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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 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, accepted 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.




Monday, December 02, 2019

Movies Are Your Best Background Noise


Multi-Task While You Watch

Imagine cold-calling a random number from the phone book, and on live television. In this era of incessant robo dials, who would answer? Dick Bennick, Jo Nelson, and later Jerry Merritt, did it weekdays for Channel 8 (High Point, NC), the idea to lock in viewers for their otherwise unremarkable afternoon movies. Be home, tuned in, and you could win $100, maybe more! Jo/Jerry would try a residence, try again if the line was busy, wait endless minutes, as did we, for lines to clear, all so dream of windfalls could be met. “Dialing for Dollars” ate ten-fifteen minutes of most two-hour slots, that in addition to sponsor ads, the movie a least priority. Stations needed DFD and devices like it to take onus off films that viewership cared less to see, the calls a sort of bribe for our leisure time. Chances are we wouldn’t be there for whole of the program, as there’d be chores about the house, kids to pick up from Scouts, any of myriad daily duties. At most you had snatches of movie and peeps now and then when hosts tried another phone contact. Televisions ran no matter where you were in the house. Was this any way to enjoy Classic Era movies? No, but it was a near-only way they’d be consumed for many benighted years. You could wonder that any of us care to revisit old Hollywood now.




Dialing for Dollars was quaint, amusing in hindsight, more talk show than film presentation, especially where a guest from the Chamber Of Commerce would show up midway and discuss for eight-at-least minutes a next day’s Blood Drive. That meant more lopped off The Bad and The Beautiful, or whatever, but who kept score? There weren’t books to list running times until a first Maltin Reviews in 1969, and maybe we were better off ignorant for trauma those numbers induced. Average folk didn’t mind … they probably tuned in a half-hour late anyway, and besides, anyone could catch up with a story within a minute or two, being trained at it by formula TV. Drop the needle on any scene and get the whole set-up, same really as soap operas, which could be skipped six months, then caught up easily by a next-seen episode. Broadcasting movies was a same as hanging wallpaper. Anyone with objection was a crank or outlier, not typical of viewing majority. Nascent cable days saw stations at odds over content beamed from one also leased by another. Channel 8 did a burn in 1978  when Superstation 17 out of Atlanta ran Dodge City for our cable delectation, their complaint to the service provider resulting in a block on 17’s broadcast and a two-hour screen message to effect that 8’s lease of the film made it “unfair” for a remote station to offer Dodge City as well. Difference was that 17’s Dodge City was more-less complete, while 8’s was chopped a couple reels, and in black-and-white. My rage was towering, letters impotent, new-acquired VCR dormant. How could I collect off the air in the face of such corruption, what with favorites abused and no one to defend them? Someone should have put me straight to reality that No One Else Cared.




It Begins: Bringing Housework To The Drive-In


Two-hour slots were a luxury. Most local stations held daytime movies to ninety minutes for knowing that was all of patience watchers had. Consider a study done in 1955 by Editor and Publisher: “Two-thirds of those with a television on during the day (are) doing something else simultaneously, most times housework. During the evening, (6-10 P.M.) half were doing something else as well.” The Surgeon General in 1970 listed collateral activities going on against a TV backdrop: “doing homework, reading, sorting wash, preparing meals, setting the table, dressing and undressing, exercising, playing cards and board games, and conversing.” That wouldn’t leave a lot of time for The Caine Mutiny, which I recall tuning in on Greensboro’s Channel 2 that year, two-hours, and in color. Toward getting straighter to narrative point, WFMY opened with Bogart’s first scene at the lectern, a couple reels into a 124 minute show, but again, who noticed, let alone worried about it? Inattention was a shroud that hung over televised movies. Anything about the house merited closer engagement. Cary Grant hanging off Mount Rushmore was second to everything from feeding Fido to chasing flies about the den with a swatter. You knew he’d come out OK, and there was no admission paid to North By Northwest as was case when it was new at theatres in 1959. Movies, no matter how fine, were casually, passively, consumed, as was most all television. This was not new, as radio dealt from a same cold deck, listeners even less focused on media they heard, but could not look at. Drive-ins would form a bridge from sit-down cinemas to couch-centered viewing. They would anticipate, then reflect, a coming home entertainment experience, at least from standpoint of letting any-all distractions have their way.






