For the Love of Film: Rescuing Cry Danger: The Story of One Film’s Restoration

For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon
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By Eddie Muller

The Film Noir Foundation re-premiered its latest preservation project on January 23, 2010 at the NOIR CITY film festival in San Francisco. The unjustly rare 1951 noir Cry Danger, starring Dick Powell and Rhonda Fleming, has been completely restored in 35-millimeter through the joint efforts of the Film Noir Foundation (FNF) and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservationist Nancy Mysel, who last year managed the FNF-funded restoration of the 1951 classic The Prowler, once again supervised the restoration.

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Although Cry Danger’s plot is fairly routine—a framed ex-con (Powell) seeks revenge on the crooks who set him up—William Bowers’s witty, well-honed script, Joseph Biroc’s atmospheric location shooting, and the sharply realized performances of the entire cast make Cry Danger a film deserving of more recognition than it has received.

Cry Danger might be my best work on screen, and it is a personal favorite due to my close friendship with Robert Parrish,” said actor Richard Erdman, who plays Powell’s rummy buddy DeLong. “It was Bobby’s directorial debut, and I was in the first setup that was shot along with Jeanie Porter. Nothing happened for a moment, and then Dick Powell whispered to Parrish that he had to say ‘action’ in order for matters to commence! I am tickled to death that Cry Danger has been restored to its original 35-millimeter glory.”

Actress-philanthropist Rhonda Fleming, Cry Danger’s female lead, was also ecstatic about the news: “Cry Danger has become one of my very favorite films in spite of the pain and heartache I endured while filming it,” she told the Sentinel. “I had an emergency appendectomy, which held up filming for a week, and at the time of the opening in San Francisco, my father, who lived there, suddenly died. Obviously I did not attend the premiere. In fact, I couldn’t bear to look at the film for over a year, and when I was finally able—I loved it! I only wish my father, who would have loved it, too, could have been at the opening.”

Fleming, whose founding of the Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology, among many other charitable works, has made her a philanthropic legend, generously made a financial contribution toward the restoration of Cry Danger.

She notes that Cry Danger, “was filmed in old Los Angeles, where I was born and raised, so it has a historical aspect, as well. Plus the story is strong and catches you off guard at the ending. It’s a perfect film noir.”

In my estimation, it’s also the best of many noirs made by leading man (and uncredited producer) Dick Powell. It was a good movie for first-time director Robert Parrish to cut his teeth on. His leading man doubled as a smart, savvy, and sympathetic producer who didn’t screw around. Powell knew that Bowers’s script was a dynamic balance of revenge drama and smart-ass humor, and he played it that way. But it’s also a pivotal film in certain ways: It shows the embittered noir antihero of the 1940s moving from the darkness into the light, figuratively and literally. It’s sunnier and funnier than most film noir, while still retaining its punch.

It is also, unfortunately, one of the most difficult noirs to see—especially in its original 35-millimeter format. We’ve shown it twice at NOIR CITY festivals, and both times we’ve had to resort to 16-millimeter prints—one of them Dick Powell’s own personal copy, which was deposited long ago at UCLA.

A Twisty History

Tracking the work’s convoluted rights history explains why some films—even ones with great reputations—are at risk of slipping through America’s cultural and commercial cracks.

Powell, operating independently of any studio, originally secured financing for Cry Danger from a pair of Midwestern investors, Sam Wiesenthal and W. R. Frank, whose Olympic Productions company has no screen credits beyond this film. Powell set them up with a distribution deal at RKO Radio Pictures; its boss, Howard Hughes, put up the completion guarantee. After the RKO pact ran its course, the film’s reissue rights were sold to Republic Pictures. The studio’s entire library was, in turn, purchased in 1957 by National Telefilm Associates, an independent distribution company that dealt in theatrical re-releases and television syndication packages. In the 1960s and 1970s, Cry Danger could be seen with some regularity, bearing the NTA logo, on daytime and late-night television.

In 1984, NTA formed a home-video division, which it eventually renamed Republic Pictures. It was under this banner that, 19 years ago, a VHS version of Cry Danger was released. (It’s now out of print, with used copies fetching top dollar on the Internet.)

After that, things got complicated. NTA/Republic was bought by Viacom, and all the theatrical rights for its film library were shifted to its subsidiary, Paramount Pictures. However, no 35-millimeter prints, or even preprint elements (negatives, duplicate negatives, soundtracks), survived the three-decade Republic-to-Paramount sojourn, though low-contrast, 16-millimeter, made-for-television prints occasionally surface in the collectors’ market. The only surviving 35-millimeter elements resided with the film’s original distributor, RKO. That entire film library was purchased in 1986 by Turner Broadcasting, and when Turner merged with Time Warner in 1996, the latter corporation’s Warner Bros. subsidiary assumed control of the RKO archive.

