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Coming back from the war

 

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The ads for MGM’s ADVENTURE proclaimed ‘Gable’s back and Garson’s got him.’ Of course, we’re talking about Clark Gable’s return to motion picture acting after his service during World War II. But he wasn’t the only studio star who had returned with great fanfare after a stint with the U.S. military.

 

At Paramount, Alan Ladd’s first film after the war was AND NOW TOMORROW, a romance with Loretta Young. The studio’s advertising department had written across the upper portion of posters two words that were sure to bring cinemaddicts rushing to movie theatres. Those words: ‘Ladd’s Back.’

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Meanwhile, at Fox, Tyrone Power hadn’t made a new picture in three years, since CRASH DIVE. Zanuck cast him in a unique type of story– this time, it was as the post-war hero in Somerset Maugham’s THE RAZOR’S EDGE.

 

And then there’s James Stewart. His first post-war picture was the sentimental favorite IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.

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Coming back from the war

 

adventure_filmposter.jpg?w=660

The ads for MGM’s ADVENTURE proclaimed ‘Gable’s back and Garson’s got him.’ Of course, we’re talking about Clark Gable’s return to motion picture acting after his service during World War II. But he wasn’t the only studio star who had returned with great fanfare after a stint with the U.S. military.

 

At Paramount, Alan Ladd’s first film after the war was AND NOW TOMORROW, a romance with Loretta Young. The studio’s advertising department had written across the upper portion of posters two words that were sure to bring cinemaddicts rushing to movie theatres. Those words: ‘Ladd’s Back.’

andnowtomorrow.jpg?w=660

Meanwhile, at Fox, Tyrone Power hadn’t made a new picture in three years, since CRASH DIVE. Zanuck cast him in a unique type of story– this time, it was as the post-war hero in Somerset Maugham’s THE RAZOR’S EDGE.

 

And then there’s James Stewart. His first post-war picture was the sentimental favorite IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.

 

"Ladd's back and Young's got him". How's that sound?

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Versions of CLEOPATRA

 

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It is probably one of the most decadent roles an actress can play on screen, and it has been filmed numerous times. There have been short films, feature films and TV miniseries about Cleopatra. Some have been sensational, others less sensational– but they always get released with great fanfare, and people take notice.

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In 1912 American stage actress Helen Gardner appeared in the first feature length version that was produced by her own company. The budget was $45,000 which was quite a sum at the time. Gardner’s depiction was promoted as being the most beautiful motion picture ever made (up to then). It was described as the romance of a woman and a queen, and Gardner’s team of moviemakers filmed it on location in New York. A print survives, and it aired on TCM back in 2002.

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Five years later, it was Theda Bara’s turn to portray the glamorous ruler of ancient Egypt. This version was produced by the Fox Film Corporation, and Thurston Hall was cast as Marc Antony. The sets were ornate, the costumes lavish, and Bara’s acting risque. After the production code took affect in Hollywood, the 1917 production was considered too obscene and essentially banned. Only fragments of the footage exist today (with the last prints having been burned in a fire at Fox).

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In 1934, just as the production code was about to be enforced, Paramount made its own version. Claudette Colbert was cast as Cleopatra, and she was directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Henry Wilcoxon played Marc Antony, and the scene where he was seduced by the queen was quite provocative for its day. DeMille used an art deco theme for sets, and the public loved it. The film was one of the biggest of Colbert’s career, and certainly the top money-maker for the studio that year.

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Perhaps the most famous production is the one that was released in 1963. Fox had decided to remake the story, originally with Joan Collins and Stephen Boyd in the leads. But their roles were eventually given to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; and the rest of course, is history.

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Recommended films

 

 

 

 

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MADAME RACKETEER (1932).  Why you should watch it: Alison Skipworth is a con-woman who hosts tea parties for other female inmates in prison. When she gets released on parole, she sets out to fleece as many men as she can.  Skipworth was primarily a character actress at Paramount in the 1930s, but in this film she is the star.  The story takes a few unexpected turns when she winds up a hotel and learns that her two grown daughters are there.  The girls have long since thought their mother was dead, but Skipworth knows they need some maternal protection– especially with a hoodlum on the prowl. George Raft plays the hoodlum.

