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A year in Hollywood

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TB, isn't "Crossfire" based on a book in which the victim is homosexual instead of Jewish.

 

I seem to remember them changing the intent of the murder into one of anti-semitism instead of anti-gay if I recall correctly.

 

Seems like the book had the word "Foxhole" or something in it.

 

Great post as usual!

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TB, isn't "Crossfire" based on a book in which the victim is homosexual instead of Jewish.

 

I seem to remember them changing the intent of the murder into one of anti-semitism instead of anti-gay if I recall correctly.

 

Seems like the book had the word "Foxhole" or something in it.

 

Great post as usual!

Thanks. Yes, it was called The Brick Foxhole and was written by Richard Brooks who became a well-known screenwriter-director (and husband of Jean Simmons). 

 

Brooks' story was really about prejudice that leads to violence. It worked just as well about anti-semitism as it did about homophobia. Later stories, like REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE, addressed homosexuality on military bases. 

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Screen%2Bshot%2B2016-03-12%2Bat%2B3.22.4

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. 

 

An interesting footnote I wanted to add here is that Blanke ended up staying at Warners, producing award-winning films for the studio until 1962. Warner managed to outlast Blanke, but obviously Warner was unable to fire him. Blanke's contract seems to have been allowed to run its course.

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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.

I thought about it, and after the fifties I am willing to do the sixties. I'll let you take over at 1970, if you have the time and inclination to do so. 

 

Check back on Saturday for my next essay (about 1950). 

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I am guessing that you saw TCM's Moguls and Movie Stars, which ended in the early seventies. Although the final episode listed 1969 in its title, it did cover the Zanucks leaving in 1970-71 and some deaths. That is a good "reference" you can use.

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1950


_________


 


The Hollywood motion picture industry was now in a fight for survival. Almost twenty percent of American homes already had television, and this number was growing rapidly. As more people stayed at home to watch entertainment programs on TV, they went to the cinema less frequently. As a result, weekly admissions fell to 60 million.


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Studios responded by trying to soak up the new medium in strategic ways. Large screen TV sets were installed in theaters to show live news and sporting events between movies. And some experimental markets were offering stay-at-home viewers the chance to see recent movies on the tube for a small fee. It was the beginning of Pay TV.


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Among the first feature films to be shown on Pay TV in 1950 were Paramount’s WELCOME STRANGER starring Bing Crosby; MGM’s HOMECOMING with Lana Turner; and Warner Brothers’ APRIL SHOWERS with Ann Sothern. Zenith was the company that partnered with studios to provide the unique service to customers. The first group to use Pay TV included three hundred subscribers in the Chicago area.


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Meanwhile, the Technicolor Corporation faced sudden legal reversals and began to lose its monopoly on color stock and color processing. A court ruling forced Technicolor to relinquish 92 of its patents to producers. As for the remaining 12 patents that were still allowed, Technicolor was ordered to share those technologies at a more reasonable rate. Because of these decisions, Technicolor's considerable power diminished.


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The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was now dealing with the personal lives of stars. References to actors’ real-life love affairs could no longer be made in the advertising of films. The situation that brought this to a head was one involving Ingrid Bergman. She had recently left her husband for director Roberto Rossellini. The MPAA forbade RKO from mentioning the Bergman scandal in ads for her latest film, STROMBOLI, in which she had been directed by Rossellini.


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I will be posting 1951 tomorrow...and then 1952 on the weekend. I'd like to cover two years per week and hopefully reach 1970 by early summertime. Jlewis has promised to help with the post-code years. Right Jlewis?? :)

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We'll see... depending on how tied up I am.

 

Let's see... the post code years... Wasn't that the decade the Golden Age of Hollywood got replaced by the Golden Age of *Smut*? There may be a lot of **** appearing in my posts THEN.

 

You know that 1970 would not be complete without referencing MYRA BRECKINRIDGE, the film that represented everything that went haywire at 20th Century Fox that year... and resulted in both Zanucks getting canned. Shame... they had such a nice montage of vintage Fox film clips too. Only MGM did a better job with THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!

