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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Favorites List --- Warren William and Employees' Entrance

Exhibit A For Print Ads Salacious As Precodes They Sold
Go whole hog enough on precode and you may wind up wanting to be Warren William's Kurt Anderson, or in the women's column, Ruth Chatterton's Female. Both are seductive role models for moderns yoked by social, sexual, and political proprieties re-writ since characters like these grazed on a (lots) more raffish culture. How many men bound in corporate or business chains would trade at least their souls to be an Employees' Entrance kind of boss? Current-day Mad Men is but 21st cent opportunity to quietly envy males rampant in what we're assured were bad old days thankfully past. Of course, Warren William makes even these look like lace doilies, for unlike Mad Men (and certainly us), there's never any hauling to account for Kurt Anderson, nor do we want him busted by Act Three rulebooks meekly applied since to preserve status quo. You need watch few movies or television today to recognize production codes still in place, even as same goes undocumented. It's one-of-a-kind disavowal of chalk-lines we walk that gives Employees' Entrance ongoing power to shock.

Recreate Kurt Anderson's Office From This Set Still --- Then Go Be Him!

I've seen Employees' Entrance enough times to know where best parts are. A hair trigger remote zipped me past "nice" characters Loretta Young and Wallace Ford to get back with precode oracle Warren William, whose best (dirty) work this has to be. It's challenging to speed-forward footage and stop on the dime of his face. Not an ideal way to watch movies, but once committed to memory, precode faves often repeat–play best shorn of virtue's valiant effort to overcome wickedness. I always exit Employees' Entrance right after WW drops the dog in his wastebasket --- who needs to know (or care) that less engaging Young and Ford got back together?

The Chiseled Cad --- They'd All Exit The Stage Eventually
 So where do we come off judging hard products of that hardest 30s school, depression society at large or 18 hour day classes taught at WB? A lot of Kurt Andersons must have graduated from the latter, for bastard that his characters tended to be, you don't get a sense of Warner scribes disapproving the Warren William persona any more than those of fast shufflers Lee Tracy, William Powell, Cagney ... how else but to deal off bottoms for a roof and meals? Smash Or Be Smashed was no more William's credo than that of many who figured gentility for weakness or at the least a straighter route to bread lines.

Two From Kurt Anderson's Harem: Loretta Young and Alice White

The Breakthrough --- WW Featured in WB's 1932 Product Annual
 College film study should begin with Employees' Entrance. It would surely open pores and disabuse assumption of what constituted old movies. Kids look at a Kurt Anderson and wonder, shouldn't he be punished?, as liberal art recipients are taught surely he must, for lustily engaging in every -ism they're conditioned to deplore. (Kurt but half-kiddingly suggests, Why don't you kill her?, when an Employees' colleague bemoans blackmailing trollop Alice White) Moderns imagine they know from bad-boy screen behavior, but look closer and there's always a reckoning for alpha dudes violating Unwritten Codes to take liberties far less egregious than William's. Mel Gibson divines innermost thoughts and learns What Women Want, but after brief middle-section of his enjoying it, we know he'll pay and dearly for invading that gender's private space. Was ever a leading man so broken and humbled, and in a comedy yet? (What Women Want's 3d act is as funny as Death Of A Salesman) Had such levelers been applied to Warren William's precode conduct, we'd not have an Employee's Entrance half so much fun.

Mock-Up a New York Skyline with a Penthouse View --- and Your Next Warren William Is Ready To Roll

It's known enough by now that William was best essaying business scoundrels and short-sellers, but who are ones (if any) that paced later his feral tracks? I enjoyed for a while Michael Douglas all Warren-ish at Me-decade scalawagging, and there was Alec Baldwin and James Woods (when cast right) to remind us of precode similars having once trod the earth. Trouble was these having to die or get jail time for perfidy from which Warren William often emerged scot-free. That unwritten Code again. Class-warring as practiced now was mirrored in William's prime. Inherited wealth is a badge of dishonor so far as Employees' Entrance portrays it. To have descended from James Monroe and Benjamin Franklin, plus unearned prosperity, amounts to three strikes and you're out. Self-made Kurt Anderson alone deserves his haul. Whatever ruthless else he does, Kurt won't live off the fat of estates, and that made him fundamentally OK to patrons also denied silver spoons.