 

 ***

 

1sunday.png?w=150&h=102SUNDAY DINNER FOR A SOLDIER (1944)

 

Why you should see it: a well-chosen cast brings a simple, yet extraordinary war-time story about love and hope to the screen, courtesy of 20thCentury Fox.  The movie pairs, for the first time, Anne Baxter and John Hodiak as the young romantic leads.  For those that do not know, Baxter would become Mrs. Hodiak a short time later.  The rest of the players are seasoned professionals—folks like Charles Winninger as Baxter’s father; Anne Revere as a townswoman trying to get Winninger to the altar; and Jane Darwell as another townswoman trying her best to provide accommodations for visiting servicemen.  Bobby Driscoll is also seen as one of the youngsters involved in the goings-on.

 

***

 

1man.png?w=150&h=116THE MAN WITH A CLOAK (1951)

 

Why you should see it: this is one of MGM’s more inspired biopics, and it boasts a wonderful cast—Joseph Cotten, Barbara Stanwyck, Louis Calhern, Leslie Caron, Jim Backus—need I go on?  Stanwyck was a last-minute replacement for Marlene Dietrich, and the results of this motion picture are so smooth and so good that it seems to have turned out the way it should have. The film has some genuinely suspenseful moments, and it brims with atmosphere and the studio’s generally excellent production values.

 

***

 

 

 

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Films that almost weren’t made

 

There are several films that almost never were.

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SARATOGA (1937) was Jean Harlow’s last film. She collapsed on the set and died before her scenes could be completed. A double had to be used to finish the picture. Though studio chief Louis B. Mayer was reluctant to release it, the picture became an enormous hit for MGM. So much that Harlow’s penultimate film, PERSONAL PROPERTY, was re-released.

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Check out the production history for HOTEL IMPERIAL (1939). It was originally to be called I LOVED A SOLDIER with Marlene Dietrich, but she fought so much with Henry Hathaway the director, that the project was ultimately shelved. Then, Margaret Sullavan took over, but she broke her arm. So Isa Miranda was finally cast. Then, the leading man Ray Milland fell off a horse during filming and landed on some broken masonry and was unconscious for 24 hours. It’s lucky he survived. Eventually the film was finished, but the executives at Paramount endured a lot of headaches in the process!

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DESIRE ME (1947). Robert Montgomery clashed with director George Cukor who clashed with Louis Mayer. Montgomery walked off, and Cukor lobbied to have his name withdrawn from the project. Leading lady Greer Garson soldiered on and nearly drowned during a location sequence. When the film tested with preview audiences, it bombed, so Mayer ordered extensive retakes. But by this point, costar Robert Mitchum was over at Warners filming PURSUED, so they had to reduce his part and shoot around him. The retakes did not help. The film still performed poorly at the box office.

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BRAINSTORM (1983). Natalie Wood’s mysterious and tragic drowning temporarily suspended production of this motion picture. Like the Harlow film, this one had to be completed with a double and a reconstructed script. It lost money at the box office. Not even Wood’s death and endless tabloid articles about her last days could make the public curious enough to see it. More interestingly, it ended the director Douglas Trumbull’s career on feature film projects. MGM wanted to dump the picture (and probably under-promoted it when it was released), but Trumbull’s contract gave him the last word, and he wanted to finish BRAINSTORM and dedicate it to the lead actress’ memory.

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Unusual pairings

 

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In WHAT A WAY TO GO Shirley MacLaine has several leading men. One of them is Dick Van Dyke. It’s interesting to watch the two play romantic scenes together.

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Shirley Booth and Burt Lancaster are a peculiar duo in COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA. But then, they are supposed to be different…that’s the root of the drama, their very unique way of life.

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Donald O’Connor and Francis the Talking Mule are certainly an oddball team. Also, in this category, we must add future President Ronald Reagan and Bonzo.

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Then there’s Wallace Beery who had a number of unusual screen partners…from Marie Dressler to Margaret Hamilton to Marjorie Main. But he was often cast with these women because the weird chemistry involved in these mismatches often generated some rather outrageous comedy.