 

 

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I will be posting 1951 tomorrow...and then 1952 on the weekend. I'd like to cover two years per week and hopefully reach 1970 by early summertime. Jlewis has promised to help with the post-code years. Right Jlewis?? :)

Only you can find the time, TB to post about a whole year of entertainment in one fell swoop per day.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed your write-up today and was surprised to learn that Jerry Lewis has the time to help you with your annum reviews since I thought he was working on his new film, "Big Finish".

 

Thanks also for the making me think about the name Estes Kefauver, which always brings a smile to my face!

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I am not Jerry but he is still alive and doing well. Ha ha!

Dang!

 

Do you look anything like Buddy Love?

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1951


_________


 


Since the end of World War II, European cinema had undergone a renaissance period. This led to the start of ‘art house’ movie theaters in the United States, which catered to a growing interest in foreign films from Italy, France and other countries. One picture that did well on the art house circuit was a neo-realist fable by Vittorio de Sica.


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In addition to television, as well as recent economic setbacks caused by the beginning of the Korean conflict, Hollywood had to contend with strong competition from overseas production companies. These issues were only compounded by the change in film exhibition, since the U.S. government had effectively put an end to studios owning theater chains. The entire business model was overhauled. And nobody understood it better than producer Dore Schary.


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Schary had left RKO after Howard Hughes’ takeover and returned to MGM, where he previously worked under Louis B. Mayer. But this time, Schary had considerably more power, which Mayer deeply resented. The two men were frequently at an impasse over the direction of the studio and the types of pictures that would best serve the needs of audiences in these changing times. A huge fight erupted between the two men in 1949 over Schary’s decision to make the war film BATTLEGROUND, which Mayer vehemently opposed. When BATTLEGROUND proved a hit with critics and audiences, Mayer lost a key battle in the war with Schary. Stockholders now believed Schary had the vision to lead them into the new decade.


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By 1951, Mayer’s power had decreased even more, and Schary was essentially running the studio at this point. Mayer, knowing he was being pushed out, abruptly resigned and cashed in. He was paid almost $3 million for stories and other MGM properties in which he still held a major interest. But Mayer wasn’t done in Hollywood. After he left MGM, he financed the TV version of Jack Webb’s crime drama Dragnet, and he invested a substantial amount of his MGM payoff in Cinerama, which turned out to be a good decision.


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Meanwhile, Hollywood was beginning to realize that an important new demographic was developing in the post-war era. There were now a substantial number of affluent teens in these years of prosperity, and they would become an even wealthier group when they reached their twenties. As a result, studios and independent production companies were turning out motion pictures geared towards them. This generational shift was reflected in the proliferation of drive-in movie theaters; there were now over 2,000 of them across North America.


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As the industry changed, some movie stars were finding their standing in jeopardy at their home studios. At 20th Century Fox, Tyrone Power and Betty Grable were both placed on suspension when the new president of the studio found them unreasonable in their demands. At Universal, Shelley Winters was also suspended without pay when she fought with her bosses over costume fittings. And Kirk Douglas was having such conflict with Jack Warner that he shelled out $100,000 to break his contract with Warner Brothers.


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1952


_________


 


The blacklist was still in effect, with no sign of letting up. Columbia had a popular star, Larry Parks, who wowed audiences in two very profitable movies about Al Jolson. But Parks’ liberal political views had become problematic for the studio. Harry Cohn decided to remove the actor from a new film that was scheduled to go before cameras, and when Parks was officially blacklisted, Columbia severed all ties with him. Another movie Larry Parks had made on loan out to MGM saw its release delayed by over a year. Very quickly the actor had become persona non grata in Hollywood.


