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Monday, June 30, 2014

Greenbriar's Gideon Weekend


Gideon's Day (1959) Is Reborn On HD Streaming

Friday was happy Vudu landfall of the vastly underrated John Ford thriller Gideon's Day, streaming for a first time in high-definition and looking like a million. Actually, it cost half that to make in 1957, a show Ford looked back on as a lark, but that may be because Gideon (retitled ... Of Scotland Yard for stateside release) more or less thudded over here, but what's this myth that Columbia chopped it down to 55 minutes? Every trade reference I checked said 91, as well as the pressbook, so trims beyond mild profanity are unlikely. Besides, what we've got streaming and on DVD is the full-length Gideon's Day of UK origin, bearing that original title. Further query: Did Columbia "dump" Ford's film as attested by writer/historians since? My impression says mostly yes, for reason of delay in US-exposure (nearly two years) and fact of Columbia supplying black-and-white prints to domestic dates, an egregious slip considering fact this is among loveliest Technicolor jobs out of late 50's England (as photographed by famed F.A. "Freddie" Young).


Columbia had announced Gideon Of Scotland Yard for May 1958 domestic release, but that season was crowded with others from Brit-Columbia partnership --- Revenge Of Frankenstein, The Camp On Blood Island, The Snorkel, Curse Of The Demon, etc. Variety had in April called Gideon "an orthodox, but expert film, which promises satisfying boxoffice results." Revised scheduling would bump Gideon to February 1959, however, where it ping-ponged between first and second position on bills. Business wasn't notable in either event. "Getting no place" was Variety's verdict when it played with Samuel Fuller's Verboten! in Buffalo, result a "sad" $3500 for a first and only week. NYC waited until May 19 for premiere at the Odeon, just off eight weeks of The Shaggy Dog. Gideon Of Scotland Yard stayed there, singly, for a "fair" ten days to $12K receipts, eased out by a revival of From Here To Eternity. Gideon would later go to TV syndication, again black-and-white only, among 60 "Post-50's," in May 1964.

Visitor To The Set John Wayne with Jack Hawkins, John Ford, Anna Lee,
and Anna Massey

Was John Ford's name meaningful to Columbia selling? Some ads and most poster art ignored him, Gideon Of Scotland Yard being offered on action terms, but mats were available to emphasize "Four Time Academy Award Winner" Ford, whose first time this was directing a crime thriller. That last was honest enough advertising, being JF's sure enough first go at police procedure, a genre he made his own thanks to adroit way with performers and suspense they generate. There is expected Ford humor, but tension and violence too. Jack Hawkins, terrific as always, was said to have been most appreciative of his director, while Ford seems to have been as affable on this project as any from autumn of his career. What Gideon demonstrates is how versatile JF could still be, and how responsive he was to Brit setting and idiom. Pace is as quick as one could hope for, half dozen at least narratives rushing toward resolution over a taut hour and half. Sets made evocative by Ken Adam design are augmented by well-chosen locations in/around London, including trains along the Underground and a crowded cinema that smacks beautifully of UK picturegoing. Here is a Ford you can show to, and please with, a general audience, this not necessarily the case with a few more celebrated of his. I'd have welcomed a whole series of Gideon actioners under Ford direction, and with Hawkins starring. The film is also available on DVD as part of a Ford set from Sony/Columbia, via TCM Archive.




Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pocket-Size Musical at Metro

Among Melvin Merriment Is Location Shooting at The Brooklyn Bridge

Don Loves Debbie in I Love Melvin (1953)

What to do with such a sprightly pair as Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor after they've clicked so nicely in Singin' In The Rain? To team them was natural ... it had worked for Don, repeatedly so, at Universal, with live wires Peggy Ryan, Susanna Foster, Gloria Jean, and undoubted others I'd know better if only we were permitted to see teen musicals off U's high school campus. Debbie, then, was merely an update for purpose of Don dancing and flipping over sofas in puppy love. His talent was great to a point of movies not being able to contain, anytime he walked on being occasion for Gene Kelly, Deanna Durbin, Bing Crosby, to evaporate. Was it awareness of this that kept Don on support or B lead leash? Maybe the only co-player not intimidated by him was Francis The Mule. As to Reynolds, she was reliably Debbie Dimples when not Miss Hollywood, two indelicate labels put to her by Richard Brooks when he got stuck directing DR in The Catered Affair (then had to eat words when she emerged so good in it).