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Hedda’s column– 3/22/1946

 

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Today, I am looking at one of Hedda Hopper’s columns written not long after the war had ended. This one was originally published by the Los Angeles Times on March 22, 1946. I thought it would be interesting to summarize the items she wrote during this time and add a bit of modern perspective:

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Hedda is having dinner with MGM’s Robert Walker and his brother at the Cocoanut Grove. Walker’s brother is a major in the military who served several years in the war.

 

This is a publicity-related dinner, as most of Hedda’s meals with stars would be. The purpose is to introduce Miss Photo Flash of 1946, Shirley Molohon, to the Hollywood scene. Walker is Molohon’s favorite actor, and she personally requested that Hedda set up a date with him.

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During dinner at the Grove, Hedda sees Howard Hughes on the dance floor. He has some new starlet on his arm. Miss Photo Flash has absolutely no idea who Howard Hughes is, which Hedda finds charming but naïve. On Sunday Miss Photo Flash will get a chance to tour MGM when she meets Robert Walker for another date. It doesn’t sound like Hedda will be part of that.

 

Speaking of MGM, Hedda says the studio has shelved something called ‘Frankie from Frisco’ due to objections over the subject matter.

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Hedda also uses some space in her column to talk about the latest romantic business going on in town. She says she bumped into Sterling Hayden who insists he is not engaged to some unnamed actress. He just returned from skiing in Nevada, but he’s being tossed out of his hotel. Hedda thinks that it won’t be long before Hayden finds a new home and a new gal.

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Meanwhile, Hedda takes pains to tell readers that Jane Withers is involved with John Dall. Dall recently went east to do The Hasty Heart on Broadway. It is implied that he’s back to do the play in Los Angeles. Jane supposedly met Dall at the airport to resume relations with him, even though he was also dating some girls in New York. Of course, Dall is gay and Hedda mentions nary a word about that. Don’t you feel sorry for Jane Withers, though!

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Hedda also has a few words to print about Lionel Barrymore. He is said to really want to play FDR in a film about the atomic bomb. Though Hedda doesn’t say it, this would THE BEGINNING OR THE END, which MGM would release almost a year later in 1947. Hedda says Barrymore just nabbed the part, but he’ll soon lose it. Godfrey Tearle wound up playing FDR, because Roosevelt’s family would not approve Barrymore’s casting and MGM had no choice but to find someone else more suitable.

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Ruth Hussey & Robert Young movies

 

Back in May TCM aired a few Ruth Hussey films. There is something about her I like– can’t quite put my finger on it. She’s definitely of her era, but she projects a timeless quality too. I had created a Performer Spotlight thread about Hussey on TCM’s message boards, making a point of recommending a film the actress did with Robert Young. But as I thought about it, she made many good pictures with Young during her time at MGM; and they are all worth mentioning. So here goes:

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The first one is RICH MAN, POOR GIRL. Ruth Hussey plays Lana Turner’s older sister and is planning to marry a man from the right side of the tracks (Robert Young), but family dilemmas nearly get in the way. It’s nicely directed, and Hussey has chemistry with Young in spades. Apparently, the bosses at Metro thought so, too, and reunited the pair on screen several more times.

 

One of those occasions was in HONOLULU. Though the movie is a showcase for the dancing talents of Eleanor Powell as well as the comic charms of Burns & Allen, the bulk of the romantic scenes fall to Hussey and Young. Young’s character winds up with Powell by the final fadeout, but Hussey has certainly given the leading lady a run for her money.

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The formula was repeated a year later in MAISIE. This time, instead of Eleanor Powell, we have the irrepressible Ann Sothern in the lead. Young plays a Wyoming cowboy named Slim who finds himself mixed up in the wacky adventures of the title character, as well as the marriage problems of his boss (Ian Hunter) and the boss’ estranged wife (Hussey).

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In the early 1940s, MGM cast Hussey & Young in two period pieces. The first was the adventure tale NORTHWEST PASSAGE, where most of the action revolves around the exploits of an explorer played by Spencer Tracy and his traveling companion (Young). Hussey turns up in a supporting role as a romantic interest. Then, in H.M. PULHAM ESQ., we have Young as a solid executive who is married to Hussey but wondering about how his life would have turned out with a former sweetheart, played by Hedy Lamarr.

