I don’t want to do that story, I want to do the Howard Hughes story.’ I asked why. He said, ‘Because I hate Hughes.’” The feeling was likely mutual, as Hughes frequently referred to the director simply as “the oaf.” Continue reading “The Crank: ‘Caught’ Program Notes (11/1/12 Screening)” »

The Crank: ‘The Last Outlaw’ Program Notes (10/25/12 Screening)

The Crank is a graduate student organization that runs weekly screenings of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s extensive holdings. The Crank shows films that either are not widely available on video or are such spectacular specimens of nitrate and celluloid that merely to see them on a television set would be a crime both to the student of film and to the canon of film history.


On the surface, William Christy Cabanne’s The Last Outlaw is another in a long series of B-Westerns. One need not dig deeply, however, to realize its significance. Cabanne’s film triumphs over B-movie mundanity thanks to a unique combination of its roots in silent films, along with its unique post-Western setting. Harry Carey stars as Dean Payton, a former outlaw who has just been released from prison after 25 years. Once a bank robber, Payton finds himself to be a relic of the Old West. He soon finds, though, that there are others like him—notably his former nemesis, Cal Yates. With Yates now demoted from Sheriff, new scientific methods of crime solving have been put in place. Along with Chuck Wilson (Hoot Gibson), the two cowboys find that their old ways still have some use when it becomes up to them to put a stop to villain Al Goss.

While the setting may have been post-Western, where singing cowboys are heard on the radio and the hero must dodge passing cars, the genre itself had yet to reveal its biggest star, John Wayne, whose first film, Stagecoach, would come out three years later. However, by this point famous Westerns of the silent era had long since passed. But the film’s creators were superstars of that era who had yet to cease working and wouldn’t let the advent of sound diminish their status. In fact, the film itself is a remake of John Ford’s 1919 silent western of the same name. Continue reading “The Crank: ‘The Last Outlaw’ Program Notes (10/25/12 Screening)” »

The Crank: ‘Thunderbolt’ Program Notes (10/11/12 Screening)

The Crank is a graduate student organization that runs weekly screenings of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s extensive holdings. The Crank shows films that either are not widely available on video or are such spectacular specimens of nitrate and celluloid that merely to see them on a television set would be a crime both to the student of film and to the canon of film history.


When asked about the transition to sound, Josef von Sternberg remarked, “There never were silent movies. The actors spoke and the titles reproduced their lines. There also was the accompanying music, which I preferred to choose myself. Thus, far from being opposed to the talkies, I made sound films myself right away. I even made one before The Blue Angel.” Indeed, sound has always played a highly important role in the work of von Sternberg. Yet the director’s first sound film, Thunderbolt, is frequently overlooked in surveys of the director’s career.

George Bancroft plays the titular character, Thunderbolt, a gangster on death row, in a performance that would earn him an Academy Award nomination. Upset that his girl (Fay Wray) has moved on to a new man, Thunderbolt conspires from behind bars to frame him. When his rival is placed in the cell next door, Thunderbolt’s new goal becomes to stave off execution long enough to get revenge on the man who stole his girl. The gangster film continues in the tradition of two of von Sternberg’s earlier films also starring Bancroft, Underworld and The Dragnet (a film that is unfortunately lost to us today). Andrew Sarris is careful to note that the von Sternberg rendition of the gangster story is more akin to a gangster fantasy than to a gangster film. Continue reading “The Crank: ‘Thunderbolt’ Program Notes (10/11/12 Screening)” »

The Crank: ‘Tabu’ Program Notes (10/4/12 Screening)

The Crank is a graduate student organization that runs weekly screenings of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s extensive holdings. The Crank shows films that either are not widely available on video or are such spectacular specimens of nitrate and celluloid that merely to see them on a television set would be a crime both to the student of film and to the canon of film history.


Tabu (1931) is the final film from Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, famed German director of Nosferatu (1922), Faust (1924), Sunrise (1926), and countless other silent classics. After 18 months of filming in Tahiti with famed filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty (Nanook of the North), and then young cinematographer Floyd Crosby (who would win the Oscar for his cinematography), Murnau died, at 42, in a car accident one week before the New York premiere. A unique mix of the documentary experience of Flaherty and Crosby, with the brilliant silent directing of Murnau, Tabu, based on a Polynesian legend, tells the tragic story of a Pearl Diver (Matahi) and Maiden (Reri). Along with dangerous marked waters, the “tabu” of the title is the love they share despite Reri’s religious duty to remain a virgin maiden. The two must overcome both the edicts of their culture and the dangerous waters that separate them from their freedom.

Aside from its place as the last piece of Murnau’s prolific film career, Tabu‘s content and style are what make it particularly noteworthy. It is easily (if not hastily) placed alongside Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922) and Fritz Lang’s The Tiger of Eschnapur (1959) and The Forbidden Tomb (1959). However, unlike these films, Tabu evades making claims of being documentary, as is the case of Flaherty’s controversial film, nor does it use white actors in “brownface,” as is seen in Lang’s films (despite the fact that both pictures were shot on location in India). Rather, Tabu portrays itself as a cross between ethnographic and fiction filmmaking. This is further enhanced by the cinematography of Crosby, who had experience in photography and documentary film, as opposed to narrative filmmaking.

Despite using a shooting script with a fictional story, the film uses an entirely native cast. This, along with the Tahitian location, was one of the more notable elements of Tabu upon its release. Edwin Schallert, film critic of the Los Angeles Times, praised the film’s picturesque cinematography: “[Tabu] proves to be a lyrical and poetic achievement in motion pictures. The director…made his ultimate production in the South Seas, and it reveals a wistful and romantic charm in its story, set against natural backgrounds.” Given that the film is silent, an aesthetic choice on Murnau’s part rather than a technical one, this is high praise of a picture premiering at a time where nearly all of Hollywood was engrossing itself in sound films. Continue reading “The Crank: ‘Tabu’ Program Notes (10/4/12 Screening)” »