Press Releases  ·  28 | 03 | 2024

Retrospective 2024: The Lady with the Torch – The Centenary of Columbia Pictures

At the Academy Museum in Los Angeles on March 28th, the Locarno Film Festival will present its Retrospective for 2024, a major tribute to Columbia Pictures curated by Ehsan Khoshbakht, featuring both beloved classics and unheralded gems produced at the Hollywood studio between the dawn of sound and the late 1950s.

Content language:





During its golden age, Columbia Pictures produced some of American cinema’s most iconic films across a panoply of varied styles and popular genres. In 1924, the relatively small-scale motion picture company Cohn-Brandt-Cohn rebranded itself as Columbia Pictures. This new studio would eventually feature, as its masthead and in the preamble before each film, the Lady with the Torch, the Statue of Liberty-like female figure who was, at first, draped nobly in the American flag  and has become recognizable to film lovers everywhere.

Organized in partnership with the Cinémathèque suisse, The Lady with the Torch will present the studio in all its glory, shining a light on lesser-known genre filmmakers like Max Nosseck, Seymour Friedman or William A. Seiter, as well as celebrating major auteurs like Howard Hawks, Frank Borzage, Fritz Lang, Frank Capra, George Stevens, and John Ford, who made some of their most characteristic as well as most surprising films while passing through the studio. So too did its movies do much to hone and define the screen presences of treasured stars like Rita Hayworth, Jean Arthur, Rosalind Russell, and William Holden, and lay the groundwork for the new era of more intensely psychological acting that would come to dominate in the 1950s, working with a new generation of directors coming from the theater, such as Joshua Logan. Columbia Pictures was the home – intermittent or otherwise – of figures as diverse as Joseph Losey and Boris Karloff, the Three Stooges and George Cukor, Ben Hecht and William Cameron Menzies. Notably, it is also where Dorothy Arzner, one of only two female filmmakers to work in the classical era of Hollywood, produced some of her most pioneering works. It is to this varied spectrum of artists, performers, and beloved figures of fun that the Festival pays tribute.

Revisiting the history of the studio will be made possible with access to the vaults of Sony Pictures Entertainment, the parent company of Columbia Pictures. Drawing from their collections and screening both archival prints and immaculate new restorations will bring many forgotten films produced by the studio back to life and into the contemporary conversation. The Retrospective will be accompanied by an English-language book on Columbia Pictures published by Les éditions de l'œil, edited by Ehsan Khoshbakht, and featuring contributions from international writers, and will tour around the world once the 77th edition of the Locarno Film Festival is over.

Ehsan Khoshbakht, curator of the Retrospective: How to tell the story of a leading Hollywood studio while both teasing out the nuances and stressing the significance of canonical titles worthy of continued celebration? This has been the main challenge for our 40-title retrospective mapping Columbia Pictures’ glorious rise from Poverty Row to major force in Hollywood. ‘Lady with the Torch’ is an unofficial history of Columbia Pictures that celebrates big names, Oscar winners, and era-defining films but pays equal attention to the B-unit and yet to be discovered masters. Think the fast-talking career women of screwball comedies or think existentialist cowboys, prophetic anti-fascist quickies or unsettling ‘problem pictures’. Sony's generosity means we will bring to Locarno new restorations of films by John Ford and Phil Karlson, among many other gems. Once upon a time there was a brilliant exchange between art and commerce, between the system and the artist, and this Retrospective will celebrate that.

Giona A. Nazzaro, Artistic Director: “Led with an iron fist by Harry Cohn, a producer with an extraordinary creative flair whose authoritarian temper became the stuff of legend, Columbia Pictures became a key symbol of American cinema. During his reign, the studio established itself as a hotbed of talent that allowed its directors and screenwriters to risk, to invent, to entertain, to provoke and, above all, to innovate. Filmmakers like Howard Hawks, Budd Boetticher, Raoul Walsh, Phil Karlson, Don Siegel, John Sturges, Joseph H. Lewis and André De Toth all made the best use of the opportunities offered to them to bring to life the kind of cinema that would later be madly loved by the ‘Young Turks’ of the Nouvelle Vague. Not to mention that it was Columbia that offered the greatest professional opportunities to women and allowed Dorothy Arzner to make her debut behind the camera. We are proud that the centennial celebration of Columbia Pictures in Locarno will be a journey through a richly creative moment for American cinema, including masterpieces, new discoveries, and classics.


Columbia Pictures was founded by brothers Harry and Jack Cohn and best friend Joe Brandt on January 10, 1924. After Frank Capra’s 1934 classic It Happened One Night swept the Oscars, Columbia Pictures established itself as an elite studio, responsible for numerous films from award-winners and timeless classics to pop-culture phenomena including: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, You Can't Take it With You, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, From Here to Eternity, On The Waterfront, Lawrence of Arabia, To Sir With Love, Funny Girl, Taxi Driver, Tootsie, The Karate Kid, Men In Black, Ghostbusters, Boyz n the Hood, Groundhog Day, A League Of Their Own, The Social Network, Jumanji, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Little Women, Spider-Man, and many more.

Support the festival now with a donation