Debbie Reynolds Dream Sequence Capped By On-Set Visit From Robert Taylor

Disquieting Highlight: Debbie Dances With a Guy In A Gene Kelly Mask
I Love Melvin is a "small" musical by MGM reckoning, a very good thing for those exhausted by swirl of Minnelli cameras or Kelly/Astaire set-piecing, and thank you, Leo, it only runs 77 minutes. Pleasure is manifest, what with Don acrobating to super-human effect, Debbie doing perky if that's your taste. She dreams of Hollywood success, so there is spoofing of same, complete to cameo'ing from Bob Taylor. Melvin's gag is Don trying to get Deb on the cover of a slick magazine for which he slaves in assist to crazed layout artist Jim Backus, a great character spot that must have got plentiful comment in Jim's favor. Things like I Love Melvin absorbed overhead that plagued Metro whether lights were on or off, so why not make it, even if  $263K loss was result? There, then, was cruelty of little pics trying to sustain in face of a public withdrawn to TV's and big, lurching H'wood factories like MGM spilling red and redder ink. Trouble was, I Love Melvin was modest only by comparison with a Mogambo or The Bandwagon --- it still cost every bit of $1.3 million to finish, and by 1953, that was hard money to get back. I Love Melvin is on DVD from Warner Archive, and streams in HD at Warner Instant.




Saturday, June 28, 2014

Paramount Dials Up A Crime Commission


Organized Thuggery Reaches The Turning Point (1952)

Another one spun off the Kefauver investigations, his stand-in here an incorruptible Edmond O' Brien, whose assist, if reluctant, is new-image hatched Bill Holden, no longer Smiling Jim and fit to cynic's armor after Sunset Boulevard. If ever an actor needed change, it was Holden; he'd really blossom as lone man who'd question 50's assumptions, except he'd not do it in method-excess terms of Brando and imitators. Holden holds up for his characters being in the mainstream but not of it. Here's he's still adjusting to the new fit, being reluctant warrior against organized crime and ultimate martyr to law/order's cause. As with most crime ring breakups, solution comes with getting rid of a baddest apple, in this case Ed Begley, embodiment of all vice in unnamed "Midwest" city where O'Brien and team crusades. Paramount's Barney Balaban was bullish over Paramount's schedule for 1952-53 which included The Turning Point in addition to high-hopes The Stooge, Come Back, Little Sheba, and Thunder In The East, all interestingly in black-and-white as wider industry committed more to color (ten Para pics for latter-half 1952 release would be in color, five in B/W).


The Turning Point was economical ($874K negative cost) for shooting amidst seedy environs of LA's Bunker Hill district, collapsing blocks dressed ideally to host bleak setting of noir. As The Turning Point was more about real-world struggle against crime, there was less of noir abstraction, but Paramount couldn't have built with ten million the evocative backgrounds Bunker Hill supplied for nothing. As record of a city's underbelly that would soon vanish, The Turning Point was/is priceless (check out a fine recent book on Bunker Hill by Jim Dawson). Speaking of LA and outreach to same, Paramount had decided to widen first-run openings beyond downtown and Hollywood venues that had till then been exclusive zone for newest product. Expansion to Greater LA, including Pasadena and Inglewood suburbs, was prompted by heavier ad placement in newspapers being circulated in these and other areas that till then had to wait for movies. Wider first-runs allowed Paramount "to get more impact from its ... ad coin outlay," said Variety.