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Parks wasn’t alone. Other performers were also fired, because of leftist leanings. Character actor Howard Da Silva had been working in the movies for fifteen years and was now blacklisted. A film he had completed for RKO was reshot with someone else in his place. Howard Hughes claimed Da Silva’s presence in a studio picture was now unacceptable. According to Hughes, nobody with suspected communist ties could be employed at RKO in any capacity.


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Blacklisted directors had just as tough a time. Many headed off to Europe to find work. These people included Joseph Losey, Cy Enfield and Jules Dassin. Their names, along with the names of blacklisted actors and writers, were printed in a publication called Red Channels that would


mention artists who should no longer be employed in Hollywood. A few that were in danger of being placed on the list managed to hang on, if they toed the line and distanced themselves from their previous political affiliations. Producer Stanley Kramer was one such individual who kept from being blacklisted.


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The Technicolor Corporation continued to lose its firm grip over the color film process in Hollywood. Rival companies, like Eastman-Kodak and Ansco, were doing business with the studios now. Both these outfits won technical Oscars in 1952, signaling the end of Technicolor’s dominance. Studios saw the benefits of using Eastman-Kodak and Ansco, since these newer processes did not require the expensive printing that occurred with Technicolor. In a relatively short time, Eastmancolor became the trend.


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Corporate shake-ups took place at two major Hollywood studios. A year earlier, the Decca Records company acquired 28% of Universal-International’s stock from J. Arthur Rank. By 1952, Decca had bought additional shares and now had a controlling interest in Universal. Decca’s president quickly assumed the top spot at the movie studio.


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Over at 20th Century Fox, a new president had also taken the reigns. Previous chief Darryl Zanuck was demoted to Vice President when the board of directors voted for exhibitor Spyros Skouras to become their top boss. Since Zanuck had less power now, he was forced by Skouras to release films that could have benefited from re-editing when they didn’t test well with preview audiences. Zanuck was often frustrated, but he forged ahead. One of the projects he was working on would soon lead to a major industry revolution. What was it? CinemaScope.


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Definitely a very interesting time, TB. 
 

Enjoyed your synopsis of the situation. It is also fascinating to read not about who was blacklisted, but about the most virulent supporters in Hollywood of the committee, which included some major stars.

 

Thanks for reminding us of that time in your 1952 expose!

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Definitely a very interesting time, TB. 

 

Enjoyed your synopsis of the situation. It is also fascinating to read not about who was blacklisted, but about the most virulent supporters in Hollywood of the committee, which included some major stars.

 

Thanks for reminding us of that time in your 1952 expose!

You're welcome. What happened to Larry Parks would certainly make an interesting biographical movie. Such a talented guy at the top rung of success, then his motion picture is practically ended in the blink of an eye.

 

The virulent supporters of the blacklist are an interesting group, aren't they? Not only producers or studio bosses like Howard Hughes, but gossip columnists and actors ratting on each other. 

 

A professor of mine in college-- she was a film actress who married an MGM screenwriter and became a writer herself-- she and her husband were blacklisted. I was 21 when I took two classes with her (the first class was so good I signed up for another one). I was fairly naive at the time, but I soaked it in-- learning what the blacklist did to these people's lives. The stories she told were unbelievably heartbreaking, everything her family and their friends' families went through because of the blacklist. 

 

Interestingly another professor, who taught another class of mine, had also been blacklisted, In fact, he was one of the Hollywood Ten. But he recanted and named names. So here were these two people, all these years later in the mid-90s, teaching at the same film school. I wonder if they even acknowledged each other directly at faculty meetings and events. There were still unresolved feelings about being blacklisted and about those who supported the blacklist.

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Look for my piece about 1953 tomorrow. I will be discussing 3-D and CinemaScope..

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1953


_________


 


The blacklist continued, and HIGH NOON– a film that some regarded as a comment on the communist witch-hunts– had become the center of attention. In early 1953, its star Gary Cooper was named Best Actor at the Academy Awards. Cooper played Will Kane, a sheriff that stood by his principles and refused to run off in the face of adversity.


