'The Second-Hand Set'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Stephanie 'Stevie' Garroch, 34, and Kelly Humber, 32, are lovers and actors contracted to Redoubtable Films Inc, a 'B' film Poverty Row movie studio located in Hollywood and New York in the 1930's. They decide to cut costs by re-using an old film-set and make a discovery.
Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2019 to the author. All characters, film companies, and film titles, in this story are fictional; and any resemblance to real companies, or real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Caution:— There is some swearing in this story.
"It's still standing?" Kelly could hardly believe this newly imparted information. "I don't believe it. 'Intransigence' was made in, when, nineteen-sixteen or thereabouts; how can the set possibly still be standing? This's nineteen thirty-two, after all."
"The film director, D. M. Morton, was financing his own output, y'recall." Stephanie knowing full-well her loved partner remembered nothing of the sort. "Then got caught up in all sorts'a legal knots when the film failed and he went bankrupt. End result, the outdoor set was jest left t'itself over the years; an' so, as we waste time here an' now talkin' about it, the dam' thing's still waitin' on someone makin' another film there."
"An' we, fer our sins, are it?" Kelly picking up the core of the discussion like it was something smelly on the sidewalk. "How much's it gon'na cost?"
"That's the beauty of the thing, Kel." Stephanie coming to the glorious reality of the position. "It's on waste ground, nobody legally owns it; I, we, Redoubtable Studios that is, have taken a three month rental of the site from the local council, fer peanuts; so we can do what we want there, from today on."
Kelly sat back in her chair in the Producer's cubby-hole at Redoubtable Studios Front Office in Hollywood, this fair morning of June 1932, considering the situation.
"How's it gon'na help makin' Meadowlark?" She having all the accounting skills of one who knew perfectly well what made two dollars into three, tax deductible. "—'Meadowlark's a modern drama, Intransigence was an epic Historical, if memory serves. How's their famously vast castle-set gon'na be of use t'us?"
"Well, fer a start, it's there, already." Stephanie pointing out the obvious. "Less expence, y'see. Jest a tidyin' up job on the old set, then we can get the cameras rollin' in record time."
"Quit carpin', gal." Stephanie determined to take no prisoners on this issue. "It was me that came up with the original idea, after all."
"Oh, so that's what you got up to on that jaunt around town with Buddie, last week—wondered about that."
Buddie Brannigan was Redoubtable Studio's long-term Producer, helping to keep the B movie company's head above water in trying times—which was virtually all the time, these days.
"Yeah," Stephanie leaning over to pat her amour's hand. "we wandered about the suburbs a while, lookin' fer good sets for the movie. Bungalows an' suchlike; then we drove down a dusty track, Buddie havin' lost his way as usual, an' what d'ya suppose we found?"
"Well, the 'Intransigence' set, obviously." Kelly being up for this step in the dark, if nothing else. "So, what state's it in? After sixteen year abandoned I shouldn't have thought there was much left of it. Ain't it just facades held up by framework, in the usual way?"
Stephanie parted her lips in a wide grin, enjoying the moment.
"That's the beauty of it, doll." She nodded vigorously, the memory still bright. "Morton was one of those directors who only went for the real thing—not liking sets as such if he could help it."
"What?" Kelly hardly believing what this suggested. "You tryin' t'tell me he built a full-scale medieval castle out there, amongst the orange groves? 'Cause that's what you saw in the movie."
"Nah, not quite that." Stephanie shook her head sadly. "It is a set, with wooden scaffolding holdin' most of it up; but it's massive, three times as strong as usual—and built t'last by master-carpenters. Buddie sent our own head carpenter, Jack Galloway, out t'cast an eye over it. He gave his report in yesterday, an' he says most of the set's still solid enough t'use right away."
"Well, well, well."
A quiet pause, as of Aeons passing by unregarded, held sway in the small office for almost a minute-Kelly contemplating the possibilities this latest information brought into the light, while Stephanie sat comfortably watching her paramour going through this painful process. Then the door opened and a giant stepped in, wearing a wide-brimmed 42nd Street skimmer with a gaudy band—Buddie Brannigan had arrived at his place of work.
"Hi'ya, gals, what's playin' terday?"
"Stevie's just been lettin' me in'ta the secret." Kelly smiled at the young handsome man, an old friend of both she and Stephanie. "So, you've personally re-discovered the old set fer 'Intransigence'? That's somethin'; ought'a be good fer an article in 'Variety', I'd think. Publicity, an' all that."
"Not a bad idea, Kel." Buddie threw his boater aside with indifference and seated himself behind his desk, piled with soft-covered files and scripts from various old films, both made and unmade. "I'll give Art Blickens a ring presently, see if he's interested. So, you up for makin' 'Meadowlark' there, Kel?"
Kelly cocked a suspicious eye at the producer, knowing him of old.
"It, if it's still really standin', was or is a castle set." Kelly turned her glance on her partner beside her. "Stevie seems t'think it's a go, but what's a castle got ter do with 'Meadowlark's plot? It's a drama set in England."
