An Interview on THE OSCAR, One of the Great Bad Movies

Cover art for Kino Lorber Studio Classics' new release of THE OSCAR.
Cover art for Kino Lorber Studio Classics' new release of THE OSCAR.

It’s no secret to those who know me that I adore bad movies. My favorite kind of trash classic, though, is that which, based on its cast and creative team, should have been excellent and just isn’t for whatever reason.

Recently, Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics line released the long-unavailable cult classic, THE OSCAR, a film that begins at the Academy Awards where an actor, Frankie Fane, is nominated and flashes back to show us how he got there. Co-written by famed writer Harlan Ellison, directed and co-written by Oscar-winner Russell Rouse, and starring (among others) Stephen Boyd, Elke Sommer, Milton Berle, Tony Bennett, Joseph Cotton, Eleanor Parker, Ernest Borgnine, Walter Brennon, Broderick Crawford, and Walter Brennan (the film also has an incredible amount of cameos), THE OSCAR, on paper, sounds like it should be an acclaimed classic. But, it isn’t. It is hands-down one of the worst films of all time that’s an essential watch for anyone who loves films not considered “good” by traditional standards. From its hammy acting to its inane dialogue, this well-produced film (Edith Head’s costumes and the art direction were actually nominated for Oscars) is a laugh-out-loud catastrophe from minute one…and is all the better for it. (Fun fact: THE OSCAR was also listed in THE OFFICAL RAZZIE MOVIE GUIDE as one of the worst movies of all time.)

Frequently, films that receive state-of-the-art releases on home media are of bona-fide classics or films that are at least not as hilariously awful as THE OSCAR. After viewing Kino’s gorgeous new release of the film, I had to find out who was responsible for bringing this gift to the filmgoing community into the world, and I was directed to Frank Tarzi, SVP of Acquisitions and Business Development for Kino Lorber.

The following is an interview with Mr. Tarzi about the film’s recent home media release:

Joshua Handler: THE OSCAR was released by Kino Lorber a few weeks ago, correct?

Frank Tarzi: We acquired the rights from StudioCanal. We did a large 130 or so deal with them. One of the films that we acquired was THE OSCAR. It’s been kind of a lost film because it had been with them for all of these years, and no one had exploited it on DVD, so the last release was on VHS a long, long time ago, so it pretty much hasn’t been on home video for decades.

The film has a cult following and is one of those great bad movies, and we were looking forward to doing it. We acquired it, and then we went through this whole period where we couldn’t find the film elements because StudioCanal didn’t know where the film elements were, so to make a long story short, I did a little research, and I found out that it was originally released by Paramount Pictures, and so we reached out to Paramount with whom we’ve done deals in the past and said, “Can you guys look and see if you have the film elements for THE OSCAR and another movie which was produced and directed by the same people,” called THE CAPER OF THE GOLDEN BULLS.

We were very happy to find out yes, Paramount held the film elements, they had the original camera negatives, and we did it from there. Then we reached out to StudioCanal, got them to give us the access letter. We went to Paramount and sent the film elements to FotoKem. We did a 4K scan of the original camera negative, the output also in 4K, and the overall transfer looks pretty great now.

JH: How did you decide that it was time to resurrect THE OSCAR? Normally you see restorations of films generally considered to be great works of art.

FT: The film is kind of a cult classic. There’s more than one reason to remaster a film, and they don’t always have to be classics and masterpieces and all that. Sometimes you look at a film that has the potential of doing well on physical media, so you say, “Okay, let’s do this,” so we took a chance. We’re happy with the numbers, and I think it’ll hopefully find a new audience also because I think it’s pretty much made for the Mystery Science Theater fans and people who would enjoy watching good-bad movies. The film is beautifully shot, and the sets are amazing, and the costumes are amazing, and it got nominated for Oscars. It has an incredible cast, but we’re not fooling ourselves. It is a pretty bad movie, but it’s also pretty great in a lot of ways.

JH: That’s what struck me – it’s so technically well-made, and it’s got such an amazing cast. No one’s doing their finest work in the movie, but it’s such a great-looking production.

FT: It was nominated I think for art direction and costumes. Edith Head did the costume designs. The Academy Awards were actually involved with the film in the opening of the film, and they also mention The Oscars, and the finale’s at The Oscars. In those days they made a lot of movies that were similar kinds of films, you know these big-budget, big-cast kind of films like THE CARPETBAGGERS, and there were a bunch of different films they made around that era. Paramount did release a few of those anyway. The Jean Harlow movie, HARLOW, that’s very similar – incredible cast, beautiful set designs, and top-notch cinematography and music and costumes and some really great actors, but at the same time, the film itself is not very good.