Friday, June 27, 2014

Metro Takes A Bold Postwar Step

Chicago's Monroe Theatre Is Among Carefully Selected Key City Hosts for The Search

The Search (1948) and Selling Outside The Box

A real heartthrob, and a rare MGM flirtation with art movies. So what put Leo to poaching on highbrow preserves? First there was money to be had from product foreign set-and-shot, Open City a forceful example of late. Then there was restless Arthur Loew, Euro-based  and heading Metro's international division. He was scion of the founding Loew family, as in father Marcus who set up MGM. Arthur's brother David had been producing independently in the US (A Night In Casablanca, the Enterprise venture, etc.), Arthur figuring he could do as much offshore. Putting a deal together was duck soup for the well-positioned exec, being he could pledge both completion dollars and assured worldwide playoff. The Search came of Arthur dealing with Lazar Wechsler, ID'ed by trades as head of Switzerland's Praesens Films. In fact, most of The Search would be lensed on bombed-out German location, with but portions filmed in Swiss clime, but Metro would issue no publicity to effect that it was a "German" film, instead positioning The Search as an American venture utilizing Deutsch background for authenticity's sake.

Fred Zinnemann Directs Montgomery Clift and Child Player Ivan Jandl

Arthur Loew would put $300K toward The Search and take personal charge of US distribution, an unusual move as New York's Metro office was at the least territorial when it came to stateside handling of company product, but this was a Loew after all, and highly placed enough to trump objections to his running the Search show. It would be a tough sell in any event, what with "the apparent antipathy of filmgoers outside the key cities against foreign-made films" (Variety). And The Search was in many ways a grim sit, being about children displaced by war and confinement in German camps. Director Fred Zinnemann, sent over from Hollywood to lend studio expertise, was Euro-born and knew the background. He understood necessity to soften horror visited on innocents, he and rest of personnel eyeing a wider viewership for The Search that might shun anything too graphic. This wouldn't be another Italian street pic snuck into the states as before, but a major release with all of Metro muscle behind it. For that, you'd need content at the least palatable.

No Glamour Like This in The Search, But Where's Harm Of Implying There Is?

Toward that end would come new-minted star Montgomery Clift, lately off Broadway and completion of his first co-starring film (with John Wayne), Red River, that one delayed with result The Search being Clift's first released film. His was the sole name that MGM could promote, other cast members being foreign, or character (Aline MacMahon). Clift would be sold on dreamboat terms, a surest and maybe only way that bobby-soxers could be lured to such downer enterprise as The Search. Negotiation with Radio City Music Hall looked toward premiere at that prestige address, but manager Gus Eyssell turned Arthur Leow down, so second choice Victoria, with 811 seats, opened The Search in late March, 1948. Reviews were the expected rapturous, but caution was needed: Metro is spotting further bookings on the film carefully so that word-of-mouth can permeate to other cities, said Variety. In fact, there would be only two further dates set as of mid-April, in Washington (an art house owned by Ilya Lopert, a familiar importer of foreign product) and Los Angeles, where the 4 Star Theatre, known host to higher-brow releases, ran The Search for seven successful weeks.


Few doubted The Search would play well in cities, what with critic huzzahs and more sophisticated patronage. The Victoria ran daily matinees for schoolchildren by request of teachers, a welcome badge of "good citizenship" that MGM, indeed every film company, sought. The Washington first night got $50 per seat for benefit of the National Symphony Orchestra, with a Marine Band out front plus television coverage, an early instance of the latter. Business at these sites, plus Chicago's Monroe Theatre ($16K for a first week), was good, but not outstanding. Whatever notion Arthur Leow had of leaving his prexy post at MGM International was dampened by figures shown him by East Coast chief Nicholas Schenck, who didn't want Loew to ankle the firm, and used sobering numbers from the Victoria to change the restless exec's mind. Meanwhile, there was selling to subsequents to worry about, smaller towns less impressed by kudos from cosmopolitan critics. How would The Search be marketed to these?


Variety called The Search a "semi-documentary," the label itself an anchor to commercial prospects. There'd be few customers "from the ranks of those looking for light entertainment," said the trade, so how to put this search across? (a big help: the pic's happy ending) One way was by positioning The Search as something really special, a sort of show to bring out folks who'd otherwise balk at filmland artifice: "I seldom go to the movies but I'm going to The Search," said unsigned testimonials. Other teasers playfully implied that where The Search was concerned, "press agents" were for once telling the truth --- this is a wonderful motion picture. MGM admitted to exhibs that these were "daring" approaches, in fact "two-fisted and plain-speaking," but had been tried, and successfully, in test engagements. It was clear to MGM sales and showmen in the field that The Search would have to be promoted outside the box, a bold merchandising approach to support bold screen content.