"No problem," Buddie was ready for this feeble query. "The characters are mainly an upper-class mob, ain't they? No reason why they shouldn't spend most o'their time holed up in a castle; after all, people do still live in such, over there, t'this day."
Kelly eyed the producer once more, still dubious.
"Castles?" Her tone clearly showing her doubt in the matter. "Y'sure about that?"
"Take a look at those." He pointed to a pile of magazines on one corner of his desk. "I bought six month's worth of the 'Tatler' and 'The Field'. They ooze English class like a dripping honeycomb. Cast your peepers over them, an' then you'll see livin' in a castle, in England, is jest child's play even t'day."
Another silence settled over the dry dusty atmosphere in the office, akin to that before Carter opened Tutankhamun's tomb, while Kelly got down to the serious business of observing the moneyed privileged English upper crust at home and play.
"Well, I'll be jiggered." She finally coming out with her considered opinion, after laying the last of the magazines aside. "Those there're some fancy pads, an' no kiddin'. Here, Stevie, y'seen these houses? Some o'them take up a whole block, an' most are set in parkland wider'n Central."
"An' a lot'ta them were built before anyone ever thought o'jolly ol' Ameriky, even." Buddie putting his red cents' worth in, to confuse the issue.
"So, the 'Intransigence' set? " Stephanie still focusing on the main subject of concern. "What about it, then?"
"Umm, think it'll be fancy enough, dear?" Kelly, from her new standpoint, now looking askance at the likely demerits of the old crumbling set. "I mean, is it decorative enough, d'ya think? Maybe we should go for a new set?"
"Nah, I've had our carpenter go over it." Buddie was adamant. "And a couple of our tame accountants from Front Office,—God, you wouldn't believe the trouble I had persuadin' 'em to come out from behind their desks an' head out in'ta the wilds o'the suburbs? Like pryin' teeth, it was; you should give me a medal."
"So, the ol' set's a goin' concern?" Stephanie wanting assurance doubly-assured. "Y'sure?"
"Yep, I'm sure." Buddie standing to the full height allowed of a supreme film-producer at the pinnacle of his powers. "The 'Intransigence' set's on, ladies. An' 'Meadowlark's ready t'go—that is, Monday next, 9.00am, whenever you two say you're ready, bein' new-laid Associate Producers in yer own right now; don't be late or I'll dock yer pay."
"Jest try, bozo."
"Hiirph, so much fer discipline in this junkyard that calls itself a film studio." Buddie, mighty miffed but surrendering as always.
The set, when the film crew turned up to the location the next day, was all Stephanie and Buddie had lauded it as being. From the front vantage-point, that of the cameras and so the eventual audience, the main set elevation showed as a large castle similar to those built in Britain in the 14th century; around 40 feet high and 120 feet in length. In the film 'Intransigence' there was a moat with a draw-bridge; but that had materialised in the studio of the day, curtesy of the subtle use of matte paintings. In the present day the façade of the castle stood proud by itself, with a large flat ground area in front of it, no doubt where most of the action and cameras had been positioned in 1916. Today though, as the studio equipment trucks and a fleet of cars drew up, this area was overgrown with clumps of thick grass and sagebrush, not to mention some pretty well established bushes. The castle entrance, the front door, still seemed in good shape as Stephanie, Kelly and Buddie stepped from their individual vehicles.
"Jee-sus, it looks dam' real." Kelly standing in awe, cricking her neck to take in the full spread and height of the entire frontage. "That looks like real stone—it ain't, is it?"
"Nah," Buddie was au fait with the details. "Just well-designed wood; though the portico, with its pillars an' roof—the big entrance door—is built fer real, all concrete an' stone. A coat of paint an' it'll look like new."
"Is that what we want?" Stephanie looking dubiously at the vast set as they stood in a group amongst the thick grass. "We want a lived-in, old castle fer Meadowlark, remember. If'n it's an ancient castle, well, it's got'ta look ancient, ain't it?"
"Old, but not decrepit." Kelly pondering the situation with furrowed brow.
"Well-established." Buddie showing why his intellect had gotten him to his present exalted position in the world.
"Well-established—yeah, that's what I mean." Kelly snapping this up with relish. "Lots o'history, but still facing the world with head held high."
"If a castle can't do that, what can a castle do?" Stephanie waxing somewhat more philosophical than the situation demanded.
"What ya got'ta get the carpenters an' painters ter do, Buddie," Kelly taking charge as was her normal wont. "is to paint it down, not up. I mean, we don't want shining white paint splashed everywhere, making it look like it was built yesterday afternoon. It should show its age, it's antiquity, but in a quiet an' seemly manner."
"As to the manor born, in fact." Stephanie sniggering in a ladylike manner.
"Very funny." Kelly digging her paramour in the short ribs with a carefully aimed elbow. "Oh sorry, did that hurt? Oops."
"Most people, those making up the generality of film audiences, have no real understanding of the immense pre-planning and organisation which goes into even the most ordinary film." Buddie sat on a canvas chair outside the main set, watching a plethora of workers getting down to the business of bringing the old set back to life. "What I mean is, bringing the actors an' studio workers out, then the work involved in getting everything put together just as the producers, set-designers, an' director want. Hell-uva lot o'work there, fer starters."
