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S.O.S. Tidal Wave  /  False Faces

S.O.S. Tidal Wave
March 12, 2017 - 7:00 pm
head of preservation Scott MacQueen.

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Packard Humanities Institute

Give a Man a Job  (1933)

In his trademark Lower East Side sprechgesang, Jimmy Durante gives his all for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the National Recovery Administration.  The Schnozzola belts out an original number he wrote for the occasion: “If the old name of Roosevelt makes your old heart throb / Then take this message, straight from the President / And give a man a job!” Look for solo stooge Moe Howard as the Exterminator.  —Scott MacQueen

35mm, b/w, 3 min.  Director: unknown.  Production/Distribution: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.  With: Jimmy Durante, Moe Howard, Frank O'Connor. 

Restored from a 35mm nitrate print.  Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Inc., Simon Daniel Sound.

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Packard Humanities Institute

S.O.S. Tidal Wave  (1939)

The war jitters triggered by the Munich Agreement in September 1938 that gave the Sudetenland to Germany were fanned into hysteria by the mass media following Orson Welles' The War of the Worlds Halloween radio hoax.  Seizing an opportunity, Universal recalled their current Flash Gordon feature Rocket Ship and slapped a martial moniker on it, and within the week Mars Attacks the World was playing theaters in Boston, New York and Sioux City.  That same week the November midterm elections put the brakes on Roosevelt's progressivism as Democrats lost 76 congressional seats.  With Hitler's April renunciation of Germany's non-aggression pact with Poland, anxiety reigned into the spring of 1939 when Republic Pictures direly trumpeted S.O.S. Tidal Wave, seemingly torn from the headlines and rushed through production to meet early June bookings, a scant month after FDR opened the New York World's Fair via a live NBC telecast.

So what if there were only several hundred receivers in Manhattan?  In S.O.S. Tidal Wave television is everywhere, as ubiquitous as the ever-gullible public.  Stealing the mayoral election in a city along the Eastern seaboard is easy peasy for a corrupt political machine as voters stampede following a faked Election Day telecast of a biblical flood inundating New York City.  Ralph Byrd's investigative TV reporter uncovers the fact that it's just an old movie the miscreants have rented from “Horror Films Incorporated.”  New Deal politics frame the spectacle of Manhattan as a New Atlantis, a dazzling finish that welds the narrative to the Welles panic broadcast with found footage from the 1933 disaster movie Deluge.  Even in 1939, the recycled devastation still looked clean and crisp as Republic had purchased the original negative and cut it up like a paper doll, consigning Deluge to the legion of lost films (for a half-century at least, until copies turned up in Europe).

In a post-9/11 world the quaint, pre-CGI tableaux of S.O.S. Tidal Wave remain alarming and prescient, the First Amendment correlative still a potent caution in the age of alternative facts.  —Scott MacQueen

35mm, b/w, 62 min.  Director: John H. Auer.  Production: Republic Pictures.  Distribution: Republic Pictures.  Screenwriters: Maxwell Shane, Gordon Kahn.  Cinematographer: Jack Marta.  Art Direction: John Victor Mackay.  Editor: Ernest J. Nims.  Cast: Ralph Byrd, George Barbier, Kay Sutton, Frank Jenks, Marc Lawrence.

Restored from the 35mm nitrate original picture and track negatives and the 35mm 1952 acetate fine grain master.  Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Inc.  Special thanks to Paramount Pictures.

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Packard Humanities Institute

False Faces  (1932)

The loathsome career of Henry Schireson, the self-styled “King of Quacks” famous for bobbing Fanny Brice's nose and infamous for the botched surgery that necessitated the amputation of Sadye Holland's gangrenous legs, is celebrated in Lowell Sherman's False Faces, a delirious film à clef worthy to be spoken of in the same breath with the best of Warren William's pre-Code muckrakers like Bedside (1934), Skyscraper Souls (1932) and The Mouthpiece (1932).

We first meet Schireson's screen counterpart, Dr. Silas Benton (portrayed by director Sherman as an affectless sociopath), extorting money from a poor immigrant family for deceitful medical guarantees.  Dismissed from his post at a New York hospital, Benton relocates to Chicago and promotes himself to the idle rich and famous as the doyen of nip-and-tuck.  Utterly indifferent to his trail of human wreckage, Benton dallies promiscuously with every woman in sight and gorges himself with riches gleaned from his outlaw surgeries.  His ultimate comeuppance is designed to leave the picture audience agog and cheering.

False Faces provides showcases for a host of eclectic actresses, including Lila Lee (mother of A Chorus Line playwright James Kirkwood Jr.) as the left-behind lover; the tragically alcoholic Clara Bow wannabe, Peggy Shannon, as Benton's Chicago squeeze; and Nance O'Neil, confidant and purported lover of axe murderess Lizzie Borden as the wretched Mrs. Finn.  They all face stiff competition from that ultimate paragon of studio logos, the anonymous but delightful World Wide Pictures girl.  —Scott MacQueen

35mm, b/w, 81 min.  Director: Lowell Sherman.  Production: K.B.S.  Productions.  Distribution: World Wide Pictures, Inc.  Produced by: E.W. Hammons.  Screenwriters: Kubec Glasmon, Llewellyn Hughes.  Cinematography: R. O. Binger, Ted McCord.  Art Director: Ralph DeLacy.  Cast: Lowell Sherman, Peggy Shannon, Lila Lee, Berton Churchill, David Landau.

Preserved from the incomplete 35mm nitrate camera negative, the incomplete 35mm nitrate soundtrack negative, a 35mm nitrate print and a 16mm print.  Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Audio Mechanics, Simon Daniel Sound, DJ Audio, Inc.  Special thanks to: Paul Adair, Jim Reid, David Stenn, The Academy Film Archive.