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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Among Fox Blu-Ray Classics ...

Call Of The Wild (1935) Gets The Long-Awaited Fix

Fox's Blu-Ray of this is just out, and the news is good. For the first time since 1935, we're given a complete version of the Clark Gable-Loretta Young starrer directed by William Wellman. Reviews haven't emphasized it, but this Call Of The Wild restores a Code cut that had gone missing in all prints and previous DVD/video releases. I first saw mention of it in program notes William K. Everson wrote for a 1966 screening, and others have wondered why Katherine DeMille and LeRoy Mason, billed in credits, aren't to be seen in the movie. Well, now they're back. I'm unclear on why this footage was cut, Call Of The Wild being a Code-conformed pic from its beginning. Was there re-submission to the PCA for a first reissue in the 40's? Apparently so, as that's when footage was removed, and not restored till now. Kudos are due to critic/historian Lou Lumenick at The New York Post, who was aware of the problem and alerted Fox Home Video to that effect. If not for his vigilance, we may have got a truncated Call Of The Wild as was case with the earlier DVD.

Pacific Northwest Locations Are Much Enhanced By Fox's Newly Released Blu-Ray

Wild was produced, not by 20th Century Fox, but Twentieth-Century Pictures, the entity set up by Joseph Schenck and Darryl Zanuck, with financial backing from, among powerful others, Louis B. Mayer. Part of what Mayer wanted in exchange was the new company hire of his son-in-law, William Goetz, to an executive position. Mayer further buttered bread with loan of top Metro stars to Twentieth Century, including Clark Gable for Call Of The Wild. Success of the new firm was immediate, so much so that banks stepped forward to enable a merger between Twentieth Century and ailing Fox Film Corporation. Overnight was born a new, and very major studio. Rechristened 20th Century Fox would produce, distribute, and in large part exhibit pics (their West Coast theatre chain one of the nation's largest), a full grown octopus right out of the cradle.

Comic Drunk Arthur Housman Mirth-Makes with Gable
Clark Gable's most memorable screen romance wasn't necessarily with Harlow, Scarlett, or other of those dames; in fact, his love was best expressed for Buck the Saint Bernard, their scenes topping by far conventional hug-smooch with Loretta Young. Buck was made a star in Call Of The Wild, following up with triumph in westerns opposite Gene Autry, The Three Mesquiteers, and elsewhere. A scene that stands starkly as best in Call Of The Wild has Buck pulling a thousand pound sled across one hundred yards of ice, Gable and the rest stood by in awe. Viewing youngsters must have whooped the roof off theatres during this. Gable had actually worked previous with a wonder dog, his silent appearance in 1925's North Star opposite Strongheart, a noble German Shepherd from whom CG doubtless learned lots re subtlety of performance (said Strongheart's trainer of the dog's technique: "even though he tore their clothes to shreds, he never left a mark of fang or nail on any actor").

You Can Bet Gable Added An Army Of Boy Fans For His Wild Romance with Buck

Lovable Jack Oakie. Who Wanted Him Killed Off?
Jack Oakie is around for endearing character comedy. To show how close Twentieth-Century came to blowing boxoffice for Call Of The Wild, there was a long and excruciating sequence filmed of Oakie taken by villains, then shot down, a development deplored by preview crowds that sent Wellman and crew back to reshoot cheerier fate for a character no one wanted to see suffer. There's hint of the shorn portion yet, when Oakie tosses favorite dice at two-thirds departure point and they come up snake eyes. Our dread of what'll happen next thankfully does not come to fruition. The movie would have been ruined for lots if it had. Previews were often a barometer of what not to keep in a finished film. Bad audience reaction to a narrative bump could be smoothed by editing or judicious reshoot. Why keep a scene that would so discomfit your customers?

