William Fox Presents: Rediscoveries from the Fox Film Corporation – Part II

One of the major catastrophes of film history occurred on July 9, 1937, when a fire broke out in a film storage facility owned by DeLuxe Laboratories in Little Ferry, New Jersey. Fueled by the gases emitted by decomposing nitrate film, the fire blew out windows and launched a sheet of flame into the street, seriously burning Anna Greeves and her two young sons, who happened to be passing by (one of the boys died from his injuries ten days later). Also lost were some 40,000 reels of negatives, fine grains, and prints belonging to the Fox Film Corporation, representing the entirety of the studio’s production from 1915, when it was founded by the self-educated entrepreneur William Fox, to 1935, when the financially troubled company was merged with Darryl Zanuck’s 20th Century Pictures and went out of existence.
For decades, virtually all of the 1173 features produced by Fox Film were believed to be lost, with only a handful of random exceptions. But in the early 1970s, fire inspectors discovered a large cache of nitrate at the 20th Century Fox studio in Century City, Los Angeles. Working with the producer Alex Gordon and the historian William K. Everson, Eileen Bowser of the Museum of Modern Art managed to rescue the nitrate material, which mainly consisted of release prints and work prints from the late silent and early sound era. Here were major films by Frank Borzage, Allan Dwan, John Ford, Howard Hawks, William K. Howard, Henry King, William Cameron Menzies, F.W. Murnau, Alfred Santell and Raoul Walsh, along with many titles of lesser repute, that were thought to have been lost forever.
MoMA set to work creating new safety negatives and prints from the nitrate material, most of which is now safely housed in MoMA’s Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center in Hamlin, Pennsylvania. That work continues to this day, as the support of The Film Foundation, The Louis B. Mayer Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts and other agencies has allowed ever more challenging restorations projects to see the light of day. Most recently, generous support from 20th Century Fox has allowed new digital scans to be made directly from surviving original elements, several of which were seen in the 2018 Fox Film program at Il Cinema Ritrovato, and seven more of which will be screened in this year’s edition.

Dave Kehr

All the films were restored in 2019 in 4K by 20th Century Fox in collaboration with MoMA – The Museum of Modern Art at Cineric and Audio Mechanics laboratory from a nitrate composite print (and, for Quick Millions, from a composite duplicate safety fine grain master) held at MoMA.