Titles that once topped glittering marquees were now mute accompany to vacuum cleaners pushed round a twenty-two inch box. Charlotte’s Channel 9 bought “Pre-48 Greats” from MGM and gave them a not-great berth on noon weekdays, ninety minutes to get stories told amidst commercial intrusion. A for-instance on January 2, 1962: Cass Timberlane, a highest-profile adapt, back in 1947, of a popular novel by Sinclair Lewis, 119 minutes claiming undivided attention in plush theatres seating thousands, Spencer Tracy and Lana Turner its leads. I got out the Warner Archive DVD and by way of experiment watched … well, sort of watched, as a series of “something elses” got done, as much outside the room as in. Even in front of the screen, I made sure to occupy my hands, or hold a book for looking down at, or up from. The only thing lacking was a pot of beans to snap. Against firewalls I constructed, Cass Timberlane still made narrative sense, ten minutes here, five there, enough to fully know what was happening to the lead characters. My simulation of the 1962 broadcast had an advantage Channel 9’s did not, being a complete version thanks to the DVD, not interrupted except by my wanderings, and clearer by far on a flat screen the size of which ’62 viewers dared not dream. Cass Timberlane being an “average” movie, it mattered less that I saw it truncated while pursuing activities in opposition to it. That was, after all, how a typical watcher-after-a-fashion would have responded over years Cass Timberlane played syndicated TV.




Going out to the movies was no longer an essential. Thanks to network primetime, the movies came to you. Admission to theatres dropped from highs in the mid-40’s to abysmal lows by the early 60’s. 4.1 billion tickets sold in 1946, down to 2.8 by 1951, 1.9 in 1956, 1.1 in 1962 and again in 1963 (“United States Theatrical Film Admissions,” Variety, 6-24-81). Windows between theatrical and TV were thrown open. It seemed no wait at all before you could see a film at home. Tube-premieres commanded greater focus, “events” like The Robe and Bridge On The River Kwai making movie nights on television an appointment you’d keep. Color broadcasts, in strong demand by the mid-60’s because so many more viewers had sets to receive them, increased cache of televised movies. There seemed less reason than ever to attend theatres. I recall this period as one where few people, at least of my acquaintance, bothered with the theatre. A sample incident from 1967: In The Heat of the Night showed up at the Liberty,  three-days that drew seemingly no one for the weekday matinees other than myself (afternoons generally vacant unless it was Disney, or a talked-about like Bonnie and Clyde). No one at school or among adults seemed to have heard of, or bothered about, In The Heat of the Night. Some months later it won the Academy Award for Best Picture, though few expressed regret for missing out at the Liberty. It would be on television within a few months, after all --- untrue, but a notion they would not be disabused of (In The Heat Of The Night was 1973 before reaching the tube, via NBC).




Charlotte’s Channel 3 had its “Best of Hollywood” in lieu of Monday evening CBS feed, and such was its following that they took a poll in 1972 for the movie most viewers wanted to see from a ballot made up of titles Channel 3 had on lease. Magnificent Obsession being the winner made it a local must-see, chances greater that a household would suspend other activities to sit down and really watch. Older films got marginally more respect as a 70’s nostalgia wave put more of them on station schedules. Cable and satellite were stair-steps to real deal that was TCM, its precursors first TBS, aforementioned “SuperStation,” then TNT, where precodes were popularized --- both services ad-littered. Truest revolution was the old AMC, American Movie Classics, a first instance of non-interrupted oldies other than Public Broadcasting’s occasional forays. Key to enjoyment of films on TV was getting rid of the breaks, means by which TCM got, and kept, its following, even as AMC turned tail with contemporary titles served in chunks. TCM made history by pioneer gathering respect for movies on television as something other than filler between ads.