Back To Thrill In 1945, With Saturation Openings As Here

Call Of The Wild Gets a 1945 First-Run at a Chicago Loop Venue
Call Of The Wild was all the more valued property for Fox when war came and Clark Gable enlisted. He'd be three years without a new release (1942-1945) and leave a marketplace starved for fresh footage of a star at absolute peak of his popularity. Recourse could be had, as was often a case, via reissues. 20th skedded Call Of The Wild for 1943 dates, a plan MGM claimed was breach of original loan-out agreement for Gable services from 1935. Seems there were restrictions in place as to reissues. Fox fought and Metro dug in. Spyros Skouras even sat down personally with Loew's chief Nick Schenck to iron problems out, to little avail. 1943 bookings had to be cancelled. Further effort two years later got thumbs-down from the lion, MGM by mid-'45 preparing their first post-war Gable, Adventure, for fall release. Agreement was finally hammered by both side attorneys for Call Of The Wild to return in June, but be out of theatres by time of Gable Being Back and Garson Getting Him. Business was expectedly strong, Call Of The Wild bringing $730K in 1945 domestic rentals to eventual $502K profit. The picture proved an evergreen in terms of later play, a 1953 encore yielding $162K more, good for $93K in profit once print/advertising cost was covered.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Look at 'em, five cartoons on one bill for the re-release (including Bob Clampett's WACKY WABBIT, and FALLING HARE)!

Boy, those were the days when going to the movies was fun!

Thanks for the info. Will get this.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

"Wacky Rabbit in 'Falling Hare'"? Was there actually an exhibitor in June 1945 who didn't know the name Bugs Bunny? Warners' 'Bugs Bunny Specials' booking policy had been in place for a year by that point.

Then again, FALLING HARE was nearly two years old by that point and two of the three other toons were from the previous year. Only the Mighty Mouse was vintage 1945, Fox likely having sent it along with the feature. This conjures up an image of some cartoon pirate helping to boost this show at bargain rates. Maybe next week the theater was promoting "The Spinach Sailor in 'Her Honor the Mare.'"

9:33 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Per Wacky Rabbit: Is it possible that only Warners-owned theatres could show Warners cartoons in that city -- and this was the only way the exhibitor could advertise it?

10:33 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Arthur Housman is one of my top favorite character actors. The man seems to have made a career out of doing bit parts as a drunk.

3:43 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson mentions a few possibilities re the cartoon program that ran with "Call Of The Wild" at the Upton, Fairway, and Esquire Theatres:

I'd dismiss "Wacky Rabbit" as sloppiness. There's no such Mighty Mouse cartoon as "Kilken Kat," but there IS "Mighty Mouse Meets Jeckyll and Hyde Cat" (thank you, Big Cartoon Database). "Falling Hare" is from 1943 and the rest are from 1944; I'm guessing that would be reasonably fresh product for neighborhood and small town houses.

What's more interesting is that each cartoon comes from a different studio: Warner, Disney (RKO), Famous (Paramount) and Terrytoons (Fox). Did the exhibitor have to go to separate distributors for each cartoon? Would an exhibitor take that trouble rather than taking the whole show from Fox, or at least getting all the cartoons from a single studio?

I've seen old cartoon matinee ads that promised Mickey, Popeye and Bugs, but since the cartoon stars were top-billed and there were presumably several from each studio, it seems that would have been worth the effort.

7:32 PM  
Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

There is a Mighty Mouse cartoon called Mighty Mouse and the Kilkenny Cats released April 13, 1945.

8:47 PM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

Donald, I can't see "sloppiness" justifying "Wacky Rabbit" because Bugs Bunny was easily the biggest star of that particular pack in 1945. There were no "Donald Duck Specials" being hawked at higher rentals than the rest of Disney's cartoon program. And it's the very thing you find most interesting - a different distributor per cartoon - that makes me suspect a pirate (even if it is unlikely).

Mark, that is exactly the Mighty Mouse cartoon I was referencing in my prior post; just forgot to name it. I'm sure it was ordered with the feature, or was part of the package.

Will somebody post anything about how great it is that CALL OF THE WILD is now complete, or have the cartoon fanatics completely taken over the Greenbriar?

11:47 PM  
Blogger EricSwede said...

The original death of Oakie, or at least a part of it, was shown on "That's Hollywood" in one of their episodes of cut footage.

8:49 AM  

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