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Monday, December 30, 2019

Metro Tames More Wilderness


Eskimo (1934): Where Precode Melted Snow




A last epic journey MGM would take for a time, maybe for all time. It wasn’t just them going to explore remote places. They had to haul cast/crew, equipment, and bring back a dramatic feature, which was more than anyone asked of Scott, Byrd, and others who took to the ice. We’ve enshrined these among wilderness immortals --- why not W.S. Van Dyke? He directed in every rugged clime, overcame nature’s fury hot or cold, and came home with merchandise to educate and entertain a truly mass audience. Van Dyke should be more celebrated than he is, for not just far-flung adventures, but expert studio confections he did later. Premature death (1943) seems to have closed books on proper appreciation for Van Dyke. 






Eskimo was begun in 1932 and took nearly a year to complete. This was expected, for Trader Horn had been very much a same ordeal, even as it paid out enormously once done and shown to a thrilled public. You simply could not buy this kind of authenticity on a backlot. Van Dyke had cleverly recycled unused Trader Horn to do Tarzan, The Ape Man, which was produced on Culver grounds, but looked as convincing as what a 1932 industry could achieve. The Horn-fed audience, ready and waiting for another dish, took Tarzan to profits the impetus for a series to last decades. A lot of what sold Tarzan was promise of earthy sex between ape man and captive girl, the jungle background one where inhibitions could be shed and not missed. Precode made such treatments possible, and Eskimo would give further peek into love habits of a primitive people not shackled by standards like ours. The ice-bound follow-up should have clicked, but didn’t. Was it crowd insistence that sex be served hot rather than cold? Or maybe Eskimos were too alien for other cultures to embrace. Even a frozen north had few of them left as understood (or misunderstood) by moderns. These people too had embraced comforts of civilization, Van Dyke finding that out when he tried to get native help in recreating harsh conditions he assumed they lived from day-to-day.






Few studies of precode mention Eskimo. They should, because it is remarkably explicit, going well beyond what I expected, and I expected a lot, based on ads of the time that talked of wives shared among the tribes and igloos warmed by multiple partners for Eskimo men. And this was a movie that delivered on the bally. I’m surprised it didn’t sock over a huge gross. Certainly MGM sales got behind it. Their pressbook was enormous, a largest I’ve seen from whole of the 30’s. You’d think this plus affiliated theatres, along with thousands more on Loew’s contract, would have gotten over the fence, but no. East coast staff must have analyzed this failure over many a late night cup. A highest-profile MGM release losing money was rarity enough to suggest something in the product that kept patronage away. Maybe the exotics had played out. Anyway, it wasn’t worth risk of gamble on another. Shooting was, after all, more manageable when close to home, process/trick work progressed far enough to make far-off fakery at least seem for real. And maybe its public preferred a Hollywood gloss, the studios having come into their own as a truly alternate universe. Was reality of an Eskimo a violation of candy coat we now sought exclusive from movies? Greater control within sound stage walls did create worlds all the more divorced from what life dealt. Even street locations were more and more dropped in favor of back lot simulation. Was patronage fooled, or was all-over artifice the outcome they hoped for?




Van Dyke as Performer, with Ray Mala


If so, then Eskimo was a last blast of the real. Van Dyke had natives speak their language with no recourse for watchers other than to titles from a silent era long gone. This is sustained through all conversation among the Eskimos, and that, of course, is bulk of dialogue. Action segments don’t need talk, several going a reel at chase after wild game, or flight from a marauding polar bear. This stuff is exciting, and working with animals meant anything could happen. Based on accounts, the polar bear got frisky and went after crew members, so life-or-death wasn’t altogether confined to screen action. The wife trading, spelled right out as it was, forms nucleus of the story, being basis of the conflict that makes a fugitive of Eskimo lead Ray Mala, himself a native who had lived for a while in California and would stay there to do mostly small parts and tech jobs. Van Dyke insisted on genuine articles to play his Eskimos. The director took a speaking role himself as a Canadian mounted officer. He’s good enough to make you wish there had been more of Van Dyke onscreen in addition to behind-camera work. Another pro that acts is Joseph Sawyer, who plays another Mountie. A regret of mine is seeing him at a Western Film Fair in Charlotte and not asking about Eskimo. I’d never seen it at the time, had no appreciation for how special it was. Warner Archive offers Eskimo on DVD.  Quality is nice, and I couldn't recommend the show higher.




