U seeks stronger I.D. via classic reissues

BOSTON — In a new bid to create a public image for the Universal Pictures brand name, the studio is digging into its vaults to reissue new 35mm prints of classic films from both the Universal and the pre-1948 Paramount libraries.

The first series will head to the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Mass., for showings as part of their ongoing film noir series. The series will run on Friday and Saturday nights, beginning July 18 and continuing through Aug. 16.

Billed as the Universal Noirs, they will subsequently be booked into other major rep houses around the country, including Film Forum in New York and the Castro in San Francisco. If the series does well, the studio hopes to issue subsequent packages next year.

“We’re not doing this for the money,” said Dick Costello, president of U’s Strategic Marketing Group. “This is a marketing strategy.”

According to Costello, Universal wants to be considered a brand name the way Disney is for family entertainment or the way MGM used to be known for it’s Technicolor musicals.

Other than its Universal Studio Tour, the studio feels its logo is glossed over by viewers of U’s recent hits “The Lost World” and “Liar Liar.”

“The reason we’re doing this is that we think there’s an opportunity to brand Universal with the right venues and the right films,” said Costello. “If we do this often enough, we think this will help the brand.”

While the studio will include Par releases that they own, packages will emphasize Universal’s history and name.

The Brattle was selected because current owners Connie White and Marianne Lampke have been running regular film noir series since acquiring the landmark theater a decade ago. For some titles, they were often reduced to battered TV prints because they were the only ones in circulation.

“They’ve been contacting us and asking us what we want. We couldn’t believe it,” said White. “I just wrote this wish list.”

The Universal Noirs package includes classics like “The Killers” (1946), “Touch of Evil” (1958) and “Cape Fear” (1962), as well as several obscurities including Allen Barron’s “Blast of Silence” (1961) and the Fritz Lang musical “You and Me” (1938).

“Our first benchmark will be the end of the run at the Brattle,” said Costello. He said the studio will then look at tweaking the publicity and promotion before the October opening at the Castro.

Costello said the studio is going with packages rather than re-releases of individual films because, except in certain cases like the recent reissue of “Vertigo,” it didn’t make economic sense.

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