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Friday, January 23, 2015

Scott In Saddle For Warner Bros.


Tall Man Riding (1955) More Of A Successful Same

Randy Scott rides for revenge, and per Code cowboy custom, finds that a bad idea (revenge themes frowned upon, then and later). There are multiple leagues of villainy enabling plenty of last reel notching to Scott's gun, action for most of time profuse. Which gal will mount the Tall Man's saddle? One is married (Dorothy Malone), the other a soiled dove in league with heavies (Peggie Castle). Randy was capable at getting jobs done sans deep-delve performance, low-key policy that plays well to present-day. A whopper fist brawl mid-way through surely had drive-inners rushing out of concession booths to catch. I imagine a Tall Man Riding among three/four similars passing summer nights to capacity parking. Was this better way to consume comfort westerns than our DVD's? The Scotts were called "S--t kickers" by J.L. Warner ... well, at least he kept them going ... there's a seeming hundred like Tall Man Riding from WB. Reliable profit was reason for outpour, these being what remnant of regular moviegoers wanted to watch. Scott was in fact a surest thing on the lot (did he drive hard enough bargains at WB and alternate address Columbia? --- I assume so). Couldn't find any of his from Burbank that lost money (Tall Man's a tall gain --- $686K in profit). Retroplex plays RS lots in HD, as have channels of western reliance, Scott among most visible of old stars thanks to sureness of his backlog to please. TCM having converted of late to true High-Def will see Technicolor (or in this case, Warnercolor) shine brighter on their westerns.

More Randolph Scott at Greenbriar Archive: Ranown Westerns, Part One and Two, Captain Kidd, Buchanan Rides Alone, The Tall T, The Nevadan, Gung Ho!, Fort Worth, The Spoilers, The Walking Hills, and Coast Guard. 




Thursday, January 22, 2015

Postwar Independents Play It Safe With Westerns


Randolph Scott Rail-Splitting For Canadian Pacific (1949)

A real background novelty here was shooting in Canadian wilds, that seldom done by US filmmakers till independent Nat Holt sent cameras northward. Canada was allied with Euro nations for objecting to dollars flowing out (apx. twelve million a year to US distribs), and little or nothing coming in. Hollywood answered to effect that it was lack of adequate facilities and manpower that kept Great North location off limits (there were only three lots in the whole of Canada where films could be made), but did extend olive branch in terms of features, and especially shorts, extolling beauty of Canada outdoors, this enhancing tourism to the area. What US companies feared was Canada freezing funds after overseas example. Gestures toward greater cooperation were made during 1948-49, but came largely to naught, Canadian Pacific the highest profile pic shooting on Canada soil, with Eagle-Lion's Northwest Stampede a recent wrap by time Nat Holt arrived with star Randolph Scott to build their railroad. Holt had a deal with 20th to supply three so-called "B pix" the company would distribute, another to come via producer Edward Alperson. Fox was not in a habit of handling outside product, so this was out of ordinary policy for the major.


Canadian Pacific was Nat Holt's first indie venture after four years staff producing for RKO. He told Variety that financing came easy with the right story and star, in this case western stalwart Randolph Scott. The Canadian Pacific railroad got aboard with tech advise, period equipment, and all-ways extend of cooperation. There was indication that they kicked in some financing as well. All CP wanted in return was approve of the script. Producer Holt put together an attractive package for loaning banks to consider: a first railroad saga since the hit that was Union Pacific in 1939, Cinecolor on board to enhance visuals, and a 33-day schedule under direction of vet Edwin L. Marin, all of which got Canadian Pacific nearest to a sure profit thing. I think the action picture is the only answer for the small independent, said Holt to Variety, Gallopers have always been the backbone of the industry, and the public still wants them as much as ever. The (action) pictures are the easiest kind an independent can make. The producer who turns them out has a better chance of survival in this industry than he ever had.


