When MGM Became RKO
Scene Of The Crime was one of the good things that happened after Dore Schary took over as production chief for Metro in 1948. The newly installed exec was just off supervising production at RKO where money mattered, so free spending was anathema to him, especially with overall industry receipts in a postwar freefall. Schary's strategy for MGM was to tighten budgets, increase production, and make movies more streetwise after example of what he'd overseen as RKO's topper. Metro was in dire need of belt-tightening. Dollars there had been frittered to Loews' near ruination. Schary was hired, at least in part, for known fiscal conservatism. He'd managed good pictures for less $, a facility lately unknown among MGM staffers. Was it still possible for Leo to roar at prices within reason? Schary would find out with a gritty pair done very much the RKO way. Scene Of The Crime and Border Incident were test cases DS tabbed for completion at hopefully no more than $700,000 on a schedule of less than 30 days. Since few entrenched Metro producers could be expected to perform such miracles, it was for Schary to raid talent pools he'd filled at RKO and assign them to rehabilitate a drowning MGM.
Scene Of The Crime figured into a newly revived cycle of cop-and-robber thrillers that had till recently been frowned upon by Production Code authorities. PCA restraints were lately loosened, though, to accommodate documentary styles popularized primarily at Fox with its street-shot police dramas. Action content helped sell these so-called "doc treatments," while modern dress setting held costs in check. By early 1949, Schary had several on the griddle for Metro, including Murder at Harvard (later Mystery Street), and Black Hand, in addition to Scene Of The Crime
In fact, Schary had MGM plans for any number of colleagues from the old address. Norman Panama and Melvin Frank were comedy specialists also imported from RKO, as was DS's former aide Armand Deutsch, immediately assigned on arrival to produce Ambush for Metro on
MGM needed to go out onto streets as had others seeking pavement authenticity. Director Roy Rowland took his Scene Of The Crime troupe down to LA's so-called Skid Row for a night sequence for which street denizens would serve as colorful background. Our E. Fifth St. is getting to be popular with Hollywood directors and it's reminiscent of the ancient days in this youngest of the arts when meg-men would haunt downtown bars and joints looking for types, observed Variety when trades got word of Metro's newfound commitment to urban reality. Scene Of The Crime would be a tug-of-war between MGM prudence and rising impulse on the part of new creative staff to dirty up the dreamscape. White gloves were coming off storytellers headed grittier ways. Charles Schnee's Scene Of The Crime dialogue was loaded enough with precinct slang to require a police Academy thesaurus, him being a writer moving up and eager to make an impression, two years later scoring an Academy award for The Bad and The Beautiful.
|Director Roy Rowland and MGM Crew on Downtown LA Location Duty for Scene Of The Crime.|
Schary and MGM seized bragging rights during the spring of 1949 and recent wrap of Scene Of The Crime, which according to Variety, was completed in 29 days and within its $750,000 budget. The negative cost was actually more like $760K, but the company wanted to emphasize the fact it had stayed within set limits. They even claimed to have brought in a Clark Gable vehicle, Any Number Can Play, for $750,000 as well, despite its actual tag being $1.3 million. Tendency on (the) Culver lot is now to try to standardize $700,000-$750,000 figure, said Variety, This will compensate for several high budgeters, such as Quo Vadis, which is slated to hit $4.5 million mark. The completion of Scene Of The Crime and Border Incident were touted as mere beginnings for a streamlined policy, Tension and Side Street scheduled to roll in late April at same reduced costs. Expensive features would still be made on the Metro lot, but Dore Schary was most engaged by ones he could see through at savings that would reflect sensibility brought from RKO. A film noir flowering at MGM would be his handiwork, even if Schary never got posterity's credit for said significant contribution.
There'd be few critical kudos and less financial reward for Metro style-merging with RKO, most films from the overlap finishing with a loss. Of them, only Scene Of The Crime saw profit, that likelier a result of Van Johnson starring. There was $968,000 in domestic rentals, $446,000 in foreign revenue, for a final profit of $168,000. This wouldn't have been achieved had Scene Of The Crime's cost gone far past its modest $760,000. Good as they were (and inexpensive), Border Incident, Tension, and Side Street each sustained financial beatings. Schary's scheme of more volume for less was but a fitful overall success. MGM features prospering now were expensive and generally musical. Schary's noirs played through a 1949-50 that saw Adam's Rib, On The Town, Three Little Words, and super-hits Batttleground, Father Of The Bride, plus biggest-of-all King Solomon's Mines to sustain Loews' overhead. Schary and former RKO colleagues' budget efforts did keep studio lights burning and contract personnel busy making what would prove in hindsight to be some of MGM's most interesting post-war features. A lot of creative and performing staff held on to jobs longer for Schary's ambitious effort to maintain Metro production at maximum capacity and thus avoid lay-offs. Had his experiment borne greater boxoffice fruit, Schary's MGM might have become film noir's most prolific haven.