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RKO: Lost and Found

After Romancce
(Turner Classic Movies)

Unbeknownst to Ted Turner when he purchased the rights to the RKO movie library in 1987, it was missing a half-dozen films of the 1930s that had been sold to former RKO production head (and King Kong co-director) Merian C. Cooper as part of a 1946 legal settlement, distributed briefly to television in the late 1950s and then hidden from view for the next half-century. Now, the movies are once again seeing the light of day, thanks to the sleuthing of Turner Classic Movies, which will broadcast all six titles over the next two weeks (and, one hopes, many times after that). If there’s no lost masterpiece in the lot, there’s also nary a dud, whether it’s director John Cromwell’s 1933 melodrama Double Harness, in which Ann Harding’s upwardly mobile socialite dupes William Powell’s wealthy playboy into marrying her, or William Wellman’s genuinely odd Western musical Stingaree (1934), in which the eponymous 19th-century Australian outlaw (the roguishly charming Richard Dix) disguises himself as a celebrated British composer, falls head-over-heels for an aspiring diva (the luminous Irene Dunne) and takes to promoting her career whenever he isn’t running from the law. Think of it as Robin Hood meets The Phantom of the Opera. Evidence that Hollywood’s yen for “proven” material is nothing new, two of the films are remakes of two others in the series: In the Depression-era comic romance Rafter Romance (1933), a cash-short salesgirl (played by a pre–Fred Astaire Ginger Rogers, who was all of 22 at the time) finds herself forced to share an attic apartment with a similarly down-on-his-luck artist/nightwatchman (Norman Foster) who only needs the room by day. The gimmick of this (literally) poor man’s The Shop Around the Corner is that the two roomies come to blows (she hangs his suit in the shower; he saws her bed in half) without actually meeting, Only, they have met, by chance in the street, and even started dating, without realizing who the other really is. Four years later, B-movie specialist Lew Landers remade the film as Living on Love, with Whitney Bourne and James Dunn in the leads, a basement apartment instead of an attic and altogether less energy and charm. A more intriguing Depression-era double-bill is offered by One Man’s Journey (1933) and A Man to Remember (1938), both adapted from Katharine Havilland-Taylor’s short story “The Failure,” about the life of a country doctor who sacrifices achievement and personal wealth to care for patients who pay him in vegetables. This moving fanfare for the common man makes a plum actor’s showcase for Lionel Barrymore in the 1933 and for the Thin Man himself, Edward Ellis, in the 1938 version. But it’s the later film, directed by Garson Kanin from a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, that offers a particularly unsettling reminder of our tendency to confuse a man’s worth with the size of his bank account. Turner Classic Movies. Check local listings for schedule.


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