"Don't we know it, laddie." Kelly in her own chair pretending to sneer, under her wide-brimmed hat. "Stevie an' I well know where all the production costs go on these sort'a things."
"Even more so here, I'd say." Stephanie, from her chair, glancing at her friends. "Revitalising this huge set-piece, after sixteen years in the wilderness, ain't gon'na come cheap. Or is it, Buddie?"
The young producer shifted uncomfortably, never liking to actually name prices and costs at the best of times—you never knowing when a tax-man might be lurking under the table listening.
"Oh, around thirty-five thousand at most." He chanced a glance at the women to his left, relieved they didn't appear to be in the first grip of apoplexy. "All this painting an' cleaning-up in general'll take some amount o'work—an' work don't come cheap these days, y'know. Especially with the Unions breathing down your neck every minute o'the day."
"Could be worse, I suppose." Kelly, as if a Roman Emperor on a good day, regally allowing for the infirmity and laxness of the hoi polloi. "When's shootin' scheduled t'start?"
"Four days from now." Buddie had the whole concept of the film at his fingertips, like the great producer he was. "You know the script calls for a great deal of swannin' about the gardens an' front lawn, with the castle showin' away for all it's worth in the background. Playin' croquet, an' sittin' at tables takin' afternoon tea, an' all that sort'a thing. But interior work'll begin tomorrow mornin', back at the studios."
"Who's the director?" Stephanie asking for both herself and Kelly. They usually leaving this sort of thing entirely in the producer's hands. "Anyone we've worked with before?"
"Sam Roscommen." The producer shrugged his shoulders lightly. "He's been in Westerns mainly; but I figure he's ripe t'branch out. I think he'll do well enough."
"Hurrh, well enough's about the general level of all our work, here at Redoubtable, remember." Kelly squelching this suggestion with cold indifference. "Let's hope he can do a little better'n that."
"Can but hope." Stephanie sniffing austerely. "Anyway, if the script an' the directing don't come up to par, not t'mention the acting, we'll jest have t'rely on this ol' castle set givin' of its best an' settin' the audience back in their seats in awe an' wonder."
"Hiirph." From Kelly.
"Ha, thanks a lot." From a peeved Buddie. "Nobody loves a producer, it seems—ever."
The subtle reason behind Kelly and Stephanie's interest in all aspects of the set and design was simply that between them they owned a large segment of Redoubtable Studios' shares themselves, thereby coming in for a cut of the profits of every film over and above the mere salary they earned for those films they had till recently actually acted in. This, as Stephanie had once remarked, tended to focus the mind wonderfully; as far as making good and profitable films went, anyway. So, when either or both women asked pertinent questions their producer Buddie Brannigan mostly tended to listen and take action, after due thought and consideration of same.
It was later on the same day, early afternoon just after lunch to be exact, and the women were still wandering around the extensive old set, which was made of several separate units. Kelly being especially intrigued.
"You'd think, from what I recall of watching 'Intransigence' years ago, the castle was all one gigantic set-piece; exteriors, interiors, huge rooms, and giant walls of massive stone, an' whatnot." She had just returned from a quick tour round the area and was full of something akin to astonishment. "But there ain't any o'that, really. I've been inside all four of the major sets here, an' they're all just façades, no inside rooms at all. Morton obviously did all the interiors in his studio."
"Just what one would suppose." Stephanie was sitting on the edge of a long trestle table idly watching the activity all round. "These were only ever meant t'be exteriors—t'show away like anything, t'astonish the audience in the theatres. An' thankfully, they still do—or will do again in a few days."
"They'll certainly add an extra dimension t'the film, an' no mistake." Kelly, while investigating, had also been thinking—a bad habit she had never been able to break. "What if the set overbears the plot of the story? I mean, if the audience end up gasping in awe at this here pile of supposed stone, an' forget the plot? That ain't gon'na be good, is it?"
"Depends on what ya call good, an' what ya call bad." Stephanie had always tended to a coldly utilitarian outlook towards her long-term occupation. "If the set overawes 'em, that's OK. It'll bring 'em back fer a second showing jest as if they'd enjoyed the plot the first time round. In fact, seeing it a second time might let 'em understand the plot better."
"Hiirph, not as if it's deep and difficult to start with." Kelly bending to pick a long stalk of grass which she then proceeded to chew. "Just a straight-forward romance, set in an English castle. Not even a,—a,—what was that period called, in England, when they built the dam' things originally?"
"Yeah, that's right, medieval—I knew that." Kelly pretending to more than she was mistress of, not an unusual occurence. "It's not meant t'be that, even; but the early nineteen-twenties, just over a decade ago. All flouncy dresses an' Forty-Second St. skimmers—with posh English accents."
"Which point makes me ask—Stevie, how's Margaret Dumont's English accent these days, she being one of the major actors, an' all?"
"Bit late t'ask, ain't yer, young 'un? Filming starting tomorrow, as it is?"
"Oh, just thought I'd get me a free laugh, before the crowds gallop in'ta the theatres an' hear it for themselves." Kelly being satirical as only she could. "The critics, of course, on the first showing'll all come out an' ask why the thing's a comedy, when they thought it was going to be a romance."