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The next year, the studio paired Young & Hussey as leads in the romantic trifle MARRIED BACHELOR. In the story, Hussey portrays a dissatisfied wife who feels her husband (Young) needs to develop a greater sense of responsibility. As they both find new careers outside the home, they find their relationship enduring a series of madcap crises.

 

Though Robert Young would soon leave MGM and move over to RKO, he and frequent costar Ruth Hussey remained friends. Years later, in a 1969 episode of Young’s long-running medical series Marcus Welby M.D., they worked together again on screen. Here is a photo from a scene in the third season episode entitled ‘The Best Is Yet to Be.’ With these two pros, the best was always in evidence.

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Ruth Hussey & Robert Young movies

 

Back in May TCM aired a few Ruth Hussey films. There is something about her I like– can’t quite put my finger on it. She’s definitely of her era, but she projects a timeless quality too. I had created a Performer Spotlight thread about Hussey on TCM’s message boards, making a point of recommending a film the actress did with Robert Young. But as I thought about it, she made many good pictures with Young during her time at MGM; and they are all worth mentioning. So here goes:

screen-shot-2015-05-30-at-9-32-20-am.png

The first one is RICH MAN, POOR GIRL. Ruth Hussey plays Lana Turner’s older sister and is planning to marry a man from the right side of the tracks (Robert Young), but family dilemmas nearly get in the way. It’s nicely directed, and Hussey has chemistry with Young in spades. Apparently, the bosses at Metro thought so, too, and reunited the pair on screen several more times.

 

One of those occasions was in HONOLULU. Though the movie is a showcase for the dancing talents of Eleanor Powell as well as the comic charms of Burns & Allen, the bulk of the romantic scenes fall to Hussey and Young. Young’s character winds up with Powell by the final fadeout, but Hussey has certainly given the leading lady a run for her money.

screen-shot-2015-05-30-at-9-32-04-am.png

The formula was repeated a year later in MAISIE. This time, instead of Eleanor Powell, we have the irrepressible Ann Sothern in the lead. Young plays a Wyoming cowboy named Slim who finds himself mixed up in the wacky adventures of the title character, as well as the marriage problems of his boss (Ian Hunter) and the boss’ estranged wife (Hussey).

screen-shot-2015-05-30-at-9-32-50-am.png

In the early 1940s, MGM cast Hussey & Young in two period pieces. The first was the adventure tale NORTHWEST PASSAGE, where most of the action revolves around the exploits of an explorer played by Spencer Tracy and his traveling companion (Young). Hussey turns up in a supporting role as a romantic interest. Then, in H.M. PULHAM ESQ., we have Young as a solid executive who is married to Hussey but wondering about how his life would have turned out with a former sweetheart, played by Hedy Lamarr.

1ruth.png?w=660

The next year, the studio paired Young & Hussey as leads in the romantic trifle MARRIED BACHELOR. In the story, Hussey portrays a dissatisfied wife who feels her husband (Young) needs to develop a greater sense of responsibility. As they both find new careers outside the home, they find their relationship enduring a series of madcap crises.

 

Though Robert Young would soon leave MGM and move over to RKO, he and frequent costar Ruth Hussey remained friends. Years later, in a 1969 episode of Young’s long-running medical series Marcus Welby M.D., they worked together again on screen. Here is a photo from a scene in the third season episode entitled ‘The Best Is Yet to Be.’ With these two pros, the best was always in evidence.

screen-shot-2015-05-30-at-9-31-34-am.png

 

Wonderful information ...... and pictures. You've put a lot of work into this topic, TB.

 

[..]

Edited by TCMModerator1
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The Cleopatra list left out Serpent of the Nile-the Loves of Cleopatra which was made by Columbia in the early 50's.  Rhonda Fleming is Cleo and but the treat is Raymond Burr's Antony which to me is the best portrayal of him ever.  He is not a dashing hero but tragic and self-indulgent failure who sells out his country for a woman who uses rather than loves him.  It's more believable than the 1963 "epic" that cost a lot more but delivered a lot less.  Try it out. 

