Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Monday, July 20, 2009

Exhibition's Own Caine Mutiny

Quality product seldom came cheap to exhibitors. That was true of movies from the beginning. High-end merchandise did not equate with low rentals. Showmen felt both excitement and dread over blockbusters in the pipeline. How much? was always the first question, followed by, Can I earn it back? We assume big hits made profits for everyone, but how much ended up in theatre deposit bags? Warring between exhibition and distribution reflected ongoing distrust on both sides. The worst skirmishes bled into courtrooms. Both sides deplored these for embarrassment to an industry presumed to be working in harmony. Conventions and trade paper rah-rah masked simmering resentment among hands tirelessly picking the other’s pocket. Exhibitors kept a revolving enemies list of film companies trying to gouge them. Leading the rat pack in 1954 was Columbia, with The Caine Mutiny a blackjack applied to theatres waiting in line to play one of that year’s biggest hits. From Here To Eternity had been huge the previous season, with $11.6 million in domestic rentals. It wasn’t unusual to stiffen terms when following up on proven success, but this was a combination of rudeness and arrogance beyond belief, according to North Central Allied Exhibitors, meeting in Minneapolis to combat Columbia’s unprecedently and unbelievably harsh rental demands. To play The Caine Mutiny would require a guaranteed 50% of every dollar coming through the door. "Caine" will stand in motion picture history as a monument to that company’s (Columbia) greed and as a rallying point for exhibitors who will now recognize their peril and organize in effective opposition to the distributor’s tactics. The 50% was Columbia’s assurance it would make money off any booking of The Caine Mutiny, never mind the loss accruing to theatres playing it. Even where ticket sales fell below costs of operating, a showman would still be expected to pony up half of all receipts, a sure path to bankruptcy and eventual closure (He will have played "Caine" to the glory and enrichment of Columbia and the impoverishment of himself, said Harrison’s Reports). Further stoking fires was the company’s demand for a share of concession profits as well (Columbia’s position: It is our pictures that bring this confection business to the theatres). This was a last straw for houses experiencing both decline in attendance and increased film costs.

Allied was an organization of independent exhibitors, so they knew from getting fuzzy ends of lollipops. Dale Baldwin worked theatres around nearby West Jefferson, NC for thirty-five years between the early forties and late seventies. He still remembers the Caine Mutiny altercation and tells of how bigger chains routinely enjoyed preferential treatment from distributors, with under-the-table terms frequently negotiated for companies owning multiple screens. Columbia stomped on Allied’s membership because they could, and didn’t mind saying so (If the exhibitor can’t stand the gaff, that’s his tough luck was among quotes attributed to distributor execs). Allied finally retaliated by putting two picketers in front of the distributor’s exchange in Minneapolis (shown above) during mid-September 1954. Columbia is Unfair to the Independent Theatre Owners, read placards, though Allied wasn’t taking responsibility for the demonstration. It was hoped that booking showmen would go elsewhere for product and let Columbia feel some pain for their hard stance on The Caine Mutiny. For its part, the company moved for a court order to disband the picketers. The Motion Picture Herald, accepting weekly ads for Columbia releases, played down the incident, but had to report it now that parties were before a judge. It was not apparent that the picketers attracted any great stir on film row, said MPH, with the exception of a few photographers from local newspapers, the pickets did not attract any attention. Allied membership meanwhile was canceling Columbia programs and refusing further merchandise from them. North Carolina’s own Statesville Theatre Corporation sent notice to Dale and other managers that The Caine Mutiny would not be booked in member theatres. Baldwin's venue in West Jefferson, NC (735 seats) passed on Caine in accordance with Statesville’s policy. Folks in that small town would have to drive at least 60 miles, on roads a lot more primitive than ones we have now, to see The Caine Mutiny.