Denton Ross' Office: Trophies, Golf Clubs, and Ancestor Portrait Reflect His Getting Rich The Easy Way --- Sure Cues For Patron Laughter and/or Disdain.

Then-published ads reveal clearest Employees' mission. They'd expose shop counters and office pools as so much brothel space, with Kurt Anderson A Man Who Can "Make" Or Break More Women Than Any Sultan. Note parentheses around "Make," its sexual connotation unmistakable. Youth got worldly fast just reading newspaper promotion in those days. Employees' Entrance was further opportunity for showmen to heat things up. Girls "Selling Their Souls" for a job "At Any Price" said it all, but as opposed to cries for reform a prisoner on chain gangs elicited, these plights apparently shared by working women were mere stuff of titillation. Has the depression brought about bargains in love? was less expression of indignation than helpful tip-off to store merchandise more alluring than mere piece goods.

The Stable Home and Wife Didn't Have To Be Faked --- Offscreen WW Was a Straight Arrow

Dog Lover William Often Posed With Pets
 The wolf's head that was Warren William had to be cleaved. PCA enforcement crowded him into corners WW could only farce his way out of. He and movies suddenly occupied a fairy-tale world. Plain diminishing was this actor in screwball mode after tours of precode duty, the chairman of Anything Goes' board donning lampshades on his head. William became a rakish uncle who's promised to stop telling ribald jokes around the children. Back as office lothario in 1939's Day-Time Wife, he's so gelded as to pose anything but a threat to Linda Darnell's secretary. This de-fanged wolf seemed less Warren William than Lester Matthews, just a face among mustachioed cast listings in support.

Code Enforcement Made William a Safe Date for Linda Darnell in 1939's Day-Time Wife

Contemplative at Home --- Was He Inventing Something at That Desk?
Most of us saw William first in The Wolf Man. By then, he was Universal's idea of past-glory (and got cheap) marquee adornment, someone to confer class upon a disreputable monster movie. WW got shoes muddy in U westerns where his credit read beneath lighter weights Franchot Tone and Bruce Cabot, less a shark than a dandy in period dress. The Lone Wolf series meant steady pay packets for OK mysteries, made so purely for his starring. Offscreen Warren William invented (useful) things and kept wire terriers. He was probably more of a renaissance man than we'll ever appreciate. A wife and stable home life wouldn't have seemed in the cards, but there his was, proof again that screen images are purest illusion. Health problems that took William at age 53 (in 1948) must have been lingering, for he seemed prematurely aged final appearing in The Private Affairs Of Bel-Ami, where George Sanders applies a verbal rapier to this weakened opponent who in his prime would have been more than a match, even for GS.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

When MGM Became RKO

Scene Of The Crime was one of the good things that happened after Dore Schary took over as production chief for Metro in 1948. The newly installed exec was just off supervising production at RKO where money mattered, so free spending was anathema to him, especially with overall industry receipts in a postwar freefall. Schary's strategy for MGM was to tighten budgets, increase production, and make movies more streetwise after example of what he'd overseen for RKO. Metro was in dire need of belt-tightening. Dollars there had been frittered to Loews' near ruination. Schary was hired, at least in part, for known fiscal conservatism. He'd managed good pictures for less $, a facility lately unknown among MGM staffers. Was it still possible for Leo to roar at prices within reason? Schary would find out with a gritty pair done very much the RKO way. Scene Of The Crime and Border Incident were test cases DS tabbed for completion at hopefully no more than $700,000 on a schedule of less than 30 days. Since few entrenched Metro producers could be expected to perform such miracles, it was for Schary to raid talent pools he'd filled at RKO and assign them to rehabilitate a drowning MGM.

