Lost & Rare Film & TV Treasures

| June 8, 2012

With Lost & Rare, Festival Films introduces a new line of DVDs cobbling together some of film and televisions most obscure titles with the assistance of collectors and distributors around the globe. Adding to the already high level of anticipation releases featuring rare material elicit among media addicts such as myself, Festival Films asserts that, with their Lost & Rare series, it is their “goal to include at least one film in each release that avid film collectors have never seen or even heard of.” The first two volumes in this exciting ongoing series, Vol. 1: Television Pilots and Vol. 2: Sports Immortals, are now available in both a consumer and a library and school edition.

Television Pilots features five pilots produced between 1954 and 1963. Of the programs collected in Vol. 1, three went no further than the pilot presented here, while the remaining two were picked up for short-lived series. The greatest of these, The Ed Wynn Show(1958), ultimately spawned a series that tragically ran for a mere 16 episodes. In this domestic sitcom, Ed Wynn (Mary PoppinsThe Diary of Anne Frank (1959)) plays a retired man who cares for his two granddaughters. In the pilot, he takes in a group of boarders from among his eldest granddaughter’s college friends. As a result, the humor in the first half of the episode relies heavily on sexual innuendos regarding Wynn’s relationship with the college girls, and his character ultimately finds himself at odds with city council’s zoning ordinances for taking in boarders. This terrifically funny episode concludes with a direct address of the audience/potential sponsors by Wynn in which he reminisces about his career and relates his hopes for the series’ future. The Jane Powell Show (1961) comes in at a close second for me. In this pilot, Powell plays a successful singer who abandons her career to marry a college mathematics professor (played by Russell Johnson, the Professor from Gilligan’s Island). The pilot captures the essence of academia hysterically in the spot-on conversations between the professor characters, conversations which end up terribly offending the city girl played by Jane Powell. Sadly, the series went no further than this terrific pilot, but I would have liked to see more of this city girl vs. academia formula.

Munroe (1954), a sitcom about a wacky K9 army dog; Maggie (1958), another sitcom centered around an imaginative, eccentric teenager; and the hard-boiled detective drama, Meet Mcgraw (1954), round out the first volume. I found Munroe good for more than a few chuckles, but ultimately I wasn’t sure where the series could have gone after the pilot, and obviously neither did investors, since the series wasn’t picked up. Meet McGraw, by contrast, spun-off into a series that ran from 1957 to 1958, but I honestly found the pilot rather dull, nowhere near as interesting as the 1950s Mike Hammer series. I close my appraisal of Vol. 1 by discussing Maggie primarily because I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Honestly, it came across as a cheap, comic knock-off of John Schlesinger’ 1963 film, Billy Liar– I say cheap since it utilizes the formal conventions of Billy Liar while lacking the film’s poignant, social commentary. That said, the pilot does have a certain charm to it, which owes primarily to Maggie’s fantasy sequence in the episode’s latter half.

Whereas I fully expected to love Vol. 1: Television Pilots, and I did, I had no such expectations for Vol. 2: Sports Immortals. After all, I have absolutely no interest in sports whatsoever, whether played by professionals or by myself as a pastime. And yet I found this volume fascinating. Rather than viewing these five pieces in order, I went straight to the “intimate portrait” of former Heavyweight Champion of the World Joe Louis in The Brown Bomber (1939). This short covers The Champion’s daily routine in some detail, which includes breakfast, some leisurely reading time, and, of course, training. The short then addresses some of Louis’ career highlights, after which we learn of his deep love for ice cream, since the short closes on The Champ eating his dinner deserts. In spite of my general lack of knowledge about boxing and boxing history, I found The Brown Bomber fascinating in the thoroughness of this portrait of Joe Louis, the man, especially given the piece’s short running time. Sports Immortals (1939) and King of Sport (1940s) depict athletes from various disciplines, including baseball, boxing, figure skating, and more, with footage featuring Babe Ruth, Bobby Jones, Joe Di Maggio, Helen Wills, Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, and Jack Dempsey among others. Touching All Bases (1939), the longest piece in the collection at 44 minutes, celebrates 100 years of baseball with the opening of the Cooperstown Museum and guest speaker Babe Ruth, as well as highlights from the 1939 World Series and fielding and batting instruction from various Major League Baseball players of the 1930s.

Although I’m sure those four pieces will greatly appeal to serious sports enthusiasts, the final piece in the collection, 1936 Olympic Highlights (1936), is in fact a significant historical text outside of any athletic context and, in my eyes, fully worth the price of admission. If you don’t already know, the Nazi Party in fact hosted the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, a mere three years before the Invasion of Poland. Thus, this piece constitutes a significant historical record. 1936 Olympic Highlights includes footage from the opening ceremony, in which the German National Anthem played over the march of the United States’ athletes and the Hindenburg flew overhead, as well the games themselves, which prove to be quite amusing in context. For although the Nazis obviously intended the event to serve as propaganda for the Aryans’ superior athletic abilities, 1936 Olympic Highlights reveals that the good old U.S. of A. ultimately trounced the Nazi Olympians at virtually every turn.

With the inclusion of this final piece in Sports Immortals, I find myself highly recommending both Lost & Rare titles in spite of my general distaste for sports. I honestly can’t wait to see what Festival Films includes on future installments of this important series (and from what they say on their site, they’ve got some great stuff in store), and hopefully I’ll be able to cover them all here. For information on these and future installments, visit www.lostandrare.com.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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