Cinecolor had its biggest earnings year in 1947, according to an excellent article in the Film History journal by John Belton, though by 1949 release date of Canadian Pacific, the company's stock value was in freefall. The two-color process was, despite obvious limitation, helpful to a project shot almost wholly outdoors. Canadian Pacific did well in first-run, with domestic rentals of $1.7 million and foreign $489K, the best performer of three Nat Holt/Randolph Scott actioners distributed by 20th Fox (the other two were Fighting Man Of The Plains and The Cariboo Trail). The team worked to pull their westerns out of formula rut, and to large extent succeeded. Randolph Scott in particular did interesting things with his independent set-up and partnerships with capable vets like Holt and Harry Joe Brown. The star viewed movies as business pure and simple, but kept eye always on quality of output. Ownership of the TCF distributed negs reverted to Holt, and what's extant of Canadian Pacific does not do justice to locations and Cinecolor that decorated them. Still, it's a handsome Northeastern, scarcely a "B" whatever Fox's designation, and a show one could wish to see properly restored. TCM plays Canadian Pacific occasionally, a worthwhile look even if diminished print-wise.

Today and tomorrow's post are Greenbriar contribution to Toby Roan's Randolph Scott Blogathon at 50 Westerns From The 50's, that fine site that celebrates just what its title suggests. Go there for links to other writers participating in this Scott-worthy celebration (the Blogathon officially begins Friday, 1/22/15).




Monday, January 19, 2015

Corporate Sharks Swim Offshore


The Power and The Prize (1956) Means Business

Another big loser ($838K) in losing year that was 1956, referred to since as annus horribilis by which television had penetrated whole of the country. The Power and The Prize had a negative cost of $1.4 million, a minimum you'd then-spend for presentable Metro product, but too much for this black-and-white Cinemascope drama with so little earning potential (only $575K in domestic rentals, $540K foreign). For latter market, MGM tread lightly, The Power and The Prize cautious not to give offense in Euro/UK depiction. Robert Taylor is the company man gone overseas to put over a refinery deal (in Africa, a spot regarded OK for a worldwide corporate community to graze on) with partnering Sir Cedric Hardwicke, a rock of rectitude to flatter Brit business dealings. Offshore grosses were protected further by letting Taylor love interest Elisabeth Mueller be impossibly noble as refugee from continental hardship, with wartime stopover in German concentration camps. What was done to her there is mentioned, but not stressed. Only one bad apple among offshore associates will be allowed (a lecherous VP). Otherwise, it's the Americans that are ugly (boardroom shark Burl Ives) or at the least misguided (Taylor, who'll be straightaway enlightened). The Power and The Prize is a real suck-up to integrity Euros have that we lack. So did facts at the time back this portrayal?


Taylor's a little old for what is essentially a Bill Holden part (in fact, Holden had more or less played it for Metro in 1954's Executive Suite). Bob closes the gap, however, with another of his customarily fine postwar performances. MGM valued this star, kept under pact after letting most names go. Even Gable had been scotched from contract pay as Taylor soldiered on, a succession of hits in Quo Vadis, Ivanhoe, Knights Of The Round Table, making him a better bargain than Hollywood's one-time King. We think of 50's Taylor mostly in breastplates, but it was noir and modern-set conscience stories where he'd thrive best, The Power and The Prize, Rogue Cop, Party Girl, numerous others backing placement of RT as seminal dark dweller. Taylor was another who'd underplay because he never considered himself much of an actor. That, of course, works now to benefit of all his output.


The Power and The Prize posits corporate life as all-consuming, but in the end productive and necessary. Burl Ives, otherwise a despot and spirit breaker, gives reasoned account of why America needs men like him to keep the country great. It's like listening again to Bogart's same message in Sabrina from 1954. Hollywood might point up excess in tycoons, but wouldn't condemn a system they represented. After all, that was a movie industry's system as well. A man must give heart and soul to the company, and should he marry, well, the wife must be vetted as well. That was lesson Clifton Webb taught in Woman's World (again 1954), and few outside presumed Pinkos would argue against it. Latter is among issues aired in The Power and The Prize, Taylor wanting to bring alien bride Mueller to our shore, but first having to clear her of suspected moral lapse, plus likely Communist sympathies. The Power and The Prize puts across fear everyone then felt over merest suggestion they might be disloyal, tycoon spouse Mary Astor saying at one point that suspicion alone, minus further evidence, could break anyone targeted. Had MGM topper Dore Schary forgot the Waldorf agreement he'd entered into? The Power and The Prize streams at Warner Instant in HD and is available from their Archive on DVD. 