Scene Of The Crime figured into a newly revived cycle of cop-and-robber thrillers that had till recently been frowned upon by Production Code authorities. PCA restraints were loosened to accommodate documentary styles popularized primarily at Fox with its street-shot police dramas. Action content helped sell these so-called "doc treatments," while modern dress setting held costs in check. By early 1949, Schary had several on the grill for Metro, including Murder at Harvard (later Mystery Street), and Black Hand, in addition to Scene Of The Crime and Border Incident. This was bold initiative for the industry's most hidebound shop, but Schary, having been given a free hand, was determined to bring MGM in line with trends he'd observed if not initiated elsewhere. A pair of bold ones from his tenure at RKO, They Lived By Night and The Set- Up, demonstrated what quality could be got on minimal investment. Lawyer turned writer Charles Schnee was responsible for They Lived By Night's screenplay. Schary hired him to do an original story and script for Scene Of The Crime. Old studio timer Harry Rapf was set to produce, Roy Rowland directing, so SOTC wouldn't be too radical a departure from Metro norm, but Rapf died only weeks into filming, obliging Schary to look again to RKO and The Set-Up's producer Richard Goldstone, brought over now to assume production duties on Scene Of The Crime. More and more, this was looking like an RKO project transplanted to Culver City.

In fact, Schary had MGM plans for any number of colleagues from the old address. Norman Panama and Melvin Frank were comedy specialists also imported from RKO, as was DS's former aide Armand Deutsch, immediately assigned on arrival to produce Ambush for Metro on Arizona locations. Schary knew outside talent and was quick to gather it in his net. Few prospects turned down increased salary to be had for making the move. Among newcomers to Schary's MGM was Jacques Tournear, who'd direct the outstanding Stars In My Crown for 1950 release, along with what should've been the company's best hire, Val Lewton, producer of so many outstanding low-budget thrillers for RKO since 1942. But not all transplants would work out, Lewton the saddest of ones who, for whatever reason, couldn't make a go of big factory manufacture. Still, Schary got more hits than misses among scouted talent, his agenda a sound and sensible one. If there was a highest barrier before his succeeding, it was internal politics at Culver City and odds against small projects finding a public distracted from regular movie-going. Even a second coming of Irving Thalberg could not overcome such walls of resistance.

MGM needed to go out onto streets as had others seeking pavement authenticity. Director Roy Rowland took his Scene Of The Crime troupe down to LA's so-called Skid Row for a night sequence for which street denizens would serve as colorful background. Our E. Fifth St. is getting to be popular with Hollywood directors and it's reminiscent of the ancient days in this youngest of the arts when meg-men would haunt downtown bars and joints looking for types, observed Variety when trades got word of Metro's newfound commitment to urban reality. Scene Of The Crime would be a tug-of-war between MGM prudence and rising impulse on the part of new creative staff to dirty up the dreamscape. White gloves were coming off storytellers headed grittier ways. Charles Schnee's Scene Of The Crime dialogue was loaded enough with precinct slang to require a police Academy thesaurus, him being a writer moving up and eager to make an impression, two years later scoring an Academy award for The Bad and The Beautiful.

Director Roy Rowland and MGM Crew on Downtown LA Location Duty for Scene Of The Crime.

Scene Of The Crime wants to be sleazy and occasionally gets close, tendering Gloria DeHaven as a sort-of stripper, cameras discreetly avoiding her act to focus mostly on onlooker reaction. Protective of corporate image MGM pulls back from sights that an Eagle-Lion or RKO would have reveled in. Still, there are spasms of violence in Scene Of The Crime that would've been unthinkable even a couple of years before. Schary was clearly encouraging his people to broaden borders. Toward that end would be off-casting of till-then eternal juvenile/Bobby-Sox idol Van Johnson as hardened vice and homicide investigator. A harrowing car crash of several years before gave cameramen leeway to present Johnson smooth or scathed. He'd nearly got the top of his head cut off in the bust-up and was marked by plainly visible scars Docs couldn't hide, though generally make-up enabled boy-next-dooring parts to which Van was mostly consigned. Presenting his face au naturel would give Johnson a battered authority for ease of transition to edgier roles. He's effective enough in Scene Of The Crime to make us wish VJ had been steered further down noirish paths.