This underhanded criticism of their latest leading lady's acting talents was too much for the long-established star—Stephanie leaned over, place both hands on her paramour's hip and gently pushed. Kelly, taken by surprise, slid off the table edge, landing on her butt on the grass, swearing foully as she did so.
"I'll get you back for that, doll, don't worry." She picked herself up with innate grace and lady-like composure. "Better take out an insurance policy quick, just to be safe, lady."
"God, actors, who'd live with 'em?"
The entire area on which the old set stood took up around a full 2 acres of ground, now all overgrown with thick grass, bushes, and some flourishing young trees, not to mention the ever-present sagebrush. Parts of subsidiary sets rose out of patches of bushes to a height of ten or twelve feet; pieces of construction, which must at one time have represented walls, now teetered on their last legs before subsiding into the undergrowth never to be seen again. At various points several low one-storey buildings—not much more than broken-down huts—stood in the flourishing ecology of the landscape—and one of these had taken Kelly's attention on her recent expedition into area's unknown.
"Over on the other side of the set—behind this big façade, there's a row of huts half hidden in thick bushes." Kelly had picked the sticky seed-pods off her long dress, made a few catty remarks, and finally forgiven her gentle assaulter, as she always did. "Several in a long row—one long building with windows, like a office-block."
"Well, suppose that's what they were, originally."
"I took a look at one, and it intrigues me."
Stephanie stopped in her stride as the women strolled across the flat ground in front of the main set, amongst the crowds of workers going about their various businesses.
"Something strange about it?"
"Nah, well, not strange, just interesting." Kelly grinned at her lover from underneath the wide brim of her yellow straw-hat. "All the other rooms, or offices, have long since had their doors bust in and windows broken—not to mention everything inside either being stolen or simply shattered in pieces."
"But there's one, towards the end of the block, which still seems to have a locked door, and no windows to break." Kelly glanced at her companion with wide open green enquiring eyes. "Just thought, seeing as we're both at a loose end right now, we might, you know, take an interest in it?"
Stephanie had undergone this gaze, and heard this pleading tone of voice, too many times before to be at all innocent of its meaning and what was now required of her.
"Lead on, Macduff, an' dam'med be she who first cries—whatever it was. Come on, lady, get yer pins in motion, some of us have places to go of a day."
"God, this way, and don't trip over the grass clumps, it's like the South African veldt round this corner."
The office in question lay at the extreme end of the long single-storey building. There were apparently, or had been originally, some seven other separate offices; all now reduced to wrecks by the attentions of vandals over many years. But the end office remained untouched for a very good reason, it was built of solid concrete with no windows. There was no interior connecting door to the other offices by which an exploring hooligan could have entered, and the single exterior door seemed to be made of solid steel with a small lock internal to the substance of the door. Whatever, it remained locked and seemingly still impervious to all assaults.
"Well, that's a door, an' no mistake." Stephanie nodded knowingly, after giving the body of the obstruction a gentle tap. "Can't get through that."
"Hey, I ain't giving up like that, so easy." Kelly was affronted by this lack of effort on the part of her inamorata. "What are you, a mouse or a lion?"
"Why, do I need to choose?" Stephanie wholly lacking in interest.
"Yeah, you do, lady." Kelly taking a step back and putting on her imitation of Theda Bara in 'Cleopatra'. "I want in there, an' you're going to provide the means of said entry, is all."
"And how am I goin' t'do that, jest by way of gen'ral interest, darlin'?"
"Back in amongst the studio boys' equipment truck I saw a jemmy." Kelly nodded confidently. "Go get it."
Stephanie returned from her expedition to the workers' equipment truck not only with a jemmy, but with several other, probably more likely, tools and two burly men, carpenters, capable of using them to the best of their ability. Entranced by this show of efficiency, Kelly ordered them here, then there, then back here again; finally, when she had worked out a viable plan—
"The lock, see it? Bang on it like billy-o with those sledgehammers, an' don't hold back, I got places t'be in an hour or so. Go to it lads."
So Bert and Cecil went to it. After ten minutes they paused in their exertions to gasp for breath, cast sad glances at Kelly, and wipe their sweating brows; then, like heroes they returned to the assault on Messines Ridge, unhappily without the advantage of a whacking great underground mine—though Bert asserted, when taking a further breather, as how three or four sticks of dynamite wouldn't go astray.
Finally the door gave a preliminary groan, squeaked like a horde of mice with the toothache, and suddenly flew open, allowing the gasping workers and Stephanie and Kelly to see a dark void inside the office.
"Great, lads, knew you'd get there in the end. Now what?"
"Now we go in, look at an empty dusty office, then come back out again." Stephanie coming it the Lady because the thunderous crashes of the sledgehammers had given her a headache. "An', by the way, if these guys—good work, lads, all the same—are gettin' a bonus under the counter fer their sterling work, it ain't gon'na be me who shells out the moolah, dearie."
