Some will remember reports here of a February 27, 2006 "chat" with Warner Brothers executives about various films they were preparing for DVD release. Warner's had held out from restoring and releasing much of their collection until they were sure of the longevity of the DVD format. This chat was designed to assure fans and collectors that the time had come. One of the participants, our own Jeff Wilson, raised a question about the Welles films which are part of Warner's old RKO film library holdings:
A summary provided of the discussion contained this intriguing statement:
"Elements for The Magnificent Ambersons has been found and that film and Journey into Fear will be released in 2008. Alternate European cuts will be included for Journey into Fear. . . ."
Your remark, Dan, reminds me that the other night, Baesen and I were at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, where William Friedkin was interviewed, introducing a restrospective of his work, preparatory for a Warner Brothers' launch of a DVD set of his films.
Friedkin invoked the name of Orson Welles several times.
At one point in the interview, referring primarily to a technically superb new restoration of his 1980 film, CRUISING, Friedkin began to praise what he called "the real heroes" of the present day film industry, the heads of the DVD departments of the various studios. He said that some of them had been able make amazing restorations, after poring through the dusty collections in their studio vaults. Some of these lost treasures had been placed there by "assistant producers" who had quietly neglected to carry out orders to destroy among the greatest treasures in the history of Cinema.
For instance, he said, such an assistant producer [at RKO?] had been ordered to destroy the original of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. He had simply had the footage labeled "Welles' films," and placed on a shelf in the vault. Friedkin noted that IT'S ALL TRUE had been similarly hidden away, discovered years later and restored.
Now it may be that Friedkin was only gathering his thoughts, that he was really talking just about IT'S ALL TRUE. [Baesen attempted to ask a clarifying question, but found himself passed over.] But because Friedkin is married to Sherry Lansing, former production head of Paramount, who should be in the know, and because Warner's is bringing out Friedkin's DVD release package, the anecdote suggests some tantalizing possibilities.
I remember that Rick Schmidlin, restorer of TOUCH OF EVIL, told some us a few years ago that he was "sending a man to Rio" to explore and negotiate for missing elements of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. He said at that time that he was "meeting with Warner's next week to discuss it."
As always, we shall have to wait and see.