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The Bootleg Files: The Passion Play of Oberammergau

BOOTLEG FILES 664: “The Passion Play of Oberammergau (1898 film at the center of a historic lawsuit).

LAST SEEN: The full film has not been seen since its original release.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASONFOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A landmark patent infringement case.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Too late.

Thisweek’s column is different because it does not involve a production that can only be seen in an unauthorized presentation. Instead, we are going to revisit a long-forgotten story about one of the first legal challenges of patent infringement connected to the film industry.

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The Bootleg Files: The Apple-Knockers and the Coke

BOOTLEG FILES 663: “The Apple-Knockers and the Coke” (1948 stag film).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: Not believed to be included in any commercial release.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A naughty film that circulated underground for decades.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not likely at this time.

For a number of years, rumors circulated that Marilyn Monroe appeared in pornographic movies. Much of the fuel for that belief came from her 1949 nude calendar art photo shoot, for which she only received $50. After all, if the great MM could disrobe for a still photographer during the period when she was a struggling actress, why wouldn’t she go one step further and go clothing-free for an adult film?
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The Bootleg Files: It’s the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie Brown

BOOTLEG FILES 662: “It’s the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie Brown” (1988 TV special).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: On VHS video.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It is out of circulation for many years.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not likely at this time.

Following the dismal reception of his 1988 made-for-television special “It’s the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie Brown,” Charles M. Schulz lamented that “I wanted this to be my ‘Citizen Kane,’ but it’s not.” From an Orson Welles analogy perspective, the production might have been closer to those infamous drunken outtakes for the Paul Masson champagne – a weird, embarrassing blip in the late stages of a brilliant career.
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The Bootleg Files: Murder in the Blue Room

BOOTLEG FILES 661: “Murder in the Blue Room” (1944 mystery-musical flick).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It fell through the cracks.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not likely at this time.

During the 1940s, Universal Pictures arguably produced the most entertaining films playing in American theaters. This is not to say that Universal had the most artistically extravagant or intellectually provocative output. But for sheer pleasure viewing, this scrappy little studio was aces when it came to noir, Westerns, jukebox musicals, cheesy horror and lowbrow comedies. Back in the day, nobody ever left a Universal film feeling bored.
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The Bootleg Files: The Westminster Passion Play – Behold the Man

BOOTLEG FILES 660: “The Westminster Passion Play – Behold the Man” (1951 British feature film).

LAST SEEN: It is on Amazon Prime, albeit for the wrong reason.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: Yes, but for the wrong reason.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It is complicated.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not likely at this time.

In 2011, a DVD label called Synergy Entertainment made one of the most spectacular blunders in the history of the home entertainment industry. This label, which specializes in public domain titles, brought forth a release of the rarely-seen 1921 French silent film “Behold the Man,” which told the story of Jesus’ last days. But there was a problem: the print used for the Synergy Entertainment was not from the French silent film, but instead belonged to a 1951 British production originally titled “The Westminster Passion Play – Behold the Man.”
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The Bootleg Files: The Hangman

BOOTLEG FILES 659: “The Hangman” (1964 animated short).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: No release to date.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It fell through the cracks.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: It would be nice.

With Halloween a few days away, I was wondering if it would be too corny to stick a horror movie into this week’s column. But rather than go the traditional route of horror movies featuring ghouls, ghosts and God-knows-what the FX people conjure up, I am opting for an intellectual horror story where the real evil does not require the presence of the supernatural or the paranormal – but, instead, comes from the quotidian.
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The Bootleg Files: The Great Commandment

BOOTLEG FILES 658: “The Great Commandment” (1939 feature film inspired by the ministry of Jesus).

LAST SEEN: On several online video sites.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: On public domain labels.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A lapsed copyright opens it up to endless duping.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: It is stuck in public domain hell.

In 1939, an Episcopal priest from Red Wing, Minnesota, named James K. Friedrich brought forth “The Great Commandment,” a $130,000 feature-length production as the first offering of his start-up company Cathedral Films. The film created a bidding war among the major Hollywood studios, with 20th Century Fox paying $200,000 for the rights to this production. However, the studio was not interested in releasing “The Great Commandment.” Instead, it planned to shoot a big-budget remake that would star Tyrone Power, its top box office attraction.
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The Bootleg Files: Alice the Fire Fighter

BOOTLEG FILES 657: “Alice the Fire Fighter” (1926 animated short by Walt Disney).

LAST SEEN: On several online video sites.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: On public domain labels.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A lapsed copyright opens it up to endless duping.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Although it has been restored, it is stuck in public domain hell.

In 1924, an aspiring animator from Kansas City named Walt Disney caught his first big break when he signed with the independent Winkler Pictures to create a series of short films that combined animation with live action. Disney came up with the concept of a having a then-contemporary riff on “Alice in Wonderland,” with a live action little girl interacting with comic cartoon characters. This series became known as the Alice Comedies, and 57 one-reelers were created over the next three years.
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