Metro Wants Its Four Million Back --- Part One
For too long, I thought of 40's special effects in terms of Lon Chaney man-to-wolf transform or Mr. Joe Young's nightclub wreckage, all the while truer magic being wrought outside genre boundaries to which I'd confined myself. How many after 1947 were for sitting through 141 minutes of Green Dolphin Street? ... top-grossing then, but very much a product of its time, and among least likely to arouse interest since. Warner Archive is lately out with a DVD, a visual beaut as is customary for them, so finally came my submission to Dolphin's two, plus nearly half, of an hour. For time spent, there was reward of earthquake (by far a biggest staged during the Classic Era), tidal wave, and drama engaging enough to reward the sit. Someone should list big pictures popular in their day, but forgotten now, then view and maybe reassess the inventory. There'd be a learning experience at the least, plus insight of what ancestors liked that appeal less to moderns. Is anyone else a fan of Green Dolphin Street? If so, step up.
It began with a contest. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and I'm spelling that out to emphasize their market primacy at the time, offered a first of promised Annual Novel Awards to whatever published writer showed most promise for adaptation to screens. Pay-off was considerable, $125,000 minimum, with potential of max-out at $175K should best-seller status be achieved. There were ninety-nine contestants in the first wave, from which Green Dolphin Street's author, Elizabeth Goudge, took the prize. This was August, 1944, and well-publicized from there was fact that MGM would fast-track filming the lady's 502 page saga of sister rivals for a seafaring adventurer amidst 1830's setting. Green Dolphin Street was the Literary Guild's selection for September '44, so maybe a fix was in early, as those-in-the-know figured this one for best-selling far ahead of a first copy sold. Readers, like movie audiences, could sometimes be manipulated too.
What publisher Coward-McCann and Metro couldn't manipulate was reviews. Some were kindly, but all identified prose distinctly purple, fun of excerpting samples hard to resist: There was not enough air to sway the small blue flower that was Marguerite, and Marianne's elfin face was pale and rapt within the deep green of her bonnet. Such was raw material from which screen scribes adapted, proof as if needed that we don't give their membership near credit deserved. For the record, Green Dolphin Street was turned to script form by well-regarded Samson Raphaelson, formerly of Ernst Lubitsch association, who you'd like to think swapped hard-earned GDS fee for a swimming pool, sport car, or whatever
MGM's preparation was underway by January, 1945 with announcement of Technicolor for Green Dolphin Street. That didn't follow through, but cash ran otherwise like flood water in those boom days when theatres were second home for fans following movies plus pop literature circulated paper-bound in soldier backpacks and spun on drug store racks. Pocket books peaked during WWII, being handy and costing a mere quarter or so besides. Over a near three years it took for Green Dolphin Street to reach the screen, a multitude's readership would be primed for October, 1947 arrival. For so much excitement and anticipation (Twenty Million Readers Await It, said ads), Metro wondered if maybe they had another
How else to get back the invested pile than roadshows? A whole industry was consulting that prayer book as of autumn 1947 and an industry's diminished overall boxoffice. The all-time attendance peak of a just previous year saw falling-off few were prepared for, and here came distributors with hugely expensive fare for a holiday season pipeline. Besides Green Dolphin Street at Metro, there was 20th Fox's Captain From Castile and Forever Amber, UA with Arch Of Triumph, Warners and Life With Father, plus Paramount/DeMille's Unconquered. "Still-zooming production costs," said Variety, required higher admissions to recover, on top of advertising and distribution costs on the upswing. How could blockbusters come out even, let alone show profit, with
Green Dolphin Street producer Carey Wilson was intent on roadshow play for his epic, hauling a print cross-country to screen for decision-makers in New York, these being Loew's über-boss Nicholas Schenck, at whose desk all Metro bucks stopped, William F. Rodgers, sales chief/maker-or-breaker for many a pic bearing Lion trademark, and Howard Deitz, the firm's advertising/publicity veep. Their August sneak preview in
As Green Dolphin Street sallied forth to join cousins Duel In The Sun, Captain From Castile, and Forever Amber for latter-half '47 dates, showmen boosting ticket-prices naturally asked, What about lower admissions for poor attractions? Or worse, why pay more for frankly disappointing
Part Two of Green Dolphin Street here.