Most profits from big pictures came from metropolitan theatres that seated thousands, but smaller markets couldn’t be ignored. Reduced rentals were better than none at all, and no company could afford to alienate independent owners, as they represented by far a majority of US screens. Columbia began to relent on Caine Mutiny terms by mid-October, with theatres reportedly getting contracts at 35%. Part of said willingness was the result of Caine grosses below those collected by From Here To Eternity, its merchandising model and the biggest money picture in Columbia’s history to that time (Caine had $8.5 million in domestic rentals to Eternity's $11.6). The latter had sex angles Caine lacked, plus younger players (Lancaster, Clift, Sinatra) cresting at boxoffice lure. Another 1954 winner for Columbia was On The Waterfront, sold as "Going My Way" with Brass Knuckles and headed for $5.7 million in domestic rentals. By late 1954, Caine was playing combos with Waterfront, and December saw Columbia announcing they’d sell both at flat rates to small theatres (defined as those that customarily pay $100 or less for their top product). The company was ready to deal with independent exhibitors on a fair and equitable basis, though Allied’s member bulletin warned that the above information will not automatically settle your buying problems with Columbia, and you must still use all your wits and ingenuity to make flat deals that are fair and profitable. The pickets that had brought Caine’s exhibitor mutiny to a head were now a memory, having been dismissed after a single week's march. West Jefferson finally got Caine the following year and got it flat. One more show world crisis had passed.
Many thanks to Dale Baldwin for sharing his exhibitor memories of The Caine Mutiny.


Anonymous Griff said...

So... what was the rentals cume for CAINE? [Or did I somehow miss that detail?]

Wonderful stories. I think I'll look at the film again.

11:20 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hi Griff --- I'd mentioned the figure in Part One ($8.5 million in domestic rentals), but didn't (and should have) again in Part Two. I've just added it there.

5:31 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

STATESVILLE THEATRE CORPORATION (for whom I worked for a time) often took a stand against the distributors. They refused to book THE GRADUATE (at least in Statesville) until the terms came down to 25%. As it turned out, the terms stayed up throughout 1967 and 1968, thus THE GRADUATE never had a first run booking in Statesville. Likewise, with the late sixties' reissue of GONE WITH THE WIND, no bookings until its terms came down to 25%, so Statesville didn't play it this time around until May, 1969, nearly two years after its first dates as a roadshow. GWTW still packed a wallop and was held over a couple of days, bumping THE VALLEY OF GWANGI to a later booking.

8:54 AM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

Those pickets may not have attracted much attention, but you gotta give 'em credit for grit: Unless I'm misreading the (admittedly grainy) picture, those poor boys are picketing in the rain.

3:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read that one of the reasons for "Duck Soup"s dissapointing reception was Paramount's percentage terms.

3:02 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon sends the following e-mail:

Terrific retro-view on a Kramer picture which still bears up. I hope I didn't read it to quickly, but, did you mention Lee Marvin and Claude Akins as a couple of goofs on the Caine, back in their gorilla days? "Caine" definitely IS a time capsule, as you say, and another aspect captured for as long as the film lasts is the spectacular firefall---shoving a huge pile of blazing wood off a the edge of Half Dome (I think). They don't do THAT little stunt anymore! The alternate casting discussion is very interesting indeed! I think the idea that Queeg types in WW2 were like 'Barney Fifes' suddenly put in charge is very apt. And I think Widmark would've been an excellent and vicious Queeg. But Bogie was SUCH a fine actor, always willing---I think this is fair---to play the guy in the script, whether he was Mr. Cool (Rick Blaine), or...well, Queeg! His obvious terror in the storm, at sea....and his celebrated coming apart under examination, clicking those ball bearings....are now part of film history. Many of us grew up also enjoying the hilarious, contemporaneous MAD magazine parody of this movie. The subsequent post discussing the realities of exhibition are a real education, something that ultimately has a terrific bearing on what gets made, especially today (woe is us.) Thanks, John! Craig Reardon

4:32 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Concerning today's A&C banner, "Hilarious" is a debatable subject. "Irritating" might be a better adjective.

9:04 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019
  • November 2019
  • December 2019
  • January 2020
  • February 2020
  • March 2020
  • April 2020
  • May 2020
  • June 2020
  • July 2020
  • August 2020
  • September 2020
  • October 2020
  • November 2020
  • December 2020
  • January 2021
  • February 2021
  • March 2021
  • April 2021
  • May 2021
  • June 2021
  • July 2021
  • August 2021
  • September 2021
  • October 2021
  • November 2021
  • December 2021
  • January 2022