Although no 35-millimeter prints of Cry Danger remain in the Warner Bros. archive, the preprint material, fortuitously, was retained. Now noir fans will understand why Cry Danger was never included in Warner Home Video DVD collections, and why it’s not available from Paramount Home Entertainment: one studio (Paramount) claims rights to Cry Danger, and another (Warner Bros.) possesses the only existing physical elements.
That’s where the Film Noir Foundation came in. It fostered a campaign on the film’s behalf that resulted in Warner Bros. agreeing to let the UCLA Film & Television Archive borrow the surviving elements for the project.

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“We couldn’t be more thankful to Warner Bros. for its enthusiastic cooperation and access,” added UCLA motion picture archivist Todd Wiener, who spearheaded the transfer process. I heartily concur. The Film Noir Foundation fully funded this restoration, and we can now return Cry Danger to the big screen as part of our NOIR CITY festivals in 2010 and beyond. l

Eddie Muller is a versatile, award-winning author whose works include the well-regarded mystery novel The Distance and Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, which he cowrote with the actor. He produces and hosts NOIR CITY: The San Francisco Film Noir Festival, the largest noir retrospective in the world, which now has satellite festivals in four other U.S. cities. As founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation, he has been instrumental in rescuing America’s noir heritage. In 2011, he will present a month-long series of rare film noir at the Cinematheque Française in Paris.

  • Ferdy on Films, etc. spoke:
    14th/02/2010 to 9:47 am

    For the Love of Film, Join the Party!

    For the Love of Film, Join the Party! That’s my gal Colleen Moore in the film that made her one of the icons of the flapper era, Flaming Youth. Moore tried all her life to find copies of the films…

  • David Ehrenstein spoke:
    14th/02/2010 to 9:55 am

    FABULOUS! Here’s my contribution to the cause.
    And as luck would have it, it also involves the great Dick Powell.

  • DeeDee spoke:
    14th/02/2010 to 10:44 am

    Hi! Marilyn,
    Here goes my contribution to the saving of films through The Film Preservation Foundation
    The Importance of the Preservation of Film and Throwing Down The Gauntlet.
    By the way, another great cause The Film Noir Foundation and a wonderful film too…Dick Powell and Rhonda Fleming in Cry Danger.
    Thanks, for featuring this review too…and I want to say, Hi! to author Eddie Muller.
    Marilyn, Happy Valentine Day!…Congratulation! and Good-Luck!
    with the…
    Blogathon too!
    Take care!
    DeeDee ;-D

  • Sam Juliano spoke:
    14th/02/2010 to 11:15 am

    Happy Valentine’s Day to Dee Dee and Marilyn, and best wishes with the launching of this most commendable of all cinematic ventures.
    I must say that Mr. Ehrenstein’s contribution above was absolutely stunning.
    Here’s a few:



    (Citizen Kane-Welles)



    (Greed-Von Stroheim)



    (La Roue-Gance)



    (The Grapes of Wrath-Ford)

  • DeeDee spoke:
    14th/02/2010 to 11:19 am

    Wow…after reading author Eddie Muller’s piece this isn’t a review, but an article reminding people who like or love films why it’s so very important to donate to all Film Foundation(s) that take on the challenge of seeking out films, saving films,and preserving films before they are lost…forever.
    Thanks,

  • Sam Juliano spoke:
    14th/02/2010 to 11:24 am

    That’s very true Dee Dee!!
    Marilyn, here is yet another clip of something that is perhaps dearest to my heart.



    With Kern’s SHOWBOAT, this is one of the two irrefutable treasures of the musical theatre, and this film is in my view the greatest musical of all-time, on the strength of its kinetic energy and incomparable operatic score.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    14th/02/2010 to 11:25 am

    Thanks, Sam and DeeDee. We are fortunate to have a large number of people working on preservation at nonprofit foundations like Eddie’s, in libraries, and in archives. We’re beating back the hands of time, so good work to everyone. Perhaps we can work on copyright and ownership as well.

  • Sam Juliano spoke:
    14th/02/2010 to 11:25 am

    Marilyn, thanks so much for TIBETAN SONG and EL SISTENA. They arrived yesterday! My sincerest thanks!

  • DeeDee spoke:
    14th/02/2010 to 11:27 am

    Hi! Sam Juliano,
    Thank-you! and I would like to take a little time out from The National Film Preservation campaign in order to wish you and Mrs.Lucille Juliano, a Happy Valentine Day too!
    Take care!
    DeeDee ;-D

  • Sam Juliano spoke:
    14th/02/2010 to 11:33 am

    Thanks as always Dee Dee, and the best to you and yours, my wonderful friend!
    I can’t resist adding this clip from one of the greatest musical films of all-time, Mamoulian’s LOVE ME TONIGHT, which is one that certainly envisioned when one speaks of film preservation:



    A Valentine’s Day gift to all.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    14th/02/2010 to 11:57 am

    Thanks, Sam. I got your gifts, too. Thanks so much!

