Favorite Film Finds of 2014

In the motion picture lab, we work on thousands of reels of film a year: tens of thousands of feet of unedited footage of Vietnam, PSAs for the Census Bureau, dozens of early NASA films, and much, much more. Over the course of months, some of it can start to become a blur. Since we work on the physical film itself, it’s possible that we’ll remember how many days we spent repairing damage even when we no longer have any idea what the film was about. That said, films come to us every day, for any number of reasons, and quite often, one sticks out (we write about many of them on this blog). This week’s post features a handful of films that came to us in 2014 and found their way to our list of favorites.

Careless Killers (Smokey Bear TV Spot), 1963 (16-P-4643)

Last summer, we re-processed a number of Smokey Bear PSAs. In many cases, black and white and 16mm versions were retained even when NARA had the original 35mm color negative. By going back through and selecting only the best elements for preservation, we freed up a good deal of space in the film stacks. Smokey PSAs are almost always delightful, but this one stuck out as a bit better than the rest. Careless Killers features Rod Serling in the midst of the Twilight Zone’s original run, and plays almost like a mini-episode of the classic television series, complete with a final ironic twist.

After the Applause, 1970 (235-WRS-2)

One way that films come to the lab is when researchers request a transfer when all we have is single film copy. Unlike paper records, we do not serve our only copy in the research room—there’s just too much that can go wrong when running a piece of film on equipment. We did an HD transfer of After the Applause when a researcher requested it last spring. The film tells the story of a retired circus performer and a very sad clown learning how to apply for Social Security. It’s just as awesome as it sounds.

Training During Combat, 1944 (18-CS-2583

Late last year, we published a post about a Christmas party in Corsica and were delighted when Burton Blume contacted us to tell us that his father, Wilbur Blume, had shot the footage. We were intrigued when Blume told us that he believed his father had also made a military training film starring Catch-22 author Joseph Heller. We tracked down the unedited footage for Training During Combat and identified Heller in the footage, but, unfortunately, we were never able to find a final version of the film. It’s possible that the film was never completed. We edited this video from the raw footage to give a sense of the original story and highlight Heller’s appearance. You may view the complete reels in this playlist. Read more about Wilbur Blume and Joseph Heller in Burton Blume’s series of posts.

One Time Too Often, 1969 (36-7)

Occasionally, films come to the lab because the exhibits staff need moving image material for a new exhibit. This film arrived with a group of titles related to alcohol consumption in America intended for use in the exhibit, Spirited Republic, which will open in March 2015. We’ve heard that this film didn’t make the cut, but we think you should watch it anyway. In One Time Too Often, ATF agents track down illegal moonshiners, complete with car chases and an appearance from Raymond Burr, who at that time starred in the police drama Ironside. Read more about the film in Heidi’s recent blog post.

D-Day to Germany, 1944 (LIEB-JL-1)

Just because we just found something ourselves certainly doesn’t mean that it wasn’t well-known to others before. Late last spring, when I went to the research room to talk to Jim about newsreels that we might feature for D-Day, a professional researcher told me about the Jack Lieb D-Day film. Lieb was a cameraman for News of the Day, and landed on Utah Beach during the Normandy invasion. He was a talented cameraman and shot his own 16mm Kodachrome home movies of his experiences so that he could show them to his family back home in the States when he returned. Later, he edited the film into a lecture and recorded his narration. Lieb’s family donated the film to the National Archives in the 1980s, providing us with an alternative view to the hundreds of thousands of feet of 35mm black and white footage shot by military cameramen. You can read more about the Jack Lieb footage in our blog post.

Do you have a favorite historical film of 2014? Tell us in the comments!