V.Johnson and P.Douglas Switch ID's For When In Rome (1952)
Another little Metro that couldn't (break even).
Seems that by early 50's, none of theirs in black-and-white, sans vehicles for
top names like Gable, Taylor, or Tracy, came back with profit. Didn't matter
how good pics were: without color or marquee lure, they were snake-bit. When In
Rome should have been a breakout, stoked as it was with humor and heart.
Director Clarence Brown had lately done one similar, Angels In The Outfield, a cockles
warmer that deserved applause, which it got ... along with red ink. Execs used
to say that surest cure for H'wood blues was good pictures, but here they were
and not selling. The bogeyman was television, and whatever recreation a public
enjoyed other than theatres. It took king-sized worldwide hits like Quo Vadis and Scaramouche to truly
fill nets. MGM released thirty-eight features in 1952, but they couldn't all be
Quo Vadis. Continuing overhead and need for product to fill distribution channels
made small projects essential to studio health, but when even these ran past
one million in negative cost, where was chance to balance ledgers?
Director Brown took cameras and principal cast
abroad for six weeks locationing in the EternalCity,
economic sense lying in fact that impounded lire would otherwise sit idle.
"Cold coin" was better spent making movies in countries refusing to
allow cash earned within borders to be taken out. Italy wanted Yank dollars spent on
native soil. When In Rome would employ locals for crew work and incidental
casting, these a boon to troubled economy. Twenty-eight features had been shot
by US companies overseas in 1950, and six more were in progress during a first
half of 1951, including MGM's team which arrived in June. Others relied on
second units to capture backgrounds for process insertion to shows filmed back
home, but When In Rome put stars Van Johnson and Paul Douglas on streets and in
historic buildings where action took place. Clarence Brown made accomplished use
of settings just as he had for a winning hand of Metros made, at least in part, on US locations:
Angels In The Outfield, To Please A Lady, Intruder In The Dust, The Yearling.
Metro merchandising knew When In Rome would be a hard sell, their "Promotion Prize" for exhibitors being tip-off to
that. If you couldn't figure in-house how to sell problematic pics, then let
showmen in the field take a whirl and use ideas they develop, cost being a
drop-in-bucket thousand dollars to be split among winners ($500 as first prize, which went
to Jack Sidney, manager of Loew's Century in Baltimore). The scheme was used
also forInvitation and Just This Once, two others that defied marketers. These
were tough nuts New York
cursed Dore Schary for making on the coast. How do you let customers know what
this product is? Ads ran a gamut at trying, Rome's first act laid out as hopeful lure for
patronage to pay ways in and see the rest. "The Story Idea Of The
Year!" and "You'll Have A Wonderful Time!" read like admissions
of defeat. Variety caught a preview and said frankly that "chances for more than
spotty boxoffice are doubtful." The reason? "Lack of star potency and a story not
strong enough on its own to carry the film." Standards were exacting then,
trades knowing a jaded public would need better reason to leave home for movie
shows they could as easily pass up. Final blow-off was a $900K loss from tepid
domestic rentals of $503K and foreign $202K. For $1.3 million Metro (over)spent
on the negative, this worthy show never had a chance.