A few minutes later the workers had been sent back to their bona fide careers, with substantial monetary additions to their pockets—through the kindness of Kelly, who happened to have a wad on her, she being deep into the studio's accounting among her other capabilities.
"Don't worry, I'll put it down to deterioration, or something; the IRS'll never find out."
Inside the office the ladies found themselves in a small room smelling of must and dry dead air.
"That door must'a been airtight." Kelly looking around with interest. "See the flowers in that glass vase on the table? Dry but preserved like pressed flowers. You can still see the texture and colour—amazing."
Stephanie, however, was now more interested in something which had caught her attention on the further side of the long room.
"This room's only around half the width of the other rooms in this block; did ya notice?"
"—er, now you mention it—"
"And that door in the centre of the far wall—recognise it?"
Kelly gave the offending doorway a close look, as requested.
"Yep, the same as the outer door we've just spent half an hour kickin' in."
Kelly, being able to see a church in daylight with the best, knew what was required of her at this juncture in their ongoing odyssey.
"We need Bert an' Cecil again, don't we?"
"We dam' well do. Of ya go, gal."
This second door responding less quickly, and needing a great deal more sweat and determination on the part of the willing carpenters, it was almost 40 minutes before it too gave up the ghost and swung open to the last swing of Bert's sledgehammer—he being on his uppers by this time, drenched in sweat and grumbling between each harsh breath in three different languages. Another hefty backhander each, however, saw them going off for the second time with tired grins; although Kelly was now really worried about just how she was going to cover these unofficial outgoings in her accounts.
"What have we here?"
Stephanie had stepped in front of her confederate, blocking the door to the second room as she peered inside.
"Well, what?" Kelly anxious as all get-out to case the joint herself.
For answer Stephane moved aside to let her paramour take a step inside the room beside her.
"Oh, God, why didn't I guess?" Kelly drawing a deep breath of mingled interest and exasperation. "G-dd-m film cans, scores o'the dam' things."
"You know what this means, lover?"
"Silent movies, is what this means." Kelly gave the interior of the shadowy room another all-embracing glance. "There must be scores of films here—if it ain't all just the abandoned daily rushes an' edits from Intransigence."
"This place hasn't been opened since the film company shut down under duress in, when was it, nineteen-eighteen?" Kelly nodded knowingly. "The debt-collectors moved in, took the film company's assets, couldn't sell this huge set, and finally abandoned the place—nobody obviously caring a dam' about the film cans here."
"You sound kind'a doubtful dear?"
"Ahh, no, no-just thinkin', is all." Stephanie pointed to the nearest pile of cans, standing in short columns on a long metal-topped trestle table covered in the dust of ages. "See the cans? They're all from different early film company's; I think this may have been Morton's film vault—where he kept copies of all those films he wanted to take note of, for his own productions."
"Yeah, look, over there; ain't they cans of Theda Bara's Cleopatra?"
Kelly took a couple of paces over to the table, bending down to read the dusty, curling flaking paper labels round the edges of the cans in question.
"By God, they are, too. Who'd have guessed? Haven't seen that film in donkey's years."
"No-one else has, either, doll; it bein' silent, an' all. Deader than the Dodo, silence is, t'day."
Kelly stood straight again, giving her partner a long look.
"So what d'we do about this, then? Look at the cans, there's scores, meb'be hundreds. Possibly a whole armful of old silent movies from who knows when, back in the day. Are they any use to anybody, t'day?"
Stephanie paused in thought, rubbing one cheek with a now dirty finger.
"Are they worth anything? In the way of profit, I mean?" Kelly pursuing her usual route as far as property rights went. "And who owns them? Do we hand 'em over to the lawyers', or debt-collectors', or the City Council we're leasing this joint from, or what? Or are they ours for the taking, d'you suppose?"
Stephanie concluded her bout of inner examination.
"Plenty o'questions there—but the answers're pretty hazy, not t'say clouded in fog." She shrugged her shoulders, though still gazing around her at the possible treasure vault of old abandoned movies. "Way I see it—we've leased the joint for the next three months, so that gives us ownership rights over the whole caboodle, as I figure's it. If we want, we can take this, er, hoard an' do what the hell we like with it all."
"I does." Stephanie having now made up her mind on the doubtful moral issues involved. "Nobody else's had any interest in them for, how long? The last fourteen years, or so."
"So, we take 'em all—"
"What? the whole boilin'? there's hundreds o'cans here. Where're we gon'na stash 'em?"
"Back at our own vault, at Redoubtable."
"But, er, why, if I may ask? They bein', as you've made clear, silent an' fossilized an' no use to anybody in the line of theatrical shows anymore."
Stephanie, in the interim, had come to a conclusion on this delicate matter.
"Historical interest, baby."
"Y'know how people collect things, just 'cause they're old? Books, paintings, etchings, old furniture, an' what-all?"
"Stands t'reason, if ya think about it, these types of old movies'll eventually come in'ta the same category." Stephanie was now on an almost unstoppable altruistic roll. "People'll go wild, not so long from now meb'be, over some old silent Buster Keaton flic, or Larry Semon comedy, or whatever."