Thursday, December 26, 2019

Acting Styles Merge After The War


Saddle The Wind (1958) Hosts Contest Between Old and New

There’s misnomer afoot where labeling actors that emerged after WWII. Most were lumped into “Method” category, save candy canes like Rock Hudson or Tony Curtis who everyone knew for studio-manufacture. To apply the Method brand was to disparage a newcomer, old-line columnists and critics put off by what they across-board referred to as a scratch-and-mumble school of performing. Marlon Brando gave them ammo with A Streetcar Named Desire, and by the mid-fifties, others would imitate Brando. He’d be a role model for good or ill, but it was less the actor than his creation of Stanley Kowalski that they would mimic. Brando got far afield of the signature part as hirers would let him, but a wider public wanted less versatility than variation on a role that electrified them. Suddenly it seemed you could have integrity plus stardom, so long as you did it Brando’s way. Others were there for inspiration: Montgomery Clift, James Dean … common currency being torment worn on sleeves as opposed to stalwart way of leading men who seemed less real to youth hatched by the 50’s. Studios wanted angry, or at least disaffected, young men to approximate appeal Brando-Dean-Clift had. What was overlooked was star quality these three had in addition to fresh ways at emoting.




John Cassavetes was another brought out of New York and much live television to seek feature ribbons, his pact with MGM a bid to incubate a Dean-ager all their own. Leo’s couple of efforts on behalf of the “Rising Young Star” were Edge Of The City and Saddle The Wind, both profitable, notable in itself, but was Cassavetes what made them so? He was joined by Sidney Poitier in the first, supported Robert Taylor in the next. Saddle The Wind had a script by hot-from-TV Rod Serling, who didn’t think much of the outcome, though critics noted better than usual dialogue. Cassavetes gives exuberant account of himself, the part difficult, for it's not a mere wayward kid he plays, but a deranged one. That obliged harder push on Cassavetes’ part, which stood him further out from lower-key maintained by co-players. Critics hung what seemed like over-acting on convenient “Method” rack, the process understood barely if at all by a public and those who evaluated movies on its behalf. Cassavetes was no adherent of the Method as instructed by the Actor’s Studio under primary direction of Lee Strasberg. People mistakenly assumed that Strasberg taught everybody. He’d take credit for as much over passage of years, but fact was, New York actors (a better label if we must apply a broad one) learned from many whose approaches were as varied. Most derived from the Stanislavski model, which had beginnings in Russia during the last century. A coach who worked with Cassavetes was Don Richardson, who spoke in opposition to the Method and whose techniques remain in use today by disciples. It is much too much a generalization to call John Cassavetes, or any number of his peers, “Method Actors,” but it was a handy shortcut for lazy scribes, and remains so to present day.




A most fascinating aspect of pre vs. post-war stardom is where delegates of both took to screens together. Instances of this run into hundreds. Consider James Dean with veteran colleagues in East Of Eden, or more so, his tilting with convention-built Rock Hudson in Giant. John Cassavetes co-stars with Robert Taylor in Saddle The Wind, a no-contest so far as adherents to the new style saw it, and we could wonder how Taylor viewed the enterprise, but he had nothing here to prove, authority in place thanks to two decades at work on a screen persona that spoke more for him than individual parts needed to. Simple read claimed he “played himself,” but Taylor by 1958 drew on multiple genres and versatility demonstrated since WWII, period in which he was heroic, murderous, psychotic, costume-clad, a wider range than most long-term leading men. Rod Serling referred to Taylor as “square,” which I’d attribute to Serling not having seen enough Robert Taylor movies. Young tyros needed so-called squares to play against and contrast with in any case. Cassavetes and Taylor make a fascinating pair, the uneasy merge of old Hollywood with new. Maybe that's wrong, however, for Cassavetes had no plan to lay siege on filmland. He just wanted cash from jobs to finance independent features made in New York. These were where Cassavetes would distinguish himself. Saddle The Wind is available from Warner Archive.




