RKO: Lost and Found



5 p.m., Wednesday, April 4

Classic movie fans get a rare treat April 4 and 11 when Turner Classic Movies airs six films from its RKO collection that have not been seen for years and were considered to be lost to the public. What began as a simple request from a viewer -- "Why was 'Double Harness,' an RKO pre-Code drama starring William Powell and Ann Harding, never shown?" -- started a course of historical recovery.

Some intricate research found the answer: That title and a few others were sold to legendary "King Kong" producer Merian C. Cooper, even though RKO retained original camera negatives of each. More historical wrangling ensued, including restoration of the films. The long and short of it is that we can see six films that, give or take, haven't been shown in decades.

This is history unfolding before our eyes: These films are movie gems that finally see the light of day.

First up today is "Rafter Romance" (1933), a breezy comedy about a mismatched couple (or are they?) starring Ginger Rogers and Norman Foster. It always is a treat to see Rogers, and here is one that lets her shine.

Up next today is "Double Harness" (1933), a rather understated drama starring Powell and Harding as a couple who marry for the wrong reasons and are left to puzzle out how to stay in love. Finally tonight is "One Man's Journey" (1933), a drama about a self-sacrificing country doctor that stars Lionel Barrymore, May Robson, Joel McCrea and Frances Dee, McCrea's offscreen wife. This one has got a stellar cast.

On April 11, we get three additional goodies. First up is "Stingaree" (1934), directed by the great William A. Wellman and starring Irene Dunne, Richard Dix and Mary Boland. Dunne and Dix were at the height of their popularity when they made this, and it is a classic hybrid to behold, a musical Western adventure that gives Dunne a chance to sing the way audiences loved to hear her at the time. Next up is "Living on Love," a romantic comedy from 1937 starring James Dunn and Whitney Bourne, who take over the characters from "Rafter Romance" and further the adventures of two mismatched people still in love. Finally that evening is "A Man to Remember" (1938), starring Edward Ellis, Anne Shirley and Lee Bowman. This is a splendid melodrama and a rare opportunity to see two giants in collaboration, with director Garson Kanin directing and the great Dalton Trumbo scripting.

Restored, these RKO films fill in a sorely needed gap in the history not only of a great movie studio but of our film legacy as well.