"Gloria Swanson?" Kelly getting into the groove, against her better judgement. "Lilian Gish? Clara Bow? That kind'a star?"
"Exactly." Stephanie nodding in agreement. "Of course, we'll have t'examine these cans with a fine tooth comb, just to see exactly what we have here."
"What if it's, like you said, all mostly only Intransigence's dailies?"
"Nuthin' wrong with that." Stephanie easily convincing herself of the importance of other film company's cast-off's. "All grist t'the mill. Intransigence's a fine old movie; still shown t'day, at theatre's who can pull in the connoisseur audiences', anyway."
"Huumph." Then something close to her heart occurred to Kelly, putting an immediate damper on her reaction to the present situation. "What about the expence? How much's this all gon'na cost us, darlin'. Thought o'that, yet?"
"Nuthin'. Well, hardly anythin'." Stephanie brushing this contemptible criticism aside with all the disdain it rightfully deserved. "We just transfer all these cans t'our own vault, at Merrivale Drive, an' leave 'em in peace there. After all, we didn't go to the expence of actually makin' the movies, did we? We're just storin' 'em, for future generations, is all."
Kelly mused on this point for another minute, while her soul-mate trotted up and down, examining the rest of the cans laid out on the three long trestle tables, and others simply piled up against the walls.
"There's some Intransigence material, sure enough; but most of it seems, like I thought, t'be other company's movies." Stephanie feeling her sense of inner achievement rising with every can label she read. "There must be scores of movies collected here. Morton must have wanted to see just what everybody else was producing, as he made his own epic."
"Didn't do him any good, in the long run." Kelly keeping the conversation on the dour line of reality. "He went into liquidation, and had t'sell up everything, after all."
"But this's the end result, don't ya see, doll?" Stephanie now not to be deflected from her charitable urges for any reason. "All these old forgotten movies, which'll definitely come in'ta their own again, some day; stands t'reason. Could be a treasure trove of future profit for us, if handled the right way when the market picks up."
But Kelly wasn't to be encouraged so easily by the carrot-stick of money in the far future, even by Stephanie.
"Huh! When'll that be, lover? Twenty? Thirty? Forty? More years?" She pursed her pretty pink lips in disgust. "If we're even still here t'enjoy said resurgence."
"Hah, don't be so gloomy, darlin'." Stephanie crossing to put an arm round her loved partner in life. "It ain't gon'na cost us, or Redoubtable, anythin' worth mentioning. And the end result might well buck our company up no end. Think of the kudos', some time t'come from now. Redoubtable, the sole owner of movies most people thought had crumbled t'dust an' been forgotten decades previous. Why, we might even be in line for prestigious awards for our selfless work, when it all kicks off. How'd ya like that, lover?"
Kelly smiled up at the face of the woman she loved most in all the world.
"Got'ta give it to ya, babe, you could sell ice t'the Eskimos, if need be. OK, I'm in. God, I must be mad."
"Ha! Great. Well, lets get this place organised; these cans not goin' ter move themselves, y'know."
The next month was awash with activity at the Redoubtable studios, the old abandoned Intransigence set, and Redoubtable's film archive and storage vault on Merrivale Drive, Hollywood. Buddie Brannigan, eminent producer par excellence, dashed hither and yon, trying to keep up with making Meadowlark on the old Intransigence set, keeping track of two further movies in the pipeline, and assisting Stephanie and Kelly in their sterling efforts to single-handedly save for the nation the stash of old abandoned silent movies that everyone with any sense had long since given up to their lonely fate. But, finally, came the day—
"That them all?"
"Yep, babe." Stephanie herself heaving a sigh of well-deserved thankfulness. "The last cans transported from the old set an' settled here in their new home, thank G-d."
The ladies were standing in the dark dusty interior of the warehouse especially designed to hold cans of nitrate film in controlled atmospheric conditions; Stephanie and Kelly, and the other Directors of Redoubtable having a very solid opinion of the worth of their combined efforts in the movie line. The old movie cans had been organised into their individual movie groups, ensuring that all cans of any single film were placed together, and not scattered to the four winds in the unexplored depths of the vault. They had been examined by Redoubtable's own movie editors, to clarify their condition, and been given a clean slate. It was very well known that nitrate film, especially old nitrate film which had not been kept in the best of condition, could be extremely dangerous—several cans, going up in flames together, having the explosive power of small bombs. The vault, for this very reason, had individual compartments, small rooms lined with metal shelves, with airtight metal doors, offering the best chance of the film continuing in a stable state.
"You sure this whole enterprise ain't costin' us anythin'?" Kelly still not wholly reassured on this, to her at least, important topic.
"Yeah, nuthin' over a few extra dollars per month." Stephanie making a face expressive of complete satisfaction in this proposal. "Won't amount to more'n a hundred dollars or so per year."
"I'm just glad we've managed to save them all, y'know." Stephanie still herself wallowing in a feeling of just action that gave her a warm sensation inside. "When people, in the future, come t'realise the importance of these early movies, silent or not, won't they be blown away at the trove of such we've been keepin' safe for them? We could get medals, y'know."
As they turned to the door Kelly took her lover's hand in hers.
