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Today in Movie History - M arch 20


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March 20, 1909 - A cartel of independent motion picture companies jointly agree to make use of a camera developed by Joseph Bianchi, a recording expert with the Columbia Phonograph Co. The companies have been excluded from Thomas Edison's trust, the Motion Picture Patents Co. Edison has been trying to drive them out of business by denying them access to any equipment on which he holds a patent, but the independent producers say Bianchi's camera doesn't infringe on any of Edison's patents.


March 20, 1948 - 20th Century Fox's GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT, the favorite going in, surprises few when it wins the Oscar for 1947's Best Picture and Best Director for Elia Kazan, making only his fourth film. Nominated for six Oscars, AGREEMENT sensitively tackles the thorny subject of anti-Semitism in the US and is hailed as one of the first important "message" films of the post-war era. Three of its performers were also nominated for Oscars, and Celeste Holm, playing a chic but lonely fashion writer, takes home the trophy for Best Supporting Actress. However, Gregory Peck loses the Best Actor race to Ronald Colman in Universal's A DOUBLE LIFE and Dorothy McGuire to Loretta Young in RKO's THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER.


March 20, 1952 - The audience at the 24th Annual Academy Awards, held at the RKO Pantages Theater, is completely taken by surprise when Ronald Colman announces that MGM's AN AMERICAN IN PARIS is the winner for Best Picture of 1951 over two expected favorites, Warner Brothers' A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and Paramount's A PLACE IN THE SUN. AMERICAN stars Gene Kelly and is directed by Vincente Minelli, but more than anything, perhaps, the award is given to honor the efforts of MGM producer Arthur Freed. It's a big night for Freed, who also receives the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for his body of work, which also includes BABES IN ARMS, CABIN IN THE SKY, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, THE ZIEGFELD FOLLIES, EASTER PARADE and ON THE TOWN. Meanwhile, AMERICAN wins not only the evening's biggest award but also five other Oscars: Best Story and Screenplay, Best Color Cinematography, Best Color Art Direction, Best Color Costumes and Best Musical Score. The two heavy dramas that the light-as-air AMERICAN beat out for Best Picture don't go ignored by the Academy: PLACE's George Stevens wins Best Director, while STREETCAR takes home three of the four acting prizes: Best Actress to Vivien Leigh, Best Supporting Actor to Karl Malden and Best Supporting Actress to Kim Hunter. Marlon Brando, in only his second film, is perhaps considered too new by Academy winners to be honored yet; instead Best Actor goes to Hollywood vet Humphrey Bogart for United Artists' THE AFRICAN QUEEN, co-written and directed by John Huston. MGM had the biggest winner of the night but also the biggest loser: QUO VADIS?, nominated for eight Oscars, comes away empty-handed.


March 20, 1955 - MGM's THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, written and directed by Richard Brooks and adapted from an Evan Hunter novel, opens today. Glenn Ford plays Navy veteran Richard Dadier, whose first teaching job pits him against a class of juvenile deliquents at a tough New York City high school. His main antagonist is knife-wielding Vic Morrow, whom MGM hopes will be the next Brando. The inventive use of a contemporary pop song, "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets, helps spark this year's rock & roll revolution.


March 20, 1968 - Danish writer-director Carl Dreyer dies at the age of 79. His final film, GERTRUD, from three years earlier, was perhaps the most poorly received of his career. The film deals with the growing worldliness of a young woman played by Nina Pens Rode who's betrayed in love by a cad played by Bendt Rothe. After its failure, Dreyer was unable to launch any more projects. For the last 20 years of his life, he'd hoped to make a film called JESUS CHRIST, JEW.


March 20, 1970 - BORSALINO, released today in Paris, teams up Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo for the first time on screen, virtually a guarantee for domestic box-office success, as the two men recently tied for first place in a national poll for most popular actor. The two men play petty crooks who team up and rise to the top of the 1930s Marseilles underworld by controlling the meat supply. Though by all accounts the two men got along famously during shooting, Belmondo has announced intentions to sue because his name appears only once on the billboards, while Delon's appears twice (as actor and producer).


March 20, 1974 - LES VALSEUSES (GOING PLACES), the third feature from writer-director Bertrand Blier, opens today in Paris. Critics are saying the film best represents the generation of socially, morally and sexually liberated young people thrust into the national spotlight during the tumultuous events of May, 1968. Blier, son of the well-known character actor Bernard Blier, adapted his own 1972 novel of the same name. While having a literal meaning, LES VALSEUSES is also well-known French slang for male genitalia. The movie's protagonists are two young layabouts, played by Gerard Deprardieu and Patric Dewaere, who steal cars and break into houses, usually as a prelude to abducting, seducing or otherwise exploiting women. While on the run, they take up with a sexy but frigid hairdresser, played by Miou-Miou, and form a strange menage a trois. Further complicating matters, Deware's character is impotent as the result of an accident. They also come across Jeanne Moreau as a just-released jailbird. Stephane Grappelli's swinging score undercuts the anarchic situations without condemnation or praise. The three leads, all between the ages of 24 and 26, appear to the French film stars of the future, though Deprardieu is already a veteran - this is his 15th film. Admission is forbidden to anyone under 18.


March 20, 1999 - Lions Gate releases GODS AND MONSTERS in the US today, a film that looks at the final years of of James Whale, director of 1930s horror classics FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Ian McKellan portrays the legendary director, ill and wistful for his glory years, pining for his hunk of a gardener, who, to his disappointment, isn't interested. Brendan Fraser, best known for kiddie fare like GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE and THE MUMMY, shows unexpected depth as the gardener, and the film will go on to win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

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