'Double Door' (1934) and 'Supernatural' (1933)
Saturday, March 30, 2013
7:30 pm - 10:00 pm, UCLA Hammer Museum - Billy Wilder Theater
UCLA Festival of Preservation
See below for additional information.
General admission: $9.00. Non-UCLA students*, seniors, UCLA Alumni Association members (ID required): $8.00. UCLA students (current ID required): free.
'Double Door' (1934) Directed by Charles Vidor Protests from the playwright and producers notwithstanding, New Yorkers who flocked in the fall of 1933 to see Elizabeth McFadden's play Double Door knew it was inspired by the Wendel family of Manhattan, a Gilded Age dynasty of fabulously wealthy eccentrics. What could be more gothic than seven sisters sequestered in a gloomy mansion, tainted by madness, forbidden to marry, presided over by an avaricious brother? As the 19th-century mansions along Fifth Avenue fell before the booming commerce of the 20th-century, the Wendels became the stuff of New York legend. By 1914 their mansion stood a solitary sentinel against the hue and cry of the emergent commercial district, staring unblinking at the Lord & Taylor department store across the street at Fifth Avenue and 39th Street. When the last of the line, Ella, died in 1931 at age 78, New York gasped: she had left $100 million, it was reported, and no heirs. Double Door is a dark riff on this legend, compressed into a three-act melodrama. The scion became a tyrannical spinster, holding in thrall a neurotic sister and a demoralized kid brother. When the brother makes a bid for sanity and freedom and takes a bride, the wheels of madness begin to turn. Double Door is the best kind of filmed stage play, with a strong script and a director who respects his actors. Director Charles Vidor imposes film technique judiciously to punctuate a key revelation with a camera move, an unexpected angle or a lighting shift. One of these is a meticulously plotted in-camera effect breathtaking in its subtlety. On the strength of their independent horror film White Zombie, a freak success in 1932, Victor and Edward Halperin landed at Paramount on a one-picture deal. For the only time in their careers the Halperins worked at a major studio with access to first-rate production facilities, competent supporting players and a major star in Carole Lombard. The result is a disturbing programme picture that reprises the dual performance that had just won Fredric March an Academy Award for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) and the exposé of spiritualism that Paramount explored in Darkened Rooms (1929). But while the spiritualist in Supernatural is a fraud, its spirits are genuine and not gangsters in bed sheets, nor the whimsical dear departed à la Thorne Smith. Carole Lombard is said to have despised being assigned the movie, making the vitality of her essay in demonic possession all the more impressive as she channels the brassy hysteria of Vivienne Osborne's doomed-to-die murderess, seen indelibly in the first reel. Arthur Martinelli's constantly roving camera, punctuated with unexpected lightning set-ups, is complemented by the uncredited music by Karl Hajos and Milan Roder. It is among the first original dramatic scores of the 1930s (and includes a brief but surprising quotation from Bruckner's Symphony No.3). Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Supernatural is its depiction of characters who laugh in the face of death, a risus sardonicus that occurs three times in the course of the story before its apotheosis at the climax.
IN PERSON: Scott MacQueen, head of preservation, UCLA Film & Television Archive.