|If I Were King: Ronald Colman,
Hollywood's Forgotten Superstar
of these films will take place at the Aero March 4
- 5, 2005.
In this age of ready access to films on DVD, video, cable TV
and more, is it really possible for an actor to be truly "forgotten?" Perhaps
not but even if the films are available, there are certain performers whose work
cries out to be seen, enjoyed and re-appraised, and who deserve far-greater iconic status
than they have with todays audiences. Certainly, the British-born actor Ronald
Colman (1891 1958) belongs on this list.
One of the few silent film stars who made the successful transition
into the sound era, Colman practically created the prototype for the superbly capable,
self-deprecating romantic hero later followed by Cary Grant, David Niven, Clark Gable and
others, right up to today (it should be said that Colman was undoubtedly influenced
himself by the great silent star Douglas Fairbanks Sr.). But in his finest roles
the alcoholic Sydney Carton in A TALE OF TWO CITIES, the pacifist, truth-seeking
adventurer Robert Conway in LOST HORIZON, medieval poet Francois Villon in IF I WERE KING
Colman was unmatchable, creating complex, three-dimensional heroes who show one
brave face to the world, and another, far more melancholy and introspective one, to
themselves. He also added a razor-sharp, self-aware sense of humor that makes his work
seem incredibly modern (look at his Bulldog Drummond to see the earliest glimmer of the
James Bond prototype.) Colmans maturity he was already well into his
mid-30s by the time of his greatest films lent a gravity and resonance to
many of his performances, but also meant that his career as a leading man was essentially
over by the time Grant, Gable and the others came to the fore in the late 1930s and
early 1940s. Colman won the Academy Award for Best Actor for one of his last
performances, as a Shakespearean actor in A DOUBLE LIFE in 1948 but its for
his irresistible earlier films, where he seems ready and willing to take on the world and
all its problems (and suffer the consequences), that he deserves to be remembered, and
Friday, February 25 7:15 PM
Double Feature New 35 mm. Prints!!
LOST HORIZON, 1937, Columbia, 132
min. Ronald Colman is at his finest as the world-beating hero who finds
long-sought-for harmony and love in the high Himalayan mountains. Director Frank
Capras flawless adaptation of James Hiltons novel is that rare film that
combines edge-of-your-seat adventure with a truly moving and profound exploration of what
it means to be alive and at peace with oneself. Brilliantly mounted on all levels, from
the tremendous supporting cast Jane Wyatt, Edward Everett Horton, Thomas
Mitchell, H.B. Warner and Sam Jaffe as the High Lama to the glorious
Shangri-La set, one of the largest ever built in Hollywood. Long available only in a
shortened version, LOST HORIZON was finally restored by preservationist Robert Gitt
following a 25 year search for footage; well be screening a new 35 mm. print of the
long version, courtesy of our friends at Columbia Pictures Repertory!
BULLDOG DRUMMOND, 1929,
MGM/UA, 89 min. Dir. F. Richard Jones. Crackling good mystery/romance with Ronald
Colman firing on all cylinders as the ex-WWI officer, Captain Hugh "Bulldog"
Drummond who makes it his business to seek out trouble. He finds it, in the form of a
sadistic trio of thieves out to steal the fortune from lovely Joan Bennetts
uncle. Fans of James Whales THE OLD DARK HOUSE should check this out for a similar,
almost unclassifiable mixture of Gothic weirdness and black humor. Our thanks to MGM/UA
for making a new print of this delirious little gem just for this series!
>> Both films also playing at the Aero on
Saturday, February 26 5:00 PM
A TALE OF TWO CITIES,
1935, MGM (Warners), 128 min. Dir. Jack Conway. Producer David O. Selznicks stunning
adapation of Charles Dickens stars Ronald Colman in perhaps his greatest
performance as Sydney Carton, the drunken cynic who finds redemption during the French
Revolutions unholy Reign of Terror. A lush, definitive version of one of
Dickenss greatest novels. Colmans final scenes in the Bastille are among the
most unbearably moving in all cinema. Co-starring Basil Rathbone, Elizabeth Allan and the
great Edna May Oliver as the fabulously-prickly nurse, Miss Pross.
>> Also playing at the Aero on March 5.
Saturday, February 26 7:45 PM
IF I WERE KING, 1938, Paramount
(Universal), 101 min. Dir. Frank Lloyd. A role Ronald Colman was born to play, that
of real-life medieval poet and rascal Francois Villon ("Where have they gone, the
snows of yesteryear?"), who finds himself drawn into swashbuckling high adventure
when King Louis XI of France (Basil Rathbone, in a rare good-guy part) calls on him
in an hour of need. Comedy genius Preston Sturges wrote the script (based on Justin
McCarthys oft-filmed play and novel), giving Colman some of his juiciest lines:
"Epitaph? Whats that?" "Oh, usually something good about somebody bad
after theyre dead."
THE PRISONER OF ZENDA, 1937,
MGM (Warners), 101 min. Dir. John Cromwell. Another perfect Ronald Colman
performance in one of Hollywoods most beloved swashbucklers. Here, he stars in a
dual role, as a King forced to go undercover to avoid assassination, and the loyal,
look-a-like cousin who takes his place and finds himself falling in love with the
Kings fiancee (Madeleine Carroll). Terrific support from Raymond Massey,
Mary Astor, David Niven and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and featuring one of the
most dazzling swordfights ever put on film.
>> Both films also playing at the Aero on