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Saturday, November 26, 2011


RKO's Second Chance 3D Summer

I'd call Second Chance the Last Of The Grey-Suit Mitchums. This was a series peculiar to RKO and characterized by the leading man's wardrobe limitation. Bob wore coat, tie, shirt in these with seldom a style or color variation. His was a rigid fashion choice (chosen for him more accurate). Grey suits seem to have been RKO policy, a dress code strictly applied to male leads. Even when a Victor Mature pinch-hit, things were much the same (size similar VM may in fact have donned the very threads issued to RM). Was inky black-and-white of noir most responsive to said slate of grey? Industry-wide inventory may reveal this shade as by-far most utilized, if not appropriate, to dark storytelling. It's just most noticeable to me in RKO's, from whose Mitchum backlog I'd defy anyone to spot him long, if at all, out of noir's regulation uniform.

Plain Wrap for RKO Leading Men --- Was This To Keep Us Focused On Their Femme Partners?

Linda Darnell's similarly limited as to fashion in Second Chance. My accounting revealed but one costume change for her through its 82 minute run-time. Seems weight gain obliged the actress, a freelance as of 1953 and less attentive to diet, to wedge into a distaff- tailored counterpart to Bob's standard issue, the fact of Second Chance being in color impacting not on how either star was turned out. Color is in fact an elastic term here, for there's few uglier or more blotchy hues than what survives of Second Chance, a decent print of which I've never seen, though 3-D revivals elude me so far. Does right/left projection in 35mm bring back Technicolor values surely there when Second Chance played new during summer of 1953?


There was a singular mindset at RKO controls. For all his seeming indifference to what went on there, Howard Hughes did lay personal stamp on what this company shipped, and based on grey suit common threads, I'd say he was most engaged by the Mitchums, perhaps as much so as actress vehicles micro-managed by the tycoon turned mogul. Hughes-maintained noir roads tended to intersect in Mexico --- stories began or got there eventually --- from The Big Steal to Where Danger Lives to His Kind Of Woman to Second Chance. Did Hughes himself pursue R&R there? If not, then why a seeming obsession with below border intrigues? Second Chance was RKO's last trip down with Mitchum. Backgrounds are if anything less hospitable. Linda Darnell runs an uphill marathon on what looks to be treacherous cobblestone in heels, fleeing Jack Palance for a reel's agonized duration.


Linda Darnell Ties-In With Leica Cameras for Second Chance Location Publicity

Jack Palance, the 50's Most Neurotic Badman, Force Feels Linda Darnell
Second Chance seems to pick up a chase begun with The Big Steal, Mitchum and company always on a run like rabbits at the dog track. Another Hughes prerequisite? There was at least fresh paint applied in its casting. Linda Darnell at post-peak tries to maintain glamour giving way to age and a figure let go (but wait, LD's not yet thirty here, though lifestyle by '53 put her closer to a seeming forty). Jack Palance is a heavy with weight to give Mitchum a run for primacy. The former's method habits made him forget Second Chance fights were make-believe, result being on-the-level slug-outs engaged with Bob, whose dead aim to Jack's breadbasket saw the latter vomiting all over Mitch's grey suit.


3-D was further novelty affixed to Second Chance. First Time! Big Stars in 3-D! cried one-sheets, not very flattering to Vincent Price, but truthful enough for Mitchum being added depth's most bankable participant so far. The process was most effective for a cable car rescue and finale that '53 reviewing found almost unbearable in terms of suspense. Here's where first-run perception parts with two-dimension remnant we settle for ... effect achieved with toys and process screening die hard without 3-D to emphasize heights from which several characters plunge. What looks risibly fake to us was edge-of-seat stuff to those issued stereo specs.


Robert Mitchum and Linda Darnell Confer with Director Rudolph Maté During Second Chance Filming

RKO's decision to go 3rd dimensioning came at eleventh hour of late February 1953, smash grosser independent Bwana Devil then filling nostrils of a caught-off-guard industry. Since time was of essence in trading off a gimmick, they'd have cameras rolling within a month, Second Chance to ASAP-open in July. Heat was on for early bookings at theatres 3-D equipped, but RKO got sticker shock over pricing of Second Chance prints. While the dimensional pic in dates so far has proved one of the biggest money-makers on the RKO line-up currently, "Chance" is being played off at a pace slower than usual because of the tricky 3-D economics, said Variety.