Thursday, December 19, 2019

Metro Managing Medicine


Four Girls In White (1938) Is Romantic Nursing Aide

You plod along this nurses-training trek figuring it for a mere programmer, if not an outright "B," and then comes a whale of a crashed train and burst dam finish to make us realize this was Metro after all, and they'd not stint no matter the modesty of subject matter. Titular girls are Florence Rice, Mary Howard, Una Merkel, and Ann Rutherford. There was star-building afoot, but little seems to have come of it. Rice proved a non-starter, as did Howard. Both were attractive, if not electric with appeal. A Lana Turner would frankly have clicked better in Rice's selfish-turned-selfless hospital trainee. Mary Howard would play opposite Robert Taylor's Billy The Kid in 1941, and evaporate soon after. In fact, both these actresses were out of films by 1943. Rutherford was Andy Hardy's in-residence girlfriend, strict utility beyond that, while Una Merkel functioned mostly as comic aside.




Perusal of house organ The Lion Roars reveals many ingénues groomed for firmaments; precious few made the grade. Fact to face: Star creation needed more than corporate machinery, however streamlined. The Lana Turners and Hedy Lamarrs were manufactured, yes, but even MGM couldn't make something from nothing, as was demonstrated over and again with faces that came, then shortly after, went. Four Girls In White is most enjoyable as X-Ray of the Metro lab in Classic Age swing. There is everything to immerse matinee and fan-mag-bred attendance: romance, life/death crisis, life lessons, sprinkling of comedy (Buddy Ebsen) --- one could be cynical and call it base formula, but what industry was built upon simplest, still diverting formula. MGM operated its fictional hospital as though it were a real thing, staffers Kildare, Gillespie, and numerous one-shots such as Four Girls In White keeping halls and ersatz OR's filled on day/night basis.




Monday, December 16, 2019

Little Spools Go Round and Round



Have Yourself a Merry Little Blackhawk Christmas


Met a collector friend of forty years duration for lunch at Carolina Barbecue in Statesville where he opened his trunk to reveal an estate stash of Blackhawk 8mm recently got from a widow whose husband college-taught (history) and kept comedies for home relaxation, this before You Tube and other outlets giving ease of access we now enjoy. Mike had dumped his own projectors an eon back and so re-gifted the lot to me, a favor returned by my picking up the tab for Carolina’s chopped platter with slaw and hush puppies. 8mm is so far past that it seems a ten-year-old other than myself collected it, but still there is impulse to visit the family residence and fire up machines I keep in repair. Vinyl is back, turntables manufactured new, but projectors, 8, 16, 35mm? I figure they’re gone for keeps, as will be those who began collector lives with them. I’m sentimental for folks who came, went, and left behind little reels they treasured, plus others who shared home view in dark-as-manageable space with jerry-rig music (if that) at war with jittery mechanism that drove the Pageant, Eumig, Bell and Howell, whatever money once bought so an enthusiast could entertain himself, and whoever submitted to the time-trip back.




Many households of adequate means kept equipment to show home movies, an only moving record of family life to be had in those days. Parents might bring home a Woody Woodpecker or Abbott-Costello from one or other camera department to further amuse kiddies, not realizing pernicious habit to come of one child out of thousands dove deep in a filmic well, never to resurface. Are disc buys nowadays as compulsive? I admit for me they are, but being so common, there’s less distinction for owning them, whereas being an only person within a hundred miles with an 8mm print of Laurel and Hardy in Habeas Corpus was heady stuff, even as too few knew or cared from L&H or Habeas Corpus. I took more-less casual receipt of this collection that clearly meant much to its owner, each reel housed in a metal can, hand-labeled, just as mine were once upon a dedicated time. I would have been over the moon had someone given me such a trove say, fifty years ago, so it’s important to view these films not only as I would have seen them then, but through eyes of a now-passed collector with whom I obviously had much in common. Movies so gotten are never just movies … they are windows back to our own lives and those who accumulated them before us. It’s well and good to already have an 8mm print of The Pawnshop --- now I have this collector’s print of The Pawnshop, and who knows but what some of love and positive energy he lent it might bless me and whoever these reels move on to once I’m gone.




Blackhawk Sold Stills Like This As Well As Chaplin-Mutual Shorts on 8mm


These Are Disappearing Fast, Folks
His taste was good, four Chaplin Mutuals, six Sennetts, three Keatons (including an abridged The General), plus nine Laurel-Hardys. And yes, he had Habeas Corpus. It was for me to thread samples up and absorb the vibes. Why bother with such cloudy relics when I can have much of same content on stunningly realized Blu-Ray? Because, as stated, 8mm is magic, each a talisman where released from genie cans. It’s renewing vow to a way of watching that won’t be back, for good reason perhaps, as learned in a last reunion with machines, cords, lamps, all elderly and not disposed to be awoke in our century. 2019 is late to replace a burnt bulb they haven’t manufactured since our nation’s bicentennial, but what else to do when Chaplin’s The Adventurer goes dark part-way in and leaves me to wonder if my Elmo Super 8 sound projector would illuminate screens again? Will anyone on Ebay have that particular bulb? Thank heaven a few did, so utter obsolescence is at least delayed, even as reason whispers that some day an end will come, and be final. There, of course, is a same boat any 8mm collector occupies as dwindling stock and our own advancing age propels us toward a wall that reads “No More Replacement Parts.”




One-Time Bargain For a Dollar, Thanks to Portal Publications
Most every collector got ‘round to Chaplin Mutuals. There were twelve, and none were duds. Could any other hundred-year-old comedy group claim that? Blackhawk kept upgrading its Mutual line, first from better pre-print, then music tracks. I watched The Adventurer up to bulb-blow, tried estimating how many times I had seen it till then. Enough to memorize every movement for sure. The breakdown harked to days when mishap was commonplace. Home exhibition was a tough climb then. Some little something seemed always to go wrong, and yet the struggle was worth it. A less patient voice whispers “Why bother?” as I search closets, then auctions, for a fresh (fresh?!?) bulb. That’s on top of dissembling the lamp house sans instruction, hard task for someone not tech-proficient. I will finish The Adventurer, still threaded up and holding its position, if/when the Elmo re-lights. For meantime, stills shown here must suffice, courtesy Blackhawk in 1970, a set of six got for $2.29, some of images blown-up from film frames, but they would do. Portal Publications also did a repro one-sheet, yours for a dollar, “virtually worthless today,” says one poster expert, but how can anything be worthless that rouses such sentiment?




The Eumig 8mm Model I Once Struggled Mightily With, and From Time To Time Still Do


I parked the Elmo and dragged out my Eiki Dual 8 sound projector. This was the model of my youth, a chatter-box surprisingly heavy to host such a small gauge, and not at first receptive to my attempt at threading Two Tars. Seems I forgot procedure for switch to Super 8 from Standard, being change of sprocket wheels and film gate assembly. Again came realization that my fingers are not nimble or steady as once they were, a humbling whenever 8mm is revisited. Despite quitting the format in 1972, tricks of the Eumig pushed ways back into memory, so Two Tars ran from start to finish, gears and lamp operative. Are reliable 8mm projectors an impossible dream? Maybe not. There are dealers who make a business of keeping the format afloat. “All functions in excellent working order,” says one, “New belt has been installed and has been fully serviced and lubricated.” Surely such dedication will preserve 8mm. Think about this: There are those who restore wax cylinders and the means to play them. Where preservationists are so committed, surely finesse of a 60/70’s projector would be comparative child’s work.


"Spoil Your Suit"? Just What Did They Mean By That?


