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A year in Hollywood

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Then again, Ronnie Reagan had an eyesight issue that kept him close to home like Bogie (although he still "served" to a degree). Of course, we all question if CASABLANCA would be viewed the same if HE was in it.

 

That film is what would later be termed a "sleeper". Although shown in New York in November, it wasn't widely released until January and I often wonder if the studio purposely didn't enter it in the Oscar race because they had enough other candidates such like KINGS ROW, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY and NOW VOYAGER in the mix. 1943 was a lesser year than '42, so that may be why this one was "held over" for Best Picture... and they really pumped up the "acclaim" for WATCH ON THE RHINE that year... perhaps too much so.

Did studios use the Oscars to market films as much as they do now? There probably was a glut of films being held back for various reasons. 

 

One thing I read, that I found interesting, is when American forces took Casablanca (supported by British forces) this occurred on November 8th - November 10th, 1942...known as Operation Torch. After the city was taken, Churchill and Roosevelt held a notable conference there. And it was something Warners used to publicize the film which had just gone into wide release.

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WATCH ON THE RHINE was among those "held back" in release (being shot in '42 and released fall '43).

 

Yeah... I have read quite a bit about CASABLANCA being "timed" for its national release due to what was happening there as well. That was DEFINITELY another factor. There is no ONE reason something was done, although you can probably go through many magazine scans on the Internet Archive and read what the press in FILM DAILY, MOTION PICTURE HERALD or any other source was saying about the film's marketing... and get better answers than what silly me is speculating.

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WATCH ON THE RHINE was among those "held back" in release (being shot in '42 and released fall '43).

Mady Christians played Lukas' wife on stage, a part that would be taken by Bette Davis in the film version.

 

I will be posting about 1943 shortly.

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1943

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It was a time of transitions at MGM. A year earlier, the studio’s reigning queen Norma Shearer had made her last film. In 1943, she was now unofficially retired. Her occasional rival at the studio, Joan Crawford was on her way out the door, too. Interestingly, back in 1925, Crawford (going by her given name Lucille La Sueur) started as Shearer’s double in the silent film LADY OF THE NIGHT. But after 18 years and countless image make-overs, Crawford completed her last film under contract at Metro, ABOVE SUSPICION.

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The wartime espionage thriller costarred Fred MacMurray, and in what would have been a clichéd role for any other actress, Crawford managed to infuse it with considerable personality. It was a hit, and while Crawford would return in 1953 for the musical melodrama TORCH SONG, greener pastures were ahead at Warner Brothers where she had just inked a new deal. At Warners she would take on haughty socialite roles, no longer playing the man-eater character she had started out doing at MGM.

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Meanwhile, an eccentric producer named Val Lewton was making a name for himself at RKO. His specialty was the horror-fantasy film, but he had previously worked on action films, such as MGM’s A TALE OF TWO CITIES, as an assistant to mentor David Selznick. It was because of Selznick’s recommendation that he wound up at RKO, supervising his own film unit. He soon produced a series of economically budgeted but successful pictures, mostly directed by Jacques Tourneur and Robert Wise.

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One of the biggest hits had been CAT PEOPLE a year earlier. And now, in 1943, he had another strange masterpiece on his hands, THE SEVENTH VICTIM, a story about a young woman trying to rescue her sister from a satanic cult. Kim Hunter, in her motion picture debut, starred as the young woman. Lewton, who much earlier in his career had written pornographic novels, avoided airy romantic sentiment in these films. Instead, his main characters were often trapped in a world of perversion and violence.

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While fictional films like ABOVE SUSPICION and THE SEVENTH VICTIM played to audiences, Hollywood also made nonfiction films that detailed various aspects of the war effort. One of these pictures was William Wyler’s independent propaganda piece about bombing raids over Europe called MEMPHIS BELLE. The documentary did not really examine human suffering or the toll that war took on the American people. Instead, it played up the bravery and courage of patriotic flyers.

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At the same time other directors back in Hollywood continued to craft fiction films they felt could influence people about what the war meant on a personal level. Pacifist or anti-war ideology seeped into some of these films. One example being RKO’s TENDER COMRADE, directed by Edward Dmytryk, that looked at how women on the homefront were coping. Of course, the content of this film would be used against Dmytryk after the war, when he was called to testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

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I am working on 1944, which I will post either later today or tomorrow. Check back...