Easiest aspect to pitch was Montgomery Clift, Red River in circulation by the time The Search made general release, so sensation of Howard Hawks' western became coattail The Search could ride. Exhibitors were advised to mention Red River in tandem with The Search, and emphasize Clift as a newcomer "with all the natural charm of Jimmy Stewart ... and the simplicity of Gregory Peck." Monty's Omaha origin was similarly played up in ads, message being that while The Search was Euro-set, he at least was All-American. Some ads ran with a sex angle implying the search was for someone other than a little kid who was focal point of The Search, glamour art not at all reflective of somber characters in the film. Outcome of the sales effort was positive: MGM got back $1.4 million from $300K they'd invested, plus ownership of the negative. Final profit was $609K, very good for merchandise so far off beaten paths. The Search is available on DVD from Warner Archive and plays Warner Instant in HD.




Thursday, June 26, 2014

60's Revisit To War-Torn Philippines


Producer Schenck Gone Island Hopping with Ambush Bay (1966)

An Aubrey Schenck project for United Artists, his twenty-ninth association with that company. UA liked long term links with producers they could rely on, and had confidence enough in Schenck to finance Ambush Bay in toto. Shooting over three months was in the Philippines, the yarn a recap of Marines laying ground for the McArthur invasion. Schenck came back from the location with battle-scarred warn for others, as in never co-produce with the natives and always pay your own way. Seems the Philippine industry was more about picking Yank pockets than cooperating full on films shot there. They'll steal you blind, was Schenck's frank impression. Still, for simply hiring native help and paying them decently, the producer got a square deal. He had two other ventures on deck: To Kill A Dragon and Barquero --- Schenck liked to travel light re budgets and make pics exploitable.


He'd use an economy cast for Ambush Bay, Hugh O'Brian the McCoy at soldiering, having been a marine and currently supportive of USO outreach to Vietnam personnel. O'Brian made repeated tours there to entertain and encouraged other Hollywoodites to do the same. If there was an O'Brian career peak, the mid-sixties may have been it. He was rugged, versatile (straw hat tours as The Music Man plus Guys and Dolls), and played sleazy well, as evidenced by a gigolo turn in 1965's Love Has Many Faces. Interestingly, his character in Ambush Bay is a gigolo drafted into WWII service. Also aboard was Mickey Rooney, more fine character work from him, and Jim Mitchum, who looked like his father to almost chilling effect and had chance here to score a Story Of GI Joe for himself, but Jim lacked elder Mitchum's flair. Trade reviews for Ambush Bay were kind, but customers weren't forthcoming, Variety calling ticket sales "thin" or "lean." Domestic rentals flattened at $525K, but foreign did much better and saved the venture: $1.3 million. Ambush Bay broadcasts in HD (the MGM channel) that shows off island setting to rich effect. It's a satisfying, if unexceptional, war pic.




Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Another Horrific Detour For A Star On The Slide


Joan Fontaine Makes The Devil's Own (1966) Bargain with Hammer

There were degrees to degradation among movie queens brought down in the 60's to exploitation shockers. For all of high-profile Bette Davis achieved with Baby Jane and follow-ups, it was maybe Olivia DeHavilland that drew the nastiest of the lot, Lady In A Cage, which unlike ones that have dated into kitsch, is still unbearable to watch. So Olivia was again one up on sister rival Joan Fontaine, whose work for Seven Arts-Hammer in The Witches (called The Devil's Own over here) was a most restrained of horrors done by actresses of awkward aging. It was a first lead for Fontaine in a long while, she having surrendered to TV and support work in features unworthy of her. The Devil's Own was a miss, but not a humiliating one for the actress. In fact, it plays familiar for those who'd remember Fontaine in female gothics to which she excelled in the 40's. There was effort at something literate, gore minimized, and good performances by English players well schooled in unspeakables beneath civilized surface (Martin Stephens, the creepy kid from The Innocents and Village Of The Damned, has here grown to teen age). The Devil's Own starts and middles better than it ends, results not so pleasing as Hammer's few-years-later (and similar) The Devil's Bride. Fontaine would surely have got vapors had she noted 20th Fox toss-off of The Devil's Own in the US: it played second to Prehistoric Women in a Hammer combo aimed square at kids and exploit market. The pic had been made for a price, $330K, that should have got twice that back, but domestic rentals of $224K left red ink on 20th books. Region Two has lately given us a Blu-Ray that looks fine, a boost for this show that needs what visual help it can get.




Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Two Ways To Exploit The MM Breakout


Selling The Suddenly Hottest Ticket In Movies

Never a particular fan, but I do find interesting the way showmen swarmed like bees to whatever footage could be had of Marilyn Monroe once she became a star. There were oldies done before and during breakout year that was 1952, these not the stuff of revival but for fact Marilyn had supporting parts. Two were We're Not Married and Let's Make It Legal, brought back in tandem to Loew's Esquire in Toledo during late 1954. By then, Monroe was "That Beautiful Blonde Bombshell" in vehicles that showed her to better advantage than a pair of B/W comedies of several seasons back where MM participation was modest. The Esquire's "Wide Vision Screen" would have served no purpose other than to clip top and bottom from 1.37 frames of both We're Not Married and Let's Make It Legal. Another Monroe address, The Houston Drive-In, was actually located in Macon, Georgia. That's where "Every Man" among patrons was given "The Most Sought After" calendar art "In The World," being a notorious nude pose that had much to do with Monroe ascent to stardom. Was this what manager Russ Saunder handed out gratis to male patrons?, and did wider flung exhibition use the torrid pin-up as lure to shows featuring the star? We could speculate on complaints the Houston may have gotten in that event. Imagine teenage boys newly driver-licensed  being given the calendar ... this may have been a promotion built on quicksand, unless the Houston was wise enough to play safe and give away more benign posing by Monroe, which would, of course, have been far less sought after. But something ... anything ... that was free with admission came welcome, even where it wasn't precisely the item that ads implied.

More Marilyn at Greenbriar Archives: How To Marry A Millionaire, Some Like It Hot, Niagara, Something's Got To Give, All About Eve, The Fireball, and Let's Make It Legal, Love Nest, Dangerous Years, and Hometown Story.  




Monday, June 23, 2014

Frisco Gets Cagney, But Not The Quake


Two-Fist Jim Is Barbary Bound in Frisco Kid (1935)

A Warner photo finish on Samuel Goldwyn's Barbary Coast of earlier in 1935 and occasion when their legal dept. must have sat waiting for action based on plagiarism that, far as I know, never came. Maybe in a business run by pirates, it didn't do to call out a man, or company, for piracy. Dollars were spent on Frisco Kid ($419K being WB's 1935 idea of generous) and at mere 77 minutes, it's got a lot more on the ball than Barbary Coast. A final third bogs down in one mob marching out after another and back again, sheer numbers slowing a till-then merry pace. James Cagney was and had been a guarantor a profit, but only at dynamo setting he had long tired of. This was an actor with habit of backing off things he was best at. So what if Frisco Kid was "that stinking piece of junk, made up of tissue paper and spit," as Cagney described it to John McCabe? Worldwide rentals of $1.4 million suggested boxoffice appetite for whatever stink or spit Cagney and Warners served up.


Tenderloin topics were a natural for actioners, period setting not beyond memory for many attending first-runs. 1935 with its Goldwyn and Warner models would take back seat and stay there once MGM spoke final word with San Francisco the following year. For all of talk in the first two about "cleaning out" SF's waterfront element, it was Metro that would level, then burn it to the ground with nature's own moral compensation of earthquake and fire, San Francisco a sort of movie the Code was meant to generate. Whatever points Barbary Coast and Frisco Kid bungled or missed, San Francisco would get right to tune of $5.2 million worldwide. Frisco Kid relies then, on Cagney, him sailing into fights against larger opposition, notably hook-hand Fred Kohler, a donnybrook many would remember long after balance of pic was forgot. There were five Cagney films released in 1935; given Warners' druther, he'd have done three times as many with a bed and wash basin on sets so as to minimize breaks. No wonder JC staged a walkout at first excuse.




