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Thursday, February 23, 2006




My Adventures With Don Juan


Back when this writer was chasing 16mm film across the landscape, there was a magic beacon known as IB Technicolor guiding my path. IB prints were the ones that never faded. They were rich, luminous treasures. Few collectors had them. Those who did were known and respected among peers. Possessing IB’s was a status symbol. You could run them for friends and fellow enthusiasts, knowing a better print could not exist elsewhere. Bragging rights varied according to title. It was one thing to tell friends (and rivals) you’d just picked up an IB of The Caine Mutiny --- quite another to announce you’d just located Adventures Of Robin Hood. The question was always rarity. How many Caines were around? Well, lots actually. It was a big rental title, and heavily syndicated on TV, so Columbia printed many 16mm IB’s. Beautiful prints…but as James Mason said in The Blue Max, "common as dirt". Titles like Robin Hood were something else. Also Vertigo, The Wizard Of Oz, The Searchers, Leave Her To Heaven… these were the Faberge eggs of collectable 16mm. To own one or more was to achieve a state of grace among film hoarders. The dealer’s room at a collector’s convention would stand still if ever some lucky seeker of celluloid stumbled across something along the lines of an IB Weekend In Havana, or maybe War Of The Worlds in Technicolor. Such moments were rare and therefore to be savored. It goes without saying that competition for such titles was fierce and unrelenting.


My own 16mm collecting days (now past --- I’ve been in recovery now for five years) were largely spent in the company of that august and well-regarded veteran of many years dealing in film --- Robert M. Cline of Thornhill Entertainment, a name well-known to anyone who has ever trafficked in 16mm. Mr. Cline and myself, along with a merry band of far-flung collecting comrades, were self-styled soldiers of fortune in the movie game, "knights without armor in a savage land", to quote Paladin’s theme song (our calling cards might well have read, Want Films – Will Travel). Our idea of fun was to scarf up every good title in a dealer’s room before it even opened. We’d be in the parking lot ready to deal when collectors drove up. A lot of rarities got no further than the trunk of someone’s car before they were diverted into our greedy hands. The thrill of the chase was its own reward. Knowing you’d scored a title everyone else wanted became an end in itself. I wouldn’t care to relive those days, but memories of them are the stuff of great nostalgia for Mr. Cline and myself.


"Sugared thoughts and hopeful suppositions"--- those were the words Bing used to describe Ichabod Crane’s desire for the fair Katrina in Disney’s animated Legend Of Sleepy Hollow --- and that phrase sums up my own fevered pursuit of the alleged sole existing 16mm IB Technicolor print of The Adventures Of
Don Juan. Warner’s 1948 Errol Flynn actioner had always been among my favorites. I’d had an eastman print for years --- "straight eastman", we called them, because eventually, they’d fade. Legends persisted of one Technicolor print. Could it be had? First, I needed to track it down. Like the Maltese Falcon
, it had gone through many hands. When at last I spoke to its then-current owner, progress was forever delayed by assorted vagaries of the negotiating process, a cumbersome thing requiring months, sometimes years, of a dedicated collector’s time and patience. Our deal was eventually made by phone, and final consummation of same was to take place at the seller’s home in upstate New York (for the life of me, I can’t even remember the name of that town anymore). Only coin of the realm would do --- no checks, nor negotiable instruments of any kind. Casper Gutman himself would have smiled upon our little enterprise. All that was left now was to fly up and take delivery. Simple, huh?


Robert Cline and I were driven to the collector’s house by an old friend of ours well acquainted with assorted by-ways of travel within the Empire state. By the time we reached our destination, I felt like Renfield at Borgo Pass. Our initial attempt to gain entrance at the given address on this bitterly cold winter’s day was met with silence. We knew our man was in there --- and after a while, the why of our not getting an answer at the door became clear --- it wasn’t yet dark. When we finally encountered our host, after an azure sun had given way to night, we understood. Now, mind you, we’d known eccentric collectors before (being more than a little screwy ourselves!), but never anything like this. Since I’d only given advance notice of Robert Cline as my travelling companion, our coachman was told he’d have to remain outside. It might have been judicious at that point to garland our vehicle with sprigs of wolfbane before leaving him to face the night alone, but time did not permit. After all, Don Juan was waiting! Our brief stop in the kitchen (heaven forbid not to eat, as the refrigerator still bore the seal of the Seven Jackals) revealed something I’d not seen before --- to wit, no ceiling, and no floor in the upstairs room directly above --- only a few boards that seemed to be suspended in mid-air, and a distant view of the second floor ceiling. One could only despair for some luckless individual who might wander into that perilous space. Fortunately, as our quarry resided in the basement, we would not venture into harm’s way. As we made our journey below ground, we heard the asthmatic wheeze of a basement furnace, belching its accursed fumes over an Aladdin’s cave of filmic treasures the likes of which no human eyes had beheld since the opening of King Tut’s burial chamber. I was only mildly disappointed not to find armadillos scuttering about this space, nor a fruit cellar in evidence, though somehow, we still felt mother’s presence (the collector apparently lived alone). I won’t bore you with details of what lay within this veritable Solomon’s mine of movies. Suffice to say Mr. Cline responded much as Daffy did when the postman brought his new issue of Duck Twacey. Unfortunately, his entreaties to buy were summarily rebuffed. The deal was for Adventures Of Don Juan --- no more, no less. The stuff we had to leave behind was enough to make grown men cry. It was the one time in my life I saw boxes filled to overflowing with untouched Technicolor Warner cartoons, still on cores, with their original lab stickers. Ah, sweet memories. That print of Adventures Of Don Juan that meant so much to me over fifteen years ago is now the object of an ebay auction conducted by Robert Cline’s Thornhill Entertainment. I never thought I’d see the day when I’d part with it, but times change, as do priorities. I hope whoever ends up with it will enjoy it as much as I did. They can’t experience the same adventure of acquiring it, but perhaps they're better off for that.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Laughing Gravy said...

Uh, yeah, that's exactly how I feel when I walk into the local Best Buy and score a copy of THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN...

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With the easy availability of most titles on DVD some of the romance of the chase has been taken away, but it does bring wider distribution and allows those without the pennys to spend to enjoy these movies too, because I am certain that some of these would have cost quite a bit of money.

8:56 PM  
Anonymous Steverino said...

I remember how dissapointed I was when the old IB of CAINE MUTINY was replaced by a grainy dupe on TV.

6:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your witty and inciteful commentary and am glad I found your site. Although I found your narrative entertaining I must say great photos such as these of Errol Flynn are worth a thousand words. (Accounting for inflation how much would that be in today's currency?)

Thanks

3:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree in preferring the wider availability of movies on DVD. It makes me angry to think of a collector hoarding rare films. Think of the children! Don't we want future generations to discover and treasure these movies? Of course, so they *must* be easily available on DVD, and affordable. What happens when a greedy, hoarding, rich collector dies? The films get shoved in an attic by ignorant relatives, or sold on eBay by savvy ones. Only to end up in the hands of another wealthy collector who probably cares more about the status of owning something rare, than the actual films themselves. Bah. Set the movies free! They were meant to be enjoyed by all. Yes, poor folks too.

Christine

9:52 PM  

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