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Home Classic Movies Preservation Movie Festivals: UCLA + Paramount vs. Theodore Dreiser

Preservation Movie Festivals: UCLA + Paramount vs. Theodore Dreiser

6 minutes read

The Barker
The Barker with Dorothy Mackaill and Milton Sills.
Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

Among the good & rarities screened at the UCLA Film and Television Archive Festival of Preservation (website) was a restored print of the rarely seen 1928 drama The Barker (though luckily this one will be screened at the upcoming Cinecon), Joseph H. Lewis’ thriller The Big Combo (1955), and the Laura La Plante-Reginald Denny 1924 comedy Fast Worker. Though forgotten today, both Denny and La Plante were immensely popular in the 1920s; La Plante (left), in particular, was a remarkable talent both in dramas and in comedies.

But I feel particularly bad for having missed this year’s festival because it has been “dedicated to Preservation Officer Robert Gitt – the man who since 1977 has put the Archive on the international map for the excellence of its preservation and restoration program.”

I’ve had the pleasure to become acquainted with Bob Gitt, and I’ve been a witness to the truly incredible work he’s done over the years. Thanks to his efforts – and the efforts of his staff – I and other Angelenos have been able to see first-rate, sometimes truly pristine prints of rarities that would have been beyond our reach otherwise.

An evening dedicated to Gitt was hosted by film critic Leonard Maltin. Among others present to pay tribute to Bob were Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan and director Curtis Hanson. Maltin talks about both the Festival of Preservation and the Bob Gitt Tribute on his website.

The 13th edition of the UCLA Festival of Preservation comes to a close this Saturday, Aug. 19, with a 7:30 p.m. screening of John Cassavetes’ 1968 home movie from hell, Faces. Gena Rowlands, Seymour Cassel, Lynn Carlin, Al Ruban, Curtis Hanson, and Ross Lipman are expected to attend the screening. (Note: Cassel and Carlin received Academy Award nominations in the supporting categories.)

Faces is hardly one of my favorite films, but today, also at 7:30 p.m., there is a director Frank Lloyd-star Ronald Colman double-bill that can’t be missed: Under Two Flags (1936) and If I Were King (1938). Lloyd’s film version of the Foreign Legion adventure tale Under Two Flags also stars Claudette Colbert, Victor McLaglen, and Rosalind Russell. Set in 15th-century France, If I Were King is a mix of comedy, drama, and adventure that remains one of the best examples of the genre. Frances Dee plays Colman’s – for lack of a better word, lovely – love interest. A hunchbacked Basil Rathbone would have stolen the show – if it weren’t for the fact that Ronald Colman is in top form.

Cinecon: Norma Talmadge & Constance Talmadge

Among the highlights at this year’s Cinecon event, to be held in Hollywood from Aug. 31-Sep. 4, are the restored 1926 version of Kiki, starring Norma Talmadge – at the time quite possibly the biggest female star in Hollywood – and Ronald Colman; Chicago (1928), another rare and recently restored film, starring Phyllis Haver as murderess Roxie Hart; the ultra-rare Romance of the Underworld (1928), with a very young Mary Astor; the Mabel Normand vehicle Head Over Heels (1922); and the recently restored The Barker (1928), directed by George Fitzmaurice, and starring Milton Sills, Dorothy Mackaill, Betty Compson (who was “considered” for a Best Actress Academy Award – there were no official nominations that year), and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Note: Norma Talmadge’s sister, Constance Talmadge, can be seen to good advantage in the otherwise run-of-the-mill comedy Up the Road with Sallie (1917).

Cinecon 42 Schedule:

Thursday August 31
7:00 Flora (cartoon)
7:10 THE SLEEPING CITY (1950) starring Coleen Gray and Richard Conte
8:35 Q&A w/ Coleen Gray
9:20 UP THE ROAD WITH SALLIE (1917) directed by William Desmond Taylor starring Constance Talmadge and Norma Kerry
10:30 THE CHEAT (1931) starring Tallulah Bankhead.

Friday September 1
9:00 The Iron Claw, ch. 6
9:20 OVERLAND STAGE RAIDERS (1938) starring John Wayne and Louise Brooks
10:25 CHICAGO (1928) starring Phyllis Haver and Victor Varconi
12:20 Lunch Break
2:05 The Star Boarders (1915) Ham and Bud
2:20 NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (1929) starring Richard Dix and Helen Kane
3:50 KIKI (1926) starring Norma Talmadge and Ronald Colman
5:30 STRICTLY IN THE GROOVE (1942) starring Ozzie Nelson
6:30 Dinner Break
8:15 Fair Play (cartoon)
8:20 THIS THING CALLED LOVE (1939) starring Rosalind Russell and Melvyn Douglas
10:10 Tom Mix fragment
10:15 SELFISH YATES (1917) starring William S. Hart
10:55 GRAFT (1931) with Boris Karloff

