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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

50's Metro Back In Costume

Pageantry's Last Stand --- The King's Thief (1955)

Plumed hat pix were a pox by '55 and period pageantry past peak of Scaramouche and Ivanhoe (should I go on like this?). The King's Thief nose-dived to $467K loss in spite of negative cost ($1.5 million) unusually low for costumers, but how to overcome a measly $501K in domestic rentals? Thief's fate was similar to others set upon horse and carriage, also released that year: The Scarlet Coat earning $467K domestic, and Moonfleet at $586K. Maybe it was time to buh-bye Ye Olden Days. Exhibitors had in fact wired MGM to please do so, one entreating Send No More Where They Write With Feathers. All this was prelude to my enjoying The King's Thief on first view of Warner Archive's recent DVD, it being scope-wide and stereo specific to voices left/right and offscreen dogs barking (was it actually Perspecta sound?). Helpful too are matters settled in 79 minutes, surely a brevity record for ruffled sleeve "A's" out of Metro.

Heroics are supplied by Edmund Purdom, villainy the province of David Niven, who's said to have hated this part, being mostly a riff on Mel Ferrer's cruel Scaramouche nobleman. Metro sash stories had come by now to a sword-point of copying each other, being fewer years apart in doing so. The Purdom role had been inked for Stewart Granger. Maybe The King's Thief would be appreciated better had the latter done it. Direction was by called-from-retirement Robert Z. Leonard, who'd served Loew's since same was formed, but he gets scant credit today for work auteurists call listless, or when it's good, credit to others. Hangers-on like The King's Thief did so mostly for costumes and furnishing long on hand to recreate gone eras, no studio more resourceful than Metro at capturing a past. Nice then, to have this on DVD as both example of that and taste of Cinemascope when it was still a relative novelty.


Blogger John McElwee said...

Dick Dinman was THERE when so many of MGM's period pics tanked, and he's here now to tell the story. This is great stuff, Dick. Thanks so much for contributing!

Hey John, I think it could be said that swashbucklers and costume pix in general could be the major reason for what ultimately became the first of a series of catastrophic red ink years for Leo the Lion. It would be fascinating to add up the total losses accrued by THE PRODIGAL, JUPITER'S DARLING, THE SCARLET COAT (another role that Stewart Granger refused to play), THE KING'S THIEF, MOONFLEET, DIANE and most of all QUENTIN DURWARD the debacle of which I feel somewhat responsible for.

When I was an intense 9 year old Robert Taylor fan MGM promoted a contest in the N.Y. newspapers which promised free movie passes to respondents with the best letter responding to two questions: (1) What is your favorite Robert Taylor role and (2) What kind of role would you most like to see him play in the future? In my responding letter I chose Taylor as IVANHOE and stated for a variety of reasons why I would like to see him in yet another similar swashbuckling role. Much to my shock (and my mother's!) I won the contest, the prize of which was two passes to any Loew's theater. (I ended up taking my mother to the Loew's Metropolitan to see 7 BRIDES FOR 7 BROTHERS which I'd already seen and loved at Radio City courtesy of one of my teachers.)
Obviously I wasn't solely responsible for the DURWARD debacle which combined with MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (which never opened in a first run N.Y. theater!) and THE LAST HUNT certainly caused Metro to demote Taylor from then on to glorified "b" pictures but I can't help thinking that the aforementioned 9 year old kid played a part in its inception. Ultimately Loew's wouldn't even open DURWARD at a first run Loew's house and it suffered a brief forlorn run at the Mayfair eventually ending up shockingly as a second feature to the mini-budgeted RANSOM on the multiples.
The curious thing is that I believe DURWARD to be the best of Taylor's three "iron jockstrap" entries by a wide margin courtesy of a vibrant sense of humor that the other two films lacked and I think Taylor, while looking much older than his years, is truly wonderful in the part.

Cheers, Dick Dinman

10:39 AM  
Blogger iarla said...

I watched this recently, and it lacked zest, so I focused instead on the sets, props and furnishings, many of which pop up in other metro epics - including "three musketeers", "green dolphin street", "the scarlet coat" et al!

5:01 PM  
Blogger grandoldmovies said...

I haven't seen this film, though I'm surprised that Niven and Sanders are billed after the uncharismatic Purdom, who seems to have made a career of taking roles refused by other actors. I do wonder about the advertising poster's design, that of placing the film's title on the, uh, hindquarters of a horse - could that a subliminal comment on the film itself?

11:10 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hey, I hadn't noticed that about the placement of the title! You're sure right about the ad design --- there is a resigned quality about it, as if marketing knew this was a hopeless cause ...

4:05 AM  
Blogger Jim Lane said...

I haven't seen The King's Thief either, but I'm not surprised it laid an egg with Edmund Purdom top-billed. Seems to me that grandoldmovies's calling him "uncharismatic" is mincing words; this guy is a hole in the screen of every picture I've ever seen him in. Whenever I see him I have to shake my head and wonder: "Whose boyfriend was he?" GOM's mention of David Niven and George Sanders being billed below Purdom is on point, but look just one name farther down and there's Roger Moore! What brilliant showbiz oracle thought Purdom was the worthier star material of those two? (I'm sure it's no coincidence that Purdom also starred in those other notorious '50s duds The Prodigal and The Egyptian.)

4:45 AM  

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