If you live anywhere in the Los Angeles area you might be aware of the UCLA Film Archive series which screens its films at the Billy Wilder Theatre in Westwood Village. This Saturday night, July 19 at 7:30 they’re showing a rare film, Specter of the Rose, which was written and directed by Ben Hecht.
It’s a psychological melodrama set in the world of classical ballet about an aging dance instructor and a scurrilous impresario who promote the comeback of a great dancer. But the dancer is also suspected of being mad—and possibly murderous. It stars Judith Anderson, Michael Chekhov, Lionel Stander and Ivan Kirov.
Back in the bad old days only people who lived in big cities which had revival houses (or sponsored film series such as this one) could hope to see a rare movie that is 70 years old.
But today with the glory of DVDs and video stores (we have a great one here in Tucson) and ‘streaming’ right into your own home or on to the electronic device of your choice, we can all access fascinating old movies.
Specter of the Rose may not prove to be a classic but the people involved certainly make it a film worth checking out. In addition to the aforementioned, Lee Garmes was the cinematogragher as well as co-producer. The film was choreographed by Tamara Geva and the music was done by George Antheil.
In addition Antheil used excerpts from the ballet Le Spectre de la Rose, including Carl Maria Von Weber‘s piano piece Invitation to the Dance which was orchestrated by Berlioz.
Ben Hecht is arguably the most famous and successful of all Hollywood screenwriters. He won the first Oscar ever presented for an original screenplay back in 1927 and continued with a string of successes and awards until 1952. But he only directed two films. 1940’s Angels Over Broadway, which starred Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Rita Hayworth, and 1946’s Specter of the Rose.
He and Fairbanks had gotten Columbia to finance and release Angels, but with Specter Hecht had to go to one of the REAL poverty row studios, Republic. The film’s budget was only about $160,000 and according to the Variety review at the time — it showed.
Still, let’s give the UCLA gang credit for unearthing this minor classic and giving us a new look.