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Saturday, July 28, 2012


20th Fox and Boy On A Dolphin --- Part Two

Trade unions got up in arms over so much overseas lensing. The A.F.L's Hollywood Film Council spread incendiary word, according to The New York Times, that a number of motion pictures being produced by American interests or with American financing are employing Communist union members in preference to members of anti-Communist unions. Dynamite charges these were, but times were desperate (October 1956 saw just over 12,000 US pic industry workers drawing a check, down 1,700 from the previous year).



Loren Sketches at Right by Jean Negulesco


Word got out that Fox planned to roadshow Boy On a Dolphin after producing same in 55mm, this traced to West Coast personnel, but met "with surprise" by New York's home office. The sales department said the plan was news to them, and so did Fox's technical division, reported Variety, one exec adding that it's doubtful many exhibitors would go for the extra cost. 20th had used 55mm for Carousel, 35mm release prints thereby benefiting from greater clarity. Fox tech wizard Earl Sponable acknowledged that 55mm would add somewhat to the quality of the picture, but it would mean really dressing up the house, with special sound presentation, etc. What went unsaid, but appeared clear enough, was that Boy On a Dolphin didn't merit anything like deluxe unveiling such as these rumors promised.


Director Negulesco Offers Up-Close Guidance to Sophia Loren
Jean Negulesco wrote a book wherein he colorfully described Boy On a Dolphin's production. Even from twenty year hindsight, it read as though the director had a distinct crush on Sophia Loren, judging by playful images of them together and drawings he made of the actress. Negulesco handed Loren Boy On a Dolphin with an intro scene where she emerges like a robust Aphrodite from the sea, a bountiful body-slam to US viewers, particularly male ones, who'd word-of-mouth and repeat attend Boy to $2.2 million in domestic rentals. Alan Ladd saw the attraction(s) and boiled, his wife further stoking flames of resentment. Not-knowing-better Loren told interviewers of mirth doing love scenes stood in a trench so as to avoid  dwarfing Ladd, relations between the two becoming cool as if on Arctic location.


Ad For Boy On A Dolphin's Hollywood First-Run
Ladd had surprised his crew by showing up ravaged for the wear of travel (he wouldn't fly, so passage was by ship, then train, clothing and other valuables stolen en route). His alcohol excess and weight gain obliged Negulesco, who never wanted Ladd in the first place, to cover with protective set-ups in addition to ones even-ing height vis-à-vis AL and SL. Compensation for all this was worth-the-trip Grecian backdrops that dominate Boy On a Dolphin, interiors kept to a minimum so that even when dialogue's dull, there's something at least to look at. Scenery alone might have justified 55mm and roadshowing had Boy come off a better movie. Still, there was enough to merit a New York Roxy open with on-stage performing by Louis Armstrong for a four week run begun April 19, 1957.


Fox had made what Variety called a "Wallopy" season preview called The Big Show, which among other things, announced fifty-five features for the coming year. The 110-minute trailer cost a quarter million and would run throughout the country to exhibitors, press, radio/TV reps, and "community leaders." 2,500 Fox stockholders attended the Roxy's morning premiere of The Big Show, and were invited to remain as guests for Boy On a Dolphin. 20th's grand gesture was seen as a frontal assault to competing television, but TV would win. Beyond The Big Show's push would come retrenchment and more lay-offs, salary cuts, and reduced production at Fox. Boy On a Dolphin, a hit for the Roxy, drooped elsewhere. From $3.3 million spent on the negative, $2.2 came back in domestic rentals, $2.4 foreign, with a final loss of $1.1 million.







From here came a half-century's (and counting) oblivion for a show that needed every inch of wide screens. Boy On a Dolphin went to NBC for new-minted Monday Night At The Movies, one of sixteen Fox titles leased to the network for two runs at $175,000 for each, the series to premiere February 4, 1963. Later in that decade (1968) came The American Cinema, a book by Andrew Sarris wherein he ranked directors, Boy On a Dolphin's helmsman among "Miscellany." Jean Negulesco's career can be divided into two periods labeled B.C. and A.C., or Before Cinemascope and After Cinemascope ... Everything After Cinemascope is completely worthless, said the critic. Sarris applied a finishing thrust thus: Negulesco's is the most dramatic case of directorial maladjustment in the fifties. Query to Sarris: Had he screened Boy On a Dolphin and others Negulesco wide-directed in their original Cinemascope format? To have done so would be at the least difficult in the late-60's when these films had long vacated theatres and were playing solely pan/scan on television. Boy On a Dolphin remains compromised in a transfer that is wide, but badly in need of remastering. What we occasionally see on TCM and The Fox Movie Channel does little credit to one of the 50's most striking travel folders. Suggestion to Screen Archives' Twilight Time DVD series ... give us Boy On a Dolphin on Blu-Ray with Hugo Friedhofer's fine score on an isolated track. There would be a must-have disc for 2012.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Jim Cobb said...

