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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Columbia Markets Gulliver --- Part Two

The Three Worlds Of Gulliver may seem Lilliputian beside what's spent on fantasies today, but for 1960, it was Columbia's biggest year-end gun next to Pepe, a cameo-choked vehicle for funnyman Cantinflas from Around The World In 80 Days. Producer Charles H. Schneer had shown Gulliver to studio brass during June of 1960 and was rewarded with a five-year contract to replace his earlier deal for three, a pair of pics to be delivered per annum. Columbia now had a unit in Schneer-Harryhausen to supply what had become an important segment of the audience, namely young folk with allowance to spend. Other companies were tapping a same market with overlap merchandise: Paramount via their Jerry Lewis series, Universal and its sub-contract with England's Hammer Films for chiller subjects (Columbia had a relationship there as well), and of course, the dominating force for family/juve that was Walt Disney. Columbia veepee in charge of publicity Rube Jacktor took to roads on conviction that Gulliver "will far surpass" 1958's Sinbad hit, his confidence affirmed by dates in "400 key areas" for Three Worlds. Christmas competition was keen, as 1960 proved a dense year for product geared toward the young.

What Variety called the "moppet trade" was regaled by The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, A Dog Of Flanders, and The Snow Queen for a first six months, and a second half of 1960 promised Pollyanna, Swiss Family Robinson, Tess Of The Storm Country, The Little Shepherd Of Kingdom Come, and Freckles. To these were added star vehicles for kid allure, specifically two from Jerry Lewis, whose Cinderfella went to holiday mats with Gulliver. There was but finite number of treats that could go in any child's stocking. For startling then-to-now contrast, consider what Columbia spent launching Los Angeles' 18-house saturation date (December 21) for Gulliver: $22,000 went mostly to newspapers, but radio and TV figured in heavily as well (Pepe had a $50,000 L.A. ad budget, the largest Columbia had so far set for that territory). There was also a first-ever network ad buy by Columbia on Gulliver's behalf, the spot to run during ABC's Walt Disney program to an audience estimated at sixty million. Just measure these puny dollars against fortunes spent per day (make that hour) to promote Iron Man 3.

1960's idea of a splurge, and it was in context of that year and market, was Gulliver riding among floats in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. This was an event seen by an estimated forty million television viewers in addition to those lined up along Gotham streets. The float was twenty-five feet long and the Gulliver figure at its center towered to eighteen feet high. Similar flat-bed displays had been used for The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad two seasons before, being a lure to kids for whom such was like a circus arriving in town. The float was fiscally sound for touring it could make between Thanksgiving and ultimate Christmas destinations for Three Worlds. Usefulness was enhanced by its presence at Hollywood's Santa Claus Lane parade held in December, along with sixteen other suburban events around the Los Angeles market.

An issue for Three Worlds was audience assumption, based on after-taste of the 1939 Paramount release, that Gulliver would be a cartoon, this having to be overcome with ads and TV saturation to  assure patrons that here was a live-action story and all-new besides. Meanwhile, the full-length animation that was Gulliver's Travels remained in revival circulation, thanks to NTA's reissue of same and its lower cost to book. Another obstacle to any Christmas opening was weather, especially in the Northeast where snowstorms could wipe out a weekend heavily promoted over days before. This plus competition most intense from Paramount's Cinderfella made Gulliver's a high hill to climb. Both these pics were aimed at a same market, namely kids and parents who'd bring them, but the juggernaut that was Disney and Swiss Family Robinson was what drew family coin. It's worth noting that 1960 was a peak year for Baby Boom attendance, millions of moppets at ideal age to beg Mom and Dad for accompaniment, or at least transport, to local Bijous. Hollywood was well aware of these demographics and may have crowded plates past appetites of even said voracious market.

