Emory screens 11 free films from a century of Universal Pictures

With the exception of Pixar, which has the advantage of all of its movies being animated, most moviegoers these days do not think much, if at all, about what studio produced the movies they are interested in viewing. People tend to pick their movies by the stars or the director, or what a reviewer wrote or a friend said, rather than by “shopping” by studio.

But all studios are not interchangeable, as the lineup for Emory University’s Cinematheque screening series kicking off Jan. 30, “Universal Pictures: Celebrating 100 Years,” would suggest. The nine free 35 mm screenings, continuing on Wednesday nights through April 24, cover a range of genres and include iconic titles such as “Dracula,” “The Birds” and “Back to the Future.”

The screening series is making its only stop in the Southeast in this presentation by Emory University’s Department of Film and Media Studies.

It’s one aspect of Universal’s centennial celebration that kicked off last year and included the restoration of 13 classics, including “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “The Birds,” and Blu-ray releases of “To Kill a Mockingbird” on its 50th anniversary and “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” on its 30th, among other titles. Even its spinning-globe logo got an animated update.

The studio, which was incorporated as the Universal Film Manufacturing Company on April 30, 1912, went on to become the oldest continuously operating film producer and distributor in the U.S.

From its beginning under Carl Laemmle, a tension played out between Universal’s need to produce low-budget features and the desire to compete alongside better-capitalized studios with big-budget pictures. Ironically, while several of Universal’s early prestige titles are heralded today, including “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the studio’s B pictures — including the 1930s horror cycle “Frankenstein,” “Dracula” and “The Mummy” — are embraced with equal fervor by cineastes.

After antitrust actions leveled the Hollywood playing field in the 1940s, Universal moved into the A-list with melodramas (“Magnificent Obsession”), sex farces (“Pillow Talk”) and homespun comedies (“Francis”). And with “Jaws” in 1975, the studio helped establish the blockbuster formula that still has legs today.

The “Celebrating 100 Years” lineup:

  • Jan. 30: “Pillow Talk” (1959, directed by Michael Gordon, and starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson)
  • Feb. 13: “Dracula” (1931, Tod Browning, with Bela Lugosi) and “Frankenstein” (1931, James Whale, with Boris Karloff)
  • March 6: “Imitation of Life” (1934, John M. Stahl, with Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers). Drama remembered as an early, serious representation of African-American life.
  • March 20: “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break” (1941, Edward Cline, with W.C. Fields) and “Cobra Woman” (1944, Robert Siodmak). Fields’ last starring role is followed by a campy Technicolor romp.
  • March 27: “Winchester ‘73” (1950, Anthony Mann, with James Stewart and Shelley Winters). Classic Western also was a milestone in the practice of giving major stars profit participation in their films.
  • April 3: “The Birds” (1963, Alfred Hitchcock, with Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren). A classic chiller from the “master of suspense.”
  • April 10: “Back to the Future” (1985, Robert Zemeckis, with Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox). Carved a rosy future at the box office for comic series.
  • April 17: “Apollo 13” (1995, Ron Howard, with Tom Hanks and Ed Harris). Nominated for nine Oscars, it’s one of Howard’s most highly regarded films.
  • April 24: “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (2005, Judd Apatow, with Steve Carell). Apatow made his film directorial debut with a raunchy smash and launched a now-ubiquitous blunt-force style of sex humor.

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