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Sunday Cinematheque at the Chazen: It's a Universal Picture--Spring Series 2019

This lineup of movies released by Universal Pictures from 1928-1936 shows how one of the smallest of the major studios, under the leadership of head honcho Carl Laemmele, Jr., held their own with a variety of fun and fast-paced features that delivered innovation in a number of genres: melodramas, comedies, thrillers, war stories, musicals and horror movies. Our series partly focuses on Universal’s top-flight, best-known directors like William Wyler, John Stahl and James Whale, but you will also have a chance to discover the expressive and riveting work of Edward L. Cahn, Paul Fejos, and others. As a bonus, many of the features will be preceded by animated preludes starring Universal’s top cartoon star of the day, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Special Thanks to Dave Kehr, whose series of Universal discoveries curated for New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato provided significant inspiration.

Sunday Cinematheque at the Chazen, a collaboration between Cinematheque and the Chazen Museum of Art, presents archival and feature films curated by Cinematheque director Jim Healy. Screenings are free and begin at 2 p.m. There will be no admittance to the Auditorium after the film has started.

At the Chazen--African-American Pioneers

In celebration of Black History Month and in conjunction with the Chazen’s exhibition Southern Rites (January 25–May 12), the Cinematheque will co-present two landmark films in February by significant directors. Legendary independent auteur Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates (1920) is the oldest existing feature-length movie by an African-American filmmaker and Gordon Parks The Learning Tree (1969) is the first film directed by an African-American for a major Hollywood studio.

January 20
Lonesome
USA, 1928, 35mm, 69 min. 
Directed by Paul Fejos
Cast: Barbara Kent, Glenn Tryon, Fay Holderness
Recalling Sunrise, this dazzling, visually expressive masterpiece set against a vibrant New York City tells a simple yet powerful story of Boy Meets Girl. One of the great films made during Hollywood’s transitional period from silents to talkies, Lonesome features two scenes with dialogue. Restored 35mm print courtesy George Eastman Museum. Preceded by Oswald the Rabbit in Five and Dime (1933, 6 min.)

January 27
Show Boat
USA, 1936, 35mm, 113 min. 
Directed by James Whale
Cast: Irene Dunne, Helen Morgan, Paul Robeson
The best film adaptation of the popular Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein musical follows the life of Magnolia Hawks (Dunne), from her father’s showboat on the Mississippi to her own experiences in Chicago. The score includes “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man Of Mine”, and a haunting rendition of “Ol’ Man River” sung by Robeson. Print courtesy UCLA Film & Television Archive.

February 3
Back Street
USA, 1932, 35mm, 89 min. 
Directed by John M. Stahl
Cast: Irene Dunne, John Boles, ZaSu Pitts
Beautiful and benevolent, Ray (Dunne) falls in love with a wealthy married man (Boles) and agrees to be his “back street” mistress. Thrice has Universal adapted Fannie Hurst’s best-selling novel, but only the first lands with an elemental force, thanks to Stahl’s empathetic and unadorned style, Karl Freund’s masterful command of light and shadow, and Dunne, who plays life-altering yearning with formidable restraint.

February 7, 7 p.m.
African-American Pioneers
Within Our Gates
USA, 1920, HD Projection, 79 min.
Directed by Oscar Micheaux
Cast: Evelyn Preer, William Starks, Mattie Edwards
The earliest existing example of a feature film directed by an African-American, Within Our Gates was actually the second feature from pioneering independent filmmaker Micheaux. The compelling story of an idealistic young woman’s attempts to raise money for an elementary school in the black community is particularly distinguished by Micheaux’s radical use of flashbacks.

February 10
Ladies Must Love
USA, 1933, 35mm, 70 min. 
Directed by E.A. Dupont
Cast: June Knight, Neil Hamilton, Sally O’Neil
Three professional party girls trick their more idealistic roommate (Knight) into participating in their profit sharing scheme to hook sugar daddies. This romantic comedy from German director Dupont (Variety) is “a variation of Warner Bros.’s Gold Diggers series with more than a touch of Weimar cynicism” (Dave Kehr).

February 17
A House Divided
USA , 1931, 35mm, 70 min. 
Directed by William Wyler
Cast: Walter Huston, Douglass Montgomery, Helen Chandler 
Huston is mesmerizing as a temperamental widower fisherman whose new young bride has fallen in love with his sensitive and dominated son. Perhaps Wyler’s first fully-realized film, this riveting, powerfully acted patriarchal drama features screenplay contributions from Huston’s real-life son, John, who was just beginning his own legendary Hollywood career.

Her First Mate
USA, 1933, 35mm, 66 min. 
Directed by William Wyler
Cast: ZaSu Pitts, Slim Summerville, Una Merkel
In the best of seven Universal comedies that teamed Pitts and Summerville, the wife of an Albany ferry’s candy concessionaire risks her family savings to buy her husband his own boat. A contract-fulfilling programmer from auteur-on-the-rise Wyler, this is nonetheless a deft little comedy with terrific performances all-around.

February 21, 6 p.m.
Special Talk
Steve Ryfle on “Desegregating Hollywood: Film and the Civil Rights Era”
Co-Presented by UW Madison Friends of the Libraries.
 
February 21, 7 p.m.
African-American Pioneers
The Learning Tree
USA, 1969, 35mm, 107 min.
Directed by Gordon Parks
Cast: Kyle Johnson, Alex Clarke, Estelle Evans
Famed photographer Parks became the first African-American to direct a feature film for a major Hollywood studio (Warner Bros) with this adaptation of Parks’ own semi-autobiographical novel. The film depicts the coming-of-age of teenaged Newt Winger (Johnson) in rural Kansas of the 1920s.