Schary and MGM seized bragging rights during the spring of 1949 and recent wrap of Scene Of The Crime, which according to Variety, was completed in 29 days and within its $750,000 budget. The negative cost was actually more like $760K, but the company wanted to emphasize the fact it had stayed within set limits. They even claimed to have brought in a Clark Gable vehicle, Any Number Can Play, for $750,000 as well, despite its actual tag being $1.3 million. Tendency on (the) Culver lot is now to try to standardize $700,000-$750,000 figure, said Variety, This will compensate for several high budgeters, such as Quo Vadis, which is slated to hit $4.5 million mark. The completion of Scene Of The Crime and Border Incident were touted as mere beginnings for a streamlined policy, Tension and Side Street scheduled to roll in late April at same reduced costs. Expensive features would still be made on the Metro lot, but Dore Schary was most engaged by ones he could see through at savings that would reflect sensibility brought from RKO. A film noir flowering at MGM would be his handiwork, even if Schary never got posterity's credit for said significant contribution.

There'd be few critical kudos and less financial reward for Metro style-merging with RKO, most films from the overlap finishing with a loss. Of them, only Scene Of The Crime saw profit, that likelier a result of Van Johnson starring. There was $968,000 in domestic rentals, $446,000 in foreign revenue, for a final profit of $168,000. This wouldn't have been achieved had Scene Of The Crime's cost gone far past its modest $760,000. Good as they were (and inexpensive), Border Incident, Tension, and Side Street each sustained financial beatings. Schary's scheme of more volume for less was but a fitful overall success. MGM features prospering now were expensive and generally musical. Schary's noirs played through a 1949-50 that saw Adam's Rib, On The Town, Three Little Words, and super-hits Batttleground, Father Of The Bride, plus biggest-of-all King Solomon's Mines to sustain Loews' overhead. Schary and former RKO colleagues' budget efforts did keep studio lights burning and contract personnel busy making what would prove in hindsight to be some of MGM's most interesting post-war features. A lot of creative and performing staff held on to jobs longer for Schary's ambitious effort to maintain Metro production at maximum capacity and thus avoid lay-offs. Had his experiment borne greater boxoffice fruit, Schary's MGM might have become film noir's most prolific haven.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Neglected Run For Cover

A lot of films are good enough to get by despite lackluster presentation. Run For Cover is one that cannot. It's a minor 50's Western needing all the visual help it can get. What we've had since this one left theatres is a big-screen essential reduced to home-viewed mediocrity. As with so many features made during that decade, Run For Cover was customized for size and scenics. Take these away and you lose the best reasons for seeing it. Run For Cover plays on Netflix and Dish Network's On-Demand. The latter is free to subscribers. Both services are hosts to a transfer Paramount made years ago, being full-frame and cropped to eliminate greater width of Vistavision. You could say Run's a lost film for slim chance that any distributor would bother releasing a proper DVD, let alone Blu-Ray. Run For Cover ranks low among director Nicholas Ray's output, the pic's best assets displayed to first-run audiences but few since. There won't be fair assessment for library titles in general until presentations can at least approach what theatres had. Ray's Bigger Than Life very much got that from Criterion's deluxe Blu-Ray. Would comparable red carpets ever be laid for Run For Cover? I guess it's time to face fact that much beyond the best of our movie past will stay shrunken and past reach of fair evaluation.

William Pine and William Thomas were industry-known as the "Dollar Bills." They'd been 14 years producing low-budget actioners for Paramount, having begun with eight or nine small pictures per annum, later upgrading to Technicolor with average costs between $700,000 and $900,000. Now they were looking past million-dollar thresholds toward "A" production with top-echelon casts. Run For Cover would be first in a group into which a total of six million would be invested. For a picture to do business now, it must be large and important, said the producers. Having been press agents in an earlier life, Pine and Thomas viewed selling as locus of fun in the picture business. To usher Run For Cover into said new class, the pair signed famed director William Dieterle in February 1954. They'd make no claim to "artistic" production, a term both Bills abhorred, but class bookings weren't got by using nobody helmsmen, so Dieterle was insurance against their first big-budget effort being confused with previous Pine-Thomas offerings.

