— Out of Sight Out of Mind
Through the years I’ve unearthed and released a number of pictures originally distributed by major studios.
One top-of-the bill picture I’ve held off offering on DVD until now is “The Soldier and the Lady,” produced and released by RKO Radio Pictures in 1937.
It’s a good movie…a staple on the late, late show in the 1950s and early 60s, but only sporadically seen since. Too bad, because it’s a fast paced and thoroughly enjoyable adventure picture from producer Pandro S. Berman, complete with a rousing music score, and a whipping sequence that somehow passed the censors. What’s not to like?
I call movies like this “out–of–sight–out–of-mind” pictures. Translation: People don’t know ‘em, don’t buy ‘em, I make no money on ‘em, but go ahead and release ‘em anyway.
Film historian, Richard M Roberts, and frequent KPF and Sprocket Vault collaborator contributed this:
THE SOLDIER AND THE LADY
Based on the story Michael Strogoff by Jules Verne, this epic action adventure follows a courageous courier of Tsar Alexander II as he struggles to deliver vital information to Russian troops fighting a losing battle against invading Tartar hordes in Siberia. It’s a straight ahead action film, adventurous, swiftly paced and blood-thirstily satisfying. The lady in the title has practically nothing to do with it.
Michael Strogoff: the Tsar’s Courier is a famous novel written by Jules Verne in 1876 that tells the story of its title character who is sent to the far east of Russia to warn the governor of Irkutsk about the trainer Ivan Ogareff, who incites rebellion and plans to destroy Irkutsk. This serial-like adventures of Strogoff and his friends battling a Tartar rebellion has captivated Verne fans for decades despite it being one of the author’s few non-science fiction works.
That said, one of the eternal movie history questions may indeed be just how many versions of Michael Strogoff do we really need? More than ten at casual count, and apparently a number of those were produced or coproduced by one Joseph N. Ermolieff, a White Russian who was one of the major film producers under the Tsar, and a political exile himself who escaped to France when came the revolution and spent the next several decades as an ex-patriot film producer over many continents. He apparently owned the rights to Verne’s novel and every decade or so managed to crank out or be involved in the cranking out of at least one new version of the peace, including a lavish three-hour French silent masterpiece directed by Victor Tourjansky and starring Ivan Mouskoujine. Then in 1935, Ermolieff produced a new French-German co-production directed by Richard Eichberg and starring Anton Wahlbrook that utilizes some footage from the 1926 version. As if this was not enough, what does Ermolieff go and do but take this 1935 version and Wahlbrook to America the following year and sell RKO on yet another remake of Strogoff re-using Wahlbrook (or Walbrook as he Anglicized the spelling) and utilizing as much footage from the Eichberg Version as one could possibly match-up with the new American cast. So RKO releases this new version, retitled The Soldier and the Lady (Fair enough, Eichberg’s Version had been titled the Tsar’s Courier) and, surprise, surprise, it’s a grand and glorious flop.
Now hold on, we didn’t say it was a deserved flop, for as patch-job French – German – American co-productions matching up footage of Anton Wahlbrook and sometimes even Ivan Mouskoujine to Anton Walbrook go, it’s pretty amazingly seamless, and Walbrook in his first English – speaking role is a very dashing Strogoff. The American cast has a lot going for it, number one being Akim Tamiroff in top-villainous mode as Ivan Ogareff, and Elizabeth Allan looking reasonably radiant as Nadia. Perhaps some are a bit put-off by comic relief Eric Blore and Edward Brophy as the reporters covering the rebellion, but this author likes both performers and finds them the occasional breath of fresh air amongst all of Walbrook’s masochistic abuse. Okay, when you get down to Ward bond as a tartar things are getting a bit silly but all in all, this Michael Strogoff moves along at an easy-to-take 85 minutes, give you much of the spectacle of the earlier European version, and gives one and incredible lesson in editing and matching old footage.
And it didn’t stop Mr. Ermolieff from making yet more versions of the darn book, next up with a 1944 Mexican version, Miguel Strogoff, I kid you not, and Curt Jurgens went through the tortuous motions again in 1960. Now of course public domain, Jules Verne’s books all seems to be one of those European co-productions they can always get off the ground though remakes seem to have dropped off since the 70s when both a feature and television version appeared. Seems to this one, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a bit more fun, but Michael Strogoff still beats it in the remake department.
The click that put www.sprocketvault.com online
We’ve been so busy with creating our new company, working the bugs out, and setting up our Amazon store (it would have helped if I spoke Tagalog and Hindi) that it took us months to produce our website. No excuses other than we just wanted to do it right. Websites are always a work in progress, so let me know what could be improved.
