A Recap of the 2022 Festival of Preservation
June 10, 2022
UCLA Film and Television Archive’s 2022 Festival of Preservation took place over one packed weekend last month. I attended five of the 14 programs, which was a little less than anticipated, but a very doable schedule for me after a very busy few weeks. (In case you want to check it out, here’s my fest preview!) Below is a brief overview of the shorts, features, docs, and TV shows I saw, all of which were new discoveries to me.
My ticket for the Festival's opening night program, All That Money Can Buy (1941), and a cute magnet! (Photo by Kim Luperi)
All That Money Can Buy, aka The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)
The moment the title cards popped up on screen, I knew I was in for something different with this movie: The actors’ names appeared, sans characters, as those in front of the camera, and the crews’ names appeared, sans duty, as those behind the camera, with a statement acknowledging how everyone worked together to bring the picture to life.
The story – roughly, of a down-on-his-luck farmer, Jabez Stone (James Craig), who makes a deal with the devil, Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston), for seven years of good luck that brings him financial fortune but ruins him personally and morally – was a cautionary allegory injected with humor, darkness, and whimsical fantasy. It definitely didn’t feel like your average 1941 release, which indeed was the case; All That Money Can Buy was director William Dieterle’s first independent picture, and it played more in the illusory territory he was known for.
The whole cast, including big names like Huston, Edward Arnold, Jane Darwell, and Anne Shirley, turned in fine performances. While I was struck by the uniqueness and ferocity of the entire production, I also found myself amazed at how the illicit relationship between Jabez and Belle (Simone Simon) got past the censors; heck, they cohabitate in a mansion together while his wife Mary (Shirley) and Ma (Darwell) live with his son Daniel (Lindy Wade) in their small house next door! (Seriously.) Lots of ‘wow!’ moments with this one.
A still from Buzzy Boop at the Concert (1938)
Buzzy Boop at the Concert (1938)
This long-thought lost short, one of only two that Betty Boop’s cousin Buzzy appeared in, turned up in Russia in 2019. UCLA recently restored it, and 80 years later, we got to enjoy it with an audience again! I’ll say one thing: Buzzy should have made more appearances in Betty Boop cartoons, because she was a hoot. Lively, energetic, hilarious – this short had it all. Buzzy Boop at the Concert was a great way to start a Saturday afternoon full of movies.
Inner Sanctum (1948)
I love low budget mysteries, and this noir-tinged 62-minute wild ride hit the spot. A mysterious man on a train (Fritz Lieber Sr.) sets the offbeat tone with a story he tells a woman (Eve Miller) about their next stop, which involves a random murder by Harold (Charles Russell) and a restless teen, Mike (Dale Belding), who inadvertently witnesses the killing – or did he? Harold runs into Mike in a boarding house run by his mother, and from there, it’s a constant cat and mouse game where Harold basically tries to murder Mike multiple times. It’s a fast paced, somewhat confusing movie, one that comes full circle in a way that I still don’t fully understand, but was kind of blown away by. All in all, an entertaining indie B-picture!
Hey, Mama (1968)
This short, directed by white UCLA filmmaker Vaughn Obern, captures life in the Oakwood section of Venice, a largely Black community in the 1960s. According to UCLA’s website, Obern noted of his movie: “I tried to make the film as accurate as I could. I realize that I have a bias; I tried to get rid of it.” I really like that quote, and I would love to hear more about his process behind making this short – how he decided what to focus on, the editing, and so forth. (The film originally was meant to focus on a non-profit helping the impoverished area.) Over the course of six months, Obern got to know the residents, and this trust and intimacy is obvious in the finished product. I found his observations quietly moving and riveting, and by the end of Hey, Mama I wanted to know more – about the people he turned his camera on, the community, everything.
A still from The Bus (1965).
The Bus (1965)
Haskell Wexler’s The Bus documents a diverse group of people who travel from California to DC for the March on Washington in 1963. It concentrates mostly on the voyage to the capital, traversing through a variety of towns and cities, and the backgrounds and conversations shared by those along for the journey. Different ages, different genders, different races and ethnicities – people from all walks of life came together to rally against the injustices the Black community still faced. The frank discussions shared were at times enlightening, stirring, and downright heart-breaking, and the last song in the picture, “This May be the Last Time,” hits hard. As Wexler’s widow, Rita Taggart, said in her introduction, Wexler stumbled upon that moment and thought it summed up the movement as “a step forward, a step back, you just have to keep moving, and moving, and moving.” While I’m glad the song's use then was on a positive note, it pained me to hear it today and know what the future held; it’s downright tragic that the same fight continues today. All in all, The Bus is a fantastic, affecting portrait of a historic event through the lens of those who helped make it extraordinary.
The Challenge (1955)
This Sidney Lumet-directed, Rod Serling-written, Jack Warden-starring pilot was meant to “present open-ended social dramas to engage audiences and spur discussion.” That it did! The 30-minute show centered around Warden’s school bus driver refusing to sign a loyalty oath and the ensuing debate that caused. The conversations on both sides regarding patriotism and groupthink, which sometimes turned heated and emotional, felt very timely. Though we didn’t get to see the final vote as to whether those assembled agreed or disagreed with the bus driver's firing, you got a sense of what way it would have turned out – against him. Given this pilot aired on the heels of the height of communist paranoia in the US, it’s easy to see how it probably would have ended that way… and why this is the first and only show produced in the series.
Rod Serling’s Wonderful World of… “Propaganda” (1970)
While several episodes of Rod Serling’s Wonderful World of… aired, only one episode exists today. To be honest, I was a little disappointed with this one; I thought they would include more thorough commentary, but rather they simply provided loads of clips confirming that yes, propaganda is everywhere, both good or bad!
Betty White in the 1960s.
Betty White Tribute: U.S. Steel Hour: “Scene of the Crime” (1962)
It was a treat seeing this rare TV episode – and a Betty White dramatic role, at that! Filmed live, this U.S. Steel Hour entry delivered plenty of drama, energy, and noir twists. White played a mild-mannered, compassionate school teacher who finds herself in the middle of things when a man sentenced to jail for murder 20 years ago – one that took place in her room! – comes back to the scene of the crime, a boarding house, to make sense of things. Over the course of the episode, I had a hunch that the tide would turn… and it did, more than once! “Scene of the Crime” proved a very entertaining, suspenseful hour of TV, complete with 60s commercials and a wonderful example of White’s wide range as an actress.
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