Sunday, June 22, 2014

Comics Cut Loose In A Hotel


Bobby Ray and Babe Hardy are Bumbling Bellhops in Hop To It! (1925)

Did anyone ever propose Babe Hardy for a starring series over that long decade before his team-up with Stan Laurel? Being a useful "type" kept him in  support, I guess. For Hop To It!, he's less the heavy than Frank Alexander, beside whom Hardy looks trim. Babe was, in any case, more robust than stout during the mid-twenties, and by no means "fat" as we'd conceive it today. Hop To It! is one of few occasions where he could play off a larger man who'd serve as butt for size gags. Putative lead comic in Hop To It! is diminutive Bobby Ray, less inspired than a mere cipher for gags. Ray could approximate Stan Laurel at a distance, or in really bad prints. In fact, a few of the Ray/Hardys (they teamed for a handful) have been sold on video collections as L&H, a cheat the more egregious for their stuff paling beside Stan/Babes to come (this one, however, might be their best). Hop To It! was a "Mirthquake" comedy released through Arrow Pictures, and produced by once dead-on Chaplin impersonator Billy West. Hardy had worked for the latter, so this job must have come easy. A comic of Babe's capacity needn't sit idle long in a marketplace crowded with slapstick. He'd have had a busy career even if there'd been no eventual meet with Stan Laurel. Part of the excellent Oliver Hardy Collection compiled by Lobster Films for DVD release via Kino.




Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hollywood Rides The Airwaves


Book Choice: From Radio to the Big Screen by Hal Erickson

Hal Erickson has for years been one of our lead historians in the field of television. His books on syndicated series and cartoon programming are classics on respective topics, and reference I've consulted on many a Greenbriar occasion. Now with From Radio To The Big Screen, from McFarland Books, he has widened research to radio and its Classic Era symbiosis with motion pictures, a profit-making handshake that lasted through "Golden Years" Erickson ID's as 1926-1962. What seemed a natural leap from airwave to movie screen was also effort to sometimes stumble, as in personalities clicking, others getting the frost. Voices we liked weren't always faces we'd accept. Erickson considers each of those who tried to scale high fence between crystal set and the boxoffice, from Amos n' Andy to Walter Winchell to Henry Aldrich to --- well, I never dreamed there were so many --- and what interesting stories lie behind each. We see more and more of these radio-based features as TCM, DVD, and streaming continue to mine them, Erickson lending texture to subjects/data too long ignored (show me another resource so detailed on Lum and Abner or Mr. District Attorney). I enjoyed From Radio to the Big Screen thoroughly and will read for both pleasure and fill-in on facts not accessible elsewhere. It's softbound, a hefty 300 pages from McFarland, and a trove of information as only deep digging Hal Erickson could uncover, a 2014 arrival among most welcome to Greenbriar's shelf.




Friday, June 20, 2014

On The Wings Of A Priceless Prop


Peeling Back Layers of Maltese Falcon Worth

I recently made an odd-number list of 81 all-time favorite films and put The Maltese Falcon at Number Four, the 1941 Falcon as opposed to a decade earlier version that was for years very tough to see. What occurs to me about Dashiell Hammett's story and the three movies adapted from it is their focus on collecting and extremes to which some go about it. Noteworthy too is how collectable items associated with the Falcon have become. I've read auction results as to the last statuette sold, from the estate of William Conrad, who received it as a gift from Jack Warner in the mid-sixties. Conrad had done lots for WB on both feature and televised fronts, but how was Jack to realize he was giving the man an object greater in eventual worth than all of salary Conrad drew from the company? And did Conrad imagine the bird's "immense value" as it sat upon a den shelf for remainder of his life? ($398,500 as hammered at Christie auction in 12/94, ten months after the actor/director's death)


