“Tony Farland!” a voice cried behind him. “I was hoping you’d be here!”
“In the bathroom?” Tony replied, standing at a urinal in the palatial men’s room of the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.
Phil Brodie laughed. “At the show, I mean,” he said. “I figured a retro double-feature of Return of the Zombie and The Ape Man’s Revenge would be enough to draw you away from your computer.”
Brodie and Farland were both in the same racket—film history—though Tony had the higher profile, being the author of a handful of books on Hollywood’s golden age and a frequent talking head for DVD extras. It was, however, not lucrative enough to quit the day job, which was as a researcher for the Motion Picture Academy. Brodie was more of an academic, teaching film at UCLA in between writing articles for fan magazines.
After Tony washed and dried his hands, Brodie said, “Let’s go somewhere we can talk in private.” They found a corner of the courtyard that was empty.
“If you want me to speak to your class again, you could just email me,” Tony said.
“No, it’s not that. This is big, real big.”
“Okay, Phil, what is it?”
“They found Murderer’s Paradise.”
Now Tony was interested. “A print of it?”
“No, not a print … they found the internegative.”
The 1955 crime drama Murderer’s Paradise was one of the most notable of all lost films … at least for movie buffs. Produced independently by Leonard Loesch, the eccentric heir to an oil fortune who decided he wanted to be in the picture business, it was never actually released to theatres. The erratic producer held the film back, keeping it under wraps because, it was claimed, he was unhappy with the ending but could not figure out a better one. Hollywood legend had it that the producer, who was then coming to the end of his moviemaking career, destroyed every print and all the materials from the picture.
“I’m not telling everybody about the interneg yet,” Brodie went on. “I first want to drum up interest in the print.”
“Where was all this found?” Tony said.
“You know Loesch’s old headquarters building in Hollywood? Some repair work was being done there, and the workmen discovered a room nobody knew existed. It was filled with film reel cans, and included the negative for Murderer’s Paradise. I got a call by the owner of the building last month and went to check it out. It’s there, Tony. It really exists.”
The expression on Brodie’s face—that of a kid who just opened up a birthday present expecting underwear, and getting a PS5 instead—caused Farland to grin.
“Phil, you know what often happens when a legendary lost film is finally found. Once the excitement over the discovery dies down, the thing is screened and people realize that maybe it should have stayed lost.”
“We can both be the judge of that. A print is being struck even as we speak and I’m going to set up a private screening and I want you to come.”
“Next Thursday night at the Westwood Preview House. It will be only for film historians and critics.”
“Count me in,” Tony said.
Further elaboration about the discovery of the film appeared in an above-the-fold article in the Daily Variety two days later, in which Phil Brodie was extensively quoted. But there was no mention of the screening.
In the days prior to the event, Farland found himself getting more and more excited about it, so much so that when the day came, he cursed the abominable L.A. traffic that threatened to make him late. When he approached the screening theatre, though, his heart sank.
An armada of police and emergency vehicles were parked in front of Westwood Preview House, lights flashing.
Finding a place to park (which wasn’t easy), Farland ran to the building, just in time to see a body being wheeled out on a gurney. The first person he recognized was Bernard Melton, who was the best-known film historian in the country. Like most others, Tony had grown up reading Melton’s books, which he started writing barely out of high school.