Although the majority of releases are movies to which I own all rights, we are working on a release schedule of hard-to-find movies from other producers. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter (bottom of our home page), visit and “like” our Facebook page, and subscribe to our YouTube Channel.
OK, with the website crossed off my to-do list, it’s now time to get to work setting up new releases!
P.S. Thanks to our webmaster, Wendall Williams of Provido LLC, and graphic artist Missy Koskey for making the website a reality.
|Remastered from the original negative, and restored in high-definition…this classic will rock the house!|
Rock & Roll changed 1950s America at 45 revolutions per minute. The swinging-est of the R&R movies was the electrifying Go, Johnny, Go!, which has been seldom seen since its 1959 release, and never in such quality as the high-definition DVD version just released by The Sprocket Vault and sold exclusively through Amazon.
A musical promoter, played by legendary D.J. Alan Freed, searches for the next big star whom he plans to name “Johnny Melody,” and as with rock and roll movies of that era, the storyline is little more than a loose frame to hang musical numbers on.
The Go, Johnny, Go! performances are electrifying, a given since the talent is 100% gold-standard:
Chuck Berry, Ritchie Valens, Jimmy Clanton, Jackie Wilson, Eddie Cochran, Harvey Fuqua, Jo-Ann Campbell, The Cadillacs, The Flamingos and Jimmy Cavallo. Many, including Ritchie Valens only film appearance, you won’t see elsewhere.
When The Sprocket Vault acquired the DVD rights to this rock and roll classic it had no idea the original film elements were in such disarray, and more than once feared the project would have to be aborted. Fortunately, some mislabeled cans of film re-surfaced turning out to be the original camera negative from which restoration experts were able to create a beautiful, clear, sharp high definition wide screen transfer.
The supplemental audio commentary is by film historians Richard M. Roberts, Randy Skretvedt, and Brent Walker, who share fascinating facts and historical information.
Sold exclusively through Amazon:
One activity that is particularly satisfying to me is making available a beautiful video version of a favorite film. Even better is to couple it with an excellent commentary track. Both are the case with “When Comedy Was King” and easier said than done.
In 1958, I saw “The Golden Age of Comedy,” Robert Youngson’s masterful silent comedy compilation at the Hill Theatre in Monterey, California – laughed until my sides hurt. I’d go so far as to say Kit Parker Films would never exist, certainly not in the form it has, had it not been for that night in 1958 as this turned me into a silent comedy buff overnight and inspired me to collect 8mm (later, 16mm) prints of silent comedies from the legendary Blackhawk Films.
Two years later “When Comedy Was King” also by Youngson, was released. This time I saw it at the State Theatre in Monterey, and it was just as funny as its predecessor! Saw it many times later in 16mm, television, VHS and DVD, all lacking the vibrancy of the 35mm presentation at the State.
Earlier this year I contacted Sonar Entertainment, owner of WCWK, and made a deal to acquire DVD rights. Then came the time to examine the film elements: What a mess! A reel of this, a reel of something else, and the quality ranged from poor to marginal. Then, finally, Sonar’s ever-helpful Maura Grady sent us 9 cans of film, which weren’t properly labelled; they turned out to the original negative!
Our film-to-digital maestro, Doug Horst, did a masterful high definition transfer, and we were off and running. There were still several issues to work out, but they weren’t insurmountable, just time consuming: The images were a checkerboard of light scenes and dark scenes, endemic in working with original negatives. However, fortunately Tiffany Clayton, always up for a technical challenge, “timed” (the industry term for adjusting light and dark scenes) and did other digital clean up as well. Our HD transfer captured more image on the sides that had ever been seen on a video or television release. The only other issue was lack of a sound track, so Tiffany sweetened up the track from an older video release and synced it perfectly.
Next up, I wanted to provide a commentary track. Film historian, author, filmmaker and raconteur Richard M Roberts was up for it, and as my vote for Dean of Silent Comedy, he was the perfect person for the job. Richard was also influenced by the works of Robert Youngson as well, and created a commentary that intermixed his insight on the comedies themselves along with their performers, directors and producers. He also interspersed a long overdue biographical tribute to Robert Youngson himself. I asked Richard if he would allow us to use three rare comedies from his personal collection as a special feature. He agreed, but insisted they have a musical accompaniment, the cost of which would put an already over budget project further into the red. When it comes to quality, Richard doesn’t negotiate, so I bit the bullet and retained Donald Sosin, a leading silent movie composer. Glad I did.
You can buy it today for $14.99 exclusively from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MFX85QA
THE SPROCKET VAULT presents the restored high definition video release of Academy Award-winning Documentarian ROBERT YOUNGSON’s wonderful 1960 Comedy Compilation WHEN COMEDY WAS KING which showcased some of the funniest comedy scenes by famous comedians of the Silent Era, including Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Ben Turpin, and two of the great silent comedy producers, Mack Sennett and Hal Roach.
