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A Rockford File

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Posted: Saturday, June 30, 2012 12:28 pm

    Every now and then a curious reader will ask me what initially sparked my passion for the Golden Age, so I suppose the occasion of CI’s 50th anniversary would be an ideal time to share some (mercifully brief!) personal background.  I was fortunate to be born in Rockford, which in the early 1950s was the second largest city in Illinois, as well as home to no less than seven downtown movie palaces.  The Coronado, the only one remaining today, was built in 1927 and recently underwent a major renovation.  When Vincent Price delivered an art lecture there in the early 1970s, he looked around at the ornate Moorish décor—complete with a faux outdoor ceiling filled with stars—and exclaimed, “This building is beautiful.  Don’t ever let them tear it down.”  I saw my first movie at the Coronado, Disney's Lady and the Tramp, and dozens more in the years that followed.  (Sadly, the theater now hosts only concerts and Broadway musicals.)  In the summer, kids could see a movie every Tuesday for only a quarter.  Every Wednesday, for a dime more, I could get into the Midway Theater.  Other theaters included the Times, the State, the Family (where I caught a few of the last Bowery Boys films), and another, whose name I truly cannot remember, but which regularly screened Golden Age classics (such as the original Tarzan the Ape Man, Dracula, Frankenstein, King Kong, etc.) before closing toward the end of the 1960s.

    Unfortunately, I was not around when Rockford was a major stop for entertainers on the vaudeville circuit.  My late grandfather remembered seeing W.C. Fields, and one of my uncles saw Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey’s band.  In his autobiography, Harpo recalled the Marx Brothers being given their famous nicknames backstage in Rockford.  Due to an abundance of hard-to-please Scandinavians in the populace, Jack Benny was once heard to remark, “If you can get a laugh out of Rockford, you can get a laugh anywhere.”  By the time I came along, two of the largest entertainment venues—the Orpheum and the Palace (where my future parents went to see a double bill of The House of Frankenstein and The Mummy’s Curse on one of their first dates!)—had been converted to department stores.

    As one might assume, my parents were movie fans, so I may have had the good fortune to see more films—several at drive-ins—than the average Baby Boomer during the late 1950s and throughout the following decade.  Yet my favorites were the Westerns and Tarzan adventures local television stations ran on Saturday afternoon.  And then there were the horror and science-fiction classics that usually came on the Friday night Late Show.  I subscribed to Famous Monsters of Filmland, and, beginning around 1966, I made a point of grabbing every film-related book I could find (and afford!).  Naturally, when VCRs dropped into the price range of mere mortals, I started a library that now contains close to 4,000 titles—modest compared to the collections of some movie buffs I know, including many of our readers.  And, yes, my wife is a big fan of old films.  She’d almost have to be…

    According to recent industry reports, DVDs of television series old and new continue to outsell movies, and readers who prefer vintage programs from the home screen will no doubt be pleased to learn that two of the best sources for classic shows—Shout! Factory and Timeless Media Group—have merged.  If we’re lucky, this new powerhouse will successfully license some of the old (and newer) favorites the major studios have given up on or not released at all.  In the meantime, the company plans to release the entire Peter Gunn series on twelve discs later this year, and the date for the complete Yancey Derringer series has been changed from August 7 to October 9.  Both shows have been requested more than once in What’s Not Out There.

    It has been two years since Infinity/SfM Entertainment released the fourth season of Walter Brennan’s sitcom The Real McCoys, much to the disappointment of at least a few of our readers anxious for the final two years to come out.  Happily, Inception Media Group has taken over distribution of the series.  Unhappily, they are starting over again with Season One rather than Season Five, just as they did when obtaining the rights to the Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp show.  Apparently we have no choice but to be patient…

No word yet as to how many of the twenty seasons of Gunsmoke CBS/Paramount intends to offer, but the first volume of Season Six—the last as a half-hour program—is coming on August 7.  Two weeks later, the company will be releasing the first half of Perry Mason’s seventh season.

To commemorate its 100th anniversary, Universal has digitally restored thirteen prominent titles ranging from 1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front to 1993’s Schindler’s List.  “The studio is really putting an emphasis on the fact that we have a legacy,” Peter Schade, Universal’s vice president of content management and technical services, recently told the Los Angeles Times.  “Every attempt was made to digitally restore these films from the original negatives.  But for any given title there may be elements that are incomplete and aged to the point they may not be the best to use.”  One example is 1931’s Dracula, which had to be restored using a first-generation print.  “We don’t have a complete original negative,” said Schade.  Other titles include the Spanish version of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, Buck Privates, Pillow Talk, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Birds, The Sting, Jaws and Out of Africa.  All of the films are being offered on both DVD and Blu-Ray.  Should fortune smile, Universal will get around to restoring Double Indemnity, considering the generally poor condition of the existing DVD.

    One of our loyal readers has alerted us to three releases from the Fox Cinema Archives, all manufactured-on-demand and available only from Amazon.com:  Sweet Rosie O’Grady (1943 w/Betty Grable), Rings on Her Fingers (1942 w/Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney) and Diplomatic Courier (1952 w/Tyrone Power and Patricia Neal).  Prices range from 17.98 to $19.98, and Fox intends to have a total of 150 for sale by year’s end.

    The Film Chest company has released a new edition of Springtime in the Sierras (1947) on the American Pop Classics label.  Directed by action pro William Witney, this was one of Roy Rogers’ all-time best adventures.  The cast includes Jane Frazee, Andy Devine, Roy Barcroft, and Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers.

This month’s requests for What’s Not Out There include:

Untamed (1955 w/Tyrone Power)

The Light that Failed (1939 w/Ronald Colman)

On the Threshold of Space (1956 w/Guy Madison)

Mister Moses (1965 w/Robert Mitchum)

Doctor’s Wives (1931 w/Warner Baxter)

China Girl (1942 w/Gene Tierney)

The King and the Chorus Girl (1937 w/Joan Blondell)

Roughshod (1949 w/Robert Sterling)

Three Loves Has Nancy (1938 w/Janet Gaynor)

    Readers with questions, comments or suggestions for What’s Not Out There are always welcome to contact this column at gcbcme@aol.com.  Please remember to specify Classic Images or What’s Out There on the subject line of your e-mail so that it is not deleted as spam.