Paramount's newly introduced Vistavision lent further prestige to P/T's venture. The company wanted a finished backlog of features before unveiling Vistavision with White Christmas, set to open in October 1954. Run For Cover would be completed well before that date, along with six others using the process. Paramount wanted momentum from White Christmas to continue into 1955 and beyond, so it was necessary to have plenty of enhanced screen merchandise in the pipeline to get maximum return on a public's curiosity and hopeful interest. Vistavision, like Cinemascope, used nature's palette to enhance the wider screen experience. Westerns most of all needed vastest canvas, and backlot streets once adequate for square frames in black-and-white wouldn't do now that cameras captured so much more. To star was James Cagney, late of his own production company releasing through Warners, now freelancing among studios that would punch his (big) ticket. Cagney exercised director approval and had input to scripts. Once Dieterle, for reasons unknown, was out, the star shared initiative to replace him with Nicholas Ray. This was in mid-March 1954, ten weeks ahead of Run For Cover's shooting start date in early June.

Cagney got along with Ray, this not always a given, as the actor regarded many if not most of his directors as functioning dimwits. JC was also proactive in matters of scripting and would go to writers with whatever suggestions he thought might enhance a finished product. He and Nicholas Ray were congenial enough to devise what Cagney later referred to as offbeat touches to differentiate their Western from conventional ones mass-generated by an increasingly genre-focused industry. Cagney liked the idea of using natural locations, in this case Durango, Colorado settings, to justify Vistavision enhancement. According to a later interview with art director Henry Bumstead, thirty or so percent of Run For Cover was Colorado outdoors, with the remaining seventy percent lensed back at Paramount. The script was credited to Winston Miller, who'd previously done My Darling Clementine at Fox for director John Ford. Perhaps it was Ray's, or Cagney's, idea to bring veteran scribe John Lee Mahin to Durango during June to help with a bogging down script. In any case, Mahin spent an uncredited week on the location.

Jim and Mrs. Cagney Pal It Up With An Exhibitor Host During the Star's Run For Cover Promotional Tour.
Run For Cover finished that summer of 1954, but would linger on Paramount shelves awaiting the release of White Christmas and 1955's rollout of completed Vistavision features. RFC's premiere took place in Austin, Texas on April 4, 1955, to which James Cagney contributed several days public appearing (the first time in ten years he's been out to meet the people, said Variety). The star was in evidence over continued weeks promoting the film, indication of a percentage participation, if not satisfaction with a western he in fact found disappointing. Cagney had attended a projection room Run For Cover screening in February, accompanied by his two children, who, according to Army Archerd, had always wanted to see their father in a western. Cagney ducked chaps and spurs since the near self-parody of The Oklahoma Kid in 1939. It wasn't typical of him to attend screenings of a finished work. According to Archerd, Cagney disclosed that of the fifty pix in which he's appeared, Cover was but the fifth he'd seen. The star was not long realizing that nearly all those offbeat touches he and director Ray cooked up were now missing from Run For Cover. Still smarting twenty-five years later when he reviewed a long career with biographer John McCabe, Cagney used explicit language to characterize studio executives who'd once again ruined a project to which he and others seriously applied themselves.

Nicholas Ray's Credit Goes Front and Prominent on this French Poster.

Run For Cover's negative cost of $1.2 million was coincidentally matched by domestic rentals in the same amount. In fact, RFC would be one of the lower grossing Paramounts of that year. Was it Cagney or westerns the public was tiring of? Nicholas Ray later said the film deflated because there'd not been enough time to prepare and see it through properly. Like others of the Pine-Thomas group, Run For Cover's negative reverted to the producers and was theirs to re-title and reissue in 1961 as Colorado, independent Citation Films handling distribution. Run For Cover would be included among 22 Pine-Thomas titles syndicated to television through Jayark Films in November 1960, probably the earliest TV exposure for any Vistavision feature before Paramount began licensing others in the mid-60s (wait a minute --- I just remembered Richard III!). It would appear that Paramount is back in possession of Run For Cover, if packaging to Netflix and Dish Network is any indication. What's regrettable is their tendering such a substandard transfer for download on these services.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Part Two --- Johnny Guitar

Co-stars of Johnny Guitar had to be separated for promoting gigs. As Crawford canvassed Texas, Mercedes McCambridge and Scott Brady made Broadway's Mayfair Theatre opening with Republic chief Herbert Yates. Decca Records threw them a cocktail party to stir embers for Peggy Lee's theme tune, and McCambridge/Brady judged a guitar strumming contest at Macy's. The pic was a surprise grosser even in this urban center. Reviews weren't helpful, but who needed them for a show like this? Something was in the air with Johnny Guitar, or maybe it was just the fact of fewer westerns among June '54's Top Ten to compete with it.

