Friday, August 23, 2013

Lost THREE STOOGES Film Short... Found!

Hello Pop (1933) movie poster
Ron Hutchinson of The Vitaphone Project recently reported in his latest newsletter the discovery of a "lost" Three Stooges short! Back in November, Warner Archive released a DVD titled, The Vitaphone Comedy Collection Vol 1, which featured Vitaphone two-reelers with Shemp Howard as a supporting player. As a bonus, there included the four solo Vitaphone shorts starring Fatty Arbuckle.  Presumably, Volume 2 will collect all of Shemp's starring Vitaphone shorts, the remainder of his early pre-Columbia comedies. Fans are wondering what else will be included in the second volume, pondering the option of the four Three Stooges films shorts they did with Ted Healy... but what might make it better is the inclusion of all the shorts since Hello Pop (1933) was recently discovered.

Beginning in 1933, Ted Healy and the Three Stooges starred in a series of five film shorts, two-reelers, providing us deeper insight to the boys' vaudeville skits which rarely recycled themselves onto the Columbia Three Stooges film shorts series. Four of these shorts have been commercially released as bonus extras on DVDs released under the Warner Bros. label, and I purposely set out to buy all of them so I can watch those rare early gems.... except Hello Pop, which was never released because it was considered "lost." In fact, it has been considered the only "lost" film of The Three Stooges, with or without Ted Healy. The only known 35mm Technicolor print was burned in an MGM vault fire in 1967, supposedly taking with it a number of other films such as the Holy Grail of lost cinema, London After Midnight (1927), The Rogue Song (Laurel and Hardy), the Technicolor scenes from Chasing Rainbows (1930) and The Broadway Melody (1929)... oh yeah, and some Our Gang comedies.

Screen capture from Hello Pop.
In December 2012, The Vitaphone Project, which has provided a huge effort to seek out lost prints of Vitaphone and the soundtracks to those early talkies, received a short email from Australian Harry Furner, on behalf of a film collector friend. His question was: "Was Hello Pop a lost film?" The staff at the Project confirmed this as a fact and was promptly told that it was lost no longer. Furner's friend had a Technicolor 35mm nitrate print. This triggered a series of communications to verify the condition of the print, confirm that the collector was willing to share it for the sake of preservation, and then to make arrangements for it to be shipped to the U.S. Normally a film collector would have to be cautious about lending the only existing print of a "lost" film, especially since a number of individuals in the hobby have proven that greed outweighs the necessity of preservation. Thankfully, The Vitaphone Project has a long-standing reputation for restoring old films and Hello Pop was handed to them with pride.

Eric Ajayla and Ned Price at YCM Labs.
As all of this was developing, Ron Hutchinson notified Ned Price, Chief Preservation Officer at Warner Brothers. Ned is the same man responsible for pulling together UCLA, The Vitaphone Project, The Library of Congress and others on the many Vitaphone shorts restorations. Shipment, however, was not as easy as you might think. Nitrate film is considered, by international regulations, to be a "flammable solid." Unstable nitrate film can ignite or explode. Therefore, normal methods of shipment could not be used. Fortunately, The Vitaphone Project had an Australian "office" in the person of Paul Brennan. Paul was the man who found and promoted the synchronization of the only surviving print of Mamba (1930), which was the first Technicolor feature in sound that was not a musical. Since Paul had to ship the nitrate Mamba reels to UCLA in 2012, he knew all the steps to get it packaged, labeled and transported within the applicable regulations. 

That was completed in early January 2013, with the print of Hello Pop transported by FedEx's Pacific route to China, the Philippines, Texas, and ultimately Los Angeles and the YCM Laboratories. Works has now been completed on the film's preservation. The print appears to be complete, with no decomposition (thank God) and the color is supposedly very good. A proviso from The Vitaphone project was that a 35mm projectable print of the restored Hello Pop be produced so that it can again be projected at film festivals for new audiences.

Opening Title Sequence Verifies the Proper Spelling.
The first public screening of the long-lost Three Stooges short will be at New York's Film Forum on Sunday, September 30. The short will be a part of a program that will include other rarities including rare Technicolor fragments from George Eastman House, a newly struck print of Robert Benchley's 1933 Universal short, Your Technology and Mine, a new 35mm print off the Vitaphone comedy, Gobs of Fun with a previously unknown appearance by Shemp Howard, some Library of Congress gems, and more. You can visit the site at http://www.filmforum.org/more/tickets#online

At the moment, don't expect this short to be illegally posted on You Tube. And don't expect it on DVD commercially in the near future, but hoping it would be included in the Vitaphone Comedies Volume 2 DVD release makes happy thoughts on our pillows... with Three Stooges pillow cases, that is. But your support for the Warner Brothers volume one disc (click here) and a visit to that film festival will help offset the expenses getting the film short digitally restored and preserved.

Part of the above was reprinted from the Spring/Summer 2013 issue of Vitaphone News (Vol. 12, No. 2). For subscription information, or to make a donation to The Vitaphone Project, visit their website.

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