Daylight is the natural enemy of 8mm. Did collecting encourage vampirism? I tried Two Tars during early afternoon, a bleach-out despite shades drawn. Add this to focus wavering and frame line drifting. Still … I’ve not enjoyed Two Tars so much since the last time it flashed before me on 8mm. Blackhawk intro titles said it was the best of all Laurel-Hardy silent shorts. Maybe so, if car carnage is your thing. But face it: Not being there in 1928 when this was new, fresh, maybe revolutionary (was there ever before such tit-for-tat destruction?) means we won’t know, can’t know, what impact Two Tars had when new. You could say that about them all, I know, but where is comedy so concentrated in its assault upon funny bones, especially auditoria filled with them? I don’t laugh at it, of course, being alone in rooms won’t inspire that, but each gesture, movement, burst of mayhem, is stuff of joy. What we seek in watching again and again are these things. Bittersweet coda to the former owner whose collection I fell heir to: The widow said he used to run these reels and laugh himself silly, tried sharing them with their young son, to no reaction whatever. The boy could not care less. We’ve all been down such slippery sharing road. Is this truly a passion one must find for his/herself?




Thursday, December 12, 2019

Hollywood As a Sun-Fun Town


Hollywood Hotel (1937) Is The Tinseltown Tour To Beat

Sheer delight, if not a skosh overlong (109 minutes), so much song and mirth as to make trimming doubtful, you'd not check out from any room of this Hotel. Warners was most merciless where it came to ribbing Hollywood, their cartoons not alone for exposing foolishness of the biz. There was also a line of WB two-reelers where clowns assumed studio charge, a recurring character, "Nitvitz," played by Fritz Feld. Hollywood Hotel was directed by Busby Berkeley on a dark side of his moon, Golddigging glory days gone and him reduced to assignments less worthy of talent celebrated from 42nd Street to a horrific car crash where a drunken BB took innocent lives. Warner bailing him out made an indentured servant of the director who'd toe corporate line for a remainder of sentence there. Hollywood Hotel, however, wears the happy face Buzz would apply to The Gangs All Here at 20th Fox in 1943. Both are among cheeriest of musicals, viewing of either a pick-me-up on gloomiest otherwise days.




Hollywood Hotel was where the town's signature song, Hooray For Hollywood, was introduced, that for an opener and fun ramping up for remainder. Two of the Lane sisters get tried before becoming a pair among 1938's Four Daughters, Lola best being bitchy as she had the expression for it, while Rosemary puts over bland sweetness (who's going to write a shared bio of the Lane family? I'd like reading it). Greatness for Hollywood Hotel is assured by presence of Great and Good Ted Healy, never so insufferable as here. The part where he insults Louella Parsons aboard an elevator is for the ages. What does it say about me that I revere Ted so? Of premature star losses, his is most keenly felt in these quarters. Hugh Herbert goes woo-wooing in blackface, posed as a plantation slave to gum up filming of a Civil War epic.




Hollywood Hotel posits the town, and films it generates, as idiotic --- maybe we need distance of time to better enjoy what seemed then like fan-fueled junk. There is Dick Powell and chorus for a lengthy and lovely deco drive-in dance, him in waiter uniform serving malts and ham on rye. Oh, for a Hollywood that was still like that, in which event I'd happily fly back out. Dick and Rosemary visit the H'wood Bowl, and it's the real thing, at night, where they even demonstrate acoustics. The title hotel's lobby looks like a sultan's palace; were any Hollywood accommodations so luxurious? As faraway viewers took much of this for serious, how disillusioning was it to actually visit filmland and see plainer reality of the place? 




Monday, December 09, 2019

The Times, They Are Earthquaking

All The World's A Stream

Am I seeing this right? Has movie stardom been sacrificed on the altar of Netflix? I recall $20 million paychecks, plus gross participation, for biggest names of the 80/90’s. How they must long for that now, at least those who remember back that far. It looks to me like the star system is all but kaput. And how do you define a Netflix movie? Some insist it isn’t a ‘real’ movie at all, owing to absence from theatres. An entrenched system prefers to deny the very existence of Scorsese’s The Irishman, even as viewers call it 2019’s Best Picture. Purists say film is meant to be projected onto a screen for delectation of a filled house, but look how often digital delivery fouls up, and how dim the picture looks when downloads work. I saw The Irishman at home, on a big screen, in a recliner, and am hanged if any theatre can match that. The “audience experience”? --- I’ll take vanilla.