Herb Yates had wanted Johnny Guitar's cast to convene at his home for a live TV broadcast celebrating LA's opening, but that was like cats in a sack for angry barbs Crawford, Hayden, and McCambridge had been lobbing at one another. Crawford besides was forbidden by contract (so she said) to make vid appearances, owing to a net series that was imminent (didn't happen). The event was called on account of temperament.  Crawford meanwhile let off steam over an industry's indulgence of new generation stars and lack of discipline/decorum they showed. That last put Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe in crosshairs, among others. JC ridiculed what she called their whining to psychiatrists about childhood trauma, and revealed more about herself than was intended when she asked: Who grew up happy?

A nice aspect of Johnny Guitar was variety of ways you could merchandise it. Miami's Paramount Theatre was testing ground for which campaign clicked best. Approach "A" is the western action angle, reported Motion Picture Exhibitor, Miss Crawford as a glamour girl is played down, but she is sold as a gun-toting queen of a gambling house. The romance is played down also and the suspense and excitement angle are sold. The "B" side called for emphasis on Crawford in a daringly different role, and the impassioned romance is played up. To be soft-pedaled here was JC clad in black levis with guns and holster. Johnny Guitar had potential appeal to both sexes among ticket-buyers, and indeed broke out well beyond males that usually comprised greater support of westerns.

Action Man Nicholas Ray
 It was early enough in Nicholas Ray's career for the director to try on different labels. In Johnny Guitar's wake, he was dubbed a master of motion picture realism by The Independent Film Journal. Ray's fight scenes are considered some of the greatest in the history of the action motion picture, said an admiring trade. I don't like to use doubles, Ray remarked, I like to shoot close ... none of that "stagey look" others fell victim to. Was Nick trying to position himself as a next Howard Hawks or Raoul Walsh? It wouldn't hurt to develop a rep for gunplay and slapping leather --- likely as not, Ray got his Run For Cover assignment based on promising vibes off Johnny Guitar.

June 1954 saw Johnny Guitar tucked among a nationwide Top Five, according to Variety's boxoffice survey. Republic was perhaps most surprised to see it capturing ... many smash to great playdates. In fact, JG was bettering biz done by The Quiet Man, Republic's till-then yardstick of sock receipts. Those Texas houses saw Johnny Guitar "running way ahead of "Quiet," according to the trade's round-up. Success in theatres would not be duplicated, however, come early 1958 and a combo of JG with The Quiet Man, both being prepped in any case for release to television that same year. Exhibitors were up in arms over Republic's wholesale dumping of post-48 features to the enemy tube. The company's deal with six NBC owned-and-operated stations called for 140 titles to be available for broadcast, Johnny Guitar making its vid premiere during May 1958 on New York City's affiliate.

Johnny Guitar Opens in L.A.
 ... with John Ford's The Sun Shines Bright
as a Co-Feature.
From here to cult immortality came courtesy Films, Inc. and other non-theatrical suppliers. The first of the baroque westerns, as Johnny Guitar was known at a peak of Nicholas Ray's auteur standing, could be rented in 16mm for between $35 and $115, depending on audience size and whether or not admissions were charged. A by-then down-on-luck Ray attended many of these college screenings and was initially nonplussed by youth's worship of a show he'd gone years disdaining, memories of cast feuding, Republic's interference, and their withholding of a producer's credit souring recollection of Johnny Guitar. Maybe it needed a new generation to reassure Ray that his creative instincts had been right after all.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Ray and Republic Play Johnny's Guitar --- Part One

There'd never been such a cracked western as Johnny Guitar when Republic got it out for Spring and summer 1954 dates. Was this another of that company's singing cowboys? One look at Nicholas Ray's finished merchandise disabused notions of Johnny's guitar being like ones Rex Allen lately plucked. Hadn't Republic closed B west accounts earlier that year with Allen's last ride, Phantom Stallion? From here forward theirs would be westerns with money, plus whatever genres could lift them to major studio category ... only it was late, as in too late, for reinventing Republic as a dealer off A-level decks, theirs a brand then and forevermore associated with what filled Saturday schedules.

