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Universal Pictures: Celebrating 100 Years

Founded by Carl Laemmle as the Universal Film Manufacturing Company in 1912, Universal Pictures has released countless iconic American movies over the past century. Throughout February, the museum offers the singular experience of seeing highlights on the big screen from the studio’s considerable achievements on 35mm. The MFAH is privileged to participate in the national tour of this film series presented by American Express in association with the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Film descriptions are excerpted from an illustrated catalog that accompanies the series.

Past Films in This Series


The Birds

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Introduced by Houston Film Critics Society member Donna Copeland, Texas Art & Film Magazine After socialite Tippi Hedren visits lawyer Rod Taylor in a Northern California town, the community is filled with an onslaught of seemingly, arbitrary and chaotic attacks by ordinary birds. “While no birds were harmed in the making of the film, the same cannot be said of Tippi Hedren. . . ” – Nina Rao, UCLA more info

To Kill a Mockingbird

Directed by Robert Mulligan
To Kill a Mockingbird depicts everyday life in 1930s Alabama, as seen through the eyes of two children. When their widowed lawyer father (Gregory Peck) agrees to represent a black man accused of raping a white woman, the children are confronted with the realities of prejudice and injustice as the trial unfolds. The film won Academy Awards for best actor (Peck), best art direction, and best writing (adapted screenplay by Texas native Horton Foote.) more info

All Quiet on the Western Front

Directed by Lewis Milestone
Introduced by Houston Film Critics Society member Travis Leamons, Inside Pulse Movies In this Oscar-winning film based on Erich Maria Remarque’s 1928 novel, a group of idealistic German soldiers face profound disillusionment as they witness conflict, death, and mutilation in the trenches and on the battlefields of World War I. “No one found it odd that an American film was being made in which all the main characters were German. ‘I don't think people thought of them as Germans or Americans ... more info

Inglourious Basterds

Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Sweet revenge suffuses Quentin Tarantino’s astounding revisionist World War II epic. Expectedly reverential of cinema, Inglourious Basterds follows a group of male vigilantes on a dangerous mission. In an audacious genre twist, the tough avengers are a Jewish special-forces unit assembled by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) to infiltrate enemy territory and kill Nazis. A French cinema owner (Mélanie Laurent), whose Jewish family is wiped out by a sadistic colonel (Christoph Walz), plots her own vengeful finale, all converging to offer ... more info

Magnificent Obsession

Directed by Douglas Sirk
A reckless playboy (Rock Hudson) is responsible for a revered doctor’s death and falls in love with the widow (Jane Wyman). When his careless ways cause further tragedy, he devotes himself to charity in an attempt to win the widow’s love. “Magnificent Obsession made a star of Rock Hudson, a studio hunk previously relegated to supporting roles . . . Although [Sirk] made eight films with Hudson, their most successful were soap operas boasting a European formalism that framed American ... more info

Do the Right Thing

Directed by Spike Lee
Introduced by Houston Film Critics Society member Joe Leydon, Variety Writer-director-actor Spike Lee’s third feature, a frequently hilarious but hard-hitting drama, charts mounting racial tensions on the hottest day of the year in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of central Brooklyn. Released in the wake of a series of violent incidents—including the 1983 police killings of graffiti artist Michael Stewart and Eleanor Bumpurs in 1984—the  film is a passionate and engrossing state of the union.  more info

Show Boat

Directed by James Whale
The seminal American musical was the first to explore serious themes (most notably racism) and to truly integrate song with story and character. A third generation riverboat family has the daughter thrust into the limelight, despite her mother’s objections. Features Paul Robeson singing the powerful anthem Ol’ Man River.   more info

Pillow Talk

Directed by Michael Gordon
NEW SCREENING ADDED FEBRUARY 17 AT 1 P.M. Introduced by Sally Hill, Conroe Courier In this stylish comedy, interior designer Doris Day and ad man Rock Hudson are neighbors who despise each other, but are forced to share a telephone party line. A romantic connection soon begins in the first of three films Day and Hudson made together. more info


Directed by Tod Browning and Karl Freund
Introduced by Houston Film Critics Society President Josh Starnes, Vampire Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) settles in a London castle and begins to prey on virtuous women. The film launched a series of iconic horror films at Universal, giving the studio a new identity, one it would be associated with for decades to come. “Director Tod Browning (Freaks) was still unaccustomed to making talkies; cinematographer Karl Freund directed all of his scenes. At nights, the sets were taken over by a ... more info


Directed by James Whale
Introduced by Houston Film Critics Society President Josh Starnes, Following the surprise success of Dracula, Universal produced Frankenstein—solidifying the studio’s commitment to the horror genre.  James Whale managed to crystallize the novel’s essential themes and emotions . . . that of a scientific genius playing God, and his unfortunate creation reaching out for beauty, tenderness, and ultimately revenge.  more info

Apollo 13

Directed by Ron Howard
After an explosion crippled their spacecraft, the astronauts aboard Apollo 13 were left in near-freezing temperatures with a dwindling oxygen supply and failing electrical systems. Apollo 13 captures the human drama of this true story, as well as reaffirming the space program’s importance to an America jaded by the Vietnam War. Ron Howard’s deep collaboration with NASA and veterans of the mission produced the Oscar-nominated film with vivid authenticity. more info

High Plains Drifter

Directed by Clint Eastwood
Introduced by Houston Film Critics Society member Peter Vonder Haar, Houston Press and Village Voice A mysterious stranger (Clint Eastwood) wreaks havoc on a town whose sheriff  was whipped to death by a gang of thugs. Similar to the townspeople in High Noon, the inhabitants of the lake community could populate several rings of Dante’s Inferno. The Stranger paints the town red and renames it Hell.  more info

Cobra Woman

Directed by Robert Siodmak
Introduced by Houston Film Critics Society member Michael Bergeron, Free Press Houston Maria Montez plays dual roles as a virtuous princess and her evil twin, the iron-fisted, fabulously attired ruler of Cobra Island. Cobra Island is a place where strangers are instantly put to death, and inhabitants are periodically thrown into the local volcano. This CinemaScope and Technicolor spectacle influenced the camp aesthetic in films by Jack Smith and John Waters. “An insane piece of high camp … Few phallic symbols ... more info


Community partner: Houston Film Critics Society, whose members introduce selected screenings.

The MFAH film department is supported by Tenaris; The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; The Consulate General the Republic of Korea; Nina and Michael Zilkha; the National Film Preservation Foundation; Franci and Jim Crane; James V. Derrick; Ms. Melanie Gray and Mr. Mark Wawro; and Lynn S. Wyatt.