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The Cleopatra list left out Serpent of the Nile-the Loves of Cleopatra which was made by Columbia in the early 50's.  Rhonda Fleming is Cleo and but the treat is Raymond Burr's Antony which to me is the best portrayal of him ever.  He is not a dashing hero but tragic and self-indulgent failure who sells out his country for a woman who uses rather than loves him.  It's more believable than the 1963 "epic" that cost a lot more but delivered a lot less.  Try it out. 

Thanks for mentioning SERPENT OF THE NILE. It certainly belongs in a discussion about Cleopatra remakes. 

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Do classic movies make sense? part 1

 

 

 

 

We love classic movies– but we also know that movies are not perfect, right? Things that sort of jump out at me, as being highly suspect (in no particular order):

 

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1. It doesn’t make sense that most of the dialogue recited by Nazis in WWII films is spoken in English. They should be speaking Deutsch, and we should have to read subtitles. Hearing someone like Conrad Veidt speak perfect English in all his Hollywood movies where he plays a nefarious Nazi, seems highly unrealistic.

 

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2. It doesn’t make sense when a studio goes to all the expense of remaking a silent film if it is filmed in black-and-white again. I would think one of the reasons something is being updated is to take advantage of newer technologies (like Technicolor). So why did Warners film its second version of THE SEA HAWK in much the same way its silent predecessor had been filmed?

 

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3. It doesn’t make sense that no characters ever use the restroom to relieve their bowels. They only go to such places to powder their noses. I am not suggesting disgusting or unpleasant references to various restroom use (and certainly I am glad classic films seem devoid of toilet humor) but it does seem unusual that a character never gets up and says he or she has to go to the bathroom and will be right back.

 

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4. I know the production code is to blame for the next one, but it most definitely does not make sense that married couples sleep in separate beds and manage to still have children.

 

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5. It never makes sense when a star who has not one iota of musical talent is cast in a musical and then dubbed with a singing voice that clearly does not match her speaking voice. If movie making is about creating illusions, then shouldn’t studios work harder to foster the illusion that the person speaking is the one singing when she bursts into song?

 

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Wasn't taking advantage of that other new technology, sound, one of the primary reasons for remaking a silent move in the 1930s? That, alone, was probably justification.

Yes...but this version was produced in the early 1940s when Technicolor was now the rage. So I don't quite understand why Warners scrimped on the budget and did not film it in color, especially after ROBIN HOOD and DODGE CITY had been huge hits in Technicolor with Flynn.

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Do classic movies make sense? part 2

 

 

 

 

Yesterday I mentioned five things that do not seem to make sense in classic movies. Here are another five:

 

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6. When women old enough to be grandmothers (who easily look like they could play grannies on screen) think they can get away with playing mothers of very young children. Barbara Stanwyck in TROOPER HOOK is perhaps the most obvious example.

 

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7. Does it make sense the way every car that plunges over the side of a cliff must explode when it hits the ravine below?

 

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8. I never thought it made sense there was no sequel to SOME LIKE IT HOT. I wanted to know what happened to all those characters. SOME LIKE IT HOTTER could have been a big hit.

 

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9. For some, it’s a mystery that Ruby Keeler had a career as a motion picture star. Other stars with limited talent also seemed to hit it big with audiences. Where’s the sense in that?

 

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10. And what about characters who lack common sense? A strange man keeps making threatening calls in MIDNIGHT LACE, yet Doris Day continues answering the phone. I guess she never understood the concept of unplugging it or changing her number. Then, we wouldn’t have a movie, would we? 

 

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Yes...but this version was produced in the early 1940s when Technicolor was now the rage. So I don't quite understand why Warners scrimped on the budget and did not film it in color, especially after ROBIN HOOD and DODGE CITY had been huge hits in Technicolor with Flynn.