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Gary Cooper’s career had gone into decline in the late 1940s, and instead of taking his usual paycheck for HIGH NOON, he opted for a share of the profits. It proved to be a wise decision, because the film only cost $750,000 to make, and it raked in millions at the box office. Its success and Cooper’s Oscar led to a career comeback for the actor. He went on to make many more important western motion pictures in the 1950s.


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Two important technological innovations in Hollywood proved to be revolutionary. In response to the competition posed by television, studios were looking for new ways to entice audiences back to movie theaters. One of these was the use of three-dimensional (3-D) images. In reality, 3-D was not a new technology, and it had been used all the way back in the 1910s. But now, for a while at least, it became the trend among several studios to photograph stories using this technology. What made 3-D noteworthy was how it allowed viewers to see images with greater depth, when using specially made spectacles. The separate lenses were able to pick up two separate images on screen at the same time. Warner Brothers’ horror film HOUSE OF WAX was one of the more popular mainstream pictures to use 3-D in 1953.


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The second innovation concerned the use of widescreen images. Just a year earlier, Cinerama began to lead the way for studios to show films in widescreen with the much-heralded release of THIS IS CINERAMA. And while Cinerama was the latest sensation, Darryl Zanuck was over at 20th Century Fox working on his studio’s own widescreen process, called CinemaScope. Zanuck knew CinemaScope would be revolutionary, because it had distinct advantages over 3-D and Cinerama. First, it did not require a set of glasses like 3-D did; and also, it consisted of one main image, not three images that were projected side by side like Cinerama.


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After more than a year of tinkering, Fox’s CinemaScope was ready for audiences to enjoy. On September 17, 1953, the studio unveiled CinemaScope with Henry Koster’s biblical epic THE ROBE. Soon, biblical epics became even more popular, and other studios were eager to pay Fox to borrow the CinemaScope technology for their own productions. Movie attendance increased, and it looked like the motion picture business might be able to keep television at bay.


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As CinemaScope began to take hold in late 1953, there were some studios that did not wish to borrow the technology from Fox. Instead, they began to formulate their own widescreen processes. Chief among these-- Paramount, developing a technology called VistaVision. Meanwhile, producer Mike Todd introduced his own Todd-AO, which exploited 70 mm film. And another process that combined 35 mm and 70 mm filmmaking known as Technirama was soon available. But exhibitors were not always enthusiastic about the cost of re-equipping their theaters to accommodate the newer technologies. In fact, many theaters were not upgraded, and despite advertising to the contrary, the films were shown in flat form with alternate prints.


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It has often been joked that once Hollywood was rid of the "socialist radicals", movies got more "empty" in their screenwriting during the 1950s. Certainly not every movie, of course. The Billy Wilder features can hold its own against the sharply written material of previous decades. One of my ol' movie books profiling the fifties noted how so many comedies of the period lacked a sense of humor. There was way too much caution that was only lifted during the late sixties "anything goes" liberation.

 

The wide screens certainly helped, even if the CinemaScope musicals and "ancient" epics looked rather stagey with too much indoor (unrealistic props and lighting) over outdoor footage.

 

Speaking of outdoor footage, I've always been partial to the travelogue features that Cinerama put out. Flicker Alley did an excellent job putting them all out as BluRay/standard DVD combos (so you can play them on multiple devices) and packing them with a ton of extras. They are pricey, but that site has sales just like TCM Shop, Warner Archive and Amazon... so some may be available in the $20s rather than $30s. The first, This Is Cinerama (1952) is probably the dullest of the bunch (despite its historical significance), while Seven Wonders Of The World is one you can't help but see more than once because it is so endlessly entertaining.

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1954

_________

 

A new feature on labor issues made by blacklisted artists, called SALT OF THE EARTH, was causing a great deal of anxiety in Hollywood. Howard Hughes, who was still in control of RKO, refused to distribute it. In a fanatical anti-Communist rage, he contacted the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and shared his ideas for blocking the release of SALT OF THE EARTH in theaters across the country. Only a year or two earlier, Hughes had temporarily shut down RKO, in order to purge the studio of all personnel suspected of having ties to communism.