Thursday, January 15, 2015

Another Godzilla Versus After King Kong


Monsters Meet For Godzilla vs. The Thing (1964)

I'd need Godzilla lessons from a Toho expert to properly manage these notes, but here's the little I know: AIP distributed Godzilla vs. The Thing in the US ... they didn't use Mothra's name for some reason (legal?), so Zilla's opponent was called "The Thing." We briefly wondered in 1964 if Howard Hawks' arctic monster had been thawed again for Round Two. Maybe a most brilliant aspect of G vs. T was posters by Reynold Brown, imagery of the Thing being "censored." Peek-a-boo art made it look like octopi sprung off It Came From Beneath The Sea, but word-of-mouth, and monster mags, weren't long in tipping us that this was indeed Mothra come to rescue Japan from further Godzilla drubbing. There's almost resignation when news reports announce G has risen again, for what was this, his fourth visit to Nippon shores? Question arose too as to how Mothra would combat, let alone overcome, Godzilla. Lethal wing-flaps and dragging the lizard by his tail were but distractions --- this was no even match like one engaged a previous year between King Kong and Godzilla.


The tiny twins who sing are back from Mothra --- did AIP consider a soundtrack album? Hearing their plaintive tune called up memories of seeing G Vs. T at the Liberty, and months later when we talked a neighbor into carrying us out to the Starlight Drive-In for another go. Was it really necessary to see this twice? Godzilla was a charmingly clumsy monster, tripping through power lines and over buildings. If Tokyo had but cleared a wider boulevard, he might have passed peacefully through, brisk urban walks invariably going bad for him. Godzilla moved slowly, and that may explain his weight issues. I don't recall a film where he actually ate anything, my assumption being that trains off trestle buffet were quite indigestible. Interesting factoid per Variety's 5/12/65 survey of Japanese features in US distribution during 1964: Almost half of $1,124,000 earned by Nippon films in the US market came from ethnic houses on the coast and in Hawaii, with "most of remaining coin brought in ... by Godzilla vs. The Thing."  The latter did OK for AIP --- $534K on 9932 bookings, but wait --- Universal's King Kong vs. Godzilla had crossed a million in 1963. Was KK a more meaningful selling point than a censored-out-of-ads "Thing"?




Monday, January 12, 2015

A 50's Courtroom Explosion!


Trial (1956) Combats Lynch Rule and Commie Mischief

It struck me about a third of the way into this that William Holden would have made a far better Trial lead than Glenn Ford. The two had been friends, began as two sides of a callow coin, then achieved popularity as spokesmen for outraged decency, the 50's a peak decade for both. Holden was world-wearier, cynicism having been instilled by work with Wilder, while Ford kept busy as men who'd be pushed but so far. What he missed was association with a great director who could define him for subsequent work with others (Fritz Lang came a closest, had they teamed on more as good as The Big Heat). Still, there'd be a string of hits through the decade, Blackboard Jungle a standout, and from that came momentum for more at MGM, hit after hit until Cimarron broke the string. Trial's Ford is a law professor who'll be let go for lack of courtroom experience, a policy that would pretty well clear the deck at most schools. He's given the summer to participate in a start-to-finish murder trial, a nutty premise as those are customarily way longer getting to real-life resolve.


