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Thursday, February 05, 2015

One That Technicolor Kept Afloat

John Wayne Blows Up in Tycoon (1947)

It's easy to knock Tycoon as a weaker-than-weak John Wayne vehicle, which it undeniably is, despite Technicolor and lavish spend on RKO's part (negative cost: $3.2 million). The pic lost money despite being one of the company's top grossers for 1947, another instance of expending more costs than could be got back. Since then, Tycoon has been labeled a "bomb," which it may be aesthetically, but not so commercially. Recovering such outlay would have been a challenge even to biggest and best product in the 40's. Tycoon showed up lots on syndicated TV, especially in primetime, because it had color in addition to John Wayne. Black-and-white, and movies made that way, were being eased out from late 60's through the 70's, programmers falling back on a Tycoon for crucial color alone, never mind it's weakness elsewhere.

And Tycoon was long, mighty long, at 128 minutes. All this to build a tunnel, and then when that caves in, a bridge, all to accompany of Duke losing his temper with friend and foe alike. And that's where Tycoon derives modern interest, being glimpse of offscreen John Wayne spilling onto a character he'd play. How so? Tycoon's "Johnny" is the straight-ahead and goal-oriented Wayne, as viewers preferred him, who'll broach no delay in completion of his tunnel, then bridge (both ill-fated). What enriches a stock part is the actor being (staying) impatient, blowing his stack, push of co-workers into compliance, these played bracingly real by a star whose own fuse would shorten as fame's pressure  mounted. Tycoon (on Warner Instant in HD) is Wayne riding herd if need be on those beneath his level of competence, a trait he'd more and more display behind scenes.

Frustration for Wayne was knowing more than anyone else on a set just what it took to finish films efficiently, twenty years in the business having taught much. He'd blow up quick over hours lost for carelessness or lack of planning, especially where Duke's own dollars were at stake on later Wayne-Fellows and Batjacs. Tycoon suggests some of what would go on when Wayne took responsibility for success of a venture, juggling natural mishaps and louse-ups along way to completion of task. As a flood would take down his bridge in Tycoon, so would myriad weather and unforeseen delays put many of Wayne's self-produced shows behind schedule. His reaction in front of and behind camera probably had much in common. Notable is fact that a first where Wayne received producer credit, Angel and The Badman, came out also in 1947, ahead of Tycoon. Was his character blowing off steam from that pressurized experience? Maybe more Tycoon fun can be had by imagining Duke at producer helm of a troubled movie rather than drilling holes through a mountain.

There Was Glorious Technicolor Sunset For John Wayne and Laraine Day
To See in 1947, But We'd Not Share It in Latter Day Prints

Dross shows through clearer in Tycoon due to prime ingredient missing since the film was new, that being Technicolor in what would have been nitrate summit in 1947. Since then, Tycoon has run a three-legged race. It looks alright on W-Instant's HD, better so than videos and a DVD also available. None, of course, rise above whisper of color values meant to lift Tycoon past pat story and situations. I got swallow of this from a 16mm collector in Connecticut who was fortunate to own a Blue-Track IB Technicolor print struck when Tycoon was near-new. There was a scene where John Wayne and lead lady Laraine Day view a sunset we're told is Andes-based. I'd seldom to then seen color reproduced in quite such splendor. The print, if softer than what digital affords, had a vividness we'd not experience short of what archives or private collectors keep hid. One can damn or dismiss Tycoon, but without access to truest color values, this show and minor ones like it won't get a fair shake.


Blogger Jerry Kovar said...

Love the shot of Duke doing his Huntz Hall (Horace Debussy Jones) impersonation.

11:23 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers deeper shadings of "Tycoon":

I haven't seen "Tycoon" in quite a few years, but I remember it as is a long, episodic movie that doesn't quite have a grasp of any deeper meanings in the human condition. Is it all sound and fury, then, signifying nothing? Well, maybe, but like a lot of trashy RKO pictures from the late forties and early fifties, it's surprisingly entertaining. Maybe that's because the drama, such as it is, is conveyed by performers like John Wayne, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Anthony Quinn, or Paul Fix, who bring a degree of interest simply for their own personalities and style, and because that Technicolor photography is pretty great, even in a television print shown on a cathode ray set. One thing always puzzled me, though. Wayne's "tycoon" has spent months and millions of dollars--as well as most of the movie--trying to dig a tunnel through the mountain. After that goes to bust, he then uses a few remaining centavos and a couple of days to build a bridge that accomplishes the same purpose. I appreciate that he might have had a sudden inspiration, or as the Brits would call it, a brain wave, but if I'd been Sir Cedric, I would have taken him aside later for a heart-to-heart chat over a pint or two about stubbornness and misplaced priorities, also where all the money went.

9:43 AM  
Blogger b piper said...

If I remember correctly it was Hardwick's "experts" who advised building a tunnel instead of a bridge, Wayne favoring the latter all along. He should have listened to the Duke.

12:55 PM  

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