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DeMille retrospective at AMMI includes archival prints, documentary premiere

In other words, it is the perfect time for the retrospective “Sin and Salvation: The Films of Cecil B. DeMille,” which will be presented by the American Museum of the Moving Image from April 10-25.

The retrospective opens with the premiere of the new documentary. “Cecil B. DeMille: An American Epic,” with directors Kevin Brownlow and Patrick Stansbury in person. The museum will show 11 of DeMille’s greatest films in beautifully restored archival prints from the George Eastman House and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. On the closing day of the series, Moving Image will present a rare screening of an original Technicolor print of “The Ten Commandments,” one of the most spectacular epic films ever produced.

Another series highlight is a screening of the complete 160-minute version of “The King of Kings,” the 1927 biblical spectacle that was DeMille’s favorite among his own films. As with all of the silent films in the series, “The King of Kings” will be presented with live music by Donald Sosin.

DeMille did not discover Hollywood, but he may have invented it. From the moment he moved from New York with a small production company and leased a barn that had been converted into a movie studio, DeMille was one of the industry’s great powers. For a half century, DeMille exercised more personal control over his films at every level-from scripting to set design-than any other Hollywood director. Although best known for his lavish spectacles and grand historical pageants, DeMille also introduced complex characterizations and dramatic “Rembrandt lighting” to the early Hollywood feature. Always a great showman, his films dramatized the eternal conflict between good and evil.

“DeMille created moral tales that entertained audiences with enthralling depictions of immorality and excess on their inevitable path to redemption,” said David Schwartz, the museum’s chief curator of film. “His influence on Hollywood is enormous, and such great popular artists as Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese acknowledge their enormous debt to DeMille’s pioneering achievement.”

The retrospective was made possible thanks to support from The Cecil B. DeMille Trust.

(All films were directed by Cecil B. DeMille unless otherwise noted.)

Saturday, April 10

1 p.m.

The Cheat (1915, 58 mins.)

The Golden Chance (1915, 80 mins.)

Silent films with live music by Donald Sosin. Restored prints from George Eastman House. Admired for its lighting effects and the restrained telling of its lurid story, “The Cheat” is a melodrama of seething passions fired by Sessue Hayakawa and Fannie Ward. Long overlooked was “The Golden Chance,” a very different picture of high society produced simultaneously, at night, while “The Cheat” occupied DeMille during daylight hours.

4 p.m. World Premiere with Kevin Brownlow in person

Cecil B. DeMille: An American Epic

2004, 110 mins. Directed by Kevin Brownlow and Patrick Stansbury. Music by Elmer Bernstein. With Martin Scorsese, Angela Lansbury, Charlton Heston, Cecilia (DeMille) Presley, Steven Spielberg. Including never-before-seen footage showing how DeMille parted the Red Sea for “The Ten Commandments,” this fascinating documentary explores how DeMille virtually invented Hollywood in the 1910s and dominated it through the 1950s. Renowned film historian Kevin Brownlow will introduce the screening.

Sunday, April 11

2 p.m.

The Godless Girl

1928, 101 mins. Silent film with live music by Donald Sosin. Restored print from UCLA Film & TV Archive. With Lina Basquette, Marie Prevost. DeMille pulled out all stops in this roaring melodrama of atheism and juvenile delinquency. His last silent film is part outrageous melodrama, part social comedy, part prison reform propaganda, and part religious parable, a film of irrational yet compelling power.

4:30 p.m.

Cleopatra

1934, 101 mins. Restored print from UCLA Film & TV Archive. With Claudette Colbert, Warren William. DeMille’s version of “Cleopatra” may not be the longest or the most expensive, but every dollar shows on screen and the seduction of Antony on Cleopatra’s barge is alone worth the price of admission. Colbert, as always, plays the drama and the comedy with equal flair.

Saturday, April 17

1:30 p.m.

The King of Kings

1927, 160 mins. Silent film with live music by Donald Sosin. Restored print from George Eastman House. With H. B. Warner, Ernest Torrance, Joseph Schildkraut. A rare showing of the complete version of DeMille’s most affecting Biblical epic. His personal favorite, elegantly produced and photographed, it was the one DeMille picture designed to survive the ages.

5 p.m.

The Whispering Chorus

1918, 83 mins. Silent film with live music by Donald Sosin. Restored print from George Eastman House. With Raymond Hatton, Kathlyn Williams. A famous tale of psychic turmoil, at once thought-provoking, bizarre, and self-consciously artistic. It foreshadows film noir in its reliance on character and the inevitability of fate once certain actions or choices are taken.

Sunday, April 18

1:30 p.m.

Male and Female

1919, 118 mins. Silent film with live music by Donald Sosin. Restored print from George Eastman House. With Gloria Swanson. In DeMille’s famed adaptation of “The Admirable Crichton,” Gloria Swanson and a boatload of shipwrecked socialites learn about living from a real man — their erstwhile butler.

4 p.m.

The Sign of the Cross

1932, 125 mins. Restored print from UCLA Film & TV Archive. With Fredric March, Claudette Colbert, Charles Laughton. This outlandish spectacle of Roman decadence was a great comeback film for DeMille, made at the lowest point of his career. Lavishly produced, with thousands of extras, the film remains most famous for Colbert’s milk bath.

Saturday, April 24

1:30 p.m.

Reap the Wild Wind

1942, 124 mins. Restored print from UCLA Film & TV Archive. With John Wayne, Paulette Goddard, Raymond Massey. Wayne and Milland battle for the love of Goddard in this antebellum Technicolor yarn, set against the intrigues of salvage pirates working the Florida keys. Preceded by “Hollywood Extra Girl” (1935, 10 mins.) A hilarious short film made on the set of “The Crusades.”

4 p.m.

Unconquered

1947, 135 mins. Restored print from UCLA Film & TV Archive. With Gary Cooper, Paulette Goddard. The final installment of DeMille’s American cycle puts Cooper and Goddard into the French and Indian war, treading on John Ford territory. While Ford’s dramas are more human-scale, DeMille’s rousing adventure is an epic mythological narrative.

Sunday, April 25

2 p.m.

The Ten Commandments

1956, 219 mins. With Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner. DeMille’s swan song, not exactly a remake of his silent hit, was a full-blooded Biblical spectacle whose various plagues and miracles set a new standard in special effects technology.

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