Remastered from the original 35mm negative and presented in its original full edge-to-edge 1:33 theatrical aspect ratio, audiences can once again enjoy classic comedy sequences from films like BIG BUSINESS (1929) with Laurel and Hardy, COPS (1922) with Buster Keaton, the only surviving footage from Harry Langdon’s THE FIRST HUNDRED YEARS (1924) and the other classic comedies. Thanks to Robert Youngson’s perseverance, the film source material of most of the comedies originated primarily from the sparking clear original camera negatives, not the jerky, flickery fourth generation copies that are so often shown.
THE SPROCKET VAULT’s new DVD release of WHEN COMEDY WAS KING features a commentary track by noted film historian, author, filmmaker and raconteur RICHARD M. ROBERTS, who provides fascinating facts and historical information on the comedy classics showcased. He also pays tribute to WHEN COMEDY WAS KING’s producer Robert Youngson, revealing his story and his important contribution to bringing these films out of obscurity and back to the attention of the film history community and general audiences alike.
As an extra bonus, Mr. Roberts graciously allowed TSV permission to showcase three complete, rare, wild and crazy silent comedies from his own large collection of early film. For the first time in over 90 years audiences can get a taste of undeservedly forgotten names from the hundreds of comedians making films in the Comedy Film Industry of the Silent Era: Hughey Mack and Dot Farley in AN ELEPHANT ON HIS HANDS (1920), Lige Conley in the frenzied FAST AND FURIOUS (1924), and the politically-incorrect Three Fatties (Frank Alexander, Hilliard Karr and Kewpie Ross) in the deliriously destructive Ton of Fun comedy HEAVY LOVE (1926), all featuring commentary by Mr. Roberts, and a new musical accompaniment by one of the leading silent film composers, Donald Sosin.
I’m researching the 1928 Weiss Brothers-Artclass Pictures serial, “The Mysterious Airman.” It’s the only silent Artclass serial that survives in its complete form – complete except for Chapter 9, Reel 1.
All I had on the missing reel are records from New York Motion Picture Commission (then part of the State of New York Education Dept.), which was little more than a censor board.
A number of states had movie censor boards. As late as 1970 I recall seeing “Airport” (1970) in Baltimore, complete with a spliced on 1950s-looking black and white (spread out to Cinemascope) censor seal.
Between 1921 and 1965, distributors were required to submit all feature films, serials (each chapter had to be applied for separately), shorts, cartoons and newsreels to the Commission for screening. Objectionable scenes had to be cut from the prints before a license to exhibit in New York would be granted.
As you’ll see, the censors demanded “views of a machine gun” cut before a license would be granted, Reason? “…they will tend to ‘incite crime!’”
We first met in 1979 at a private tour of the Hearst Castle, “Xanadu” of “Citizen Kane.”
The Kit Parker Films staff and their guests were invited to a special behind the scenes tour as a reward from the Hearst people for giving them some silent newsreels produced by their patriarch, newspaper baron, William Randolph Hearst. The tour was remarkable. It also turned out to be life changing personally and professionally:
34 years ago today I married one of the KPF guests. Her name is Donna.
She’s not only my life partner, but Kit Parker Films’ greatest supporter, cheerleader, sounding board, and sometimes crying towel. Although not involved in the KPF daily activities, Donna’s behind the scenes input through the years has been invaluable.
When I met her she could only recall seeing three classics, “The Wizard of Oz,” “Gone With the Wind,” and “Psycho.” To this day Donna is not what you’d call a super movie buff, although she does enjoy good films of all eras. I doubt she’s seen a fourth of my library, in many cases for good reason.
Donna is a trouper, perfectly willing to listen to esoterica exchanged between film buffs. She’s been known to refer to some of the more extreme ones as “mushrooms” (live in the dark, have no social life, and reproduce asexually). She once told me, “When the conversation degrades to a dissertation on Cinecolor, I’m outta here.”
Kit Parker Films, and now The Sprocket Vault (she’s in charge of social media), would not be the same today had it not been for her. I know I wouldn’t.
My father was an avid 8mm home movie maker. He also owned a collection of various Castle Films, and one from Hollywood Film Enterprises, “Buzz Saw Battle,” a 50’ excerpt from the Mickey Mouse cartoon, “The Dognapper” (Disney-UA/1934), which was a real let-down because it ended right in the middle of action. [Above: Original pencil sketch from “The Dognapper,” which hangs on my office wall.]
In response to my previous blog, “The Actress Is,” which featured a Louis Weiss Co. (successor to Weiss Brothers-Artclass Pictures) home movie catalog, collector Jeff Missinne was kind enough to forward a Hollywood Film Enterprises home movie catalog from around the early 1950s. It was photocopied years ago, so the quality isn’t great.