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1944

_________

 

Almost a third of the Hollywood community was involved in the services. This included actors, directors, writers, camera operators and even producers. Many of them did not see actual combat but instead worked on training films or propaganda films. Some of the studios had set up areas to produce the military training films and propaganda pictures. It should be noted that most of the people in charge of these areas were the first to enlist, which usually the meant the more conservative members of the Hollywood establishment.

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Directors who made important war effort-related films were numerous. They included men like Josef von Sternberg and William Wyler. Also, John Ford was involved. He headed the Office of Strategic Services Photographic Branch. Ford and his group were responsible for turning out the war’s first documentary of American forces in action two years earlier, which became an Oscar winner.

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By 1944, the war was taking its toll on everyone. To try and keep spirits up, several motivational bestsellers were turned into feature films. One was A.J. Cronin’s novel THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM, which 20th Century Fox adapted. Gregory Peck had the starring role. Another uplifting tale that Fox filmed was THE SONG OF BERNADETTE, with Jennifer Jones in the title role. It hit screens at the end of '43 and went into wide release in '44. Jones would be named Best Actress for her performance.

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Meanwhile, two major court decisions occurred during the year. Both affected the way Hollywood studios could retain the services of lead stars. Specifically, the Supreme Court found that the power of an exclusive personal services contract was invalid when actor Robert Cummings sued Universal over the terms of his contract. Cummings was in the Army, and the studio refused to offer what he considered an acceptable script for his next motion picture. Basically, they were putting him on suspension for not taking the film they wanted him to do. This meant his wages were frozen, so he sued Universal for back pay. The court found in his favor.

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The other case involved Cummings’ costar from PRINCESS O’ROURKE, Olivia de Havilland. She sued her home studio, Warner Brothers, for being suspended when she refused to obey studio orders and for the suspended period of time being tacked on to the length of her original contract. The court sided with her that these actions on the part of Warners constituted peonage. She was freed from the terms of her contract and would become a freelancer, enjoying her greatest period as a motion picture actress.

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1945

_________

 

A memorable motion picture arrived in the form of MILDRED PIERCE from Warner Brothers. Joan Crawford had found a perfect role as the title character. She played the middle-aged owner of a chic eatery who was determined to protect the welfare of a selfish daughter (Ann Blyth). Michael Curtiz directed, and he made great use of Crawford’s mask-like face as well as the low-life atmosphere of a beachfront where a sensational murder occurs. Crawford earned an Oscar for her performance.

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Another memorable story, this one about an incorrigible alcoholic, was produced by Paramount. Director Billy Wilder fashioned THE LOST WEEKEND as a social message drama about a boozer on a bender during an extended period alone. Ray Milland starred as the drunk and earned an Oscar. But as earnest as the story may seem at the surface, one finds that Wilder also allowed satirical flourishes. In some ways, the production mocks the situation it depicts with Milland in on the joke about a man with seemingly no real willpower.

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The year offered up other hits, too. An important one was John Ford’s passionate war film THEY WERE EXPENDABLE for MGM. The cast included frequent Ford collaborator John Wayne, Donna Reed and Robert Montgomery playing a character based on commander John Bulkeley. For those who don’t know, Bulkeley was in charge of the torpedo boat squadron that smuggled General MacArthur away from Corregidor. The film’s themes focus on devotion to Navy rituals and discipline during a time of great adversity.

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Of course, 1945 was a time when half the year was still spent at war. After the war officially ended, directors like Ford returned to feature films in Hollywood after they had been making propaganda and training pictures. Meanwhile, other directors who made features during the war, such as Alfred Hitchcock, continued on without missing a beat.

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But post-war movie business in Britain was another matter. The British government had passed a new law that affected Hollywood studios greatly. From this point forward, 75% of the profits on films made in Britain by non-British companies had to remain in the country. As a result, the budgets of Hollywood movies filmed in Britain were quickly limited in order to make sure they could retain profitability. This also happened with Hollywood companies that filmed in Australia after the war.

