Loew's sales chief William Rodgers dawdled months on whether to jack Green Dolphin Street beyond normal rate. There was, after all, upwards of four million negative costto get back. He'd bow finally to exhib pressure: Our customers know best the proper admission prices to charge for a picture of this calibre. Allied Theatres chairman Abram F. Myers of that most formidable circuit applauded Rodgers while reminding him who his bosses really were: Mr. Rodgers took a long step in the right direction, far beyond any of his competitors, when he uttered the simple truism that "the exhibitor knows best." Loew's would instead seek extended playing time for Green Dolphin Street on "top participation basis," which meant higher percentage to the distributor for whatever tickets were sold.
Here was MGM's harsher reality, spelled out in trades: Their pictures simply weren't as good as they'd once been. Best Picture trophies from the Academy, frequent throughout the thirties, stopped with Mrs. Miniver in 1942. Tall grosses being well and good, this still was a company accustomed to prestige placement, critically as well as commercially. Green Dolphin Street opened mid-October at Loew's (Broadway) Criterion. Times critic Bosley Crowther began his review with "It does seem a bit pathetic ...", proceeding downhill from there. Dolphin's star took a drubbing thus: Lana Turner ... changes her costumes much more frequently than the expression on her immature face. LT's richest vein of Dolphin publicity, speaking of immaturity, arose from a run-out powder to Mexico location where flame Tyrone Power was shooting Captain From Castile. Attendant gossip interest, and MGM's discipline of Lana for AWOL'ing GDS, got the in-progress pic much appreciated focus during months-long run-up to opening.
The company's hoped-for comet among leading men, launched opposite Turner, was one Richard Hart, ridden out on critic rails for an accused weakimpersonation of Laurence Olivier (it's a crime, said Crowther).Variety's coverage, often generous so as to keep everyone eating, found Dolphin's story "curiously unreal." All this was bitter aftertaste to record receipts the Criterion reported. Attitudes toward Leo had shifted since declaration of peace. This lion's kingdom was less jungle than fairyland. Too many shows out of Culver took barbs like Crowther's, MGM assuming a mantle of class clown rather than industry leader. A Gotham meet of Loew's/MGM execs from both coasts was set for October 22 to figure out what had caused Metro product to slip so far.
Louis B. Mayer was there (after stopover in Washington to testify before the Un-American Activities Committee). So too was studio manager Eddie Mannix, along with other coast brass. They perused still wet ink of "uniformly bad press" Green Dolphin Streetreceived. Worse was critic pin cushions that were also commercial flops --- Song Of Love among these, as was Desire Me, so misfired as to go out minus a director credit. In this era of lengthy Broadway runs, neither Song Of The Thin Man nor Romance Of Rosy Ridge could pass threeweeks at Loew's flagship Capital Theatre. Deepening the crisis was loss of oversea revenues due to blockage in Britain plus other tariff/duties, an especial blow to product like Green Dolphin Street, which narrative sprawled the globe and would excite foreign interest. Confab concerns over studio labor troubles and ultra-high production costs just put Metro in thicker soup, too many anchors among 1947-48's slate to instill much optimism.
New York was for trimming Green Dolphin Street before Thanksgiving's general release. If ... fifteen or twenty minutes were cut, said William Rodgers (from the present 139 minutes), it would be possible for most exhibs to get at least one more showing of the feature every day. Gross should thus be boosted by that single extra show. Variety later reported six minutes shed --- not much of a cut, said the trade, butsomething (Warner's Archive DVD clocks at 141 minutes --- longer even than what early reviewers and Criterion's premiere audience saw). Dolphin's holiday widening was to thirty-nine key cities. Thanksgiving weekend put it Number One on Variety's Boxoffice Survey and well ahead of Where There's Life,The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty,Body and Soul, and Unconquered, these comprising the Top Five. Also touring to key Dolphin dates was Metro's art department construct of a sailing vessel built to thirty-five foot scale for the film, reflecting well the model and periodrecreations this studio so excelled in.
So what did it cost for smallest Bijous to play a four-million dollar special, and how much return could they expect? I went to 1948 account books from a SmokyMountains based theatre that could easily have hosted that 1968Wingspremiere Pixley wound up getting. The Henn seated 250. They weren't slow as Pixley getting product, but still it was May 31, 1948 before Green Dolphin Street came to town, a more-than seven months wait past the Criterion's Broadway bow. Dolphin and the Henn spent two days together. Rental was flat at $51.50. There was also a Warners newsreel to set the house back $5.00. As the movie was long, they didn't use a cartoon or sport reel. Tickets were twelve, thirty, and forty cents, depending on patron age. $111.20 was collected the first day (Monday), $122.74 the second. That's $233.94 total against $56.50 the Henn spent to fill the bill. Staff overhead and operating expense figured in, of course.
Other Henn shows that week were Always Together from Warners, Violence via Monogram, If Winter Comes at a lesser Metro rate of $26.50, and finally the Saturday show, every week's biggest money-maker for this house, featuring Charles Starrett in Law Of The Canyon ($20 flat), The Crime Doctor's Gamble ($17.50), and a Brick Bradford serial chapter ($5.00). That show yielded $311.58, in one day, as opposed to Green Dolphin Street's $233.94 for two. The Henn's booking was typical of rural routes all releases eventually traveled. Was it worth mighty Metro's time and bookkeeping to chase $51.50 rabbits across North Carolina hills? (and drive a print from their Charlotte exchange). Bill Rodgers spoke to that by ending sales staff travel to venues paying minimal rentals. It just doesn't pay, he pointed out. From now on, MGM policy looked to less business across desks and more by telephone. Days of personalized wheeling/dealing between distribution and exhibition was headed for the barn.