Rediscover 'I Am Suzanne!' 'The Desert Song' at TCM film fest

The TCM Classic Film Festival is screening several vintage blockbusters this weekend in Hollywood, including “The Great Escape,” “My Fair Lady” and “Giant.”

But peppered among these classics are films that don’t have such high profiles, including Ernst Lubitsch’s final film “Cluny Brown,” from 1946; Mel Brooks’ 1970 comedy “The Twelve Chairs”; and the offbeat 1973 Al Pacino-Gene Hackman buddy drama “Scarecrow.”

“My hope is that any given time there is a big Hollywood blockbuster, there is a small movie screening that few people have seen,” said Charlie Tabesh, TCM's senior vice president of programming.

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Two of the films in the “Discoveries” section -- 1933’s “I Am Suzanne!” and 1943’s “The Desert Song” -- have not been seen in decades. 

In the case of “I Am Suzanne!” there had been only a 16mm print of poor quality “floating around,” according to Katie Trainor, film collections manager at the Modern Museum of Art.

Directed by Rowland V. Lee, the musical revolves around a young dancer (Lilian Harvey) who is injured in a fall and is taken in by a puppetry company. 

“It’s a really bizarrely brilliant film,” Trainor said. “One of the young puppeteers (Gene Raymond) makes a puppet in her image. She starts falling in love with him, but he ends up more attached to the puppet than her.”

“Someone brought the title to my attention," Trainor added. "We had a nitrate print and put it into the preservation pipeline.”

TCM and MOMA have been collaborating for the last few years on restorations for the festival. Shortly after last year’s fest, Trainor recalled, “Charlie Tabesh said, what have you got?"

“I gave him a list and I got a DVD of this made very quickly so he could view it,” she said. 

“I thought it was really charming,” Tabesh said. “We helped fund the restoration.”

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Trainor will be introducing the screening late Friday afternoon at the Chinese Multiplex.

“The Desert Song,” which stars Dennis Morgan and Irene Manning, was based on the 1926 operetta by Sigmund Romberg, Otto Harbach, Oscar Hammerstein II and Frank Mandel. TCM host Robert Osborne has fond memories of the Technicolor romance, which has been out of circulation for 60 years.

The original operetta dealt with a French general sent to Morocco to stop a group of Arab rebels lead by the mysterious Red Shadow. In the updated 1943 version, the rebels are now fighting a Nazi-backed plan to build a railroad in the desert. Morgan plays a U.S. soldier of fortune working as a meek pianist in a nightclub who leads the group against the Nazis.

“He’s been hounding me to get it for TCM," Tabesh said.

The film and a 1929 movie version of “Desert Song” were embroiled in legal issues. “A new agreement had to be struck with the rights holders of the stage work,” said George Feltenstein, senior vice president of catalog marketing for Warner Bros. Digital Distribution, who oversees the studio's vintage catalog of titles.

“There are so many people involved you had to get them all to agree. It took many years and a lot of perseverance and patience," Feltenstein said. "We have a lovely print for the screening.”

And Osborne will be sitting in the audience early Saturday evening at the Chinese 6. “We have blocked out his time so he could sit through the entire film,” Tabesh said.


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