"Stevie, I'm glad you're happy, an' I'm really glad we've saved these movies, but I'm even gladder the whole thing's over. What a month it's been; I think my arms'll never recover from hoistin' all those dam' movie cans. After the first week I began t'feel like a circus weight-lifter, y'know."
"So, what's the plan for all these old movies now, lover?"
Stephanie was up for this with all the assurance of Cecil B. deMille himself.
"Lock an' load, dear." She laughing at her lover's expression. "By which I means we've deposited the films here, in our vault; now we just leaves 'em t'mature, like a French vineyard an' its fine wines."
"After which," Not in the least put off her stroke, Stephanie continued gazing at vistas of far-off asphodel meadows no-one else, including Kelly, could see. "in the fullness of time, we become the saviors of the American film industry, are given citations and medals enough t'sink a fair-sized ocean liner, and spend the rest of our lives in well-earned respectability an' honour."
Kelly absorbed this selfless litany silently for a few seconds before coming to the surface of reality again.
"Stevie, I loves you; sometimes I'm not exactly sure why, but I does; and in that manner of taking the rough with the smooth I can only say—are you free this evening? I was thinking of having a quiet peaceful night in, drinking wine and listening to swing music on the radio. How's that grab you?"
"Works fer me, babe." Stephanie grinned, holding her partner even tighter as they walked along the vault corridor to the stairs leading to street level. "Should I bring a bottle, myself?"
"Medoc, I like Medoc. By the way," Kelly still carping on old themes. "what about these movies, from now on? What's the long term plan?"
"The long term plan, ducks, is for Redoubtable to store the movies in this here vault till the time's ripe for the biggest revival in movie history." Stephanie assisting her lover up the twisting iron staircase to ground level "In the meantime they, the movie cans, being safe an' sound in the dark down here."
"Ho-hum." Kelly reassured, and now having something far more important to consider. "We can hit the delicatessen on the corner of Theophile and Twelfth for the wine; Tommy Morgan's store for the eats, an' be home for the party in, oh, an hour. OK?"
"Very much OK, by me, ducks. What's for afters' if I may ask? Just curious."
Kelly gave her lover a knowing glance, smiling widely.
"Ah, something exotic, delicately flavoured, and only available to those of the most exquisite tastes."
Stephanie looked down at her partner, enthralled.
"Sounds gorgeous; can't wait. Is it gon'na really be as good as that?"
"Oh, baby, just you wait; I don't think you're gon'na be disappointed, no sir'ree."
June 26, 1985. 2604 Merrivale Drive, Hollywood. Gargieston Construction Company on site.
"Hey, Frank, c'mere."
Frank, fully kitted up in his orange linen company work-overalls and bright red hard hat, not to mention heavy canvas gloves and boots a tank could roll over without injury to the feet within, trudged across the more or less cleared building site; the rough ground of broken concrete, bricks, and loose gravel holding no worries for a man of his experience. The co-worker who had called for his foreman's help was standing to one side of the wide site; that of a former warehouse which had been used for all manner of purposes over the years but had now met its inevitable fate, there now being only a wide barren flat wasteland where the two storey building had once stood for decades.
"Wha's up, laddie?" Frank having Scottish ancestors, and never missing an opportunity of making such known to his fellow workers, who naturally generally called him Scottie as a result.
"Jest uncovered this area here." Colin Bevier had been in construction almost as long as his foreman, and they were firm friends, knowing each others' capabilities to a tee. "The scraper just cleared this patch an' ya can see the result; stairs leading down t'a cellar area, by the looks of it."
Frank stood by the edge of the uncovered hole, gazing down into the dark below; a flight of curving iron steps seeming to lead into the far depths.
"What was coverin' it?"
"A big steel plate, like t'one of those used fer the sides o'ships." Colin raised an arm, indicating something on the ground twenty feet away. "Big, near two inches thick, can still see the rivet holes. Must weigh close t'quarter a ton."
"Hmm, well, these stairs look strong enough; fancy comin' down with me?"
"Yeah, I finds I'm free fer the next half hour or so." Colin coming it the clown. "Hold on a mo'. Jerry!, Jerry!, come'n keep a lookout here, while's Scottie an' I goes underground, OK?"
With this necessary safety-action in place Frank led the way into the dark below ground, wholly unknowing of what might be awaiting he and his companion.
'The Hollywood Daily Courier', July 3, 1985. 'Awesome Discovery Underground. Film Historians in Shock at Major Film Discovery. Could Change the History of American Film for all Time.' See article by Anne MacLowry, our reporter on the scene.
'Just a few days ago construction workers demolishing an old warehouse on Merrivale Drive discovered, in an abandoned cellar complex, one of the greatest film troves in modern history. I interviewed Mr James Phillips, Professor of Theatrical Studies at Cranway University, on the details and implications of the discovery.
'Professor, can you tell our readers just what the nature of the discovery is? We know it has some relation to film stock, but could you elucidate, please?"
"Well, in a nutshell, it's just the most wonderful discovery, I believe, since Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamun.'
'As important as that, Professor?'
'Oh, easily so."
'And this includes, what, Professor?'
