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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

When Sci-Fi Pix Collide

How to do sci-fi on extreme budget (at least for a major like Paramount) and make it look rich. This was slated as a DeMille project --- he'd toyed with end-of-the-world ideas --- but projected costs scuttled Para plans (CB saw When Worlds Collide and acknowledged to trades that George Pal was the better fit for sci-fi). Pal's collision was fast and unpretentious, ingredients used here all new to movies. Had civilization crumbled on screen before? Few remembered Deluge from 1934 or serials that re-ran its footage since. If Pal could make his worlds clash for under a million, then why not throw dice? (Collide's eventual negative cost: $971K). The producer was high on content most left to comic books. The science-fiction film is rapidly becoming a staple item on the public's list of preferred pictures, to be compared with westerns, musicals, and dramas, said he as When Worlds Collide awaited world premiering in Buffalo, New York. Was a high on sci-fi Pal wishful thinking here?

Buffalo's Paramount Theatre Dresses Its Lobby for WWC World Premiere

GP had reason for optimism, his latest Destination Moon having touched two million in grosses as of November 1951. In fact, he figured When Worlds Collide to surpass Moon and get back negative costs "in the foreign market alone." Sci-fi was indeed at a peak of potential then, Destination Moon a novelty hit by any showman's definition. Bob Lippert had gotten $650K in domestic rentals for a Rocketship X-M that cost but $94,000, and The Thing was comfortable in RKO's profit column. Were science thrills a fresh genre good for showman cakes and ale to come? If so, Pal was their baker. He was prepping War Of The Worlds for a January '52 start and a life of Houdini would follow, a "real magician" to assume the lead. George said he didn't need well-known personalities to headline his fantastic pics: they might have a poor rather than good effect. Indeed, special-effects had replaced the players as the real star of his productions. Was Pal in fact a modern-day producer gone back in time to state his philosophy? He sure sounded 2013 here.

Para Exploitation Manager Sid Mesibov Is Swamped By Accessories for WWC

The producer needed a new gimmick in any case, his Puppetoons having tapped out due to risen costs: increase of 164 percent in these over a five year period, plus grosses gone down, had given distributing Paramount vapors. Doomsday plus rockets seemed a surer thing, and what Paramount wouldn't splurge on production would be made up with demon push at the ticket counters. "Special Exploitation" was order of the day, for here was a horn of plenty to exploit. Breathless trade ads promised the following: Tidal Waves Engulfing Entire Countries, Awesome Earthquakes Swallowing Whole Hemispheres, A Giant Planet Colliding With Earth ... circus selling to surpass even DeMille's forthcoming The Greatest Show On Earth, but beside that truly large one, When Worlds Collide was penny candy, and patrons would surely tell friends how ads pledged what a movie couldn't deliver.

How could you blame marketers? They were carnivores after promotion and Collide was freshest meat. Poster art had skyscrapers toppling and civilians drowning. The countdown to doomsday, reflecting one in the film, posited 11-15-51 as beginning, not end, of exhibitor prosperity, with "hundreds of dates" the tip-off that saturation booking would need to outpace word-of-mouth. When Worlds Collide further rode heels of industry-wide's Movietime USA, a press and broadcasting push to make a public film-conscious again. An "American Family Contest" (winners to be feted at a star-filled banquet) was tied with personality tours to which all majors kicked in. Movietime USA was useful, perhaps helpful, but added overhead to already overburdened companies. When Worlds Collide, fit to all audiences, was well-suited to selling thus, and ads for it carried proudly the Movietime banner.

Miami Puts On A Spectacular Front For When Worlds Collide

Paramount was not for repeating copy or images Destination Moon had used. Avoid key-noting the spaceship or rocket. That has been done before!, they warned. You have many things to talk about and exploit: Earthquakes, Fires, Floods, Explosions, Mile-High Tidal Waves, New York City Under Water, and for the first time, The End Of The World --- In Technicolor! So how could anyone top these? Emphasis was on the "Lucky 44," those selected to leave earth for other planet refuge and thus avoid Earth's cataclysm. Might patrons enter contests to determine if they'd qualify for salvation or remain with the doomed? Flaks also suggested showman purchase of war surplus target balloons ("big as a boxcar" at thirteen feet high) that could be had "at the exceedingly low price of $1.39 each," these to be flown via helium gas --- but don't use flammable gas!, cautioned Paramount, and don't merely let them fly away --- and they will get away if you are not on the job.