I am sure you already know this, but Cinemascope 55 was only used for 2 films. These were CAROUSEL and THE KING AND I. From all accounts neither was ever exhibited in the 55mm format, though the larger negative yielded a higher quality image even on the 35mm reduction prints... and a few theatres used an interlocked 6 channel soundtrack. OKLAHOMA! was shot in 70mm Todd-Ao with six track stereo sound. Since this was the first film shot in this unique process, the producers simultaneously shot a version in standard 35mm Cinemascope. Cinemascope 55 proved to be a bust and eventually Todd-Ao and other 70mm variants became the standard format for the roadshow/special venue movies in the 60's.

9:49 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Fabulous article John! I couldn't agree more with your query to would-be critics: "Have you actually SEEN a CinemaScope film in it's CinemaScope format?" Several years ago myself, my Sons, Craig Reardon, his daughter and many other "classic" film fans went to see a screening of "Garden Of Evil" at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). The print was pretty beat-up but it WAS in CinemaScope a 4-channel stereo sound. Now every review I had ever read of "Garden Of Evil" read the same way (with every reviewer trying to out-do the other in creative ways to let "us" all know how TERRIBLE the film was) "boring", "wooden" "leaden"...you know the drill. Well, we were about halfway through it and Craig and I kind of looked at each other and said: "This film is working JUST FINE." The little mannerisms and inflectins that Gary Cooper and the rest of the cast were doing are COMPLETELY lost on television.....You can't take a film such as "Boy On A Dolphin" or "Garden Of Evil" or ANY of the 'Scope pictures and cut them up with commercials and/or pan-and-scan them and have them have anywhere near the impact that they had (or have) on a big screen.....washed-out color (we all know how "Deluxe" color fades)mono sound, 2/3rds of the picture cut off to accomodate the TV aspect ratio.....it just isn't the same film. I'll wager just about everything I have that not ONE of the "reviewers" had EVER seen "Garden Of Evil" (or "Boy On A Dolphin") in a theatrical setting.

And I certainly agree with you: Twilight Time: Bring it ("Boy On A Dolphin") ON!!

Brad

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Joshua said...

In the print ad, the quote from Sarah Hamilton in the Los Angeles Examiner has so many ellipses in it that I wonder if it really represents her opinion. I can't help but be suspicious of a sentence like "Sophia ... even soaking wet ... is ... primitive and dynamic!" which contains only eight words but three ellipses.

2:12 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer shares his usual great observations, this time on Alan Ladd's decline in the 50's:


Alan Ladd does look pretty beat in "Boy on a Dolphin." His eyes are puffy, his face is slack, and if he isn't terribly overweight, his physique has become flabby. His voice is still superb, mellow and well modulated, like whiskey aged in the cask. All the great stars had distinctive voices. His was one of the best. If he'd remained a radio actor, he would have been a star for as long as there were radio shows. Unfortunately, he was appearing before the the CinemaScope camera.