February 24
Afraid to Talk
USA, 1932, 35mm, 69 min. 
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Cast: Eric Linden, Louis Calhern, Edward Arnold
Witness to a gangland rubout, an innocent bellboy is framed for the murder by a corrupt District Attorney. A former Universal editor, director “Cahn’s mastery of tempo and counterpoint is quite evident here though not unexpected; more surprising is his visual flair, which finds him revisiting some of the more abstract moments of German Expressionism with the cameraman Karl Freund” (Dave Kehr). Preceded by an animated FDR in Confidence (1933, 8 min.).

March 3
The Black Cat
USA, 1934, 35mm, 65 min. 
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Cast: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, David Manners
“Superstitious, perhaps...Baloney, perhaps not.” Horror legends Karloff and Lugosi square off for the first time as an evil architect and a bent-on-vengeance psychiatrist in a scenario bearing absolutely no relation to the Edgar Allan Poe story on which it claims to be based. Made in the last days prior to the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code, this shadowy yet highly suggestive piece of macabre cinema was a rare big studio effort for director Ulmer. Despite the fact that it concludes with a character being skinned alive, it’s great fun! Preceded by the animated short Wax Works (1934, 10 min.).

March 10
Outside the Law
USA, 1930, 35mm, 75 min. 
Directed by Tod Browning
Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Mary Nolan, Owen Moore
Indulging his appetite for the lowest levels of society, celebrated director Browning (Dracula, Freaks) delivers the snappy underworld story of “Fingers” O’Dell (Moore) and his moll Connie (Nolan). The pair take it on the lam when mob boss Cobra Collins (a pre-Little Caesar Robinson) tries to muscle in on Fingers’ bank robbery plans.

March 17
By Candlelight
USA, 1933, 35mm, 70 min. 
Directed by James Whale
Cast: Elissa Landi, Paul Lukas, Nils Asther
Josef (Lukas), the dedicated butler to a womanizing prince (Asther) falls for the elegant young Marie (Landi), when they meet on a train. Assuming her to be a great lady, the manservant also allows Marie to assume that he is a nobleman of the highest rank, setting the stage for dizzying shifts in identities and social ranks. This sly pre-code comedy with a distinctly European flavor was based on an Austrian play that became a Broadway hit when adapted by P.G. Wodehouse. Preceded by Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in Grandma’s Pet (1932, 7 min.)

March 24
The Storm
USA, 1930, 35mm, 80 min. 
Directed by William Wyler
Cast: Lupe Velez, Paul Cavanagh, William 'Stage' Boyd 
Two old pals find themselves rivals for the affections of the mysterious Manette (Velez) when all three are trapped in a Canadian cabin during a tremendous blizzard. Wyler’s second talkie features dialogue from John Huston, who received his first ever screen credit for this fun adventure-romance.

March 31
All Quiet on the Western Front
USA, 1930, 35mm, 133 min. 
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Cast: Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, Slim Summerville
Hailed as the one of the greatest antiwar films of all time, this gripping adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s classic WWI novel focuses on the shattering disillusionment of German soldier Paul (Ayres). Universal’s crowning achievement of the early sound era, All Quiet won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1930.

April 14
The Road Back
USA, 1936, 35mm, 101 min. 
Directed by James Whale
Cast: John King, Richard Cromwell, Slim Summerville
Intended as a sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front, this story of disillusioned German World War I veterans returning to an altered, unsympathetic home front was infamously compromised prior to its release. Completed after Universal removed the Laemmles from power and Nazi ambassador Georg Gyssling threatened boycotts over the film’s “anti-German” content, the release cut downplayed the climactic courtroom drama and instead emphasized the comedic antics of Summerville. This restoration of James Whale’s original, more trenchant cut is an event eight decades in the making, made possible in this 35mm print by The Library of Congress in cooperation with NBCUniversal and The Film Foundation.

April 21
Young Desire
USA, 1930, 35mm, 68 min. 
Directed by Lewis B. Collins
Cast: Mary Nolan, William Janney, Mae Busch
In this wonderfully sordid melodrama, a carnival hoochie coochie dancer (Nolan) dreams of quitting her job and marrying a naive young man from a wealthy provincial family. Convincingly steeped in its carny milieu, Young Desire’s other prime virtue is the haunting performance by the striking and undervalued Nolan. Preceded by the animated Carnival Capers (1932, 7 min.).

April 28
Laughter in Hell
USA, 1933, 35mm, 70 min. 
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Cast: Pat O’Brien, Gloria Stuart, Clarence Muse
One of the greatest but least-celebrated movies of the early 30s follows railroad engineer Barney (O’Brien) who escapes from a chain gang after being sentenced for murder. Barney wanders onto a bleak, depression-era landscape where redemption possibly lies in his relationship with another lost soul (Stuart). Worthy of comparison to such masterpieces as I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang and Heroes for Sale, Universal’s socially relevant drama is “one of the most radical works – politically and stylistically – to emerge from that adventuresome studio” (Dave Kehr).

May 5
Seed
USA, 1931, 35mm, 89 min. 
Directed by John M. Stahl
Cast: Lois Wilson, John Boles, Bette Davis
One of the greatest of all early talkie melodramas, Seed is the story of a discontented writer who abandons his wife and children for an old flame who is now a successful publisher. Director Stahl, after establishing himself with a series of successful silent films that examined marriage and relationships, takes an approach that is “self-effacing to the point of invisibility, and the film is all the more piercing for its simplicity, restraint, and bracing dryness” (Imogen Sara Smith). Print courtesy UCLA Film & Television Archive.

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