Wednesday, October 2, 2013

10.2.13 Hero of the Day: Malcolm Smith


Name: Malcolm Smith
Age: 78
Occupation: retired
Last Seen: Manly, Australia
Awarded For: finding The Three Stooges' missing link


True, I should be writing about Congress and the fact that their antics have shut down Washington, but let's talk about the trio of actors who they're compared to.

You know, The Three Stooges?

I think the majority of us have seen a plethora of Stooges shorts at one point. Most of us probably think that every single Stooges short have been seen on TV at least 12 dozen times or so.

Well, it's true, save for one short: 1933's Hello, Pop!

For starters, most of the Stooges shorts seen on TV were from their days at Columbia Pictures, which lasted from 1934 until the trio dissolved around 1970 or so. In the 1950's, Columbia released all of their Stooges shorts to television, which has made the studio millions of bucks and n'yucks over the years.

But most people don't know that Larry, Moe and Curly once worked for a man named Ted Heaely, who managed and led the Stooges early in their career. They made five shorts with Healey for MGM in the early 1930's. Unlike their shorts for Columbia, The Stooges' MGM shorts were in two-strip Technicolor and they were very music-heavy. However, the Stooges were unhappy about Healey's heavy drinking and behavior, so they left him and MGM - then the top studio in Hollywood - and went straight to Columbia, then MGM's opposite in popularity. 

While Larry, Moe and Curly/Shemp/Joe/Curly Joe's Columbia films are still shown regularly on TV, their MGM shorts - even in the hands of Time Warner and Turner Classic Movies - are rarely shown. To add insult to injury, a massive fire at MGM's vaults in 1967 wiped out a ton of the company's unpreserved nitrate prints, including Hello, Pop! Also destroyed included the 1927 Lon Cheney horror flick London After Midnight, the original, uncensored prints to old Tom and Jerry cartoons and a lot of the outtakes to The Wizard of Oz.

Of course, nitrate is a material that if kept in cool and dry conditions will last 100 or more years. But if the conditions are humid and hot, the film will turn into a gel and eventually powder. Most of Hollywood's lost films were its silents, made before 1929. Sadly, about 90% of all silent movies are lost forever, mainly because after the silent era ended, people didn't care about them anymore. Even sound films ended up lost, too; many early sound pictures from 1927-1933 are lost because of the fact that they were made on the antiqued Vitaphone process, in which a movie was played with a record accompanying it. Because of sound-on-film technology, Vitaphone films were no longer in demand, and many of those films are now lost. Because Hello, Pop! was released in a time when the only place to see a movie was at a theatre, the film was pretty much forgotten when it was released and thrown into the MGM vaults until the 1967 fire. Even worse, the film's original negatives were destroyed long ago since MGM had no use for them.

Back in the day, a film would begin its run at a big theatre in the big cities, then the small towns would get them, then the smaller towns after that and so on. When a film's run in America ended, it would be sent to foreign countries. In many cases, many long lost films have been found in countries like Russia, France, the Netherlands and Australia. In recent years, a lot of long-lost Hollywood faves were found in the land down under in near perfect condition, and with their original titles and language intact. One instance was the 1927 film Upstream, a Fox film directed by John Ford. The film was thought to have been destroyed in a 1937 vault fire at Fox's New Jersey facility, along with most of Theda Bara's movies and a few Charlie Chan flicks, but a copy was recovered from an Australia film vault a few years ago.

Now, after 46 years, Hello Pop! has a new life. The film made its re-debut Sunday at the Film Forum in New York City. The film was rediscovered in Australia by 78-year-old Malcolm Smith in January, who was cleaning out his garden shed, where he kept old movies. Smith has no access to a computer or even a mobile phone. He did not know that the film he had owned for years was presumed lost. He only knew when he called up a friend to check up with collectors in America. Lo-and-behold, Smith was the proud owner of a long-lost film thought to have turned to dust nearly 50 years ago.

Smith gave the film to be transported safely back to America where it was preserved and restored. According to Smith, he's no fan of the Stooges, but loves movies, especially those made before the rock 'n roll era. He has no recollection as to how the film made its way into his shed, although he loved to collect movies.

Nonetheless, Smith is a hero. Now, virtually all the Stooges' movies exist.

The man needs a good handshake, but not one that was break his hand.

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