  • Vanwall spoke:
    14th/02/2010 to 8:33 pm

    For so many years, my film depository was in my head – I was lucky enough to grow up in the ’60s, when many sound films from the early thirties thru the late fifties were being shown on TV, usually on stations that bought large, cheap packages of syndicated films considered low interest for modern viewers. I saw a lot of films that soon became unavailable, and I used to wonder what happened to them – Cry Danger was one of them, and since I love Dick Powell, I watched it as often as I could, then poof! no more. I’m glad this was restored and re-released, thanks!

  • Joe Thompson spoke:
    15th/02/2010 to 1:48 pm

    Thank you for a practical example of how film preservation saved a good movie. Now I have to get to the SF Noir festival.

  • The Siren spoke:
    15th/02/2010 to 9:21 pm

    This story is almost as good as Cry Danger itself, I’ll wager. I can’t wait to see the film, and not for the first time do I wish I were going to Noir City. Rhonda Fleming is a classic good egg, isn’t she? I so admire your work in getting this back before the public. The innovative solution to the rights/physical film conundrum is particularly impressive. I hope that other films can see the light of day via similar hard work and enlightened methods.

  • DeeDee spoke:
    16th/02/2010 to 4:01 am

    Hi! Marilyn and the Self-Style Siren and to the readers, being a follower of The Film Noir Foundation…here goes your next chance to see the film that author Eddie Muller, wrote so eloquently,about… Cry Danger.
    Which is being screened in Seattle,WA…before NoirCity returns to Los Angeles, in March to the Egyptian Theatre…
    Noir City: Lust and Larceny, February 19-25
    Saturday, February 20
    Double Feature!
    Cry Danger
    2:00 PM
    Cry Danger
    7:30 PM
    Join Czar of Film Noir Eddie Muller as he returns with the fourth annual Noir City Film Festival at SIFF Cinema for a week of the quintessential American genre. The theme for this year’s program is part and parcel of classic noir: “Lust and Larceny.”
    All films are double features! See two for the price of one!
    Film Noir Dinner with Eddie Muller
    Wednesday, February 24, 5:45pm
    at The Signature restaurant (just blocks from SIFF Cinema)

    Tickets are $40 per person.
    Join us for a special dinner event in celebration the Noir City Festival at SIFF Cinema and the great works of the Film Noir Foundation, hosted by Czar of Noir Eddie Muller.
    Intimate Fireside Chat with the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller!
    Sunday, February 21, 3:30pm
    Join us at the Sorrento Hotel’s Fireside Room for an intimate chat with Eddie Muller,
    the Czar of Noir, as we celebrate the 4th annual Noir City Festival, screening at SIFF Cinema February 19-25. Eddie is President and Founder of the Film Noir Foundation and a writer, filmmaker, and noted noir historian. His books include “Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir,” “Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir,” and “The Art of Noir: Posters and Graphics from the Classic Film Noir Era.”
    He has recorded numerous audio commentaries for DVD reissues of classic film noir films. (By the way, Several which are part of my own private collection…surprise or Woot!)
    Muller’s crime fiction debut, “The Distance” was named “Best First Novel” of 2002 by the Private Eye Writers of America. He is co-author of the bestseller “Tab Hunter Confidential.”
    This event is free and open to the public. Seating is first come, first served.
    ==========================================
    For More Details About The SIFF Please Visit This Link…
    Cry Danger…Restored and other film noirs not available on DVD…
    Thanks,
    DeeDee ;-D

  • DeeDee spoke:
    16th/02/2010 to 4:18 am

    Now, I must return to my own blog and focus on The Preservation of Films blogathon and my upcoming guest line-up for the The National Film Preservation, blogathon.
    Thanks,
    DeeDee ;-D

  • Tinky Weisblat spoke:
    18th/02/2010 to 3:14 pm

    Great history–and a wonderful story of saving a film.

  • Maya spoke:
    22nd/02/2010 to 4:49 pm

    Ferdy, what a great coup getting Eddie to write on the preservation of Cry Danger. In my estimation there are few individuals who can showcase the cause of film preservation and restoration so winningly. Here in San Francisco, we are blessed to have the efforts of the Film Noir Foundation and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival to remind audiences of their role in the process.
    Merely to supplement Eddie’s thorough entry, I’ve transcribed his introductory remarks to Cry Danger as part of my coverage of Noir City 8. And earlier, at Noir City 5, I transcribed his on-stage interview with Richard Erdman.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/02/2010 to 4:55 pm

    Thanks for the additional relevant links, Maya. He was extremely gracious and got me the article quickly. I spoke to him about it when he was touring with NOIR CITY in Chicago, so it wasn’t really a blind call on him.

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