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1946


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Audiences, eager to put the past few years of war behind them, flocked to the movies. There were splashy Technicolor musicals to enjoy, and gritty crime dramas which would come to be known as film noir. Soon studios were reporting record profits, due to ticket sales in excess of 80 million per week. It was an optimistic time for Hollywood.


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But it would not last long. Federal government lawsuits were being revived, in order to break the monopolies the studios had on film exhibition. The big movie companies were in the habit of dictating prices and how long certain motion pictures were scheduled to run in theaters. But exhibitors were now refusing to abide by those terms.


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Meanwhile, the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) decided to strike again. Only a year earlier, the group which controlled studio technicians, had gone on strike for 34 weeks. At stake was a policy being enacted by studio bosses to restrict their salaries. The issues had not been fully resolved, bringing about the second strike. Ultimately, a new salary plan and fringe-benefits had to be implemented across all studios to satisfy the IATSE. 


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While these business problems were sorted out, studios continued to make motion pictures that demonstrated excellence. The year's top films included GILDA, a sizzling crime yarn produced by Columbia Pictures with Rita Hayworth; and MGM's production of THE YEARLING, which was based on Marjorie Rawlings' heartwarming bestseller from 1938. Metro had several false starts with the picture but persistence paid off; with the finished product doing quite well with audiences. It made young Claude Jarman Jr. a star, and his performance earned a special Academy Juvenile Award.


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Meanwhile, Sam Goldwyn's postwar masterpiece, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, hit screens and resonated with moviegoers. The independent producer had hired William Wyler to direct the adaptation of MacKinlay Kantor's novella. It was a huge success commercially and artistically; it swept the Oscars for 1946, winning in all categories nominated except one. Harold Russell, a war veteran who had lost both his hands, earned two awards for his participation in the film. 


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I am working on the write-up for 1947 which I will post later today or else tomorrow morning..

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Thanks for summing up 1946 and ending with Sam Goldwyn, TB!

 

I wonder if it was the script for TBYOOL that caused him to say supposedly:

"I read part of it all the way through."
 

 

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1947


_________


 


It had been over three years since Howard Hughes had completed filming on his relatively tame western THE OUTLAW, starring Jane Russell. However, it had yet to be released to the moviegoing public. The reason for this was because the production code office refused to grant the film its stamp of approval. It wasn't that they objected to the content of the film as much as to the provocative advertising Hughes employed to promote the picture. Determined to beat the code at its own game, Hughes filed suit against the Motion Picture Association of America, claiming the MPAA was restricting trade. He lost. And because he lost, he began to set his sights on finding a movie studio he could buy to distribute it anyway.


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Meanwhile, so-called communist elements in Hollywood found themselves purged from the movie industry. The idea of a blacklist began to formulate, though some of the more liberal studio bosses were against it. Those opposed included Zanuck at Fox, Schary at RKO and independent producer Goldwyn. However, in July 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) announced that it intended to conduct a full-scale investigation of communist links to the motion picture business.


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Soon actors, directors and writers were targeted and served subpoenas to testify in front of the committee. Official hearings would not begin until October 20th. Under pressure, 'friendly' witnesses began to corroborate far-fetched allegations and substantiate hurtful rumors, bigotry and other accusations lobbed at those suspected of leftist activity. Witnesses who did not cooperate with the committee were seen to be communist sympathizers and deserving of national scorn.


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While all this was going on, studios turned out motion pictures with stories that seemed analogous of the witch hunts that were being waged. At 20th Century Fox, director Henry King filmed a lively account of the Spanish Inquisition and a fugitive's hiding out in Mexico, known as CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE. Tyrone Power played the fugitive and Jean Peters was the girl who helped him. John Sutton was cast as a villain who espoused religious fervor and sadism, not too unlike some leaders of the House Committee.  


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Another noteworthy production in 1947 was RKO's adaptation of Richard Brooks' story about mindless bigotry, entitled CROSSFIRE. Edward Dmytryk directed the noir drama that showed a military man (Robert Ryan) to be anti-semitic and lashing out against a fellow Jewish soldier (portrayed by Sam Levene). Robert Young turned up as an investigator looking into the murder that resulted. Soon after CROSSFIRE was released, both director Dmytryk and producer Adrian Scott would be called before HUAC. When they refused to cooperate, they found themselves jailed for contempt.