 

With a release date of July 1st, 1940, the extremely early 1940s for The Sea Hawk. Since The Sea Hawk is being used as the specific example here, didn't Warner Bros. reuse footage from earlier black & white movies for this one? That decision alone would force The Sea Hawk itself to be a black & white movie. And, yes, such a decision would have been budget related (Weren't most Hollywood decisions that way?). But if The Sea Hawk was done in Technicolor and any such reused footage had to be created anew, could The Sea Hawk's total budget have risen too high in comparison to its estimated return and cause Warner Bros. not to go through with its production at all (especially with the impact that World War 2 was having in the overseas market at that time)? Or cause Warner Bros. to have cut costs elsewhere and given us a less memorable movie? All in all, I am perfectly content to have this one in glorious black & white.

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With a release date of July 1st, 1940, the extremely early 1940s for The Sea Hawk. Since The Sea Hawk is being used as the specific example here, didn't Warner Bros. reuse footage from earlier black & white movies for this one? That decision alone would force The Sea Hawk itself to be a black & white movie. And, yes, such a decision would have been budget related (Weren't most Hollywood decisions that way?). But if The Sea Hawk was done in Technicolor and any such reused footage had to be created anew, could The Sea Hawk's total budget have risen too high in comparison to its estimated return and cause Warner Bros. not to go through with its production at all (especially with the impact that World War 2 was having in the overseas market at that time)? Or cause Warner Bros. to have cut costs elsewhere and given us a less memorable movie? All in all, I am perfectly content to have this one in glorious black & white.

I did consider the looming war, but I don't think that was enough of a factor (maybe, but I don't think so). As for reusing footage from the earlier picture, that is probably the strongest reason why it wasn't shot in Technicolor. But it does seem uncharacteristically cheap of Warners, given this was a Flynn vehicle and sure to recoup its costs as audiences of the time were eager to see him in another swashbuckler-- war or no war.

 

I still think it should have been done in Technicolor. And I do think it should have a colorized version (I know people will disagree, but colorized films sell/appeal to today's younger market).

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The Sea Hawk has been colorized.

Good. Then that supports my point. LOL

 

Listen, I love glorious black-and-white (often I prefer it over color)...but I tend to like my swashbucklers in rousing Technicolor.

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Good. Then that supports my point. LOL

 

Not necessarily. Colorization reflects the expectations of a modern day (1980s and beyond) audience that all movies (regardless of type) should be in color and a modern day industry's efforts to meet those expectations in order to make money. But a pre-war audience would not have those same expectations because the majority of movies made at that time were in black and white. And it is the expectations of that 1940 audience that Warner Bros. would attempt to meet with respect to The Sea Hawk in order to make money. Just because something doesn't make sense today doesn't mean it didn't make sense yesterday.

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Not necessarily. Colorization reflects the expectations of a modern day (1980s and beyond) audience that all movies (regardless of type) should be in color and a modern day industry's efforts to meet those expectations in order to make money. But a pre-war audience would not have those same expectations because the majority of movies made at that time were in black and white. And it is the expectations of that 1940 audience that Warner Bros. would attempt to meet with respect to The Sea Hawk in order to make money. Just because something doesn't make sense today doesn't mean it didn't make sense yesterday.

 

To me the bottom line here is that The Sea Hawk is the type of movie that would have benefit greatly from being in color and that Flynn had been in a series of color films,  all highly successful.     WB used their best director and crew for The Sea Hawk so why didn't they spend the money to make yet another color Flynn film.    Of course we will really never know the answer to that question.

 

Maybe the additional cost of not being able to reuse B&W shots had something to do with this.    Of course at this stage of his career a Flynn film was highly likely to make money from that POV the overall box office profit might have been less if the film was made in color (e.g. some bean counter did the math and this influenced the final decision).

 

  Also,  the film has second rate Brenda Marshall instead of an actress that would have provided more juice.     Of course DeHavilland couldn't be that gal in every Flynn film but WB had recently signed Ida Lupino.   At least they didn't case Miriam Hopkins who was in Virginia City as the replacement for Marshal would was the replacement for DeHavilland!     (now Hopkins provides a lot of juice but I like her in mostly in modern setting films instead of period movies).  

 

The Sea Hawk is a fine film but with a few minor changes it might have been one of Flynn's top 3 films.

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