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Monday, June 16, 2014

The War Generates Fresh Bedfellows


20th Invests in Jeanne Crain for In The Meantime, Darling (1944)

Here is one that resolutely belongs to its time. "Dated" is pejorative too often applied to movies that can sum up beautifully lives and circumstance past. In The Meantime, Darling is about war wives billeted in crowded and rundown hotel digs as spouses serve at nearby base, all under stress of men being shipped out at moment's notice. How accurate does this reflect stateside war conditions? Fewer can say as those who'd recall pass on. Will In The Meantime, Darling and others like it be someday accepted as honest depict of the time? I'm guessing it doesn't vary too wide from truth. The project began on "B" terms, Bryan Foy of that 20th Fox unit assigned to produce, but then came casting of Jeanne Crain in what would be a first lead for this heavy bet on future stardom. Promising producer/director Otto Preminger was added to enhance her showcase, $567K the ultimate negative cost thanks to careful handling of a recognized asset. In The Meantime, Darling would serve as loss leader, if necessary, for ingĂ©nue product Fox counted on to pay out eventually. Conviction that newcomers sold best in pairs led to legit find Frank Latimore, "another Frankie Boy for the girls," partnering Crain, hope being that Latimore might fill void left by contract males who'd gone to serve.


Whatever Fox's intent, reality of exhibition held Darling to modest category. Los Angeles saw it at four venues, including Grauman's Chinese, as tail end to Sweet and Lowdown, a bill companion nearly as humble. Business at the four locations was judged thus: very low, weak, slow, and light. Not one L.A. engagement clicked. Perception, then, became reality, In The Meantime, Darling going into Chicago first-run at same named palace where "Swing and Sway" Sammy Kaye was the bigger noise, Darling reduced to virtual chaser status. Swing bands as principal attraction in theatres had reached a wartime peak, being lure to "heavy juvenile trade which normally would not frequent top-scale Loop houses" (Film Daily). Youth helped fill seats from early AM shows all the way to midnight finales, exhausting work for the bands, which may be why most popular ones demanded (and got) a whopper 50% of ticket sales. Thanks to heavy nut musicians imposed, ownership stuck to small features they could rent on flat basis, In The Meantime, Darling among these. The spend-like-an-A release was thus sold-like-a-B, ultimate loss of $130K one that Fox could regard as investment toward Jeanne Crain's emerging value, which would be realized by following year's State Fair and Leave Her To Heaven, both hits. In The Meantime, Darling is available on DVD from Fox On-Demand. Quality is far from great, but I've seen worse, and got through it OK, the view reminiscent of 16mm days when titles like this were hard as heck to come by.

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