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Looking forward to next year, the so-called "beginning of the end"... when Paramount loses its theaters, Hal Roach moves to TV and Howard Hughes takes over RKO, forcing Dore Schary to move to MGM as "babysitter" to Louis B. Mayer, who was spending way too much time at the horse races...

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Looking forward to next year, the so-called "beginning of the end"... when Paramount loses its theaters, Hal Roach moves to TV and Howard Hughes takes over RKO, forcing Dore Schary to move to MGM as "babysitter" to Louis B. Mayer, who was spending way too much time at the horse races...

The loss of Schary hurt RKO greatly. After Hughes finishes releasing the films Schary produced, the studio begins its long drawn-out decline. As for MGM, it was time for a changing of the guard obviously. 

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1948


_________


 


As expected, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) continued to hold hearings that put various Hollywood figures in the hot seat. At issue was whether they had ever been affiliated with the Communist party. Most of the 'friendly' witnesses were given little opportunity to prepare or fully state their views. Prepared statements were deemed inadmissible by the committee. Also, the ones that were targeted directly usually had no chance to cross-examine their accusers. When ten prominent liberals had been identified at the end of 1947, the hearings were for a time suspended.


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But there would be more troubles for studios in the new year with regards to this matter. The American Legion and other patriotic groups across the country believed the charges of the committee. They threatened to boycott movies that were directed by or written by the Hollywood Ten. In 1948, producers like Darryl Zanuck and Dore Schary were pressured by their stockholders to go along with the blacklist. As a result, all ten were fired by the studios that had employed them before the committee hearings began. More importantly, all ten had been fined by the committee for being in contempt and given one-year jail sentences. Nine of them served their full sentences: Adrian Scott; Ring Lardner Jr.; Alvah Bessie; Dalton Trumbo; Herbert Biberman; John Howard Lawson; Sam Ornitz; Albert Maltz; and Lester Cole.


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One of them, director Edward Dmytryk, only served two months, then decided to cooperate with the committee and was released. By the time all was said and done, the careers of the nine who did not cooperate were seriously destroyed. Plus there were about 300 more-- actors like Jeff Corey and various directors and writers-- that were also blacklisted when they invoked the Fifth Amendment during the hearings. For many, their careers would stall indefinitely. A select few continued to work, either by joining foreign film companies; or by using fronts. Most had no choice but to wait out the storm which lasted at least ten to fifteen years.


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But let's get back to the nine who served a year in prison and had their contracts invalidated by the studios that had employed them. Several of them sued the studios. Adrian Scott, Ring Lardner and Lester Cole each brought a civil suit against their former studios and won. However, the rulings were reversed on appeal in the upper courts. Later, the suits were re-won and then re-reversed. Ultimately, the cases wound up being settled out of court but probably not to the satisfaction of the plaintiffs.


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With the turmoil that was going on because of HUAC, it is amazing studios were able to turn out noteworthy product for audiences. But that is exactly what they did. Columbia produced THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, a drama built around its major star, Rita Hayworth. This time, she was paired with her real-life husband Orson Welles, who directed and costarred. Studio boss Harry Cohn, who perhaps sensed that the crippled attorney character played by Everett Sloane was modeled after Cohn himself, disliked the end result. He claimed the cynical thriller made Hayworth look so conniving and deceptive that it damaged her box office appeal as a sex symbol. The stars probably didn't have much time to worry about Cohn's comments, because by the time the picture wrapped they were not on speaking terms and headed for divorce.


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Across town, RKO had a modest hit with John Ford's FORT APACHE. Though Ford had been a much-lauded director in the late 1930s and early 1940s, his career had been affected by the war, and his reputation was now not what it once was. Some critics were quick to find faults with FORT APACHE. But the film still holds up today as a testament of Ford's Catholic faith and his belief in strict military discipline.  The symbolic ending of the movie bears that out.


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I will be posting 1949 on Saturday, then will go on a short hiatus with the thread. In April I will start the 50s, and that will be the last decade I cover here (as the original intent was to discuss the beginning of the sound era up to 1960). Thanks for reading. 