RKO made it known they were limiting print orders to 200. Reason for this was expense of left and right components for each Second Chance booking, cost of the pair $1,000, plus another $500 for stereophonic sound wedded to the show. This totals $1,500 for an item which, for a convention black-and-whiter, would cost around $250, pointed out Variety. Getting Second Chance out wide would represent a gamble for distribution, however well it was doing on initial dates. RKO announced they'd go with 2,200 or so 3-D engagements before releasing Second Chance in standard 2-D. Estimates by October 1953 saw a possible $2.5 million in domestic receipts for the Mitchum/Darnell starrer, considered good coin by the trade. By November and waning interest in 3-D, RKO announced it would release Second Chance flat only in England, saving increased tab for a process they felt had maxed out, both here and over there.




Saturday, November 19, 2011


Savant and Sputnik Have Landed!

Among fads I missed for being born too late were coonskin caps, the Elvis emergence, and one that burned briefest, but maybe brightest. That would be the Sputnik-inspired craze for all things sci-fi, its grip on a showgoer public lasting no longer than the Russian satellite's time in space from launch date 10/4/57 to burnout upon reentering Earth's atmosphere in January '58. Those three months saw a run on exchanges for interstellar product to rival a previous century's gold rushing. It was every theatre and drive-in to the ramparts for all day-or-night fanta-booking, and hang the age of pics shown, so long as they had "Outer Space," "Mars," or best of all, "Satellite" in the title.


I'd had this subject on Greenbriar's To-Do list for a while, initiative to go forward inspired by arrival of Glenn Erickson's just-published compilation of DVD reviews, Sci-Fi Savant, a bargain of this or any year at $19.95 and suited well to holiday gifting twixt fans of vintage-to-present genre pics (I've ordered a couple more for just that purpose). Glenn's knowledge comes of a lifetime  gathering it. I like it when he recalls first-impression-making of all these faves, perspective gleaned from years spent blasting-off to sci-fi as it evolved. He puts fresh spin on classics you'd think were wrung out by others way less seasoned. There'll be plentiful DVD's I'll revisit after pleasurable time reading Sci-Fi Savant.


Glenn's collection would have flown off shelves that autumn of '57, for a sci-fi surge was on soon as Sputnik lifted off Soviet pads and used-to-being-#1 USA got suddenly spooked by evident USSR mastery of outer reaches. Would Reds use their satellite to spy on us, or worse, as staging area for attacks? The sci-fi cycle exhibs thought played-out was overnight ripe for an encore, tied this time to what many called all too real threat from Russia-infiltrated space. H'wood in Sputnik Spurt; Register Satellite Titles In New Space Pic Cycle, said Variety's 10/9 headline --- a rush to hit the market with sci-fi now seemed likely to knock thought-dominant horror movies off their perch, at least for a show season's worth.


Even Republic Serial Rocketmen Got Another Shot at Screens Now That Sputnik Was Aloft

Paramount was first to the trough with reissued Conquest Of Space, George Pal's two-and-a-half year old speculation of other world travel to come. Para had earlier dropped the producer, according to trades, for the reason the company couldn't make money with the type of material in which he specialized (Conquest Of Space realized but a million in domestic rentals on a negative cost of $1.6 million). Figuring now to cash in at cut-rates, Paramount brought aboard William Alland, late of nickel-squeezing Universal "weirdies," to produce The Space Children, a title that at least knew its audience.


Of Universal back numbers, It Came From Outer Space looked handiest to bask in Sputnik's glow. Showmen everywhere wanted this oldie back, its title pitched perfect to unease brought on by news events. Minneapolis saw It Came shoehorned into 4100-seat Radio City's bill with a second week of The Helen Morgan Story, that parlay good for a major B.O. spike. Ads for Universal's pic state in the smallest possible type that its a reissue, said Variety, but this was no drag to demand for more such product, be it old or new, as further proven by hurried placement of Flight To Mars and World Without End, these saturated through Minnesota territories beginning 10/13 while Sputnik was uppermost in consciousness of headline followers.


