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Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Watch List For 4/3/13

ANOTHER KUBRICK KILLING KISS --- This goes among category of updates. I've been intrigued by theatre reception to Killer's Kiss and The Killing since covering both in October, 2011. Greenbriar at that time indicated that Killer's Kiss had 3,130 bookings, which was very low for a United Artists release. I knew KK played the Liberty during 1956, having found battered stills for it in theatre storage circa mid-70's, but no ads revealed themselves among newspaper pages and scrapbooks gone through since. Here, finally, was a Killer's Kiss engagement I came across in Steubenville, Ohio, playing on the lower half of a dual bill, as predicted by Variety, the trade having foreseen that KK might find it challenging to eke out some bookings. Interesting then to see the Capitol Theatre singling out Killer's Kiss as an "Off Beat" FILM of the PRIZEFIGHT and Dance Hall WORLDS." Someone on staff had obviously checked out Kubrick's thriller, and liked it enough to boost outside a pressbook-supplied ad. It didn't hurt either to play Killer's Kiss with another bare-knuckler, Robert Aldrich's The Big Knife. Those two would make a persuasive combo today.

There was already info added to Greenbriar's The Killing post after I came across data on a Pittsburgh art house success, and now here is a 2/14/57 engagement in Cincinnati wherein The Killing is referred to specifically as The One Surprise Art Film In Years. This was sure in opposition to the straightforward way United Artists had sold the film since a May 1956 open at the Mayfair Theatre in New York. An exploitation dud had morphed into an art success, an eventuality I'd guess no one in UA sales saw coming. Did "Popular Demand" really lead to the Guild's booking? Too bad a good handful of art house weeks, spread out as they were, couldn't lift The Killing off a slow track and maybe get, dare UA hope, Oscar consideration. They'd try to position it for nominations, from November 1956 into a following January. The trade ad below was from 1/23/57, after The Killing had been placed among Ten Best of 1956 by the London Sunday Times. Kubrick's pic was back in LA at the El Rey art theatre to shore up votes, admission being free to Academy members.

The Killing's post-mortem came almost a year later (12/57) from United Artists vice-president Max E. Youngstein, speaking to reporters only on condition that it be made clear he was expressing his own personal sentiments and not those of his company. Youngstein complained of difficulty building new stars when exhibitors only wanted films with established names. He mentioned Sterling Hayden as having been in many "bread and butter" pictures that were "made at a price," but that when it came to The Killing, which according to Youngstein was "head and shoulders above his previous attractions," having got "many rave reviews," the exhibs wouldn't pay any more for The Killing than they had for previous Haydens. Youngstein's point: Exhibitor attitude impedes producer initiative.

SKY GIANT (1938) --- Commercial flying gets a wing up when test pilots Richard Dix and Chester Morris take the stick for martinet fleet boss Harry Carey. They also quarrel over hand of Carey offspring Joan Fontaine, who must look at this (but would she?) and wonder how it's possible to outlive so many people by so many years. Air sagas are irresistible always --- never mind sameness of yarns back on the ground. Metro and Warners did them bigger than RKO could afford to, but Sky Giant gets an A for effort and square-jaw conviction of Dix and Morris, bullheads you knew had to team eventually, neither being a stranger to scarf and goggles, nor fighting for first or last dance with an ingénue who could only pick one, but easily play daughter to either. Typecasting and immediate viewer association was no bad thing at its prime --- patrons liked Dix/Morris in repeated action, maybe because both were equal adept at quieter scenes. Fontaine was "the girl" clearly eager to graduate past such work. Did she realize pros like D & M made that possible via helping her look good in scenes played opposite them?

THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE (1959) --- The sort of cheap (some would say wretchedly so) thriller, and the word may be misapplied, that lured youngsters out of healthier sunshine to learn process of cleaving heads, then shrinking them, taught by has-it-come-to-this Henry Daniell, who some of them might have recognized from distinguished work in long-past The Body Snatcher. There are sick elements amidst endless talk --- a stray moccasin sewn from human flesh --- don't ask. "Action," as if the word applies, takes place solely in neighboring houses and a mausoleum situated between them (funny, there's no such arrangement anywhere near me). Knowing for fifty years I'd someday have to strike Four Skulls off a see list (by fiat of multiple Famous Monster mags), duty was finally observed on TCM, where the long-await fully fulfilled expectation, or lack of. Four Skulls played '59 dates on top of a bill with Invisible Invaders, which I did see in 1964 and so have sentiment for. Admitted is fact I'd have felt similarly about Jonathan Drake given first view at a tenderer age, an experience I'm sorry now to have missed, for having come to these Four Skulls so late, they can't place among child-acquired souvenirs.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Great poster. Major let down (like all those movies that use a star like Karloff or Lugosi as a red herring or worse, as in Lugosi's case, just to get our butt on a seat).

