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Thursday, February 23, 2006

My Adventures With Don Juan

Back when this writer was chasing 16mm film across the landscape, a magic beacon called IB Technicolor guided my path. IB prints would not fade. They were rich, luminous treasures. Few collectors had them. Those who did were known and respected among peers. To possess IB was to achieve status. 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) of your IB Caine Mutiny --- quite another to announce a 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. 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 collectible 16mm. To own one or more was to enter a state of grace among film hoarders. The dealer’s room at a collector’s convention would stand still if ever a seeker of celluloid came likes of an IB Weekend In Havana, or maybe War Of The Worlds in Technicolor. Such moments were to be savored. It goes without saying that competition for these was fierce and unrelenting.

My own 16mm collecting days, now past, were spent largely in the company of august and well-regarded Robert M. Cline of Thornhill Entertainment
veteran of many years dealing in film and name known to anyone who trafficked in 16mm. Mr. Cline and myself, along with a merry band of far-flung collecting comrades, were soldiers of fortune in the movie game, "knights without armor in a savage land," to quote Paladin’s theme song (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 transition to our greedy hands. Thrill of the chase was its own reward. Knowing you scored a title everyone else wanted became an end in itself. I need not relive those days, but memories of them are stuff of great nostalgia for Mr. Cline and myself.

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

Robert Cline and I were driven to the collector’s house by an old friend and Jersey native well versed in by-ways of 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 finally our host appeared, after an azure sun had given way to night, we understood. There had been eccentric collectors before, we'd known lots, but never anyone like this. Since I’d only given advance notice of Robert Cline as my travelling companion, our third party, and coachman, was told he must remain outside. It might have been judicious at that point to garland our vehicle with wolf bane before leaving him to face the dark 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, along with distant view of the second floor ceiling. One could only despair for whatever luckless individual might wander into that perilous space. Fortunately, as our 16mm 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 previous. I'll not belabor what lay within this Solomon’s mine of movies. Unfortunately, our poring among these was 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. Adventures Of Don Juan that meant so much to me would be ultimate object of an Ebay auction conducted by Robert Cline’s Thornhill Entertainment. I never thought I’d see a day of departure from it, but times change, as do priorities. I hope whoever ended up might enjoy it as I once had. They can’t experience the same adventure of acquiring it, but perhaps they are better off for that.


Anonymous Anonymous 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 Anonymous 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?)


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.


9:52 PM  

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