We're often smug when looking back on pop culture relics from the fifties, especially science-fiction. Easier to forget is audiences then viewing these as prophesy of upheavals to come. Russian satellites were regarded a threat, and that lent shows we now call archaic, if not outright silly, an urgency not to be experienced again short of traveling back in time. Another plus of Sci-Fi Savant is Glenn Erickson's dig below surfaces to reveal what these pictures were really about, and suffice to say, they had a lot more going on than mere mutants and special-FX. Anxiety pulsating off theatre ads shown here is something Savant understands well --- he's thought through social/political freight sci-fi carried and explains it in all clear terms --- has any writer managed this so entertainingly before? (Savant's ever-present humor makes ideal reading for light or deep dish occasion)



Disney/Dell's Man In Space Comic Reprint Timed To Sputnik-Mania
 Feeding off headlines was tough what with a genre thought waned and H'wood's conviction that sci-fi interest was spent. Renewed appetites Sputnik-inspired made it necessary to warm stale bread, as had Paramount with Conquest Of Space. Warners first released Brit-made Satellite In The Sky in July 1956 to a half million or so in domestic rentals ... now it roared back to circuits eager for anything relative to satellites (an unprecedented demand from exhibitors throughout the country, said Motion Picture Exhibitor). United Artists scored 150 repeat bookings of the May 1956 UFO in a single week, while George Pal told Army Archerd of driving past a marquee that read Destination "Sputnik" Moon, Pal's 1950 pic gathering fresh acorns thanks to the fad. Ever-opportunist Roger Corman announced and went forward with his War Of The Satellites within days of Sputnik, and Disney was inundated with requests for their Man In Space featurette, shown first on TV in March 1955, but never more timely than now.


Home viewing and record spinners as well got Sputnik-stimulated. MGM re-pressed Music From Outer Space for another LP go-round --- selections included Vibrations From Venus and Uranus Unmasked. Television was all over Sputnik. Thirty-nine episodes of mangy Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, having dated woefully in a mere three years, were back to plague weekday schedules, as was up-from-tombs Flash Gordon, satellites well before his time, but who sweated degrees of separation among tele-sitters gone outer-atmosphere daffy? Space Patrol had another go with 235 segments, while Ziv was in the chips for reruns of Science Fiction Theatre to 57 stations paying as if the things were new. NBC bought Ruff and Ready for kid slotting based on assurance the cartoon dog and cat would spend at least part of a first season in outer space.


As demand built, so did confidence. Would the Sputnik craze last long enough to get a new picture finished and in theatres? Sole beneficiary of perfect timing for these crucial months was MGM with The Invisible Boy, a quickie vehicle for a robot they'd built to buttress Forbidden Planet. Sputnik's lift-off was arm-in-arm with Metro's Fall release, happy coincidence to put The Invisible Boy nicely in profit. Lone wolf producer Benedict Bogeaus pledged to get From The Earth To The Moon "before the cameras within six weeks," and was said to be negotiating with Errol Flynn to star (didn't happen, mores' the pity). Godzilla importer Joseph E. Levine meanwhile supped with Nippon partners "at a geisha house" and dealt to release The Mysterians stateside. The pic was shot before Russia put its first "sputnik" into the sky, Levine told Variety, but the picture has sputniks in it. Looks like I'll need to consult Sci-Fi Savant's entry on The Mysterians to find out if Joe was putting us on! (bet he was)


Glenn Erickson has the best coverage of all I've read on Enemy From Space, aka Quatermass II, my vote as well as his for one of sci-fi's enduring greats. Here's one that should have rode Sputnik's tail wake to fad-kindled grosses, arriving as Enemy did in September 1957, but like so much genre product United Artists (mis)handled, this B/W vanguard of Hammer Films excitement to come fell a-sputter with $148,602 in domestic rentals, way short of what such timely merchandise merited. With a title seemingly ideal (hard to improve on Enemy From Space with Sputnik poised to launch), the question becomes ... how did UA muff this one? I looked for, but found no trade ads, a surest sign of distrib indifference. There was a pressbook for Enemy From Space so thin you could roll a cigarette with it. Exiled generally to bottom placement on double-bills, EFS had little opportunity to peak out from behind eight balls, while Metro's far less deserving Invisible Boy ran the tables. What should have been Sputnik's stoutest screen link was instead a most-missed of opportunities.




Saturday, November 12, 2011


Island Of Lost Souls --- Part Two

The Panther Woman contest was valued advance publicity for not- yet-shooting Island Of Lost Souls. September 1932 saw assigned director Norman Taurog replaced by Erle C. Kenton. Paramount is having trouble injecting comedy into Island Of Lost Souls fantastic yarn in which a dog's soul becomes a man, to which Variety added that he (Kenton) will supply a more subdued type of comedy in his direction. Here, if nothing else, was sampling of daft data the trade sometimes received on films in progress. If Paramount went for lightening this Island's load with comic relief, they must have reconsidered and cut same prior to release, as there's little mirth in the pic as it stands.







