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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Ebbing Tide For Soldiers Of Fortune

Metro Hanging On To Proven Formula with Green Fire (1954)

Another 50's sample of the interchangeable star vehicle. Any leading man and woman could be plugged into Green Fire, or for that matter, much of what MGM and other limping studios turned out as TV took their viewership away. Toplined players were easily switched because most parts were pure stock, and that applied all round town. If Humphrey Bogart wouldn't do Trouble Along The Way at Warners, then get John Wayne. Should Gregory Peck ankle The Left Hand Of God, use Bogart. For casting to mean so little was reflected in cookie-cut results. You could disguise stale bread with exotic locations, but only just. MGM had reheated a loaf  baked two decades before with Mogambo, a trip to Africa and starry cast under John Ford direction sufficient to earn major profit and suggest that travel plus old-style storytelling may yet please. Green Fire would plug that approach into reprise of old Clark Gable/Spencer Tracy tropes, but this was 1954, and where were Gable and Tracy?

The script was obviously cut to their measure. What better to celebrate old times and freshened climes than to cast Leo's senior lions as fortune-hunters gone South American way on emerald search? Andes hilltops and Cinemascope would disguise frailty of dialogue and situations. Similar enterprise like Boom Town had been done on the lot and clicked, but that was 1940. Movies and their audience were something entirely different now. A new day saw such yarns go little past modesty of Pine-Thomas at Paramount, or Sterling Hayden, Richard Denning, et al, drilling for Allied Artists or RKO. There isn't trade mention of a Green Fire submit to Spencer Tracy; he'd have likely turned it down to duck an uncomfortable trip below the equator if not to avoid stench of the script, but Gable was inked early on, and for months, as co-star with Eleanor Parker under Richard Thorpe direction, this announced shortly before Mogambo broke big and CG's Metro pact coming to a finish.

Gable had soured toward Leo and saw Culver as a place old friends were leaving and at which few loyal to him remained. There was cool relations with Dore Schary. Not that Gable was fond of deposed Louis Mayer, but at least he knew better where he stood with LB; Schary glad-handed too readily for the star to trust, and besides, work they'd given him was store stock and increasingly called out for being so by wearied patronage. Money-conscious Gable was more eager to do vehicles outside US borders so he could qualify for tax exemption based on eighteen months residency offshore; his last several, including Mogambo, being shot far afield. Green Fire would have sustained the scheme, but time was running out on Gable's contract and he was fielding offers that promised not only better properties, but percentage terms in addition to up-front dollars, consideration MGM had continually denied him.

Renewal talks were ongoing just as Mogambo world-premiered in Frisco to equal a house record set by Quo Vadis, Metro's up-to-then measure for ultimate sock. If this was money Gable could bring, then letting the star go might be ill-advised. He was busy at Betrayed with Lana Turner in England, and still penciled for Green Fire to follow, but this was late into September 1953, and time might run out lest a new pact be hammered. Gable dealt from a position of new-found strength and knew it. Metro could argue of how his last, Never Let Me Go, took a loss, but here was new day with 20th Fox plus Warners eager to bargain. Had relations not frayed so, Gable might have stayed and done Green Fire, but he'd go, and Stewart Granger would hunt emeralds instead. Just another quick and easy change where character/dialogue were left more or less the same with only costumes resized to fit a new lead man.

Paul Douglas would do the Tracy bit, he and Granger as mining pals that fall out over Grace Kelly, she having replaced Eleanor Parker, who must have been thankful as she couldn't stand Stewart Granger after misery of shared scenes in Scaramouche. Kelly was the anomaly of Green Fire, coming off a remarkable run of outstanding roles ... till now. Metro held her contract, but most of work she did was on loan basis, a profitable arrangement for Leo as Grace Kelly was in constant demand after Mogambo and several for Hitchcock. A best of outside parts from prestige standpoint was The Country Girl, another from Paramount taking big grosses and rhapsodic reviews at the same time Green Fire opened for 1954's holiday season. For Kelly, it must have seemed as though her Country Girl had an ugly twin in Green Fire that would embarrass to no end as it played across streets from far better work she'd done.

Grace Kelly had completed Green Fire and left Colombia locations on the same day to get late start on To Catch A Thief, for which she received a "bonus" from MGM employers. Maybe they felt guilty for having made so much profit for so little effort on her behalf. Green Fire's crew was in South America for three weeks, not so long as Africa had kept Mogambo and company, but sufficient to grab mountain scenery and river course on which action is staged. The rest would be faked in hills off Mulholland Drive, according to Stewart Granger's sour memoir recall. Andrew Marton had replaced Richard Thorpe as director, Marton having shown flair for location with King Solomon's Mines. The finished Green Fire was OK, if not inspired. No one expected a lot, so it was enough that action-seekers were pleased. Composer Miklos Rozsa was dismayed by Schary yes-men who told the boss how great Green Fire was at a studio screening. Well, in the context of kiss-and-punch star vehicles at MGM, it would more than do, but Rozsa was on to something for realizing that this kind of movie had not long to last in a fast-changing industry. Rentals reflected the lethargy: Green Fire, finished at $1.7 million negative cost, got only $1.8 million in domestic rentals. What saved it was foreign income, an excellent $3.1 million that sent overall profit to $1.1 million. Warner Instant is streaming Green Fire in wide and lovely HD, while Warner Archive offers it on DVD.


