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Sunday, July 12, 2009


STRETCHING SCREENS IN 1953: Shane came along at the worst possible moment for a flat western shot on wide-vista locations. If ever there was an ideal subject for expanded projection, this was it. Shane was several years in production. George Stevens had prints ready for release about the time his public discovered 3-D and blown-out screens. Conventional formats were suddenly passé, and exhibitors wanted wide. Paramount hosted three hundred showmen in March 1953 for a jerry-rigged demonstration of features completed in standard ratio, now "enhanced" for panoramic. You are at the crossroads of your business existence, said Paramount chief Y. Frank Freeman to those in attendance, and so are we. He urged all not to discard conventional projection too quickly even as he ran scenes from Shane, War Of The Worlds, Forever Female, and others through a wide-angle lens that (not so)effectively expanded images by shaving off tops and bottoms. Dessert by way of increased ticket sales would reward houses that spent the mere $600 and up needed to retrofit auditoriums, said Freeman. We have no selfish interest in this process apart from the good that it may conceivably do for the industry. To George Stevens’ undoubted chagrin, Shane went the route of a cinematic lab rat and emerged far afield of what its director intended. Chicago’s State-Lake Theatre boasted the Midwest Premiere --- Only Our New Panoramic Screen can bring out it’s magnitude … only our New Stereophonic Sound can emphasize its emotional appeal, with sublime music, which comes to you from every part of the theater! This was May 27, 1953, with Shane coming on the Chicago Loop heels of Man In The Dark (5-8) and Fort Ti (also 5-27), both in 3-D. MGM’s Young Bess was opening the same night as Shane on a Wide-Dimension Radiant Screen at the nearby Oriental Theatre. According to Motion Picture Daily, the State-Lake engagement of Shane was first as well with aforementioned stereo accompaniment, Paramount having re-mixed the track earlier that month in response to patron’s enthusiastic embrace of This Is Cinerama and House Of Wax.
FAULKNER BOOSTS PHAROAHS: Here’s a collaboration literary scholars never saw coming … Bill Faulkner in Memphis helping Warners kick off that city’s Land Of The Pharaohs campaign, posing with WB branch and publicity men. There was a cocktail party for the author and his family, followed by a private screening on June 13, 1955. Pic was to open June 29 and Faulkner’s drop-in enhanced much local interest in the Howard Hawks project for which he was credited scenarist. Bill’s aunt (of Memphis) said Hawks called Oxford, Miss. eight times before its famed resident finally agreed to write Land Of The Pharaohs. For Faulkner, the trip up was both a family reunion and accommodation to Warner sales personnel. As to Hollywood handling of his work, Bill was a realist. Too many hands were in, he said. By the time they’re through, a writer’s effort has been altered or even lost. So how much of Faulkner’s concept survived Land Of The Pharaohs second-guessers? To that, he didn’t comment.

THE DIARY OF JONATHON HARKER: Much effort goes into tracking Hammer veterans. The Horror Of Dracula cast can be mostly accounted for. Of those surviving, many have been contacted and some have reminisced. One was recently knighted. I’m intrigued by those shunning limelight after exposure in 1958's classic. Valerie Gaunt has proven elusive, as did her intended victim in the unforgettable library scene that is probably Dracula’s best remembered. John Van Eyssen was down cast listings as Jonathon Harker, but a lot of fans spent years wondering what became of him afterward. He’d left acting and was said to avoid discussion of screen work put behind. A story's been told of Sammy Davis, Jr. spotting Van Eyssen in a pub and shouting Jonathon Harker!, to the former actor’s considerable embarrassment. Here is the only photo I’ve ever seen of a post-Hammer Van Eyssen, though interestingly, it’s a feature from that company he’s publicizing. Julie Ege (Miss Norway), in the center, was just signed to do Creatures The World Forgot for Hammer when she posed with Van Eyssen, then head of Columbia British Productions, and producer James Carreras. This was July 1970. John Van Eyssen had retired from acting in 1961 to become a literary agent. He seems to have found far greater success there and at Columbia than was to be had in front of cameras at Bray. I’ve not heard of Van Eyssen being interviewed by anyone, though Little Shoppe Of Horrors #13 says he was approached and had promised to sit for a talk, but died in 1994 before that could be arranged.


Anonymous Jim Lane said...

Your mention of Howard Hawks calling Oxford, MS over and over to get Faulkner to write Pharaohs put me in mind of the story I shared with you a while back, about Hawks calling the Caribbean to get Howard Hughes to okay screening Scarface in San Francisco. That man must have been awfully hard to say no to on the phone.

8:27 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

We laugh at people scrambling to turn standard 35mm features into widescreen ones... yet in a sense that was the real winner of the format wars, standard 1.33:1 35mm masked for 1.85:1.

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

Today's banner, John: Is it from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral or Last Train from Gun Hill?

10:58 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

It's from "Last Train from Gun Hill." Paramount issued a very nice color still set in 1959.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Louie said...

I have sent you an award:

12:50 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks very much for this, Louis. That Marx Bros. site is amazing, as is your own "Give Me The Good Old Days." (everyone should check this out --- its focus is El Brendel and other vintage greats --- much good reading and viewing here).

It was great seeing you at Cinevent too!

6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"Shane" has always been one of my favorite westerns, and I enjoyed reading your info on it.

I thought I'd reprint for you the film's review as it appeared in the April 23, 1953 issue of the trade paper "The Exhibitor" (Jay Emanuel Publication), page 3503.

Outdoor melodrama.
Estimate: Well-made outdoor show.
An impressive outdoor film, benefitting from ace production and direction, this has other assets, too, interesting story development, strong characterizations, high rating photography, etc. Although the basic tale is familiar, this becomes a director's show, with the George Stevens touches evident throughout. This is the type of outdoor show that, preceded by the proper buildup and word-of-mouth, should register in the better grosses.
When this was shown on the coast, on the new Paramount screen, with aspect ratio of 1.66 to 1, measuring 20 feet high and 33 feet in width, with overall dimensions 25 by 45 feet, including the surrounding frame, and with a curvature radius of 37 feet, the coast reviewer, Paul Manning, indicated that it lent magnitude to the impressive photography. The story is by Jack Schaefer.

Tip on Bidding: Higher bracket.

Ad Lines:
"Ride The Open Range With 'Shane' Into Thrilling Adventure."
"Action...Adventure In The Wide Open West Where A Man Had To Prove His Worth."

--- Richard Finegan

2:55 AM  

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