United Artists Puts Premium Rate On The Bogie Cult --- Part Two
What clicked at Harvard could do so for other
places ... or not. Bogart packaging at colleges and revival houses ran hot/cool depending
on locale and patron temperament. United Artists owned the old Warner pics and
decided to package them for theatres beginning in April 1965. Bogart's campus
and cult popularitywas called a "whimsical phenomenon" by booker
vets doubtful that ancient fare bled dry on television could now be sold on
percentage for two week minimum run. The batch was handled by Film
Representations, in association with Dominant Pictures, which was UA's
theatrical arm for the WB vaulties. Nineteen titles made up Film Rep's Bogart
package, initial playdates focused on Northeast
territories where college towns laid welcome mat for
classics in general and Bogart in particular. Dominant wasn't keen to invest in
new prints for such a chancy proposition: there would only be two to six
available of any from the group. Participating houses could run as many of the
nineteen as they pleased, so long as two weeks was dedicated to Bogart. The 8th Street
Playhouse in New York's Greenwich
Village did $10K with the festival, that considered good for a two
week stand at the small art house. Chicago's
Carnegie did similarly well. What happened when Bogartmade way down to Charlotte, North
Carolina in December, 1966, was something else entirely, however.
The south was no bastion for Bogart, him being
urban north,distinctly so in affect and
attitude. Visulite Theatre manager Bob Schrader told The Charlotte Observer his
sad tale of bombing with Bogie. The whole of seven days had played to "a
bunch of seat backs," said Schrader, who added that years spent in a
college town had misled him to believe that Bogie would click in Charlotte. He'd run seven
of the features, one day apiece, leading with Treasure Of The SierraMadre,
and so on. Each came a cropper. Film Rep/Dominant's proviso that the festival
last two weeks had by December 1966 been dropped. Charlotte franchise holder for Dominant was
Harry Kerr, who had Bogart prints gathering dust at his exchange since 1956 (he
would confirm as much to me in years-later conversation). Harry told the
Observer that the Visulite's would be "the first Bogart festival in the
South." He didnot add that it would likely be the last.
United Artists kept punching. They'd load
non-theatrical catalogues with Bogarts good and bad, each priced accordingly. Casablanca or The Maltese
Falcon in 16mm demanded $125 for a 1975 day's rent, while mangier The Two Mrs.
Carrolls or Conflict could be had for $35. UAalso got out a pressbook the same
year for theatrical replay of Bogart, with oldies offered on single or
double-feature basis, ads available for whatever combination. The distributor
looked to fill a product shortage, not with mere oldies, but
"classics," a broad label they'd apply to the range of Bogart titles
controlled by UA. Yesteryear pics had been yielding at most $30-$100K in
rentals, not a lot admittedly, but "found money," said Variety, since
there were virtually no costs in terms of lab or promotion. That would change
with serious rollout of the Bogarts to first-run houses, with terms beefed up
accordingly; in other words, the 1965 experiment being tried again.
UA didn't want to alienate revival house
customers accustomed to product at flat rate (generally $50-$100 guarantee vs.
30% of daily gross), but new prints and hoopla didn't come cheap, so
participating theatres would have to pony upward. Yes, advance cash payment was
required, plus minimum playing time, and percentage terms as high as 50%, all of
which spelled no dice to repertory vets who knew even the best of vintage films
couldn't tote such load. "I haven't been back to do business with UA,
because those terms are just unrealistic," said one. As to Bogart classics
and others long shelved being sent in first-run direction, the rep showman said
it was merely a matter of UA "spoon-feeding rich kids (first-run theatres) in a famine."
Distrib chief Donald Krim admitted that he'd gone "into the corporate
attic to dust off the antiques," but hoped still to realize "several
hundred thousand dollars" within a first twelve months of oldie-play.
United Artists tied in with Little, Brown, and
Co. to cross promote Bogart and the publisher's recently out bio by Nathaniel
Benchley. RCA's LP compilation of music from Bogart films also got a push. In
all, there were fourteen HB features tendered to first-run situations by UA,
the expected classics like Casablanca and The
Maltese Falcon, but alsoodd choices like Virginia City and CrimeSchool.
There were trailers for select titles, and cartoons from the pre-49 Warner
library were "keyed to the program." Public response to oldies, no
matter how smart UA may be, is not guaranteed at first run prices, warned
Variety. There was risk of failure owing to a public's expectation that such
films be free on television, or in low admission revival housing to which
patronage was loyal.
Universal had put Animal Crackers out on firm terms (in
1974) and "failed to entice the public or exhibs," the trade recalled. Then there
summer of Chaplin revivals in 1972, "which capsized before
completion," said Variety. UA did little better with a pre-Bogart
experiment that placed five Marx Bros. comedies (their MGM's) at the first-run Drexel Theatre in Columbus, Ohio.
So how did the Bogarts perform for United Artists? It varied according to
title: Casablancafinished best with $1.2
millionin domestic rentals, The Maltese Falcon $491K, then downward for
Treasure Of The Sierra Madre at $164K (still good for a relic), Key Largowith $135K, The Petrified Forest ($45K), and
High Sierra ($41K). These Bogarts, being evergreen in revival context, would go
on earning revenue unto present day, where DVD/Blu-Ray sales, streaming, and
TCM playoff have kept them all in healthy circulation.