Saturday September 2
9:00 business meeting
10:00 ROMANCE OF THE UNDERWORLD (1928) directed by Irving Cummings starring Mary Astor
11:20 ASK A POLICEMAN (1938)
12:40 Lunch Break
2:30 Peculiar Patients’ Pranks (1915) starring Harold Lloyd
2:40 RED LIGHTS (1922) starring Raymond Griffith
4:05 Ernie Kovacs color special
4:40 MOONRISE (1948) directed by Frank Borzage starring Dane Clark
6:10 Dinner Break
7:45 Wet and Warmer starring Billie Ritchie
8:05 PHIL-FOR-SHORT (1917) starring Evelyn Greeley
9:30 ONE HYSTERICAL NIGHT (1929) starring Reginald Denny
10:55 THE SHADOW RETURNS (1946) starring Kane Richmond

Sunday September 3
9:00 Vitaphone: The Sound of the ’20s
10:50 Hollywood: City of Celluloid
11:00 HEAD OVER HEELS (1922) starring Mabel Normand
12:00 Lunch Break
1:45 Photoplay Magazine #5 (1917)
1:50 BETTY TAKES A HAND (1918) starring Olive Thomas
3:00 THEY CAME TO BLOW UP AMERICA (1943) starring George Sanders and Anna Sten
4:25 THAT KIND OF WOMAN (1959) starring Tab Hunter and Sophia Loren directed by Sidney Lumet
6:00 Q&A w/ Tab Hunter

Monday September 4
9:00 The Iron Claw, chs. 7 – 9
10:00 LORD JIM (1925) directed by Victor Fleming, starring Percy Marmont
11:25 THE BARKER (1928) starring Milton Sills, Dorothy Mackaill, Betty Compson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
12:45 Lunch Break
2:10 Pluck of the Irish
2:30 GIRL IN THE PULLMAN (1927) starring Marie Prevost
3:35 START CHEERING (1938) starring Jimmy Durante and Charles Starrett
5:00 BEYOND THE ROCKS (1922) starring Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino

Cinecon website

Paramount Vs. Theodore Dreiser

“This region is stuffed with hard-boiled savage climbers, the lowest grade of political grafters, quacks not calculable as to number or variety … loafers, prostitutes, murderers and perverts. In the bland sunshine here they multiply like germs in the canal zone.” That’s author Theodore Dreiser referring not to Washington, D.C., or any other world capital, but to Hollywood in the early 1930s. Dreiser was then fighting with Paramount over their adaptation of his novel An American Tragedy, inspired by a real-life murder trial that had taken place in New York state in 1906.

Robert Marchand’s article “Century-old Hollywood battle retrieved from archives” in The [Westchester, N.Y.] Journal News discusses Dreiser’s feud with Paramount. (Though the “century-old” battle was actually staged about 75 years ago.)

The now hard-to-find Paramount version of Dreiser’s novel was released in 1931. Directed by Josef von Sternberg, the film stars Phillips Holmes, Sylvia Sidney, and Frances Dee. Samuel Hoffenstein was credited for the adaptation.

In 1951, George Stevens officially remade it as A Place in the Sun, starring Montgomery Clift, Shelley Winters, and Elizabeth Taylor.

And in 2005, Woody Allen unofficially remade the same story (with elements from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment) as Match Point, with Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, and Emily Mortimer.

For the record, Dreiser called the 1931 adaptation “an utter misrepresentation and libelous distortion of what I wrote.” He died in 1945, and that may well explain why he had nothing negative to say about the glossy and highly romanticized A Place in the Sun.

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1 comment

Marcus Tucker -

Hollywood was adapting books long before Dreiser ever set foot there so I really wonder what on earth her expected from them in the first place. But I can’t really sympathize him because he should have known. A lot of writers still don’t like Hollywood but they like the money just fine. If you can acceot the money but not the changes that’s not compromising. And to be truthful the book was too long in the first place, 700 pages or more and how he expected that to fit into the format of a film back then was unrealistic. Willa Cather had issues with the adaptations of A Lost Lady too, but I can’t fault the studios for the writers not getting their way, if a writer didn’t want their vision altered then the definitely wouldn’t sell to Hollywood at all. But look others like Lillian Hellman, she knew her stuff, as a writer and screenwriter and when a compromise would be necessary. And Lillian came out just fine, yes she did write plays but adapting a play to the screen is just as hard as a novel. The only way that Dreiser would have gotten what he wanted was is Von Stroheim and not Von Sternberg had directed, but we know how that story would have ended, bankruptcy.


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