We know how movies were convulsed by changes in the 50’s. Veterans on both sides of the camera felt lost as their system took sleds. Transition is toughest for those used to, dependent on, things as they were. What is happening now is beyond ordinary or expected change. Scorsese says it’s a biggest switch since talkies came. He also claims certain movies, very popular ones, “aren’t cinema.” That was taken as an insult to not just shows in question, but their viewership. He was dismissed by these as an old man out of touch. Never mind his just delivering a could-be career best, and doing so for Netflix. How much more “in touch” do you get? There are others who ride the tide and prosper. Clint Eastwood, approaching ninety, does fine work as a matter of routine, and reliably makes at least one out of any three a surprise hit (and none a loss). Tom Hanks seems to have unerring sense of what a modern audience wants, or at least what his mature fanbase prefers. I’ve enjoyed Robert Redford’s latter work and was sorry when he announced finis to acting. Despite these still bright lights that inspire us all to push on, I can’t help thinking they, and all of talent still at work, will do so under net that is streaming services, movie goers going no further than home seating or what they watch in the palm of hands. But hold … isn’t that just variation on nay-say going back to talkie transition, and endless points of perceived crisis since?


It is understood that The Irishman would not have been made had not Netflix kicked in. The necessary $159 million was theirs, plus consent to length and bleak epilogue a bygone industry would not have countenanced. Imagine if a Netflix had been around when Orson Welles or Erich von Stroheim needed them, The Magnificent Ambersons welcome in whatever mood Welles chose, EvS free to let breathe his ruined masterpieces (Hey folks, let’s order out pizza and binge-watch Greed tonight!). Appropriate then that Welles would benefit from policy change that looks to guide most all of filmmaking now, his The Other Side Of The Wind a rescue that would not have happened any other way than it did (look at decades of attempt under the old system). Forces, weakening ones, resist stream-product being nominated for awards, or being recognized in a mainstream sense. To tremors we’re seeing, add that of casting out of a Twilight Zone of trick effects, old actors young again, DeNiro, Pacino presumably able to rat-tat forever, though sharp, if pitiless, eyes, insist that while they look like forty, they move like eighty. But here’s the essence: Actors don’t have to age out anymore. They may not even have to stay alive (witness James Dean’s promised comeback). So has the trick been tried on women? Think of actresses from the 80’s, 90’s, earlier even, that could be back playing romance leads, maybe with partners twenty-thirty years younger, born long after their leading lady. I’d gladly drive out to see something like that, but again, are bells tolling for brick-mortar spots to see movies?


Streams, it seems, have become the Great Equalizer. No need for stars big enough to “open” a new film. Chances are we’ll sample whatever Netflix premieres sometime over a given week, or months (Julia Roberts has done a series … let’s sample five minutes). Last month was bow for a new Eddie Murphy, My Name Is Dolemite. It is the most enjoyable time I’ve had with one of his since 48 Hours and the first Beverly Hills Cop. Again we can figure no one would have supported this project pre-Netflix, let alone pay Murphy cash he used to get. But when did a lamestream industry last give him something good as this? Plenty beyond Netflix are making films for phones or whatever thimble we watch on, once super-names aboard for feature-length, limited series, half hour comedy, each supplying employ where an obsolescent system will not.


Old-timers need not sit home with scrapbooks … I liked Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin in The Kominsky Method, two seasons so far, and there’s Jennifer Aniston, age fifty, doing her thing on a stream galaxy I’ve not yet explored (idea: make her twenty-five again for a quarter-century more of rom-cons, or better yet, ten more Friends seasons with the principal six re-purposed to former selves). Who can say “No TV For Me” as Gable or Bogart once did (boy, do they seem more and more like ancient pharaohs), where television itself is so fluid as to frankly need a new name (for all of time, as in none, watching, I could wonder if the three “major” networks even broadcast anymore). We are heir to truly democratic times, the level field so many in Hollywood profess to want. Is there still big money in this game, other than the occasional supe-hero that strikes lightning? (Answer: Yes, and Netflix is earning it) Change makes content-delivery of even recent past seem like Sanskrit, but I suppose all of “old” media cries into a same bucket, and yet it’s an exhilarating thing to be witness to. In view of what’s happened in a short ten years, imagine where viewing will be after a next decade.