Object of courtroom exercise is a Mexican teen charged with rape/strangle; his name being "Angel" with requisite baby face and sweet temper removes any/all doubt as to innocence, just like stacked deck that would be Twelve Angry Men a couple of years later. The premise was besides a familiar one thanks to The Lawless, which had kept houses empty for Paramount in 1950. We at least dispose of time-honored lynch mobbing in a first act, being pages ahead of Don Mankiewicz's script (based on his novel), and for that slow haul, it looks like Trial will be another of earnest pleas re justice/tolerance, but then off comes mask of lead attorney Arthur Kennedy at a rally he organizes to whip up minority support. They're all Communists! And Trial doesn't chicken out by having them misunderstood or witch-hunted. Here, then, is where the show cranks up, Ford trying to save his client from a conviction Kennedy orchestrates in order to raise cash for himself and the Party. And GF's love interest is a fellow traveler (Dorothy McGuire) fresh from Kennedy's bed, an idea I'll bet Ernest Lehman and Hitchcock borrowed to develop "Eve Kendall" for North By Northwest.


That rally is centerpiece and big wow of Trial, being (accurate?) depiction of crowds whipped up for causes near or far away, fiery speakers like Kennedy manipulating his mob and raking off thousands garnered off donation. You figure from watching that homefront Reds operated on large scale and could/did affect outcome of high profile cases. But then Trial, perhaps in interest of balancing scales (and to please MGM chief Dore Schary?), aims barb at offscreen demagoguery of HUAC-like investigators putting squeeze on Ford after he's spotted at the Red rally. Overall chips consequently fall in accord with whatever stance appeals to an individual viewer, Leo being the clever lion by giving no one the decision. A happy end is further dry clean, accuracy of courtroom procedure a most egregious crime on view. Trial is dated, sure, but reflective of concerns and attitude folks had then, and there is good performing amidst welcome support (John Hoyt, Elisha Cook, Katy Jurado, many more). Best of these is majestic Juano Hernandez as judge, or better put, ringmaster, of this circussy Trial. He should have got Oscar-nominated for work done here. Mark Robson directs --- we await proper appreciation of him (his great The Harder They Fall out a same year). Warner Archive has Trial on DVD.




Thursday, January 08, 2015

The 1949 Maker Of Mankiewicz


Fox Has a Saucy Hit in A Letter To Three Wives (1949)

The critic and popular success that rocketed Joseph Mankiewicz to a summit among 20th Fox directors. Was Zanuck jealous? Memos suggest he was antsy with credit going all for Mank with less acknowledge of DFZ story and edit supervision, these a Zanuck stronghold no matter who directed (even John Ford no exception). Three Wives is three segments, reduced from four, which was wise, as the trio is enough. They get better with progress thru 103 minutes, as who cares so much how war bride Jeanne Crain of opener segment will cope with a mail order dress she'll wear to the Country Club dance? Mankiewicz gets in his dig at class stratas in a mid-size town, haves and have-nots maintaining friendships going back to childhood. The fuss is over an unseen character who's evidently run off with a husband, but which one? The guess game is well maintained, although the ending is ambiguous as to which has actually scooted (deliberately?, or did the audience outguess Mankiewicz?).


Dialogue was this writer/director's gift. Audiences after the war liked his trenchant wit and recognition of what made real folks tick. Mank mounts the soapbox in the guise of Kirk Douglas' (underpaid, natch) schoolteacher and uses him to voice disgust with easy targets like radio, cultural malaise, modern fail to appreciate great music, etc. Would that serious lectures along such lines were as much fun. The players generally keep pace, Crain a little out of her depth beside old pros among the six, of which Linda Darnell emerges most triumphant. Any consensus would say she's the most compelling of the Three Wives. Pity that age would push her out of Fox within a few years of a marvelous act given here. Darnell was so effective with Paul Douglas as to inspire further teaming, in Everybody Does It, a good comedy, and The Guy Who Came Back. They were an earthy couple who knew ropes and spoke plain to each other and us. A Letter To Three Wives wraps on a high note thanks to them. Available from Fox on Blu-Ray.