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1949


_________


 


A few things that began in 1948 carried over into 1949. Perhaps most critically to the motion picture industry was the fact that the recent presidential election had been telecast, for the first time in history. This meant television was no fad; its immediacy and direct impact on audiences could not be ignored and as more broadcast stations sprang up around the country, TV would undoubtedly cut into the movie business. 


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Ticket sales had been averaging around 90 million per week, but in the new year, movie attendance dropped down to 62 million. Eventually, it climbed back up to around 70 million where it stayed. The studio bosses knew they were facing an uncertain time. Some like Hal Roach decided the future was in television, and they quickly began to transition over to television production.


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Meanwhile, Floyd Odlum of RKO decided it was time to get out of the picture business altogether. He put the studio up for sale, with the most serious offer coming from independent producer Howard Hughes. For the past several years, Hughes had experienced great difficulty getting his condemned western THE OUTLAW distributed, and he felt that if he bought RKO he could ensure that his movies would be played. But when Hughes assumed control of RKO, he had very little regard for its history or its film library. He quickly alienated producer Dore Schary who soon left for MGM. And more than half the executive staff had exited by 1949, in what amounted to a huge shake-up. The studio would never be the same again; Hughes' purchase signaled the beginning of a long death for RKO. 


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Across town, United Artists was going through its own upheaval. UA was dealing with a severe budget crisis, and many of their more prestigious independent producers were bailing. Roach was heading into television, while others like John Ford and James Cagney were going back to work for major studios. Another problem was that some of the product UA turned out in the late 40s began to seem outdated, since the postwar trend had been towards social realism. Unfortunately, the conservative escapist entertainment that UA produced wasn't selling.


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At this time, David Loew had set up a company with John Garfield called Enterprise Studios, which leaned toward producing more socially conscious films. The venture attracted people like Robert Rossen, Robert Aldrich and Abraham Polonsky. Of course, many of these people would soon be blacklisted, but for a time in the late 40s, this group prospered and turned out some of the best progressive cinema Hollywood ever made-- films like BODY AND SOUL and FORCE OF EVIL, both with Garfield in starring roles.


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While this was going on, there was a changing of the guard at some of the major studios. Longtime stars were finding that their contracts were not being renewed. And some, such as Bette Davis, left their home studios after arguments over the scripts being offered. Davis had been with Warner Brothers for 18 years. Meanwhile, producer Henry Blanke refused to leave Warners, because he had a 25 year contract at $5000 per week. But with television cutting into the movie business, Jack Warner was eager to save money and get rid of Blanke, who was very expensive at this point. During the standoff with Warner, Blanke would only visit the studio with his lawyers. 


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Have gotten behind due to a computer crash and replacement, but catching up with your posts. For some peculiar reason, I was having trouble with "like" buttons. I hope you decide not to stop in the fifties and go further on to the "official" end of "old" Hollywood and the dawn of "new" Hollywood in the seventies at least.

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Have gotten behind due to a computer crash and replacement, but catching up with your posts. For some peculiar reason, I was having trouble with "like" buttons. I hope you decide not to stop in the fifties and go further on to the "official" end of "old" Hollywood and the dawn of "new" Hollywood in the seventies at least.

Glad to see you back online, Jlewis.

 

Thanks for the encouragement/support. I suppose I could go up to 1967, which is really when the production code ended. Is that a fair compromise..?

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Glad to see you back online, Jlewis.

 

Thanks for the encouragement/support. I suppose I could go up to 1967, which is really when the production code ended. Is that a fair compromise..?

 

Actually 1966 was when the original code was scrapped and November 1, 1968 is when the new MPAA rating system went into effect. OLIVER! received a G-rating despite children being taught how to pick pocket, unmarried cohabitation blatantly insinuated, plenty of gin drinking and Oliver Reed hanging by the neck. GREETINGS got an X simply because of peekaboo ta-tas.

 

Remember that you have a nice "transitional" period in the final years of the decade. MIDNIGHT COWBOY may have been Best Picture, but Herbie in THE LOVE BUG made the most money. Also a final batch of elephantine musicals ended the "golden age".

 

Oh heck... why not end in 1970?

 

Only Universal and Columbia avoided going into the red that year, making it the worst year since 1933.

