CineSavant Column

Saturday March 18, 2023



The Warner Archive Collection’s esteemed George Feltenstein announced the WAC’s titles for April, and in a Podcast yesterday also let loose an unexpected and very welcome bit of news for fans of pre-Code ‘Forbidden Hollywood’ cinema. Thanks to a newly recovered film element, the WAC will be releasing a much improved Blu-ray of William Wellman’s ‘damned’ 1931 pre-Code melodrama Safe in Hell starring the cult figure Dorothy Mackaill. It’s one of the most uncompromisingly lurid pre-Codes of them all, with a jaw-droppingly downbeat finish. The WAC released a barely passable DVD in 2011 made from the only known surviving 16mm print.

I got the story from George Feltenstein two days ago — he located an improved film element for this title by chasing documentation of Warner Bros.’ 1956 sale of pre- 1949 films to a TV syndication company that later became ‘Associated Artists Productions.’

George examined three bound books of elements turned over to the TV people, discovering that the original negatives to several major WB features were gone even way back then. But the logs did include one 35mm nitrate release print of Safe in Hell. The print itself was found in the collections of the Library of Congress. George reports that “It’s amazing to see it look and sound so good.”  This disc ought to be something special, for the existing DVD is a pale shadow that almost looks like a kinescope, and surviving stills are choice.

Could today’s emphasis on inclusion and diversity have helped spur this Blu-ray release?  Safe and Hell features the acting and singing participation of the celebrated Nina Mae McKinney, a major figure in African-American show biz history. Director Wellman tossed out the script’s ‘Negro dialect’ speeches and allowed McKinney and the other black actors (Clarence Muse, Noble Johnson) to talk normally.

The April lineup for the Warner Archive is all classic-era pix: besides Safe in Hell:  William Powell and Kay Francis in Tay Garnett’s  One Way Passage,  James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland and Rita Hayworth in Raoul Walsh’s  The Strawberry Blonde,  Ginger Rogers, Doris Day, Ronald Reagan and Steve Cochran in the Klu-Klux Klan-themed  Storm Warning,  and James Cagney in a tale of a political demagogue, also from Walsh,  A Lion Is in the Streets. Feltenstein promises more exciting surprises to come.



For Los Angeles area fans of The Outer Limits: associate & friend David J. Schow reports that TONIGHT, Saturday March 18th, at 7:30 p.m. at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum in Westwood will be a special screening of two episodes of the 1963 TV show, using original 16mm and 35mm network prints.

The premiere episode The Galaxy Being will be shown from the episode’s original 35mm pilot print. The program notes for the second episode The Bellero Shield (presented with its original commercials) quotes Jeffery Sconce:

“a rich and conflicted text in what it says about the relationship of marriage, gendered ambition, and domestic asylum in the early ’60s.”

Yes, that’s hard core Sci-fi, all right. Speaking in person will be authors Joanne Morreale, David J. Schow, and Marc Scott Zicree; family members of Joseph Stefano & Leslie Stevens will be present. Admission is free — the full info is at this UCLA library Link for We Are Controlling Transmission.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson