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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wartime Romance For A Wartime Boom


Selznick On A Budget: I'll Be Seeing You (1944)



Five Weeks and Counting in Chicago
David Selznick tended to roll over top of associates simply because he knew more about picture-making than anyone beneath, or above, him. He had learned as boy apprentice to his father, read most literary classics during teen-age, took shrewd account of what sold in Hollywood, and how long a shelf life all stars had. Selznick is for me the most fascinating of all independent producers, an attitude formed back when NBC saluted him with a primetime special in 1968. Now the DOS backlog is being released on Blu-Ray by Kino, who thankfully are getting out minor titles in addition to the known and expected stuff. I'll Be Seeing You came of the "Vanguard" unit that Selznick kept to feed distribution channels and ease overhead at his Culver City operation. He'd at least try to hold below a million in negative costs, and though IBSY ran over that, it wasn't by enough to keep the film out of splendid profit realized by an ongoing wartime boom. $3.1 million in domestic rentals was grease to wheels ground slow by personal projects DOS overspent on. Had he done more like it, maybe Selznick would have lasted longer, but it wasn't this producer's habit to think modest, so I'll Be Seeing You would be a more/less isolated event.




Selznick tabbed up-and-comer Dore Schary to line produce I'll Be Seeing You. Schary was lately out of MGM where he had done a string of successful B's with aroma of A's (Lassie Come Home was one, its Technicolor and public reception to belie humble origin). Schary came to Selznick with determination not to be a toady. There are memos between them to reflect the push-pull. Selznick's wife (daughter of L.B. Mayer) shamed DOS into giving Schary a free hand and to remarkable extent (for DOS), he let him have it. I'll Be Seeing You is wartime romance between a shell-shocked soldier on leave and a lady convict also on furlough from state quarters. All aboard is improbable but IBSY was keyed to a hit title tune and rang long-run bells in every key site that got it. This was the kind of show that captured mood of the moment, took oodles of money, then was promptly forgot. Trio of stars had voltage that would dim to degree after the war, but for 1944, Ginger Rogers, Joseph Cotten, and especially Shirley Temple, were admission-getters good as any that DOS or competing majors could tender. Temple was peaking before exposure as a somewhat insipid ingénue, her wedding to John Agar the last truly big parade she'd ride in. Her Child Star memoir speaks to cling of position as a Selznick contract player and claws-out conduct by Rogers who wanted Shirley out, then treated her shabby when Selznick wouldn't let that happen. Account in the book makes clear that Ginger knew too well a threat to her spotlight, a sixth sense any actress needed to tread water of stardom (GR was 33 when I'll Be Seeing You came out).


Starting-Out John Derek Gets An I'll Be Seeing You Look-In




I'll Be Seeing You would probably have done even better if an outfit other than United Artists had distributed. Selznick never trusted them to apply a best effort, part of reason he'd ultimately form his own, and ruinous, distrib division. Sad 40's fate for Selznick was time mostly devoted to packaging of stars, script, near-fully developed ventures, then peddle of the lot to other companies to finish up what DOS started, and then share bounty with him. Bows for success would be taken by others, while an increasingly reckless Selznick would too often gamble away his portion, a dreadful compulsion he and too many others of Hollywood royalty labored under. There should be a book or at least an essay on damage this habit inflicted on Classic Era makers, but I know not of one. Imagine earning one fortune after another and then tossing them all on soiled cloth of gaming tables. For Selznick and kin, it was a worse drug than heroin or alcohol. Again to I'll Be Seeing You, it pleases too as record of how Christmas was celebrated when holidays really looked like pages from Currier-Ives, or at least Sears-Roebuck. As that sort of charmed period piece, it will more than endure.

4 Comments:

Blogger kenneth Von Gunden said...

Budd Schulberg's book about his childhood in Hollywood has countless stories of how his studio-head father gambled away fortune after fortune. When you are making $11,000 a week vs. a regular salary of $50, it can come to seem like "funny money" and undeserved.
The Wolf, man.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Just rewatched I'LL BE SEEING YOU for the first time in ages and was pretty darn impressed. It is "improbable", no doubt. And if one chose to call it "soap opera" he wouldn't be far off.

But, as you wrote, it is a lovely, nostalgic look at Christmas Past, and a war-time Christmas at that.

And it's so well-played -- by everyone -- that the viewer can't but feel for these people and hope for a happy ending.

Tom Tully is some kind of great.

2:52 PM  
Blogger phil smoot said...

Watched "Since You Went Away" on Blu-ray last week. I knew nothing about the film nor the length with intermission.
Don't think it had ever crossed my radar in any way.
Really liked it.
Kino's "I'll Be Seeing You" should arrive in a few days. I know nothing about it as well.

1:20 AM  
Blogger Marc J. Hampton said...

Temple's comments on Ginger Rogers seem to mirror what I've read in so many other memoirs over the years.

There's a long out of print book from 1977 called "No Pickle, No Performance"....where producer/actor Harold J. Kennedy relays his tales of working with big name stars in theatre. The chapter on working with Ginger is a hoot!

7:51 PM  

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