This was director Henry King's next for 20th
after Captain From Castile. He'd again go on location, this time to Maine, where waterfronts and fisher boats supplied
authentic flavor, a sort of New England
equivalent to streetwise semi-docs being done around a same time by Louis
DeRochemont (who was originally tabbed to produce Deep Waters). King had filmed
before, for 1922's The Seventh Day, so knew something of terrain. Fox promoted
him as "The FatherOf Locations" and put out much press about how
King routinely scouted for best sites in his private plane before work began.
Interest in Deep Waters derives from these natural settings.
Otherwise, it was a loss both critically and financially. I watched a Fox
On-Demand disc (an old transfer, per usual for them, but livable), mostly as
follow-up toCaptain From Castile, which in addition to King shared cast membership of Jean
Peters and Caesar Romero. Otherwise, the two ventures could not differ more.
20th Fox was towed in a same hole by 1948 as the
rest of a fraughtindustry. Even pictures made economically were bleeding red.
Tightened measures had become policy after cost overruns made losers of otherwise
big grossing Forever Amber and Captain From Castile. Zanuck was getting
alarmist notes from Spyros Skouras with each mailbag. Skouras predicted
collapse for the company unless Zanuck turned grim tide, which he darkly implied
might put everyone out of work. A decision had been made to increase volume as
well as reduce expense, so as "to keep studio overhead and distribution
overhead in line with total picture costs and in line with worldwide film
rentals." 20th would release twenty-one features in 1948, up from eighteen
in 1947. There would be twenty-four in 1949. Average cost of a 1948 film was
$1.870 million, according to Skouras. Deep Waters came in at $1.4million,
pretty thrifty for having been largely shot across the country.
Fox wasn't alone in its panic. Warners and Metro
would do a same about-face, more releases for less money. WB reinstated a
"B" program, and MGM hired Dore Schary to exert discipline he had learned atRKO. Zanuck would send memos to all staff warning them of dire consequence from
waste. The movies got cheaper, and looked it. Compare any wartime-through-1947 Fox feature with those between 1948 and Cinemascope. A DFZ concern was "audiences
... outguessing the producers. They know all the answers. In most cases, they
are way ahead of us, and thus most pictures seem formula and routine" (see
p. 170-71 in Rudy Behlmer's Memo From Darryl F. Zanuck). Had the public simply
grown tired of movies? Falling receipts suggested they had, and"volume" output from hidebound majors wasn't going to bring them
Close look at Deep Waters finds little to sell
either then or now. It's clear New
York had faint confidence in it, for look at
misleading ads that totally misrepresent story and situations. Deep Waters is
primarily about a wayward boy (Dean Stockwell) who wants to be a lobsterman.
His would-be mentor (Dana Andrews) is opposed by social worker Jean Peters
because she's afraid both will drown in pursuit of fish. That's
about all Deep Waters amounts to. Bosley Crowther for the NY Times called it
"basically silly" and deplored "stock Hollywood
characters and the things which they do ... as standard as the parts for a
sewing machine." Ads implied hot love between Andrews and Peters, a cheat
soon enough revealedto viewers suckered in. Receipts were among
lowest for Fox that year, $1.1 million in domestic rentals, a miserable $338K
foreign, the latter expected thanks to Maine
backdrop not likely to engage non-US patronage. Zanuck had warned that foreign
grosses were essential to achieve break-even on any Fox release. A flop over
there meant loss over here. Was it a mistake to even make Deep Waters? Zanuck,
and certainly Skouras, probably thought so in hindsight.
The Crowther pan revealed a wider discontent.
Critics had long since mocked Hollywood
for its adherence to routine. By the late 40's, audiences were joining the
chorus. Filmland's entrenched wayof doing things made change difficult, and
for many, impossible. In meantime, a postwar public sought sports, family
barbecue pits, other suburb relaxation. Television would merely put cap on the
bottle that was once record theatre attendance. Wiser heads foresaw draught even
as the boom promised forever wealth. Now came draught, and ordinary
entertainment like Deep Waters would no longer do. Outstanding Fox product for
any late 40's year was counted by single digits, a situation to worsen
into the 50's. Against such background, Deep Waters, like others asobscure,
assumes a fascination, at least for me. It is well-named for reflecting deep
water that Fox was struggling to stay afloat in.