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Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox continued to offer films in its new CinemaScope format. But not all theater owners were happy about the expense involved with converting their businesses so the new widescreen pictures could be shown. They were already upset about upgrades they had to make for stereo sound systems. But because the CinemaScope pictures were doing well with moviegoers, they had no choice but to adapt.

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Back in Hollywood studios were now hiring more non-star actors to appear in the widescreen features. The epic was the real star now, not the people who played in them. Exhibitors were used to selling pictures to customers that had big movie stars, but now everything was different. The size of movies was different, the subject matter was different, and the way to sell a movie was suddenly different.

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Studios that had relied on the 3-D craze to help them compete with television were in for a rude awakening. The fad did not last long, and by the end of 1954, many features that had gone into production as 3-D entertainment were now screening in cinemas in the old flat format. MGM had shelled out considerable expense to make its musical KISS ME KATE in 3-D, but when it was not attracting audiences (who were tired of wearing special glasses for such pictures), the film was quickly reissued and re-advertised as 2-D.

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A new genre was developing at the movies. A year earlier, MGM had a massive hit on its hands with the behind-the-scenes drama THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL. Because of its success, and the earlier success of SUNSET BOULEVARD, the quasi-expose had quickly become a popular way to tell stories. This new narrative structure, combined with the younger generation’s fascination for motorcycles, gave birth to an iconic motion picture in 1954.

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It was Stanley Kramer’s THE WILD ONE, starring Marlon Brando as a charismatic anti-hero. The story examined a breakdown in law and order when Brando’s motorcycle gang takes over and terrorizes a wholesome small American town. Though the film was denied release in Britain, it became a cult classic in many other countries. It firmly established Brando in the minds of moviegoers as a masochistic sex symbol.

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1954

_________

 

A new feature on labor issues made by blacklisted artists, called SALT OF THE EARTH, was causing a great deal of anxiety in Hollywood. Howard Hughes, who was still in control of RKO, refused to distribute it. In a fanatical anti-Communist rage, he contacted the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and shared his ideas for blocking the release of SALT OF THE EARTH in theaters across the country. Only a year or two earlier, Hughes had temporarily shut down RKO, in order to purge the studio of all personnel suspected of having ties to communism.

saltoftheearth.poster.jpg

Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox continued to offer films in its new CinemaScope format. But not all theater owners were happy about the expense involved with converting their businesses so the new widescreen pictures could be shown. They were already upset about upgrades they had to make for stereo sound systems. But because the CinemaScope pictures were doing well with moviegoers, they had no choice but to adapt.

Screen%2Bshot%2B2016-04-10%2Bat%2B1.27.4

Back in Hollywood studios were now hiring more non-star actors to appear in the widescreen features. The epic was the real star now, not the people who played in them. Exhibitors were used to selling pictures to customers that had big movie stars, but now everything was different. The size of movies was different, the subject matter was different, and the way to sell a movie was suddenly different.

Screen%2Bshot%2B2016-04-10%2Bat%2B1.29.1

Studios that had relied on the 3-D craze to help them compete with television were in for a rude awakening. The fad did not last long, and by the end of 1954, many features that had gone into production as 3-D entertainment were now screening in cinemas in the old flat format. MGM had shelled out considerable expense to make its musical KISS ME KATE in 3-D, but when it was not attracting audiences (who were tired of wearing special glasses for such pictures), the film was quickly reissued and re-advertised as 2-D.

Screen%2Bshot%2B2016-04-10%2Bat%2B1.26.2

A new genre was developing at the movies. A year earlier, MGM had a massive hit on its hands with the behind-the-scenes drama THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL. Because of its success, and the earlier success of SUNSET BOULEVARD, the quasi-expose had quickly become a popular way to tell stories. This new narrative structure, combined with the younger generation’s fascination for motorcycles, gave birth to an iconic motion picture in 1954.