Too many promises not kept.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE Ha! I did catch that one on TV chiller theaters back in the day along with its co-feature INVISIBLE INVADERS. The later was a particular favorite of a 12 year old and his 10 year old brother and your comments, John, are spot on as to the continuing affection the creaky adult can have for some of this junk based on long standing familiarity. A big part of INVADERS' charm for me today (I still get a kick out of that one) is the gulf between our honest, uncritical fascination back in the day and the god-awful crappiness any sane, objective viewer discerns today. FOUR SKULLS on the other hand, barely made the cut even back in the sixties. It did have shrunken heads, some gruesomeness and a monster looking henchman. But still. Had the MGM DVD some years back that paired it Karloff in VOODOO ISLAND. Wow. A deadly case of dull and duller that I passed on after one not-nearly-quick enough viewing.

Caught up with KILLER'S KISS (had never seen it) and THE KILLING (hadn't seen it in decades) since your 2011 items. Both terrific in their own ways, and both must have been marketing challenges!

Keep up the great work!

2:55 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

That image of Chester Morris in the poster looks more like Richard Barthelmess.

6:20 PM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

I actually enjoy Four Skulls, but less as watching than "having on while I work on something." I admit a kind of fascination with threadbare productions like it and Invisible Invaders (both directed by Ed Cahn, who apparently was able to get the job done on time and on budget--I think he directed ten films a year for a while there), that, even when bad, don't seem as dismal as some late 60s-70s horror flicks, when more portable equipment unleashed a horde of amateurish movies.

11:06 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer reviews Joan Fontaine's early career (Part One):

It's difficult to say what Joan Fontaine thought about working on "Sky Giant" with such stalwarts as Richard Dix and Chester Morris, except that she didn't like being at RKO Radio Pictures at that time. In her memoir, "No Bed of Roses," she writes of the resentment she felt towards her agent, for having sold her contract to the studio as though she was so many pounds of meat. She also mentions some of the films she appeared in--though "Sky Giant" is not among them--a compliment Katherine Hepburn paid her during the making of "Quality Street," and how often she tripped or fell on her face, trying to dance with Fred Astaire in "Damsel in Distress." Otherwise, RKO was just a backdrop for an affair with Conrad Nagel and her marriage to Brian Aherne.

She was just 18 years old when she joined the studio and 19 when she filmed "Sky Giant." She was a very pretty, very sweet and rather coquettish young woman when she followed her older sister, Olivia de Havilland, to Hollywood. Her desire then wasn't so much to be an actress as to marry well and live with style. In that respect, she was very much what one would expect of an English woman of a certain class. Ironically, while she hadn't her sister's ambition for an acting career, her talent was much the deeper of the two. With the right director, in the right story, she would give some of the most memorable performances ever put on film. There would be "Rebecca" and "Suspicion" for Hitchcock, "This Above All" for Anatole Litvak, and of course, "Letter from an Unknown Woman," with Max Ophuls directing, which was made by Rampart, the company she started with another husband, William Dozier.

5:50 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer discusses Joan Fontaine and "The Constant Nymph" in Part Two of his comments:

To those titles has been added "The Constant Nymph," recently rediscovered after being unavailable to the public for over 60 years. Directed by Edmund Goulding from the celebrated novel by Margaret Kennedy, it is a marvelous film, with a romantic sweep and a blend of the earthly and the ethereal. Much credit for this must go to Goulding, for his lyrical use of the camera and exquisite handling of the players, and to Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s magnificent score, the only piece of his film music to be assigned an opus number by the celebrated composer.

Joan Fontaine's Tessa, however, is the very heart and soul of it. She was 25 years old when the film was made, playing a character just 14 when the story begins, but doing so with an astonishing freshness and spontaneity, as though skill and thought had been transmuted into being. Each moment, each gesture, is so fully realized that there is never a sense of artifice, but only of a life lived. She is fey but endearing in her innocence, as one who steps all too lightly upon this world.

The beauty and utter sublimity of her performance speaks to her artistry, yet I cannot help but think that she drew upon qualities in her own heart and soul which might never have found expression, save in this film and at this moment of her life. Few would have had the courage to go there and fewer would have returned with such grace as was hers. It is a unique achievement and not to be compared to anything done by anyone else.

Truly, watching her in this film is like seeing a pool of golden sunlight, stirred by the breath of God.

Still, she could not have come to this place in her journey without having begun it somewhere else, and that beginning is found in films like "Sky Giant," a programmer perhaps, but well made by professionals with a skill for investing even the commonplace with something more than what was promised. In this she was afforded a glimpse of what would be more fully realized at another time. The justification for such a film, then, goes beyond its moment's entertainment, for what it brought into being. And though she says that she made 16 "B's" at RKO before getting a real break at another studio, she also says that she remains especially grateful for the training those films gave her.


5:51 AM  
Blogger rnigma said...

The "Sky Giant" poster lists Paul Guilfoyle- is that the father of CSI's Paul Guilfoyle?

9:13 AM  

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