Thursday, December 05, 2019

Where Ads Imply It All


Design For Living Campaign Plays with Censor Fire


I wish I liked this more, but am not alone for disappointment in what should be peak application of the Lubitsch touch. Most any of ones from his Paramount period are better. Design may be proof of how fragile sophisticated comedy can be. A play by Noel Coward was its basis, largely rewritten by Lubitsch and Ben Hecht, a triangle that resolves into a threesome mostly what Design is remembered for. The concept was tough to juggle even given precode laxity, so imagine split-hair negotiation between Paramount and pliable censors to get it passed. Living was best lived by urbanites who knew Coward, had familiarity with the play, and queued up for whatever bore Lubitsch's name. If the 30's had a Woody Allen, it may have been this writer/director. Precode sauce was not so savored in its day as fans savor it now, result Design For Living's spike in buff estimation, but I'd hesitate laying it on a general audience. They may be unwilling to make the necessary allowance.






Lubitsch seems to have been a loss leader for Paramount season offerings. Few of his were profitable. Granted, however, is struggle all Depression era movies had chasing coin, no matter their merits. For a then-public, choice was often food, heating coal, or admission to Bijous. Many were shocked at prices hung at Broadway’s Criterion for the Premiere ("Only Theatre in the World Showing This Picture This Year,” clever, as initial showtime was 8:45 PM on Dec.31,1933). For the reserved-seat, two-a-day engagement, admissions ran high as $1.65, and not lower than fifty-five cents, astronomical when laid against dimes, or at most quarters, taken in across the wider US. Meaningful too was Ernst Lubitsch himself marching forward and prominently in opening day ads with his stars Gary Cooper, Miriam Hopkins, and Fredric March. This was status few directors enjoyed, and certainly none outside the tallest money class. Lubitsch, then, was for prestige, and Paramount's outreach to an affluent and highbrow audience.






Reviews about the town were expectedly positive. Critics admired effort toward sophistication whatever the mixed result. Lubitsch, Noel Coward, and Ben Hecht were referred to as "The Authors," as though Design were being staged, not screened, on Broadway. It had been done legit, thus the pre-sell for movies, but was Paramount trying here to blur the difference? West Coast radio was heavily employed on Design's behalf, home listening still in ascendance as tool for pic publicity. Stills were rife of Lubitsch posing on the set with players. He would continue to be as important as these toward advertising. Of the latter, Paramount took care against too elevated an approach. “We realize that some towns won't go for "dressed up" pictures,” so Para assured that ads of the cast in street clothes would be available. However, “where photos of the stars in full dress have been used, they are so informally cock-eyed ... that they just ooze the informality of three very informal people.”






Pics of the Criterion's front display were handed down to subsequent daters with assurance that Design For Living had been a smash there, but close inspect revealed it took but "mild profit" (Variety) from that theatre's three-and-a-half week run. Showmen were hep to hyper-fueled reportage from first-run fronts, and took little of it seriously. Real selling revolved around Design's naughty theme: "It Will Give Women New Ideas On Love." Was Paramount challenging a well-entrenched status-quo? Design For Living went into general release for early 1934, with strict Code enforcement just around a corner (summer of that year). Did aroused censorship use Design ads to argue their case for a clampdown? Far more people saw the ads than saw the movie, including kids and other impressionables. "The daring, distracting play of a woman who loved two men ... completely ... simultaneously!" was copy printed above March, Hopkins, and Cooper in a tight huddle, sky the limit as to interpretation of those words. Was Miriam indeed taking on both guys at once? If so, Design For Living really would be something new in movies. Never mind Mae West. Paramount was asking for trouble with this campaign. Soon enough, they’d get it.
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