Monday, November 25, 2019

1958's Sinbad Holiday


The Biggest Crowd Monsters Ever Drew



How many of us wish to have been born a few years sooner. I read of those who saw classics first-run and bleed with envy. Being there for Christmas open for The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad would have been Santa-sent. Missing that boat means I’ll not know impact Sinbad had. By most accounts, it was Kong-scale. Watch extras on the Blu-Ray and hear accounts, one after other, of lives changed, futures decided, as result of ’58 sail with Sinbad. Ray Harryhausen knew from walking out Grauman’s door in 1933 (King Kong) that new dawn had broken. His inspiration for model-making was Willis O’Brien, them brought together soon as Ray was old enough to work on a film set rather than garage tabletops he'd begun on. Sinbad spawned a larger flock to follow now-oracle Harryhausen; they sought him out as he had O’Brien. To state the obvious: There’d be nothing like the massive FX industry to support 70’s-forward film were it not for Harryhausen, and never mind lots fewer fantasy and sci-fi had he directed career energy elsewhere. Plug “I wouldn’t be doing this were it not for Ray Harryhausen” into any two dozen interviews with movie magicians of a past forty years. But hold … are they now supplanted by CGI as RH was by passing of stop-motion? Where is a latter-day Harryhausen for starter-outs to be guided by? Is there a god of keyboard maestros for fans to follow like Jason to a gold fleece? Could visual effects computer-spawned reflect the personality of an RH Cyclops, Ymir, cave dragon, others to reflect the man who built them? Given more exposure to modern genre stuff, I might hazard a guess. As it is, I must leave it for others to say if there is a latter-day Harryhausen to pied-pipe a fresh generation.








There were fewer, far fewer, fantasies, to inspire up-and-comers of the 30’s and before. Harryhausen and kindred friends (and how many do you suppose shared his interest so intensely, beyond well-known Bradbury and Ackerman?) clung to Kong and whatever O’Brien was hired to create, which we know was shameful little for such a massive talent. The Thief of Bagdad in 1940 put Harryhausen on the scent of Sinbad. He’d see Sinbad The Sailor (1947), and later Son of Sinbad (1955), knowing they were punk for not having monsters. Ray trucked his models, drawings, and test reels round town and was told they'd cost too much and not generate enough interest. I’m surprised he didn’t give up for bank work or to open a hardware store (ever wonder how many people in ordinary walks of life might have done something creative-great if only they’d persevered a little longer?). As it is, Harryhausen had strong parental support from a start, and right along, to hard-earned success. They set aside a garage, then a customized add-on room, for him to do projects. Ray’s father made armatures for a Sinbad skeleton and sent it to the Euro location so his son could finish the job and stop-animate their result. Surely Mom-Dad merit placement beside Ray Harryhausen in whatever Halls-Of-Fame he’s been inducted into.








A Latest Sinbad In Support
I’m told Sinbad got made for $650K, thrifty-done and hugely profitable for bringing back a Variety-estimated $3.2 million in domestic rentals, more than any fantasy earned to that point (The Wizard of Oz did two million in 1939, more later from reissues, but cost tons to make). Harryhausen puppets were proven to tune of million-plus rentals for a last several in league with Charles Schneer/Columbia, notable too was what The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms realized for Warners, $1.735 in domestic rentals. These had been driven largely by TV saturation, this taken steps further by Sinbad. A big advantage was fantasy driving this Voyage as opposed to horror or sci-fi, genres with built-in onus by 1958 (too much of both, and discredited for cheapness and tawdry ad/pub). Sinbad was magical, full color, with promise of sights never shown on screens. Any doubt Columbia had evaporated when sales staff got a look. Here was something they could get fully behind and dress up for Christmas. “Dynamation” was the sell, whatever heck that was, but let crowds pay to find out after seeing breath-take clips on TV and a creature-laden parade float Columbia built for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, plus touring later. Enthusiasm built as holidays approached. Columbia told Boxoffice (11-24-58) that “Only 48 of 350 Technicolor prints are available for Christmas play-dating,” but quickly upped a total to 400 and rushed processing when theatres made a rush for Noel bookings.






