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Duke’s ‘Alamo’ in decay

Pic rallying rescuers

Even as one film about the Alamo is being conceived in Hollywood’s warm glow of A-list celebrity, another is suffocating in a stifling-hot warehouse in Glendale, Calif., soon to disappear forever.

Much has been made of the new “Alamo,” being rewritten by Oscar winner Steve Gaghan, that will be helmed by Oscar winner Ron Howard and toplined by Oscar winner Russell Crowe (Daily Variety, June 28).

Little, however, is known about what’s happened to John Wayne’s 1960 MGM epic “The Alamo,” a gloriously expansive 70mm pic that’s nearly been ruined by improper storage. If nothing is done, the pic will shortly join Orson Welles’ cut of “The Magnificent Ambersons” and Erich von Stroheim’s “Greed” as yet another “lost” film.

Producer and film preservationist Robert A. Harris (who produced 1990’s “The Grifters” and saved “Lawrence of Arabia” from ignominious demise after finding the uncut version in a Queens bowling alley) has been working with MGM’s permission to raise money needed to restore the only remaining 70mm “roadshow” print — essentially a director’s cut shot on 70mm — and save it from total decay.

MGM senior VP of technical services Gray Ainsworth says the studio is willing to contribute roughly $500,000 to the restoration effort, but admits that more is probably required. Harris estimates an additional $650,000 is needed to save the film; Ainsworth is not sure, calling that amount “premature.”

Ironically, the troubles started for Wayne’s version of “Alamo” almost as soon as MGM was alerted to the existence of the last 70mm print, discovered by a Toronto projectionist in 1990. The Lion used it to make a video master so it could sell videocassettes of the pic.

“Have you ever been to Toronto?” asked Harris. “There are penguins and polar bears walking down the street most of the time: That’s why the color was still in the (70 mm) print.”

Unfortunately, after the video master was made, the guts of the Toronto print of “The Alamo” were tossed into cartons and stored unrefrigerated in Glendale, where temperatures regularly soar into the 90s and 100s in summer.

Because of the heat damage and the steadily deteriorating condition of the 70mm Toronto “Alamo” print, from which sequences would be digitized and restored, the film elements necessary to save it will not last beyond mid-2003 or 2004 at the latest, Harris says.

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