Universal Pictures: Celebrating 100 Years
- Universal Pictures:
- Celebrating 100 Years
From December 9 through January 3, the Gene Siskel Film Center, in association with Universal Pictures and UCLA Film & Television Archive, presents Universal Pictures: Celebrating 100 Years, the second part of a two-part observance of the studio’s centennial.
The Universal Film Manufacturing Company incorporated on April 30, 1912, the result of a merger between a number of independent companies that had been battling Thomas Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Trust. Universal would go on to become the oldest continuously operating film producer and distributor in the United States. In an industry defined by change, Universal’s spinning globe logo has remained, along with its back lot, and tour, in Universal City, California.
From its beginning under Carl Laemmle, there existed a tension between Universal’s need to produce low-budget “programmers” and the “major minor’s” desire to compete alongside better-capitalized studios—with their national theater chains—on the level of big-budget A pictures. Ironically, while several of Universal’s early “prestige” titles are beloved classics today, including ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930), it remains the B pictures, including its iconic 1930s horror cycle (FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA, THE MUMMY), that epitomize its contribution to film art and commerce.
This irony informs Universal’s post-war emergence as a global entertainment power. After anti-trust actions leveled the playing field in the 1940s, Universal moved into the A-list with superlative mass entertainment that ennobled populist genres, including westerns (WINCHESTER ‘73), thrillers (THE BIRDS), and sex farces (PILLOW TALK). Universal also innovated new industry practices, pioneering the “percentage deal” and embracing television production.
It changed the game again with JAWS (1975), which established the “blockbuster” formula that still dominates the industry today. Throughout its history, Universal has translated economic necessity into a uniquely American challenge to the distinctions between prestigious and popular entertainment. The Film Center is pleased to celebrate Universal Pictures’ hundred-year legacy.
Special thanks to Paul Ginsburg, Ed Ilsen, Universal Pictures; Shannon Kelley, Todd Wiener, Steven Hill, UCLA Film & Television Archive.
In association with
Sunday double-bill discount!
Buy a ticket for the first Universal Pictures film on any Sunday in December, and get a ticket for the second Universal film that day at this discount rate (tickets must be purchased at the same time): General Admission $7; Students $6; Members $4. (This discount rate applies to the second film only. Discount rate available only at the Film Center box office.)
- BLIND HUSBANDS
- 1919, Erich von Stroheim, USA, 92 min.
- With Erich von Stroheim, Francelia Billington
After working as an assistant director and actor for D.W. Griffith, von Stroheim made his directorial debut with this film, in which he plays an Austrian military officer who attempts to seduce a surgeon’s wife while they are on a Swiss holiday. One of the director’s most successful films, it was released without front office interference, unlike the fate of so many subsequent von Stroheim productions. 35mm. (Description courtesy of UCLA Film & Television Archive)
Silent film with live piano accompaniment by Dave Drazin.
- PILLOW TALK
- 1959, Michael Gordon, USA, 110 min.
- With Rock Hudson, Doris Day
A New York interior decorator and a composer share a party line, leading to romantic complications when they actually meet. This very witty bit of sex comedy fluff not only epitomized the styles and mores of 1950s America but also earned the scriptwriters an Oscar, one of five nominations for the film, including Doris Day’s only acknowledgement by the Academy. 35mm widescreen. (Description courtesy of UCLA Film & Television Archive)
- TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
- 1962, Robert Mulligan, USA, 130 min.
- With Gregory Peck, Brock Peters
When Atticus Finch, a widowed lawyer in small town Depression-era Alabama, agrees to represent a black man accused of rape, the carefree existence of his young children, Jem and Scout, is challenged. As the trial unfolds, they are taught difficult lessons about prejudice and principles, as well as the nature of innocence. Based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. 35mm. (Description courtesy of UCLA Film & Television Archive)
- IMITATION OF LIFE
- 1934, John Stahl, USA, 116 min.
- With Claudette Colbert, Louise Beavers
Although it’s suffused with stereotypes, this sensitive adaptation is closer to Fannie Hurst’s 1933 novel than the better-known 1959 remake, and for years served as Hollywood’s last word on racial tensions. Single mother Bea (Colbert) successfully markets her black maid’s pancake recipe, but fails to improve the plight of the maid’s daughter, who passes for white. 35mm. (Description courtesy of UCLA Film & Television Archive)
- 1931, James Whale, USA, 70 min.
- With Colin Clive, Boris Karloff
James Whale reconfigured Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel into a leaner narrative, flashing with lightning and scientific technology, and punctuated by the feverish desire to breathe life into a man made from corpses. The deceptively brisk film was nonetheless profound, creating a permanent icon in the monster, and a superstar in Boris Karloff, whose vulnerable turn as Frankenstein’s creation inflected all of Universal’s subsequent horror output. 35mm. (Description courtesy of UCLA Film & Television Archive)
- ABBOTT AND COSTELLO
- MEET FRANKENSTEIN
- 1948, Charles T. Barton, USA, 83 min.
- With Bud Abbott, Lou Costello
Abbott and Costello face off against the world’s most notorious monsters in this gleeful spoof of Universal’s own classic horror-movie franchises. The comic duo star as hapless delivery men unwittingly transporting the hidden bodies of Count Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man. This inspired monster mash mixes old-fashioned scares with hilarious antics. 35mm. (Description courtesy of UCLA Film & Television Archive)
- WINCHESTER '73
- 1950, Anthony Mann, USA, 92 min.
- With James Stewart, Shelley Winters
Cowboy Lin McAdam (Stewart) wins a prized Winchester rifle in a contest, only to have it stolen by his rival, setting off an epic struggle between brothers. With this film, Stewart became Universal’s most popular Western star. Famously, he took a percentage deal on the film, brokered by agent Lew Wasserman, which earned the actor a fortune. 35mm. (Description courtesy of UCLA Film & Television Archive)
- HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER
- 1973, Clint Eastwood, USA, 105 min.
- With Clint Eastwood, Verna Bloom
A mysterious stranger wreaks havoc on a small Western town that allowed its sheriff to be whipped to death by a gang of thugs. Eastwood’s townspeople could populate several rings of Dante’s hell, so the stranger paints the town red in this stylized Western homage to the director’s mentor, Italian director Sergio Leone. 35mm widescreen. (Description courtesy of UCLA Film & Television Archive)