JH: Despite the fact that THE OSCAR isn’t very good, what do you personally like about it?

FT: The cast. I could watch some of those actors like Ernest Borgnine and Milton Berle hang out and talk. There are so many great actors in this film. The cast is loaded. To be honest, I saw the film when I was a kid. I saw it one time on television a long, long time ago, but I knew that the film was one of those titles that people had asked for a lot, and nobody knew who had the rights, and I always knew it was with StudioCanal. It was just to actually get them to agree to a deal that didn’t come easy, and we finally got them to agree to the deal, and the rest is history.

JH: When you found the elements, what condition were they in?

FT: Very good condition. Both films were in very good condition, so we did a 4K scan, and we didn’t run into too many issues as far as finding that it had emulsion stains or deep scratches or damaged frames or stuff like that. Overall, it was kept in very good condition, from the 1960s that probably nobody’s touched for decades. Also, there’s another thing you have to understand: the less the film is known, the better condition they’re sometimes in. Many times, a film that’s very popular gets scanned over and over and over again and prints are created and stuff like that, so the more you run these through equipment, the more damaged you get. In this case, we were very happy to find the original camera negative, and it was in very good shape, but sometimes the lesser-known films are the easiest to remaster because they haven’t been exploited or touched for decades. They’ve sat there, and as long as they’re stored properly, nothing will happen to them.

JH: Who executed the restoration?

FT: I oversee the transfers. I’m the person that approves everything, but the work is done at a mastering house that the studios usually choose. Pretty much every major studio has a list of three or four facilities that they approve of because they’ve already done work with them because they don’t want to send these very rare materials to a place where they could get lost or damaged. Once they have a list of places they’ve worked with and approved, we get to choose from those places and figure out which ones we’ve worked with and which one’s probably the one that’s going to give us the best price. We did the work at FotoKem in Los Angeles. They did all that. They did the color grading and the remastering. We were overseeing it, we were giving good notes on what we wanted done. We were very happy with what we received.

JH: What do you personally look for in a restoration? What did you look for in FotoKem’s restoration of the film?

FT: It’s a 1960s Pathécolor film, so there’s a certain look to those films, and the colors are supposed to be a certain way. You want to make sure they match similar films of that era, and in some cases, you actually have a source to use as a color grade to make sure that’s how the colors are supposed to look. The reds are supposed to be this way, the blues are supposed to be this way, and so on and so on. A real full restoration could cost millions of dollars, which is a frame-by-frame restoration. This is what’s called a 4K master, so we did a 4K scan and we restored it the best we could at the price we were willing to spend. Nobody in their right mind should do a full restoration of something like this because they would never recoup their investment.

JH: What is the difference between a frame-by-frame restoration and what you did for THE OSCAR?

FT: Frame-by-frame restoration is something they’ve done for stuff like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA or SPARTACUS. They only do it for the all-time classics where they’re willing to spend millions of dollars, but even that doesn’t happen as often as it used to because the physical media business is not what it used to be, so studios are not willing to spend the kind of money they were willing to spend let’s say in the ‘90s or the 2000s.

What we’ve done with this, what we call a brand-new 4K master, is the best you’ll ever get with a film like this. If the studio had done the master a few years ago, there’s no way they would’ve done it in 4K. They probably would’ve done it in regular HD. Today’s standards are pretty much 4K, so if the studio was doing it now, they probably would’ve done it in 4K. The cost of 4K compared to 2K to HD – each one you save a little bit more money. Now they even have something called 8K which is ridiculous. Nobody is going to do an 8K scan on something like THE OSCAR. You see the transfer. It looks great. I’m very happy with the transfer.

JH: One final question: what is your day-to-day like at the office? Explain your job to me.

FT: I’m the head of acquisitions for the KL Studio Classics line, so pretty much I deal with all the major studios. I acquire all the classics for the company. The Kino Lorber Studio Classics line was created in 2014. I think we’ve released over 1000 films since then. We’ve remastered a couple hundred titles at least, maybe more. After I acquire the films, we figure out which of the films need a new transfer, which ones don’t, which ones we have an HD master for, which ones we don’t. Sometimes we know that before the deal is signed because that’s how you make a decision on how much you want to pay for something and then I oversee making the extras, producing the Blu-ray, all that kind of stuff.

The commentaries you see on the disc – those were done through me. I was pretty much the one who okayed both of those projects. When we do a special edition of a film, which has 10 extras, 20 extras, those are also all approved by me. I’m the head of acquisitions for the Studio Classics line, and I acquire mostly stuff from the major studios, also some independent titles, but it’s not just that. I also oversee the transfers and producing the extras and producing the actual discs.