He was 43 years old, middle aged by the standards of the time, but why had he let himself go? Probably the reason was the same as for many men, when they'd lost hope of finding whatever they'd been searching for in their lives. And for many of them, that quest was for romance. Certainly it was for Ladd. A couple years before, he'd made "The McConnell Story" with June Allyson. He'd been married to Sue Carol for over 12 years, but it was really a marriage of convenience: his career and her management of it. With Allyson he'd fallen in love. It was a one-sided infatuation--Allyson decided that they were just friends--but it hadn't escaped the notice of Sue Carol. She confronted Allyson, who denied that any sort of affair was going on. Besides, she said, she was married to Dick Powell, who wouldn't have permitted it. Carol then telephoned Powell, telling him that her husband was madly in love with his wife. Powell was offended by the call, but brushed her off, asking, "Isn't every body?" Ladd, however, had finally had enough. He packed his bags and left the house for a hotel. That was as far as he got. He realized that she wouldn't let him go and that he wasn't strong enough to leave on his own. He'd been kidding himself, that he'd find someone, fall in love, and start over. He'd been kidding himself for a long time. The next year he made "Hell on Frisco Bay" for his own company, Jaguar Productions. It's a good movie and he's excellent in it, with the kind of intensity that seems to bend light around it. It was the last performance he gave as the Alan Ladd who'd won an unlikely stardom. If you look carefully, however, you can see the tricks used by a make-up artist to conceal the softening jaw line and the bags under the eyes. When he wasn't working, he was drinking, and it was taking a toll. By the time he made "Boy on a Dolphin," he was just going through the motions. He pulled himself together later that year to make "The Proud Rebel" with his son David, but that was just about the end. In 1962, he was seriously wounded in what was called a shooting accident, the bullet narrowly missing his heart. He said that he'd been carrying a pistol and stumbled while investigating noises he thought were coming from a burglary. A little over a year later, on the afternoon of January 29, 1964, he was found in his bed, dead, still wearing his robe and pajamas. After an autopsy, the cause was given as "Cerebral Edema due to Synergistic Effects of C.N.D. Chemical Depressants," the results of an overdose of alcohol and sleeping pills. The coroner ruled it another accident. He'd just finished shooting "The Carpetbaggers," playing Nevada Smith, a character role. The picture he never got to see is trashy and entertaining, but he has only a dozen scenes in it, and he's obviously doubled in the climatic fight scene with the star, George Peppard. Still, he brings a sad dignity to his performance, and if the critics overlooked it, there were worse ways to go out.

Daniel

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Rod Croft said...

Jean Negulesco once commented, "When I make a picture abroad, I always go to the best book store in town and look through every photographic book about that particular country....Photographers have sometimes spent as much as two or three years trying to capture the atmosphere, and we just try to reproduce it."

The scenery in "Boy on a Dolphin" is certainly eye-catching in CinemaScope and colour and Hugo Friedhofer's sound-track music, one of his best. In my opinion "Boy on a Dolphin" is a most enjoyable and well-spent 106 minutes.

I look forward to the release of a Blu-ray edition, hopefully in the near future.

8:59 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon shares some fascinating info on film scoring, and a great composer he once met ... (Part One)


John,


Fascinating info on "Boy on a Dolphin" and its reflections on the wobbly era between---as you state authoritatively---DFZ jumping ship in '56, and--somewhat ironically OR perhaps tellingly--his son, Richard (R.I.P.) taking the helm in the mid-'60s and partly revitalizing the great studio. I've never once seen "Boy..." all the way through, and that may be another thing that reflects on its problems. It never really drew me in! Funny, I recently saw a very enjoyable Bob Hope movie I found on the finally ill-fated Toshiba HD-DVD format: "My Favorite Brunette". It was paired with Frank Tashlin's broad and amusing "Son of Paleface". Anyway, you may or may not be familiar with this one, but Hope plays a baby photographer in San Francisco who's right next door in his building to a private eye. The shamus is played in a brief and effective scene by none other than Alan Ladd, still in his prime. And thence to our subject, "...Dolphin", as the difference between Ladd's looks and charisma in this cameo and the way he appeared in "Boy on a Dolphin" is immense. He was so good-looking at a young man he was almost beautiful---kind of like a blonde counterpoint to Tyrone Power. Funny (as in 'interesting', certainly not as in 'amusing') that both he and Power were clearly fading by the late '50s, as their respective Adonis looks began to congeal into something dough-y and paunchy, really well before one might have expected this to happen, as far as their ages were concerned.