In the end, Gulliver and Cinderfella would share a boxoffice fate, that being stout numbers for initial days followed by plunge to disappointment totals. Second weeks tended to drop precipitously. Three Worlds ranked #5 in nationwide boxoffice for December, but dropped out of the Top Ten altogether in January. Did youngsters pass word that there were no monsters to battle Gulliver? (other than a crocodile that was heavily promoted). For Cinderfella's part, there was greater letdown, this being the first Jerry Lewis solo feature besides Visit To A Small Planet to dip below three million in domestic rentals. Mysterious Island was already well along when Gulliver opened. Effects work back in England was what prevented Ray Harryhausen from participating in US bally effort for Three Worlds. For his fan base, The Three Worlds Of Gulliver would remain a black sheep, despite work as intricate as any the FX master applied over his long career. History's sustaining verdict? Not enough monsters. Harryhausen's brand, then as now, was freighted with expectation of that. A best aspect of The Three Worlds Of Gulliver to modern viewing may well be a Bernard Herrmann score among the composer's best. It's CD-available on the Varese Sarabande Film Classics label. Gulliver plays in widescreen HD from time to time on Sony's Movie Channel.


Blogger opticalguy said...

I was unaware of the existence of THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER and totally missed the initial release and the various promotional items. I did check out the film on TV one glorious Sunday, I was about 15 at the time, without a trip to church and was astounded. First of all there was this amazing Bernard Herman score and then, I just about fainted, Ray Harryhausen's name on the credits!!

As was typical there was the wonderful look to the film due to Ray's de facto production designer role and that late 1950s/early 1960s English Technicolor photography. The gross simplification of the source novel was well thought-out for once and although it was clearly tailored to the kiddie show crowd it was simplified, not dumbed-down. I thoroughly enjoyed it even though it was Schneer/Harryhausen "lite."

I do like your putting it into context (it was a prime time for really fun kiddie shows … thank God I was a kid at the time and could enjoy most of them … so making THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER a kiddie movie (even more so than was THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD which was also a kiddie movie gang … like it or not) made good sense at the time.

People are a bit harsh on this film but just as all the very rough edges in JACK THE GIANT KILLER don't keep me from enjoying it the kiddie movie aspect of THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER shouldn't keep you from having fun with it.

Spencer Gill (

10:30 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

"Jack The Giant Killer" was a great matinee favorite for me as well. I saw it on a combo with "The Incredible Shrinking Man" in July 1964, a memorable day at the show, and then in 1973 at a kiddie show in Winston-Salem, where the long-gone Thruway Theatre ran a brand new print. Like you, I missed "Gulliver" in 1960, seeing it much later on TV.

1:46 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson recalls Macy parades of the past. Wish now I'd paid more attention to these on Thanksgiving morns:

There's probably a good story in how the parade used to be a major promotional venue for movies, especially when the holiday films usually included an outsized musical or two.

I remember a ship representing "Dr. Dolittle" (loaded with kids lip-syncing one of the songs), and a mountain goat atop a puppet theater for "The Sound of Music" (the marionettes from the movie performed). Also remember a float for Disney's "Sword in the Stone," which was actually in a different parade (While NBC ran Macy's beginning to end, CBS would intercut parades from other cities). There was even a float for "Heidi's Song," a jaw-droppingly odd Hanna Barbara feature.

They still do excepts from Broadway shows on the street before the parade, but the movies seemed to have moved to the commercial breaks. Television shows, toys and corporate mascots more than pick up the slack, but it's not the same.

The last major thing I can remember is a balloon of a dinosaur from "We're Back." The balloon came back for a few years; the movie sank like a rock.

7:36 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

I saw "Gulliver" in Dec. 1960 at the "Sundown" drive-In (now long gone)in Whittier, Calif. with my family. Being a baby-boomer, I was privileged to see the vast majority of these wonderful (now classic) films upon their initial release. I can vividly recall my mother saying (as we watched "Gulliver" on the huge drive-in theater screen): "This is SO clever" (referring, of course to Ray Harryhausen's wonderful effects. That film, as well as "Sinbad" and "Mysterious Island" seen by me as a kid, are still personal favorites.

8:56 PM  
Blogger Jim Lane said...