Monday, January 05, 2015

WB Unlocks Sensation-Filled Best Seller!


Hotel (1967) Mirrors a Vanished Studio Era

Hotel is a lament for old-style hospitality gone the way of corporate takeover, a grand institution brought to knees by progress none but profiteers want. This then, intended or not, was a Hollywood story, Warners itself about to become (in 1969) "A Kinney Company," their logo redone in ugly homage to new bosses. How faceless was Kinney? Enough so to know them, if at all, for parking lots, wood flooring, and quiet ownership of National Periodicals (DC comics). Kinney to show biz was canker upon day when picture companies became raw meat for congloms smelling blood that was annual loss, trouble known across Hollywood board. Maybe that's how Warners came to Hotel with more conviction than customary for in-house product where break-even point was generally a TV sale. Were the title-referenced "St. Gregory" Burbank rather than New Orleans located, this might be story of a proud studio rather than hotel being imperiled, with the WB shield peeled off its signature water tower for a wistful finish.


Hotel was "Grand" in relic sense of multi-characters stood against a going-were-days main lobby set that cost Warners $325K and took up 22,000 square feet of stage space. Extravagance was something with which movies could still impress some people that didn't know real score. The cast was second-drawer starry, an ensemble, and no one dominant: Rod Taylor, Karl Malden, Richard Conte, feature-billed Merle Oberon said to wear $500K's worth of personal jewelry, including "a brooch that once belonged to Marie Antoinette." She'd years later confess to resentment over her part being whittled so as to feature more of import ingenue Catherine Spaak. Hotel was story-told to fragment left of grown-up patronage whose kids lined up instead for Bonnie and Clyde, also from Warners and better indicator of how tastes would hereafter run. Source novel was by Arthur Hailey, writing they could really have used back when movies were movies, his the fuse that later lit Airport, that other glorious last stand for establishment H'wood.


Hotel was stop for old-timers and old souls. Aforementioned Merle Oberon is among tenants, and Melvyn Douglas is upstairs owner. Rod Taylor seems a throwback to lead men the industry had diminishing use for. We could ask why he didn't become a bigger star, even as Hotel answers. Taylor is authoritative, ruggedly male, even jaunty at times (his lobby footwork almost a dance), but Hotel was dawn upon day for the Dustin Hoffmans, or merciful heavens, a Michael J. Pollard, who'd actually get leads in wake of Bonnie and Clyde. Were these the personalities the late 60's deserved? By then, men's men seemed destined for TV, or inactivity. In fact, Taylor would head largely for the tube, as would also promising Brian Keith, another I equate with Taylor in terms of stardom misplaced. You know the St. Gregory has been around years for elevator sound Warners had used since arrival of talkies --- next to their ringing phone, it's a most recognizable of aural effects in Hotel.


Kevin McCarthy checks in as shark pursuing takeover. He'd later check-in locally (1989), doing his Harry Truman show at our Community College. I drove him to and from the airport in Greensboro. He talked of Hotel and other things. Most memorable incident, said KMc, was Merle Oberon inviting the cast south-of-border for recreation at her luxurious digs. Kevin and colleagues swam with Oberon, in her late 50's at the time, him enthusing twenty plus years later that she "had the body of a teenage girl." Proof then, that actors could be impressed by one another in the right circumstance. Hotel had a World Press Premiere in Miami Beach with stars, comped rooms, go-go dancers, the works. It would play limping downtown palaces like the Chicago Theatre, as in ad at top, even as such barns came down sick from urban blight in mid-to-late 60's. The North-South Carolina ABC theatre circuit used Hotel for a project picture after Airport struck big in 1970, touting Arthur Hailey as author of both. Television got Hotel in 1973 (NBC runs). There's a CD soundtrack of the excellent Johnny Keating score (jazzy), and Warner Archive has a DVD. Hotel has also played Warner Instant in HD, and we might expect TCM to run it thus in wake of the network going to true High-Def as opposed to mere upscale from standard-def.
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