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UCLA Festival of Preservation

Double Door / Supernatural

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Friday 4/4
7:00 pm
$9 General Public
$7 Student & Seniors
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Double Door
dir. Charles Vidor, US, 1934, 35mm, b/w, 75 min.

Protests from the playwright and producers notwithstanding, New Yorkers who flocked in the fall of 1933 to see Elizabeth McFadden’s play Double Door knew it was inspired by the Wendel family of Manhattan, a Gilded Age dynasty of fabulously wealthy eccentrics. What could be more gothic than seven sisters sequestered in a gloomy mansion, tainted by madness, forbidden to marry, presided over by an avaricious brother? As the 19th-Century mansions along Fifth Avenue fell before the booming commerce of the 20th Century, the Wendels became the stuff of New York legend. By 1914 their mansion stood as a solitary sentinel against the hue and cry of the emergent commercial district, staring unblinkingly at the Lord & Taylor department store across the street at Fifth Avenue and 39th Street. When the last of the line, Ella, died in 1931 at age 78, New York gasped: it was reported she had left $100 million and no heirs.

Double Door is a dark riff on this legend, compressed into a three-act melodrama. The scion became a tyrannical spinster, holding in thrall a neurotic sister and a demoralized kid brother. When the brother makes a bid for sanity and freedom and takes a bride, the wheels of madness begin to turn.

35mm preservation print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive
Preservation funding provided by the Packard Humanities Institute


Preserved in conjunction with Universal Pictures from the 35mm nitrate studio composite answer print. Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Simon Daniel Sound. Special thanks to Bob O’Neil.


Followed by:

Supernatural
dir. Victor Halperin, US, 1933, 35mm, b/w, 65 min.

Following their independent horror film White Zombie, a freak success in 1932, Victor and Edward Halperin landed at Paramount. For the only time in their careers the Halperins worked at a major studio with access to first-rate production facilities, competent supporting players and a major star in Carole Lombard. The result is a disturbing programme picture that reprises the dual performance that had just won Fredric March an Academy Award for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) and the exposé of spiritualism that Paramount explored in Darkened Rooms (1929). But while the spiritualist in Supernatural is a fraud, its spirits are genuine and not gangsters in bed sheets, nor the whimsical dear departed à la Thorne Smith.

Supernatural has been overshadowed by White Zombie, lacking its predecessor’s fairy tale poetics and bursts of Lugosiana. White Zombie may be maddeningly amateurish, but it resonated with audiences then and continues today. Smarter and better made, Supernatural was not a success and has been largely forgotten. For modern critics the operetta revenants of White Zombie reflect the army of forgotten men milling on the breadlines of the Great Depression; the social subtext of Supernatural (which opened a month after Roosevelt’s 1933 bank holiday) needs no critical studies interpretation.

35mm preservation print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive
Preservation funding provided by the Packard Humanities Institute


Preserved in conjunction with Universal Pictures from a 35mm compositenitrate print and 35mm acetate fine grain master. Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Simon Daniel Sound. Special thanks to Bob O’Neil.