I'm one who saw The Three Worlds of Gulliver in the theater. Always liked it myself, though it's true, not enough monsters. Still, having read the book right about the same time (albeit much admittedly went over my head), I was impressed by how well the movie (as Spencer Gill aptly says) simplified Swift without dumbing him down. I still laugh out loud at the Lilliputian king's line: "I trust and have abiding faith in the integrity and reliability of any man that I can kill." And I'll never forget those brilliant blue eyes of that little girl who played Glumdalclitch. (Just looked her up: Sherry Alberoni.)

The picture holds up, too, and not only for me; my great-nephews, ages 11 and 9, borrowed the DVD and loved it.

2:52 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon shares some Harryhausen memories (Part One):


I've enjoyed your novel approach---and it is, I'm not being sarcastic!---to responding to the death of Ray Harryhausen, unconventionally citing one of his least-successful early ventures...!

I guess one can propound relatively mealy-mouthed defense for this one, and on the same subject, 'success'. I saw it when it was new and I thought it was fantastic! I was all of 7 years old by the reckoning of your time line. I'd missed "7th Voyage of Sinbad" and did not have that impossible standard to apply to "...Gulliver". I remember sensations from it, all these years later, and oddly enough, one of them was the almost sensual atmosphere of rich, enveloping color. Color, itself! The costumes, the blue sea when Gulliver is blown overboard. The unforgettable visual impression of Gulliver dying himself red, to foil the medieval magician's scheme. Also, I was blown away by that little alligator! Even the damn squirrel thrilled me. When you stop to consider that the other great audience grabber at that time which you cite, "The Swiss Family Robinson", offered some cool stuff from the POV of a little boy, such as that wonderful tree house, and a good battle with the "Polynesian" invaders, but had no giant alligator after all, you might be persuaded to see it through my narrow aperture of appreciation. As adults, of course, we can appreciate that this is a Ray Harryhausen picture on a par with "...Sinbad", but simply deals with a different subject. It does an admirable job of preserving a good portion of Swift's basic intent, which is to hold a mirror up to the idiocies of his own time, i.e., social criticism. Harryhausen's instincts are what provide diversions that were probably not in Swift's original (I've never read it, I must confess) but inject conventional Saturday matinee thrills that make the movie more appealing to youngsters. Yes, I can understand how older, hip kids who might actually have associated their fond, still vivid memories of "...Sinbad" with the word 'Dynamation' and the team which made "...Gulliver", and found the latter sorely lacking in thrills and, as you say, monsters. But to me, that giant alligator WAS a monster. I guess I can't help defending "...Gulliver", but to be as redundant as possible, Gulliver thrived without having known Sinbad first.

8:36 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon on Harryhausen (Part Two):

I'm tickled to read the names of so many movies from that season that you cite here, so many of which my parents took me to see! I saw "Cinderfella", "Swiss Family Robinson", "Pollyanna", "Visit to a Small Planet", and even "The Snow Queen"! In consideration of this, I'll never, ever get over how they somehow missed "7th Voyage of Sinbad" AND "Mysterious island", which are leagues better than any of the competition from that time, in my firm belief. But, also, my dad seldom if ever took me to see movies by himself. It was always as a family bloc, and then almost always at the nearby Century Drive-In across from Hollywood Park racetrack, confusingly located in Inglewood! And even there I'm surprised dad dropped the ball on one of the biggest, manly (but actually, boyish and far-fetched) adventure films of that era, another Columbia jewel in the crown, "Guns of Navarone". It took me decades to see this, and unfortunately I first encountered it in that abysmally screwed-up transfer Columbia marketed via early home video. The most recent reissue on Blu-ray benefits from a truly admirable digital restoration that can't completely revive all of it, but makes a yeoman effort. Similar permanent problems appear to remain with "7th Voyage...", after all. I am finally somewhat convinced that people who saw these when they were kids probably saw a better version than we can, today. You need only compare the Blu-ray versions of "7th Voyage..." (good) to "Mysterious Island" and "Jason and the Argonauts" (very good and excellent, respectively) to see the impact of what it means to have decent materials to work with. Curiously, both "7th Voyage of Sinbad" and "Mysterious Island" both suffer from a very curious phenomenon: the last reels suddenly deteriorate badly in terms of visual quality. I wonder why in hell that should be the case (?)

8:37 AM  

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