Para Supplies NYC Public Schools With A "Model Educational Display" Featuring
The Rocket Built For When Worlds Collide

Patrons Get A Telescopic Peek At Doomsday
When Worlds Collide's release had been delayed a few months to let the atmosphere clear of the other foreign bodies, said Variety. Among these, Fox's Autumn hit The Day The Earth Stood Still, plus The Thing still in popular play-off. Chicago did "lofty" Thanksgiving business pairing When Worlds Collide with Columbia's The Magic Carpet, but New York wouldn't collide with the pic until after the first of a new year. Final analysis called When Worlds Collide a success, but maybe not enough of one to engender a sequel George Pal was planning (he had devised Collide's final scene with the follow-up in mind). Said Variety in a July 1952 summary: While it didn't have quite the boxoffice appeal of Destination Moon, it (When Worlds Collide) did all right, and Pal had no trouble selling them (Paramount) The War Of The Worlds, which he bought from the estate of H.G. Wells. Fact is, When Worlds Collide took $1.5 million in domestic rentals, not so much as, according to Variety, Destination Moon, and less than was realized by The Thing and The Day The Earth Stood Still, but OK enough for George Pal to proceed with other projects, though not the sequel he wanted. When Worlds Collide currently streams on Amazon in HD, looking an inter-stellar sight with rich colors and effects charmingly retro after Pal fashion.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Thanks for a close look at an often over looked movie. Pal's pictures always hit the mark.

6:44 AM  
Anonymous Steve Martin said...

George Pal's movies were just as entertaining and exciting as Ray Harryhausen-with or without "major" stars!

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The picture holds-up surprisingly well but I cannot believe the film's official negative cost of $971,000). Now I'm sure that is what's on the books but there is little evidence of such amounts of money on the screen! Since Paramount was a major studio and the technical crews were first-rate the film looks great. The shot that starts as a pan shot following a bus and "wipes" (optically) the bus off revealing the space ark is one of my favorite images from any Sci-Fi film. I say the same thing about Pal's THE TIME MACHINE which has an official negative cost of $866,000 but was clearly done for a lot, less.

Spencer Gill (

2:14 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer recalls a blessed childhood seeing sci-fi classics theatrically:

It's interesting that "When Worlds Collide" later became the programming fodder of "kiddie matinees," along with other first run films like "War of the Worlds," "20 Million Miles to Earth," "Kronos," "The Time Machine," "It Came From Outer Space," "Five Weeks in a Balloon," "Swiss Family Robinson," or "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." That's where I first encountered them, usually at the Fox Theater in Levittown, New Jersey or the High Street Theater in Burlington, another one owned by the Fox organization. Apparently, they thought science fiction was just the ticket for such shows and, as far as I was concerned, they were right. I never saw "The Thing from Another World" theatrically, and it was just as well, as it would have been a little too intense. When I finally watched it on television, I had to pull the rip cord and bail out after the scene where Kenneth Tobey and company open a door and find the Thing standing there. The first horror film as such that I was able to get through was "Plan 9 From Outer Space"--thank you, Edward D. Wood--but even that was a little unnerving for my apparently very tender sensibilities. As for the science fiction films, though, with such superior Hollywood product to see, it was always a disappointment to be shown some Japanese man-in-a-rubber-monster-suit instead.


5:58 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE falls into that tricky sub-genre of old time thrillers that endeavored to keep their audience sufficiently engrossed in story and characters alone for 75 minutes or so, saving most of the visual whammies for the final reel, making sure the on-screen fireworks would be just spectacular enough to send patrons out the door thinking they actually spent an hour and a half seeing something that resembled the posters. Kind of a lost art really. Even bottom drawer direct to SciFi Network stuff will plug their script holes with flashy special effects beginning to end titles, hoping you won't notice everything else! I agree COLLIDE still holds up pretty well and the non-stellar leads Barbara Rush and Richard Derr (who looks for all the colliding world like a dead-serious Danny Kaye) do quite nicely.

12:26 PM  

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