'To give your readers a list, there are some two thousand five hundred odd cans of old nitrate film in their original containers, all belonging to one company—Redoubtable; but four hundred and twenty others seem to belong to a variety of other, very early, film companies,—an astonishing number of silent movies' long thought lost, in fact. The labels have crumbled off many, but our researchers have managed to identify almost three-quarters of the titles, nonetheless.'
"And what are these, Professor? Some lost films, as you say, or films we already have in other vaults?"
'Mostly lost titles, it turns out. We have not yet identified why they all ended up in what must have been the old Redoubtable film vault; but they, the various silents, certainly came from a number of other old-time film companies. But, of course, the main bulk of the cans belong to the 'B' film company Redoubtable; most of whose back list was lost during or just after World War Two. Very few Redoubtable films in circulation today; so it's a double whammy, you might say—most of Redoubtable's lost catalogue, and these new,—long thought lost, too,—silent movies.'
'Can you give our readers some idea of the titles and actors involved in these movies, Professor?'
'Reeling off the titles may be somewhat dubious, as we stand, but I can safely say we now have in our hands many silent titles long since thought irretrievably gone forever. These include movies by many of the great stars—Lillian Gish, Theda Bara, Gloria Swanson, Mae Murray. And, of course, such luminaries of the old silver screen as John Gilbert, William S. Hart, Snitz Edwards, Mack Swain, and a plethora of other male stars.'
'Do we have any information on how they all ended up in a cellar on Merrivale Drive, Professor?'
'Almost certainly placed there deliberately, for safety reasons, by some eminent person associated with Redoubtable Films; but then they must have been quickly forgotten; probably when the studio went bust, as I said, during the War; we just don't know all the relevant details, at present.'
'Thank you, Professor Phillips, for your interesting input. I'm sure our readers are enthralled by the possible significance of this major discovery. Now I can exclusively reveal that the Courier, after extensive research, has more or less pinned down the origins of this hoard of lost movies.
The warehouse, now wholly demolished, on Merrivale Drive used to be owned, as Professor Phillips has already stated, by a small 'B' movie company called Redoubtable Films. It started operations sometime around 1918 to 1920, going through the 30's quite profitably; but at the start of World War 2 it hit financial difficulties, mainly because most of its man, and woman, power went off to work in Government War factories and so on. The then CEO Gustave 'Buddie' Brannigan, finally had no choice but to wind the company up, in 1944. We believe the film vault on Merrivale was abandoned and forgotten at this point.
So there you have it—a major discovery of old silent movies from the beginning of film in America. The individual movies represented in the recovered haul extends our range of known silent epics almost as much again as we already had. While the return to life, as one might say, of Redoubtable's main bulk of sound films will be of great interest to those who have any interest in old movies generally; a market in television not being by any means without merit. A truly amazing discovery altogether. Although now being temporarily kept for safety at the modern vaults of Carmichael Films Inc, at their studios in Hollywood, there are plans to have at least some of the more famous silent titles quickly restored and transferred to blu-ray for home entertainment. I am sure the market will be found to be highly interested in owning such unknown treasures from the early days of American film. Your reporter, Anne MacLowry.'
"They finally found 'em, darlin'."
The little old white-haired lady stood looking down at the other old woman sitting propped by cushions in the deep comfortable armchair facing the window looking out onto the quiet street of this small, but up-market, residential district of Hollywood. Kelly was now a sprightly 85 years of age, but her inamorata, Stephanie, had not fared so well in the stakes of old age. She now sat, hands crossed in her warmly rug-covered lap, staring more or less sightlessly out into the street; she not having recognised Kelly, standing by her side, as her long-time lover and companion for the last five years or so—Alzheimer's Disease doing that to a person.
"And here's us thinking they'd all been lost or destroyed decades ago." Kelly, long inured to the knowledge that she had more or less lost what personal presence of her lover there had ever been, stared at the wreck that was left, though still with a tender look in her faded green eyes—Love being gentle, Love being kind, and Love being forever, no matter what. "Not much point in our tellin' everyone about our involvement in that old film vault now, is there, dear?"
She paused to place a gentle hand on the shoulder of the seated figure who didn't know who she was anymore.
"Yeah, we'll just let them all enjoy the old movies as they please." Kelly continued, talking now to herself, as she had become accustomed to over the last few tragic years. "No use to us anymore. What good would adulation, or honour, or commendations, do for you now, lover? No, let 'em be; we'll get along fine, as we are. I'll just ring the bell for Jenny to make us a nice cup of tea—you know how much you like your cup of tea of a morning, dear. Come on, let me make you comfortable there, lover. Don't worry, I'll always be here for you."
As Kelly leant over to adjust the lap rug and cushions behind the bent shoulders of the unresponsive frame which had contained her lover, but now did not, she took the opportunity to press her lips to the forehead of the silent woman in the chair, in a kiss still imbued with love and tenderness and lingering passion.
"Come on; there you are—that's better, isn't it; and here's Jenny with our tea—I'll pour, and hold your cup for you, Stevie. There you are, lover, there you are."
The next 'Redoubtable Films' story will be along shortly.