Rube Jackter was Columbia’s salesman in charge. He dated back to hustle on behalf of Lasky and Goldwyn, happiest when “I’m peddling film.” Columbia issued a full-page trade ad penned by Rube, as ringing an endorsement for new product as showmen saw in 1958. They’d take his word that Sinbad was something special, and commit accordingly. When does history accord a Rube Jackter credit so rich-deserved? A special “Dynamation” trailer was made as much for exhibitors as their public, and shown at confabs to which theatre-folk gathered. Jackter was sure enough of Sinbad to trade-screen it well ahead of openings, giving all the option to cancel their date if the film didn’t rise to his enthusiasm. All who bore witness encouraged others to do a same, word fast spread to book Sinbad toot sweet, an outcome Jackter figured on and placed further print orders to accommodate. So great was confidence, this well in advance of Sinbad’s open, that Columbia announced Dynamation features as an annual event (Motion Picture Daily, 11-21-58). A soundtrack album was pressed, plus singles, these to play for entrance and exit to Sinbad seating, radio stations supplied as well. A Dell comic gathered dimes, as did Sinbad slippers at clothiers (we could wonder how many were worn to school). Columbia announced that color TV spots would be available for Sinbad, these “as adjunct” to color broadcasts, a “first use” of advertising with tints for television, said Robert S. Ferguson, advertising/publicity chief.


Richard Eyer at the Helm of Macy's Sinbad Float






It's a Stout Oldie That Takes Billing Above The New Release 
The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad was Gotham-booked for the Roxy (6,214 seats), an open imperiled by a newspaper strike to upset Columbia cart re print promotion. This meant uptick for TV and radio to tune of $25K, more cash, the company said, than would have gone to local sheets (Motion Picture Daily, 12/17/58). Film Bulletin got stats in March 1959 to effect that “five out of every seven persons waiting in line to see “Sinbad” said the TV commercials fanned their desire to see the film.” Whatever a crisis getting word out, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, according to Motion Picture Daily, gave the Roxy a best open since The Robe in 1953. Sinbad was big, but biggest while children were out from school for holidays. After that, it softened. The Film Bulletin, summing up Columbia output from distance of 4-13-59, said that Sinbad, “for which Columbia had high hopes, has proved disappointing in subsequent engagements.” They must have had high expectations, considering what Sinbad did earn. There were encores right through the 70’s as further Sinbads came out of Columbia, also supervised by Harryhausen. To think he did all these in a small studio and virtually by himself. The cycle started by Seventh Voyage lasted at least to the 80’s, initial fans having come of age and many doing FX of their own, Harryhausen’s last, Clash of The Titans, out in 1981. Were movies by then too corporatized to entrust a lone wolf like Harryhausen, or was he considered old-fashioned? I’d like to know what went down, as here was a man in his early 60’s, years presumed left to share gifts, but out to seeming pasture. Was Ray's retirement altogether voluntary?






L.A. Saturation for First-Run Jason in 1963
The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad was a problem, at least for collectors. For some reason, 16mm IB Tech prints were mis-registered in parts, and initial DVD’s, even a Blu-Ray from Sony, were not what they might have been. Indicator/Powerhouse is more recently out with a best Sinbad I’ve seen. Jason and the Argonauts was another I revisited, and considered by many to be a best of Harryhausen. It took a Variety-estimated $2.1 million in domestic rentals, a lot less than Sinbad, but by 1963, stiff Toga rivalry prevailed, and who knew wheat from chaff? Where much-inferior Captain Sindbad, from MGM, scored up an estimated $2.5 million, you knew merit wasn’t being rewarded. Too many swords and sandals, it seemed. Still, the right people noticed, and would not forget Jason. It came back too for 70’s dates, years after surrender to television. Fans most precocious had long been aboard for Harryhausen, fanzines emerging as Jason and the Argonauts went into 1963 release. One such was The Candlelight Room, edited by estimable fan/historians Ray Cabana, Jr. and Donald Shay. They’d print an “exclusive” interview with Jason star Todd Armstrong, and there weren’t many of those, then or later, a scoop for Candlelight’s premiere issue. As to a best overview of Ray Harryhausen, I’d propose multi-part Cinefantastique coverage by Ted Newsom. It is detailed, insightful, richly illustrated, and not bettered since the 80’s when first published.
grbrpix@aol.com
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