Jeff Missinne also gave me the following information which he has allowed me to share with you.
Hollywood Film Enterprises had four Laurel and Hardy reels: Three 400′ sound editions and one 100′ silent (“Three’s a Crowd,” the phone booth scene with Jack Norton), all from “Our Relations.” I own prints of the sound reels and, oddly, a 100-foot dialogue sequence of the two women ordering dinner in the restaurant is repeated in two of them (“Mistaken Identity” and “Sailor’s Downfall”) while the phone booth scene isn’t in any of the sound editions!
I just acquired three of the Patsy Kelly shorts but haven’t screened them yet, they are spliced together and only the first one has a main title, so I have to figure out which ones the other two are. (Six shorts from one feature; five sound and one 100′ silent, that has to be some kind of record!) Don’t know how many “Grandpop Monkeys” were sold, but check out that bizarre list of sizes…100′ sound “headline” versions.
I asked Jeff for an approximate year of the catalog and he responded further:
Afraid I can’t pin down an exact date, but would say it is somewhere in the early to mid- 1950’s. By then they had gone through the phase when they merged with another company and were briefly known as Carmel-Hollywood Films; some of the Gene Autry reels came from that period; and this was before they began offering color Disney cartoons in 8mm. (They were edited to 100 feet each, same as the AAP Warner cartoons.)
I went thru my paper files and found my letters from Wally Shidler of HFE, but no further info on dates, etc. Shidler’s letter stated that HFE’s relationship with Walt Disney ended around 1960, but I have some reason to believe it may have lasted a little longer, as they were offering 8mm Eastmancolor prints of Disney cartoons and Disneyland travelogues, and I’m not sure if Eastmancolor was commonly used for 8mm printing until after 1960. Most if not all earlier color prints I’ve seen were Kodachrome or Anscochrome. It certainly ended though when Disney decided to open their own 8mm division in the mid-60s. Wally stated that HFE was primarily a lab, and the home movies were just a way to keep the place busy between outside orders. (I am fairly sure Eastmancolor was being used for 16mm printing by 1960, but maybe not 8mm yet. (For example, when Castle started offering 8mm cartoons and travelogues in color in the late 50’s, they were Kodachrome; and I know a collector who at least claims to own some 8mm AAP cartoons on Anscochrome.)
HFE existed before Castle Films. They were making home movie subjects at least as early as 1930, maybe even before then; Eugene Castle didn’t enter the home movie field until 1937-38, though he was making 16mm and 35mm industrial films before then. So apparently either HFE approached Disney or the other way, and they were releasing his cartoons as early as 1933. Disney was apparently satisfied with the deal as it was renewed over and over for decades.
At one time or another HFE also had Walter Lantz’s “Oswald” and “Meany, Miny & Moe” cartoons, though only in 50′ 8mm and 100′ 16mm silent toy projector lengths (I don’t know if their deal was with Lantz himself or Universal) and some of the Harman-Ising MGM cartoons in full length 16mm sound editions. When Universal bought out Castle Films, HFE lost the Lantz rights, and Castle then offered the cartoons in a complete range of silent and sound versions.
Jeff – Thanks a million for providing the catalog, and especially your comments! — Kit
“Grandpop Monkey” was based on cover illustrations by an artist named Lawson Wood that ran in Collier’s magazine. The animated versions were made by Cartoon Films, Ltd. which had been the Ub Iwerks studio. They were backed by British money and may have been made to run there first (not sure.) Monogram Pictures (!) released them theatrically in the US. The 3 titles HFE had were the only ones made, and were produced and released in Cinecolor in 1940.
One of the weirdest color films I have is an 8mm Ub Iwerks cartoon in original Cinecolor. I like Cinecolor, especially for cartoons, where it gives a sort of “old Sunday funnies” effect. Cinecolor’s color registration was very good in 35mm, not bad in 16mm, but by the time you get down to that tiny regular-8 frame it looks like a failed anaglyph 3-D image!
Weiss licensed Hollywood Film Enterprises the rights to create home movie versions from some of its silent films. Weiss-Artclass Tarzan serial cut-downs were sold as “Tarzan of the Apes”; B-westerns in which Jean Arthur had a supporting role became “Jean Arthur Westerns,” and “Bible Stories,” were adapted from the 1920 Italian epic, “La Bibbia,” which Weiss-Artclass had released in truncated form in 1922 as “After Six Days.”
My family had some 8mm Ub Iwerks Cinecolor prints: “Sinbad the Sailor,” “Little Black Sambo,” and “Pin-Cushionman” (retitle of “Balloon Land”), all 1935. As with Jeff, I was enamored by the color. The box art, “Fun Cartoons in Color,” was cool, too.