There was, according to Variety, much difference of opinion between Paramount's east coast home office and "west coast factions" on how best to sell Island Of Lost Souls. Some favored going with the so-called horror angle, while New York's "specially prepared campaign" for the Broadway date opted for Panther Woman emphasis. East Coast final authority, said the trade, decided that the chiller thing had been done to death in every way, adding Paramount has spent much time and expense exploiting the Panther Woman angle, including a contest, and it was also believed this should be cashed in on.


Admission prices had just been reduced when Island Of Lost Souls bowed at the Rialto (1-12-33). The first week was sufficiently healthy (over $35,000) to generate a trade ad aimed toward showmen down the line (Something New Hits Blasé B'Way!). Competing chiller The Mummy was meanwhile in its second week at the Mayfair, taking the toboggan on its holdover, slumping to $7,500 and may go out tomorrow, said Variety (Universal's monster had a good first week at $19,000, making its dismal second frame all the more a letdown). Subsequent Island Of Lost Souls playdates made clear where exploitation should focus: In theatres where it's been sold from the Panther Girl side, draw has been better than where sold as an another chiller (Variety).


Distaff response was a concern. Variety addressed Island Of Lost Souls from "The Woman's Angle" on its review page: Chills of distaste at the hideousness of this shocker's men-made-out-of-animals are not the kind of chills ladies like in pictures, while a separate column titled "Going Places" by one Cecilia Ager compared Kathleen Burke's Panther Woman unfavorably to the good common sense and clean Nordic look of co-star Leila Hyams. Clearly, the theme of bestiality, and suggestion of at-the-least miscegenation vis-à-vis Burke and Arlen, raised alarm in this and other observers. Now that bloom was coming off the Panther contest Rose, this Island was one increasingly deserted by patronage as the show wound its way beyond first-runs toward less receptive subsequent dating (too freaky to draw, came word from Lincoln, Nebraska).


Don't know how Island finished in terms of gross (does anyone?), but many (including Para staffer Arthur Mayer) recalled it as a disappointment. Not helping was revenue lost when U.K. censors banned the film altogether (too horrible being their curt March 1933 summation). Considerable of a blow to Paramount, said Variety, because the picture was made from an H.G. Wells story and features Charles Laughton, both British. Stateside snipping saw Island prints coming back a lighter weight to exchanges befuddled by content standards varying from one locale to another, dialogue and whole sequences being yanked willy-nilly and in most cases, not put back. Print inspectors must have sighed relief when a newly enforced Production Code brought at least something of an end to hinterland editing.


Lobby Card For a 1958 Paramount Reissue --- Can Anyone Confirm Playdates For That Year?

So are we finally in possession of a complete Island Of Lost Souls? I've found at least three different running times listed from 1933 trade reviews to a Blu-Ray present day. There were apparently reissues during the interim. One in the early forties (ad here) tendered The Sex-Starved "Tiger Woman," which certainly had possibilities, but imagine Code-cut remnants that audience saw. Paramount prepped a 1958 encore with new accessories, but I've not found theatre ads to reflect actual bookings. With sale to television the same year, Island Of Lost Souls bent to vagaries of 16mm printing. These were at the least variable and seldom fully-intact. Souls struck B Movie author Don Miller as more out-of-focus than eerie when he caught late-night telecasts.

For collectors, this Island was treasure filled. Soft as they pictorially were, we all wanted a print. William K. Everson played his to a Huff Society crowd in 1962 and classified Island Of Lost Souls as the last of the lost horror pictures of the thirties that we're likely to see. Everson called Island "a rather nasty and tasteless little work," but made contact with Erle C. Kenton by phone to talk about having directed it (a film he liked making, because he enjoyed doing horror films, but which he didn't seem to care for as a film, reported WKE). Observers of the Blu-Ray have noted dialogue restored that was missing from TV and Universal's laser disc. Kudos to Criterion for going that extra mile to put a complete-as-possible Island Of Lost Souls back in circulation (to which I'll add Greenbriar's humble request for next year ... The Uninvited).