 

Sonny Boy Zanuck was canned by Daddy Zanuck (who left Fox in May 1971) after MYRA BRECKINRIDGE demonstrated just "how far"  Old Hollywood has lost it... and Republican Shirley Temple was not pleased at how her footage was utilized.

 

The final Warner-Seven Arts features were released as the Kinney Corporation streamlined that company for the "new" Hollywood.

 

In December of '69, Kirkorian took over MGM and that spring an awful lot was sold at auction.

 

The first hard-core skin filcks were shown in actual theaters (mostly San Francisco and New York) instead of just "men only" bachelor parties and the few dozen inner city "peep" shows, MONA THE VIRGIN NYMPH needs its due credit where credit is due.

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Oh heck... why not end in 1970?

 

Only Universal and Columbia avoided going into the red that year, making it the worst year since 1933.

 

Sonny Boy Zanuck was canned by Daddy Zanuck (who left Fox in May 1971) after MYRA BRECKINRIDGE demonstrated just "how far"  Old Hollywood has lost it... and Republican Shirley Temple was not pleased at how her footage was utilized.

 

The final Warner-Seven Arts features were released as the Kinney Corporation streamlined that company for the "new" Hollywood.

 

In December of '69, Kirkorian took over MGM and that spring an awful lot was sold at auction.

 

The first hard-core skin filcks were shown in actual theaters (mostly San Francisco and New York) instead of just "men only" bachelor parties and the few dozen inner city "peep" shows, MONA THE VIRGIN NYMPH needs its due credit where credit is due.

It sounds like you know more than I do about the late 60s/early 70s in Hollywood. You should write about those years. :)

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Depending on how occupied I am after you finish the fifties, I could cover the sixties and beyond for you. Such a fun roller coaster ride.

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1947

_________

 

It had been over three years since Howard Hughes had completed filming on his relatively tame western THE OUTLAW, starring Jane Russell. However, it had yet to be released to the moviegoing public. The reason for this was because the production code office refused to grant the film its stamp of approval. It wasn't that they objected to the content of the film as much as to the provocative advertising Hughes employed to promote the picture. Determined to beat the code at its own game, Hughes filed suit against the Motion Picture Association of America, claiming the MPAA was restricting trade. He lost. And because he lost, he began to set his sights on finding a movie studio he could buy to distribute it anyway.

 

****-BIG STARS to this one! Have not as yet been able to check out entire post, but just by surfing it "IT'S MARVELOUS!!!

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Meanwhile, so-called communist elements in Hollywood found themselves purged from the movie industry. The idea of a blacklist began to formulate, though some of the more liberal studio bosses were against it. Those opposed included Zanuck at Fox, Schary at RKO and independent producer Goldwyn. However, in July 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) announced that it intended to conduct a full-scale investigation of communist links to the motion picture business.

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Soon actors, directors and writers were targeted and served subpoenas to testify in front of the committee. Official hearings would not begin until October 20th. Under pressure, 'friendly' witnesses began to corroborate far-fetched allegations and substantiate hurtful rumors, bigotry and other accusations lobbed at those suspected of leftist activity. Witnesses who did not cooperate with the committee were seen to be communist sympathizers and deserving of national scorn.

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While all this was going on, studios turned out motion pictures with stories that seemed analogous of the witch hunts that were being waged. At 20th Century Fox, director Henry King filmed a lively account of the Spanish Inquisition and a fugitive's hiding out in Mexico, known as CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE. Tyrone Power played the fugitive and Jean Peters was the girl who helped him. John Sutton was cast as a villain who espoused religious fervor and sadism, not too unlike some leaders of the House Committee.  

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Another noteworthy production in 1947 was RKO's adaptation of Richard Brooks' story about mindless bigotry, entitled CROSSFIRE. Edward Dmytryk directed the noir drama that showed a military man (Robert Ryan) to be anti-semitic and lashing out against a fellow Jewish soldier (portrayed by Sam Levene). Robert Young turned up as an investigator looking into the murder that resulted. Soon after CROSSFIRE was released, both director Dmytryk and producer Adrian Scott would be called before HUAC. When they refused to cooperate, they found themselves jailed for contempt.

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