Screen%2Bshot%2B2016-04-10%2Bat%2B1.26.5

It was Stanley Kramer’s THE WILD ONE, starring Marlon Brando as a charismatic anti-hero. The story examined a breakdown in law and order when Brando’s motorcycle gang takes over and terrorizes a wholesome small American town. Though the film was denied release in Britain, it became a cult classic in many other countries. It firmly established Brando in the minds of moviegoers as a masochistic sex symbol.

 

I just wish that more theaters would have retrospectives of all those old 3-D films, since it is such a joy to see them in a real movie house. I saw "House of Wax" in a theater in 3-D and it was the best 3-D I've ever seen.

 

Also saw the Andy Warhol horror film, that was in 3-D and the perspective was so bizarre it looked like body parts were being thrown into the audience. But it was still fun to see. Great take on 1954, TB!

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I just wish that more theaters would have retrospectives of all those old 3-D films, since it is such a joy to see them in a real movie house. I saw "House of Wax" in a theater in 3-D and it was the best 3-D I've ever seen.

 

Also saw the Andy Warhol horror film, that was in 3-D and the perspective was so bizarre it looked like body parts were being thrown into the audience. But it was still fun to see. Great take on 1954, TB!

Thanks CG...appreciate the feedback. I would love to see HOUSE OF WAX on the big screen. Lucky you!

 

By the way, I will be posting 1955 on Saturday...so check back.

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1955


_________


This was the year Howard Hughes sold RKO. For seven years Hughes had misunderstood the history and potential of the studio and nearly run it into the ground. Its glory days long since over, and Hughes itching to dump the studio, RKO was put up for sale.


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Eventually, the studio was purchased by the General Tire and Rubber Company, which created a subsidiary called General Teleradio. At first General Tire said it would continue producing motion pictures, but that quickly changed after the deal with Hughes had been completed. The studio lot was closed, and the RKO library was handed over to the C&C Television Corporation for $15 million. C&C would take the studio’s features– 740 of them, plus its 1,100 shorts– and make them available for television broadcast.


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The massive flood of RKO sound films on television prompted other studios to follow suit. Soon, most film catalogues from the 1930s and 1940s were available on TV. Since 1930, around 5,500 features had been made in Hollywood. Almost 3,000 of them were made available to TV in 1955. This hurt theater chains, since people could stay home to watch old movies instead of going out to the local cinema to see new ones.


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There were three very important new releases, though. One of these was Judy Garland’s comeback film, A STAR IS BORN. It had been released in 1954 and continued to do strong business in the first part of 1955. Previously filmed by David Selznick in 1937, the story rights were sold to Warner Brothers. George Cukor directed Garland and her costar James Mason; it was the first time Cukor had worked in Technicolor and CinemaScope. The studio had concerns after the picture had a test screening, and Cukor was ordered to re-edit some sequences and tighten the action. Some of Garland’s best work was removed, though years later it would be restored.


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Another noteworthy film was THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. It was the first (and only) picture to be directed by Charles Laughton, who managed to emulate the gothic horror style so vividly expressed by Val Lewton and his directors a decade earlier at RKO. Laughton worked from a script by writer James Agee, and he had some of the finest actors at his disposal. Among them were Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters in the lead roles; as well as Lillian Gish and James Gleason in supporting roles. A key scene that occurs after Winters’ character is killed by Mitchum was filmed in a tank at Republic, using a wax dummy that resembled the actress.


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Meanwhile, Delbert Mann offered audiences his cinematic version of Paddy Chayefsky’s play MARTY. Originally, it had been produced for live television, and producer Harold Hecht was determined to remake it as an independent picture to be released through United Artists. Ernest Borgnine played the overgrown mama’s boy who found love when he least expected it. Borgnine was awarded the Best Actor Oscar for his performance, and the film was named Best Picture. It was widely considered a breakthrough for realistic movies.


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