12:04 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon's comments --- Part Two:


It IS amusing---both 'interesting' AND almost 'funny'---that somebody like John Wayne was able to go on and on, audiences loving him as much as they always did even when his face turned into that of almost a friendly old habitue of a neighborhood bar, and his belly became a true bay window. It seemed not to matter. Ernest Borgnine, interviewed several times in his late years, never had a really unkind word to say about anybody, and he recalled working with Ladd on a movie (I can't remember the name), and said that in his opinion Ladd's problems had their root in a kind of self-reviling awareness of his small stature, which Borgnine felt was so exaggerated it drove Ladd to drink. Sad. As always, I have to step outside my own enthusiasm for these old figures and admit I feel self-conscious and even silly, myself, picking them apart in this way, almost 50 years (in Ladd's case) after his death. I guess that's an involuntary reponse, almost, created by the singular quality of these personalities and the symbiotic effect of the way movies once presented them, like gems in a perfect setting. That kind of presentation changed radically even as early as the '50s.


I never had the opportunity come up to tell you that I spent an entire afternoon once with Hugo Friedhofer, interviewing him for a book I was planning informally, which did not get beyond being envisioned as a kind of oral history of the life of Bernard Herrmann. But, Herrmann's unquestionable stature not being my subject here, Hugo himself was a huge talent in his own right. He lived at that time (about 1976 or '77) in a modest apartment building on Beachwood Drive (I hope that's right, it's been awhile) in downtown Hollywood. All his many years of good earnings and hard work had not defended him against a difficult divorce and being divested of a lot of his money, thus the reduced circumstances. The living room and kitchenette were hemmed in with an upright piano and bookshelves laden with his bound scores. Friedhofer had orchestrated music for the great Erich Wolfgang Korngold and the much different but also great other Austro-Hungarian born composer Max Steiner, at Warners; and then Alfred Newman got him a job writing his own first film score for the Goldwyn picture "The Adventures of Marco Polo", an enjoyable fantasy starring Gary Cooper as a most unlikely Marco Polo. Friedhofer worked for Newman constantly at Fox, on pictures great and mostly small, but his breakthrough opportunity became Goldwyn's "The Best Years of Our Lives" in '46, which is graced by a beautiful Friedhofer score that, while it partakes of American-sounding qualities redolent in the innovative music of Aaron Copland (who influenced a couple generations of American film composers), also has a romanticism and personality that is Hugo's alone. It didn't hurt Friedhofer's career when it won an Academy Award, either!

12:05 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Three from Craig Reardon:


By the '50s, Hugo was getting more and more assignments as a composer on Fox's CinemaScope productions, and continued there after Alfred left and his brother Lionel took over, although often supplying music anonymously to such lumpen backgrounds as the music (e.g.) for "North to Alaska", etc. He also had an 'interesting' relationship with Alfred Newman's other brother, Emil, the arrangement (I think) being that Hugo wrote the music and Emil went in and conducted the recordings. They're credited unusually on some Wayne/Fellows movies, including "Hondo" and "Island in the Sky". I think there was one where Emil only was credited, "Music by...", which I found to be typical Hollywood confusion of self-promotion with real talent and/or creativity, which is business-as-usual in filmmaking to this day. Bernard Herrmann gave one of his typical disenchanted interviews to two young fans in 1970 and referred to 'ghostwriting' as "...the great unsung profession in Hollywood!" He said this in order to separate himself from the process, though he said he'd been approached more than once by colleagues who wanted him to write for them. Hugo was not so lucky and/or discriminating, no doubt out of necessity and realism, and ghost-wrote for many composers. Alfred Newman was capable of composing terrific musical backgrounds, but was often inundated with more than one assignment at a time, or one which required re-writes dictated by others, and had to get in help. Friedhofer helped him bail water on "The Greatest Story Ever Told", to name just one, when Newman was required to replace whole sequences.


Friedhofer's score for "Boy on a Dolphin" was a much sought-after rarity on lp records until CDs were invented and it reappeared on legit reissues (from as far away as Japan, Japanese Victor), and bootlegs. A typically-skillful score, it has a title tune I'm not much impressed with even when sexily crooned by Julie London. However, Friedhofer wrote excellent scores for many films during this period, including "Broken Arrow", "The Rains of Ranchipur", "Seven Cities of Gold", "The Young Lions", "Between Heaven and Hell", etc. His love themes are often beautifully imagined and harmonized, anything but predictable or Muzak-like. His sense of harmony was complex, moreso in some ways than even an impressive composer like Herrmann, as is his use of counterpoint. David Raksin thought his pal Hugo was the best of the best. He was certainly a most amiable and intelligent, friendly and amusing man, and I am very grateful I got to meet this fascinating participant in the golden age of moviemaking.

12:06 PM  

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