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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Talking Out The Killing's Solution


Fourth Of Seven Hitchcocks: Murder! (1930)

Hitchcock back to the thriller well and all-talking at crime scenes for a first time. Murder! is actually a mystery of whodunit category, one disdained by AH, but artfully addressed here. We get it served slow, patience rewarded by continual creative use of sound as end in itself toward thrill-making. Hitchcock said he preferred pictures to words, but for invention on display here, he clearly was fascinated by sound and its potential. The business of blood and stains and such is lovingly addressed, plus there's colorful depiction of backstage life among itinerant stage players. Pace is stately, but Hitchcock invests every scene with something fresh he's trying, whether it's music played live just off-set for actors to respond to, or crying kids that almost drown out dialogue we're supposed to be hearing. You wonder if this last was a sound snafu or deliberate effect AH was going for. Mostly it's a beginning and finish where he gets in visual licks, but again, this is second to what is clearly Hitchcock's joy at having a new medium to experiment with. Murder! has streamed on Netflix in HD, and is available on DVD as part of a Lion's Gate collection featuring five early Hitchcocks.

Murder! in 1930 would be linchpin of a British-International bid for US market-placing that saw Hitchcock's employer in two year leasehold of the Broadway located George M. Cohan Theatre, its address a primary reason for BIP interest. The outsider firm needed to boast of White Way opens for its product, the better to secure circuit and subsequent dates. It didn't matter if NYC play lost money, as investment was in perception rather than reality. Trades saw this as a boldest bid so far by Britishers to tap American cashboxes. Resentment flowed from fact that US exporters were having to pay twice the amount of tariff to have their wares UK-shown than were being charged to guests on our shore. In fact, England was getting two cents a foot for film we sent over vs. a penny being charged them here. The inequity was noted, with hospitality accordingly down. So far as a domestic show world felt, America was BIP's hill to climb.

The plan didn't lack for ambition, forty "all-British" features tabbed for the Cohan, which seated 1,137 with seventy-five cents a ticket's top. Occupation would begin in September 1930, "with English colors draped over the (seating) boxes," observed Variety. BIP reps admitted that UK product, including their own, had been "very bad" up to a year before, but now they had staff on our home ground and deals cooking with RKO and Columbia for wider distribution of the firm's output. BIP was determined too to keep its films out of art houses: "Past experience has convinced the company that once a picture goes into an arty, it is automatically stamped out for houses in other classes," said Variety. The Cohan effort began with Young Woodley and weak receipts, then Atlantic, which promised better with a sea disaster theme. Estimates figured the venue for at most $8,000 a week, and in fact, Murder! got half that for opening weekend alone, but "failed to build and did not meet expectations of British distrib," according to Variety. From there went the toboggan for BIP; their next at the Cohan, Flame Of Love, taking so-far low of $2K.

Every week at the Cohan took a loss, but BIP didn't panic, as this was expected. Benefit came with happy face they could show in trade ads, most prominent a two-page on 12/24/30 with Murder! emphasized as having been SHOWN on BROADWAY in OCTOBER. BIP took pride in the fact it could "make its best films for $100,000 or less," that representing "one-third, maybe less, of what a first-rate release costs in the states." So what if their Broadway/Cohan experiment was now $30K in the red? The learning process had been worth it. "BIP's venture at the Cohan was specifically to find out once and for all if it had anything to sell over here, and BIP is going back to British shores with three deals in its pocket," meaning the Columbia release pact for six features, RKO for one, and ERPI to handle short subjects. After nine weeks from September into November, BIP sublet the Cohan for a synchronized revival of Griffith's Birth Of A Nation, and 1931 would see a deal with Charlie Chaplin to long-run his City Lights there.

1 Comments:

Blogger Dave K said...

Great research, John! This stuff on the BIP's master plan with Cohan Theatre all new to me. Wonderful!

12:56 PM  

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