Republic Moving On Up to "A's" For a 1954 Releasing Season
Johnny Guitar was a cult favorite almost from being new, first with Euro's embrace, then coming ashore later to dazzle Nicholas Ray's congregation (plain folks had liked it right off in first-runs ... this was Republic's big score for '54). Ray dropped around for latter-day screenings, brought to the pulpit slowly by admirers who finally satisfied him that JG was a great and highly personal work. Had boxoffice been sole criteria, Ray might have put Johnny among favorites from the start, but his directing experience by all accounts (including NR's own) was pretty miserable, so despite fan assurance, it was hard for him to look back upon anything other than disaster where Johnny Guitar was concerned.

Is it me, or does Joan Crawford look ready to spit in director Nick Ray's eye?
First and foremost this was a Joan Crawford western, a specimen not seen before (modern dress Montana Moon in 1930 didn't really qualify, and was forgotten besides). She was still a meaningful name and more so for recent Sudden Fear, a thriller hit Crawford produced and sold 'cross country like a demon. This star had plentiful juice left by 1953, when Johnny Guitar began shooting (October) and didn't shrink from exercising it. The feuds precipitated by, and inflicted upon, Crawford would be stuff of memoir/interview legend for decades to come. Even now, conflicts off Arizona location are aired by survivor Ernest Borginine, whose entertaining book of last year tattled on diva Joan and opponents long gone. 1953-54 press told of wells poisoned, for Crawford had gone to mats with co-stars Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge, and director Ray, with whom JC had been intimate (but no more!). Such heated gossip fanned interest and anticipation for what shaped to be a sexy western we'd not confuse with tame ones Republic had made prior.

This 1954 Ad Promises a "Panoramic Screen" Experience For JG Patrons
Studio is currently mulling whether or not it (Johnny Guitar) will be shot in wide-screen and color, said Variety's Inside Column in July 1953. Many films were tabbed for 1.85 projection by mid-'53, if not anamorphic lensing 20th Fox was soon to unveil, then license to rivals. Trade reviews indicated Johnny Guitar was a 1.66 ratio release, clearly a wider-than-high presentation, though videos, and even a Region 2 DVD introduced by Martin Scorsese (sourced from UCLA's restoration), are full-frame. I assume most audiences in 1954 received Johnny Guitar wide, evidently the way it was meant to be seen. Can anyone report on how JG is rendered for current archival screenings?

Trucolor was Republic's patented rainbow affect. Bosley Crowther's Johnny Guitar review said its hues were slightly awful. You could call Republic's the rope cigar of color processes, but the studio wasn't for enriching Technicolor's coffer when their own lab could get out something at least a tenth as good. Trucolor does suit overall weirdness of Johnny Guitar. Nicholas Ray would tell The Independent Film Journal, "I like Trucolor. It has tremendous clarity." That was in February 1954, months ahead of JG's May release, and perhaps an instance of Ray good-sporting for a next job. NR fell out soon enough with Republic over a full producer's credit he'd counted on. They drew a line at "Associate Producer," which Ray called a short-pants credit. Associate is an office boy equivalent, said the director, so rather than submit to it, he'd accept no producer credit at all.

Joan Crawford had a percentage of Sudden Fear and made a pot-full. For Johnny Guitar, she got straight salary at $200,000, reflection of juiced-up value in her name thanks to Fear's success. Despite not being in for a % this time, Crawford tub-thumped, gratis as Variety put it, on Johnny Guitar's behalf. Her swing was through Texas theatres, four city stops and mob scenes in all. JC's fan base was thicker than Lone Star cattle ... they'd amount to droves everywhere she went. Crawford's attention to club chapters made her following by far the most organized and loyal any star had. Receptions they'd arrange made personally-appearing Joan Crawford look like Cleopatra stepping off her barge.

Part Two of Johnny Guitar is HERE.
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