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Restoring luster, lure of old movies

The new James Dean stamp is selling exceptionally well, and a 40th-anniversary reissue of his last movie is set for theatrical release this fall.

Roald Dahl's stories have inspired a couple of 1996 movies. The 1971 film of his children's book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is scheduled for a 25th-anniversary reissue soon.

The box-office success of Jackie Chan's Rumble in the Bronx has inspired Miramax to arrange a wider release for one of his earlier Hong Kong classics.

Earlier this year, a clip from Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo was used to underline one of the most poignant moments in Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys. Now the 1958 original is getting the full 70mm restoration treatment.

In short, everything old is new again, mostly because reissues are relatively cheap to mount _ and almost always profitable. If a reissue turns out to be a hit in theaters, that's gravy. If not, there's still video, which usually justifies the extra expense of restoration.

A few months ago, Disney's 1988 cartoon, Oliver and Company, brought in several extra million dollars when it was reissued to theaters. So did Luis Bunuel's 1967 classic, Belle de Jour, when it unexpectedly broke out of the art-house revival circuit last summer.

Recent restorations of Taxi Driver and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg weren't quite as profitable, but they vividly demonstrated why faded television copies never do justice to these movies.

Here's a rundown of reissues scheduled for 1996 theatrical release:

Super Cop, Friday. Miramax is reissuing this spectacular Jackie Chan movie, which first played here several years ago under a different title: Super Cop: Police Story III. His Rumble collaborators, cinematographer Jingle Ma and director Stanley Tong, worked on it in the same capacities.

Who Killed Teddy Bear?, Aug. 16. Strand Releasing is bringing back this campy 1965 curio. Sal Mineo plays a kinky waiter, Juliet Prowse is a discotheque deejay, Elaine Stritch is the manager of their Times Square dive and Jan Murray is a detective with a porn collection.

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, mid-August. Sony Classics is restoring Vittorio De Sica's moving 1970 drama about a wealthy Jewish family that gradually realizes that living in seclusion in Italy will not save them from the Holocaust. It won the Academy Award for best foreign-language film over such stiff competition as Jan Troell's The Emigrants and Akira Kurosawa's Dodes' Ka-Den.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, September. The title was altered from Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the author didn't approve of other changes, but this 1971 musical is still fondly remembered, mostly because of Gene Wilder's sly performance as an eccentric candy-factory owner who has a foolproof test for greedy children. A box-office disappointment during its initial release, it has become inescapable on television and video, particularly during the holidays.

Giant, September. It has been 41 years since James Dean died, and 40 years since his last film was released to theaters. When he was killed in a car wreck in September 1955, Dean had two unreleased films in the can. (Rebel Without a Cause came out in the fall of 1955), and director George Stevens spent more than a year editing Giant. The result was worth the wait: a rich, sprawling, 201-minute Texas soap opera for which Dean received his second posthumous best-actor Oscar nomination (the first was for East of Eden). It's almost a supporting part, with the lead roles going to Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, but Dean's maverick character is crucial to the story, and several of the film's privileged moments are his.

Vertigo, September or later. The major revival event of the fall will be this elaborate 70mm/digital sound reconstruction of the haunting James Stewart/Kim Novak mystery that is widely regarded as Hitchcock's greatest achievement. Originally filmed in VistaVision and released in mono, the movie has never looked or sounded quite like this before. The restoration is the work of James Katz and Robert Harris, who also used their meticulous methods to spare Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus and My Fair Lady from crumbling into faded shadows of themselves. The American Film Institute is scheduled to hold benefit screenings in New York and Los Angeles in September. A 13-minute preview drew 1,000 Hitchcock fans to the San Francisco Film Festival this spring.

"People want to see these films on home video _ we know that," Katz recently told the Los Angeles Times. "But people are totally neglecting the fact that generation after generation have never seen them on the big screen."