Blogger radiotelefonia said...

A movie that was constantly featured in "Sabados de Super Accion". It was shown too many times (panned and scanned) and it was a pleasant to see it during lunch or early in the afternoon when there was nothing else available.

12:11 PM  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

I love Saturday morning adventure films from the early 50's. Pine-Thomas, Rhonda Fleming, exotic (if mainly counterfeited)locales in hyper-color. These are all cat-nip to me. But as for MGM's would-be "A" version of same, "Green Fire" - aside from the over-all dullness, there was barely a glimpse of emeralds in the whole thing. You'd think the studio that gave us the Emerald City could have at least delivered on the title's promise in this one respect. I mean,who doesn't like to gaze at emeralds?

1:46 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon shares thoughts on "Green Fire" and some very interesting Stewart Granger anecdotes:


The post on "Green Fire" was terrific and I think makes a very fair judgement on M-G-M's inexorable descent in the '50s. They were making early late '30s/early '40s pictures when they needed to be making more contemporary ones, even though Richard Brooks' admirable "Blackboard Jungle" crept through, as one example of progress. Of course, on the evidence of what's left of it, the feud between Schary and Mayer totally destroyed what seems to have been a masterpiece: John Huston's "The Red Badge of Courage". I was just looking at "Moby Dick" today, a film I've always enjoyed and admired, and the further we get from it, the more it too looks like a minor (not even so minor!) masterpiece, in its casting (so there, anti-Gregory Peck people), it's compositions and photography, its unique score, its intensity and mood, and yes, even in its depiction of the mythic beast itself. Of course, a LOT of Huston's work holds up as well today as it ever did. "Green Fire" is one that having seen once, I'm satisfied. If you know what I mean. Even Miklos Rozsa, whose sage observation of the lackies back-slapping the boss on its magnificent mediocrity is typically keen of this sophisticated man, was challenged to come up with anything worthwhile for this one, including his game try at a title song. I understand Rozsa was not an admirer (to say the least) of Dimitri Tiomkin, but Tiomkin trumped Rozsa in the title tune department, and most others as well. The theme from "Green Fire" did not make the hit parade, as far as I know!

Stewart Granger as you say didn't charm Eleanor Parker by her own admission. I observed him on the set of an early '90s TV show at Warner Bros. and although there was something crookedly likable about his geriatric obstreperousness, he was also recklessly rude to a German pal of mine who'd looked forward to meeting him---just as a movie fan!---saying right in his face,"Seems like only yesterday we were fighting you bastards in WW2!" Talk about 'nonplused'---my older buddy looked like he'd been poleaxed. Just to make his point a bit more "clear", Granger went on! He regaled my friend and others within earshot (which meant all the way out to Barham Blvd., basically) that when he was making "Scaramouche" (speak of the devil), he learned a contingent of Japanese visitors were on their way to the stage. He grandly claimed he walked off and threatened that he wouldn't return until those little buggers were gone. Sheesh. In trying to manage him at one point during a take, the A.D. addressed him as "Jimmy", by the way, suggesting that in 'real' life he insisted on being called by his real name, which most movie fans know was actually James Stewart. Anyway...Granger took exception to this, and though somewhat stooped with age, broke off his not-very-sotto-voce conversation to lope over and mock 'box' with the offending and insubordinate A.D.! More proof that it's not always best to meet your heroes, and though Granger never was a "hero" of mine, I certainly enjoyed him in "Scaramouche", and in things like "North to Alaska"..."The Last Hunt"...a Corman picture called "The Secret Invasion"...even something I saw at our local theater in Inglewood in the later '60s called "The Last Safari" (the lower half of some double bill, back when they had nothing but double bills.)

2:18 PM  
Blogger Dave G said...

I recall catching "Green Fire" a few years ago on TCM and thinking it a tired affair that would have been much more tolerable with Gable in the lead. Interesting to discover that it was planned that way!

8:24 AM  
Blogger dv h said...

Green Fire always reminded me of a Gable-Tracy picture! Incidentally, Grace Kelly also disliked Stewart Granger, who apparently was too familiar.

His reaction to the German fan was odd. He worked in the German film industry for years, playing "Old Surehand" in 3 very popular German-made westerns, as well as appearing in another popular series of films. In the 80's he did a German TV series. Maybe he was pulling the leg of that German fan?

10:46 PM  
Blogger dv h said...

Granger was a star in Germany in the 60's and 70's in a series of movie westerns and adventures. He also appeared in a German TV soap in the 80's. So his reaction to the German fan was odd. He must have encountered German fans often, as well as working with Germans on a daily basis. Maybe he was pulling that fan's leg.

Incidentally, Grace Kelly didn't care for Granger, either.

10:49 PM  

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