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Lost Hughes pix surface

'Aviator' biopic renews interest in billionaire industrialist

Three early films produced by Howard Hughes long thought lost — two of which figured prominently in the first year of the Academy Awards — will be shown for the first time since their release on Turner Classic Movies Dec. 15.

Interest in the billionaire industrialist has been renewed by Miramax’s Hughes biopic “The Aviator,” which bows Dec. 17.

Two of the films, “Two Arabian Knights” and “The Racket,” were directed by Lewis Milestone, who won an Oscar for comedy direction for the former, a lark about two WWI soldiers (William Boyd and Louis Wolheim) who escape from a German prison camp and rescue a princess (Mary Astor) in Arabia.

“The Racket,” about the Chicago bootleg wars, was one of the first gangster features. It was nominated for best picture in 1927-28, the first time the Oscars were presented. Thomas Meighan and Wolheim star.

Third feature, “The Mating Call” (1928), a commercial hit in its day like the other two, stars Meighan, Evelyn Brent and Renee Adoree in a story about the struggles of a returning WWI vet. James Cruze directed the film.

Digital restoration of the three features was undertaken by Flicker Alley in collaboration with Turner Entertainment Networks and the U. of Nevada Las Vegas. Professor emeritus Hart Wegner of UNLV acquired the Hughes Collection about a decade ago, and Turner provided the funding to restore the films, which were not among the Hughes titles, including “Scarface,” bought by Universal more than 20 years ago.

Presumed lost or at least inaccessible by scholars and archivists, the films required about 250 hours of restoration work by Advanced Digital Services to rehabilitate into top quality condition. Flicker Alley, a relatively new company headed by Jeffery Masino, previously handled the DVD releases of another Hughes-Milestone silent, “The Garden of Eden”; the 5½-hour, two-disc French serial “Judex”; and F.W. Murnau’s 1922 “Phantom.” For the new Hughes titles, company prepared restored intertitles, corrected continuity from missing footage and recruited Robert Israel to create new musical scores.

Hughes produced two films prior to “Two Arabian Knights.” According to Masino, the first one, “Swell Hogan,” was deemed so bad by Hughes that he never released it and allegedly destroyed it. Second, “Everybody’s Acting,” turned out somewhat better but is apparently likewise lost.

“Two Arabian Knights” had been one of only two Oscar-winning films considered lost or unavailable for viewing. “The Racket” had been one of just three best picture nominees in Academy history to have been thought inaccessible.

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