Saturday, November 05, 2011


Halloween Harvest 2011 --- Island Of Lost Souls --- Part One

Island Of Lost Souls might as well have been London After Midnight for limited access viewers had in syndication days, being one many fans wouldn't see until VHS and laser discs brought it into homes. Rarity's reason was less station embargos (though a few locals may have been scared off by it) than Island's placement among all-or-none packaging of Paramount oldies leased by MCA with the pre-48 group's sale to television in April 1958. You could buy per picture at prices considerably upped in that event, though by the mid-sixties, broadcasters were more for transitioning out of mostly B/W fare this 700 title load contained. 1966 found ninety-six TV markets playing pre-48 Paramount in whole or part, our Channel 8 out of High Point, NC being among those blessed ...


Getting Island Of Lost Souls twice or so a year was rare privilege I recognized even then, later confirmed by friends grown up in deprived locales where the legendary chiller never showed up. Our Island tour-guide was Shock Theatre's Count Shockula, later Dr. Paul Bearer (both station employee Dick Bennick), his contribution helping to keep the Shock flag flying for near-twenty years. Now that I'm again in footie pajama mode, I'll pass along sad account of friend Brick Davis and how he missed Island Of Lost Souls one Saturday night in 1968.


We'd oft-talk on the phone  up to Shock Theatre's 11:30 start point, this occasion a special one because after all, it was Island Of Lost Souls, and we'd only seen it three or so times up to then. Right at the moment of flipping the dial, however, Brick's father arrived home from a customary sixteen-hour work day and announced they'd be watching Robert Wagner in White Feather instead, his argument being, why look at a black-and-white show on a recently acquired color set? Sound enough logic in 1968, but no comfort to Brick, who'd lost his Island fix for that year.



So now there is Island Of Lost Souls on Blu-Ray, happily cleaned up to a best possible look. For all said effort and higher definition, I'd say this is worth our long wait, Souls maybe last of the truly great horror arrivals to DVD. Much of monsters we revisit amount to sentimental journeying and letdown that follows. I watch a Night Monster or Mummy's Ghost now for what they meant to me then. Not so with Island Of Lost Souls, a bell-ringer that if anything gains power since Channel 8 stay-upping. I've looked at Criterion's rendering twice so far, the encore with Greg Mank's fabulous audio commentary (he really is the master at doing these).


Island Of Lost Souls has always had an almost-contraband reputation in scare circles, heavy hand of local and sometimes (other) country censorship banning it altogether or reducing footage down to what more  resembled a short subject. Trade digging reveals Island coming late to horror's first big splurge. A month before release, Paramount  tried to distance it from chiller classification, according to Variety's Inside Stuff column: Admittedly a horror picture, Paramount is trying to find a selling angle for Island Of Lost Souls that will eliminate reference to it as such. With the cycle of blood and thunder deemed passed, studio is afraid Lost Souls will do a dive unless the creepy angle is eliminated.


The way to that objective was emphasis on what from summer 1932, and prior to Island's production, would be the film's top selling angle, "The Panther Woman." An entranced public's question became, Who Will She Be? You could call Para's a tacky dress rehearsal for filmdom's later quest for Scarlett O'Hara, as no fewer femmes sought this exotic part than would later queue for GWTW try-outs. It was maybe less the part than hope of cracking Hollywood and most valued prize to Depression-folk, a steady paycheck. Theatres across the country goosed attendance by parading contestants across stages and running so-called "screen-test" footage before their feature program.


The scheme was helped in no small way by Paramount's assigning demon publicist Arthur Mayer the job of ginning up Panther Woman excitement. Mayer was the genius of horror exploitation whose Rialto Theatre on Broadway would be opening site for nearly all mid-30's to 40's horror flix forthcoming. He'd write about the Panther Woman in his 1953 memoir, Merely Colossal, the promotion of which ended in a dog fall, according to Mayer, because "the picture proved a resounding dud." Winner Kathleen Burke and several runners-up were trade-tabbed "Panther Girls" or Women, depending on moods of the moment. Neither designation got respect. Lona Andre and Gail Patrick were used in Paramount's western, The Mysterious Rider, wherein, according to Variety, Miss Andre emerges a ga-ga, eye-rolling ingénue much in need of dramatic training. So far as industry wags were concerned, these Panther Girl also-runs were just so much counterfeit currency. They'd all be let go by Paramount, Kathleen Burke's pink slip issued December 1933 (though she'd be back, as a free lance, for a support part in Lives Of A Bengal Lancer).

Part Two of Island Of Lost Souls is HERE.
grbrpix@aol.com
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