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Janus Films 50th Anniversary
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Introduction to Janus Films 50th Anniversary

TCM celebrates an important milestone in the history of Janus Films, one of the first distribution companies to bring classic international masterpieces to the United States. Janus, launched in 1956 by actor Bryant Haliday and his Harvard University contemporary Cyrus Harvey, was instrumental in introducing American audiences to such European geniuses as Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal, 1957) and Federico Fellini (La Strada, 1954). In the late 1940s Haliday had acquired the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Janus Films eventually arose from the program of screenings arranged there by him and Harvey and supported by Harvard students. Harvey once said that the partners named their company after the ancient god of open doors, to signify their twin avenues of "art and commerce."

The Seventh Seal proved to be the new company's breakthrough film. Other important masterworks eventually acquired by Janus include Sergei Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible – Part Two (1946), Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast (1946) and Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950) and Yojimbo (1961), all shown during the TCM festival. Janus also spotlighted such hidden gems as Spain's Death of a Cyclist (1955, TCM Premiere), a psychological drama directed by Juan Antonio Bardem.

In 1965 Janus Films was acquired by documentary filmmaker Saul J. Turell and theater businessman William Becker, who worked to expand the company's holdings and create a library of established classics that could be preserved for distribution around the country and on television. Through the second-generation teaming of Jonathan Turell and Peter Becker, Janus has formed a close association with The Criterion Collection in bringing classic films to DVD.

by Roger Fristoe

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