Further Falcon lore I didn't know: There were two lead statues made, each weighing forty-five pounds. Imagine a thing only eleven and a half inches high being heavy as that. Bogart's grimace when he lifts the prop toward Falcon fadeout makes greater sense now. Publicity was issued to effect that actress Lee Patrick dropped the "dingus" and HB pushed her out of the way with result a couple of smashed toes for himself. I checked the pressbook for mention of the incident but found nothing. The whole thing may have been hooey, as several Falconists maintain that only plaster replicas were used on the set, none weighing over five pounds. As to collectability, here's my question: If a 1941 Falcon approaches half-million in 21st century coin of realm, what would a 1931 prop bring --- the one cradled by Ricardo Cortez and Dudley Digges' Gutman? Based on screen appearance, it was a scrawny bird, beaten down perhaps, by the Depression, but more faithful withal to the Falcon's appearance on the original novel cover. I wonder how long that item stayed in storage, or if/when it was unceremoniously tossed out. Would there be remotest chance that this first of falcons still exists?


The 1931 Maltese Falcon went years being called Dangerous Female, a device to separate it from the better known (and regarded) Bogart remake. TV stations buying both didn't want confusion in event of one playing within weeks or even days of the other, with viewership misled to effect they were getting a rerun. Warners has since restored the original title to DVD and TCM broadcast. Precode's Falcon needs adjusting to, being sleazy beyond bar set by the PCA per 1941. Ricardo Cortez is a "playboy" detective who takes little of narrative seriously. Neither should we, for that matter. The picture was sold on Bebe Daniels as femme fatale, as in "You Will Never Believe There Could Be Such A Woman Until You See Her." Ads like this may have been consulted when time came (1956) to rechristen the show as Dangerous Female. The first Maltese Falcon is a little choppy as to construction and pace, but is by no means a bad watch (additional scenes that would have been helpful were shot, but dropped prior to release). This 1931 version does make for pleasing combo with the underrated Satan Met A Lady, done five years later and the loosest WB adapt of Hammett's story. All are available on Warners DVD.




Thursday, June 19, 2014

Metro Slices Off Some Brooklyn Working Life


The Catered Affair (1956) Is No Laughing Event

I was under mistaken impression that this was a comedy, when actually, it's another of kitchen sink talk-outs adapted from live television, a cycle that would click also in theatres after surprise success of "Best Picture" Marty. Drama of simple folk was anathema to a Studio Era that celebrated glamour, but that era was done and largely discredited by independent-minded filmmakers coming up since war's end. Many of these, and certainly newcoming writers, saw baptism before TV cameras. The Catered Affair was big studio (MGM) acknowledgement that Marty was no fluke. If a public wanted humble fare, here was cracked plate of it, though question raised by all these was whether we'd pay admission to watch Brooklyn's worker class quarrel over money and marriage. Catered's ensemble is a pathetic lot, a cast playing down what starry image they'd built till then. Commit to reality comes most naturally to Ernest Borginine, who seems likeliest Brooklyn born, while others deal more self-consciously with the accent and milieu. Still, this was widening of range for the lot, Bette Davis and Debbie Reynolds coming away with deserved kudos, an aspect of The Catered Affair we remember better than fact the film lost money for Metro.


Negative cost was held to a million, this a most economical "A" for Leo in 1956 next to Forever, Darling. There was some location in New York, mostly second unit, plus opening up beyond a shabby flat where virtually all of TV's adaptation took place. Latter was penned by Paddy Cheyefsky, though Gore Vidal was credited with the feature script. Poster art softened blow of Bette Davis as a dowdy housewife by depicting her in All About Eve-ish terms, that the persistent image that made execs reluctant to use her for The Catered Affair. Davis would portray, perhaps too convincingly, a frump long past hope or retrieval of looks, a forfeit of lead lady BD that must have startled her audience nearly as much as Baby Jane grotesques later would. Good as Davis is in The Catered Affair, the part was surrender to character work, largely on television, from there on. Maybe what cost the show was outward appearance as Parents Of The Bride and comedy this implied, presence of Debbie Reynolds a further mislead along said line. Non-stop arguing through 92 minutes may have brought bad word-of-mouth that hurt business. Exhibitors would report dissatisfaction and slumps after opening days (part of trouble is The Catered Affair indicating an event that never happens in the movie). Of course, it works nicely now as realist drama, and has welcome flavor of hard times lived in 50's Gotham. It plays HD on Warner Instant, and is available on DVD from Warner Archive.
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