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Monday, March 27, 2017

Crawford On Fire Again After Warner Slump

Sudden Fear Sockeroo Thanks To Turner and TV

Cleveland is Blitz-Ville For TV Fear Saturation
Another Turner triumph, as in Terry. He was RKO’s selling genius who brought Snow White and King Kong back to 1952 triumph and made the case for television as essential bally adjunct. He’d go on to render Hercules and Gorgo unto mobs of moppets sniffing glue that was daily broadcasting, Turner hep to radio and newspapers as most valued help to pics seeking a public. Sudden Fear was for him a summer project, it and King Kong the RKO pair to oppose major company wares better budget-equipped to blitz a ’52 marketplace. Turner saw Kong’s TV-driven wallop, but admitted the “trick picture” might have been mere “accidental” success (Variety, 7/23/52). Sudden Fear would give the truer forecast of TV’s merchandising future. Turner test drove vid push for its saturation in New York (at Loew’s State plus 150 Gotham venues) and Cleveland (the RKO Palace and surrounding environs). TT knew you couldn’t sensibly buy television time for a single theatre, as ads on the tube “cost five times as much as radio,” thus risk you’d spend more than could be got back in paid admissions. Best bet was product that had plenty to exploit, Sudden Fear chock full of that, according to those who’d snuck a peek.

Sudden Fear was all the more a hit for being “brought in for $600,000” (Variety), a B/W bargain on top of toughening up a tired suspense genre w/ women as endangered focal point. Big help, and change of pace, from past femme gothics was letting the worm turn and begin stalking would-be killers, in Fear’s case, Crawford v. reptile-face Jack Palance and slut-on-prowl Gloria Grahame. What I suspect moderns like best about Sudden Fear is empowered JC getting lethal best of opponents, device of which kept me revved for a second half. Cohen Film Collection, heir to the Rohauer library, supplies a Blu-Ray to lift onus of past releases (Sudden Fear has never looked a tenth this good). Given pick of 50’s melodrama, or any of Crawfords after Mildred Pierce, this may be readiest to spring on civilians. Sudden Fear has been clicko at noir fests, where applause meets Crawford hysterics, as in appreciative rather than camp/derisive. Fact the film was buried makes Sudden Fear fresh meat for revival before crowds blasé to known JC’s.

Breakfast Free? Wonder If They Served Pancakes

It’s known that she did Sudden Fear for percentage, a gamble Crawford would take again with Baby Jane. Both times she’d roll seven. Unlike rival Bette Davis, I doubt Joan saw a broke day (though she'd plead poverty, and often, to turn tides in her direction). Crawford worked for work’s sake, less for the cash. To latter, JC was in early-’52 receipt of $200K from Warners to let them off hook for remaining four vehicles earlier committed to. Pay-off would be “doled out over a period of years,” said Variety, her last for WB having been This Woman Is Dangerous, which like others with the star, arrived snake-bit. Were customers tired of Crawford, or flaccid product out of Burbank? It seemed sure WB would not go bold direction of Sudden Fear, nor share % of receipts w/ Crawford, reasons enough for her to want out. Stars went free-lance in the 50’s largely to evade sameness of studio work, and hope for greater cash from tax schemes a substitute for salary checks gov't took big bite from. Independents and even low-budgeters seemed the more adventurous route. For Crawford, that meant Johnny Guitar in addition to Sudden Fear, plus Autumn Leaves. If she hiccupped now, it would be for coasting on past formula, like Torch Song, a hark-back customers cooled toward.

There's a thumping fun series on FX called Bette and Joan where Susan Sarandon plays BD and Jessica Lange does Joan. Both actresses are terrif and most facts are got right in the telling. At last Hollywood has tumbled onto Davis/Crawford lives as richer source for melodrama than movies they made. Watching these episodes (eight in all) lends texture to Sudden Fear and what Crawford did to stay busy in those pitiless 50's and worse 60's. Seemed by then that woman pics with older stars got by only where killing was afoot or leading men (always younger) had mercenary, then deadly, design on a Crawford or whoever past prime. It was cruelly like saying no man could want such women lest there were dollars involved. Crawford had to know that and be demoralized by it, another reason age bit deep, but she'd do the dance again with Jeff Chandler in Female On The Beach. Stardom for never-say-quit sisterhood was less harder got than harder kept during postwar where all of industry struggled to stay afloat.

UPDATE: 3/27/17 at 3:00 PM: The Art Of Selling Movies is reviewed by David Robinson in today's Washington Post.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Just watched SUDDEN FEAR for the first time a few days ago. It was the Kino dvd and it looked awful.

That said, the film shone through the poor quality of the dvd like the sun after a storm. The success of Crawford and others away from their studios demonstrates how ineptly those studios were and are run.

7:34 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Then there's the much-told story of how Joanie lost money appearing in a NIGHT GALLERY story.

10:38 AM  
Blogger lmshah said...

John, don't you find it a bit ironic that in the 1960's, aging women stars had to do horror films like WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE to keep working, and today, aging women stars have to play OTHER aging women stars having to do horror films like WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE to keep working?

I always thought BABY JANE was one of the lows in the parasitical dark fan fascination of star decrepitation, it's just a mean-spirited bitchfest for sicko fans to slather over like Victor Buono as Bette tortures Joan, but I think this new mini-series, whatever it's actual merits, may have beat it for pathetic fascination with the icky side of Hollywood, made even more weird by the fact that both Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, at 71 and 68 respectively, both look way better than either Crawford and Davis looked in their 50's when they made BABY JANE.


1:09 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Strong second to your description of "Baby Jane" as mean-spirited, Richard. It's the reason I never enjoyed the film. It's always been an unpleasant sit for me. "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" I find way more digestible, and minus the bitter aftertaste.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Smearing D. W. Griffith: Great review of your book but tainted...

"In addition to morality and taste, theatres sometimes had to fend off political controversy. D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (1915), with its racist rewriting of the Civil War and aftermath, provoked demonstrations and brought to the fore the fledgling Association for the Advancement of Colored People. A theater in Des Moines boasted: “2,000 Horses. Orchestra of 25. No Riots from Showing.”--David Robinson.

Fritzi Kramer in her review of "MOTION PICTURE DIRECTING: The Facts And Theories Of The Newest Art by Peter Milne, writes, "Despite the requisite gushiness Milne displays on the subject of The Birth of a Nation, he has a very clear-eyed take on D.W. Griffith’s wild inconsistency as a director. Bomb, bomb, bomb, blockbuster, bomb, bomb, bomb."

I bought the book to see for myself what it says. Actually, what Milne wrote is "Griffith sinks an unusually large amount of money in pictures like 'HEARTS OF THE WORLD' and then, while the returns from such a picture are slowly accruing, he must needs turn out a few potboilers to keep the wolf from the door." A potboiler is something done to raise money. Those films made between his great films were not bombs.

While the attitudes and ideas are not, in the main, the attitudes and ideas of our time they were the attitudes and ideas of the white south at the time of the American Civil War and the Aftermath of Reconstruction. Griffith accurately portrays them in his picture. To call him and his film racist for doing that is wrong.

"Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people."--Eleanor Roosevelt.

At the moment the small minds appear to have the field. The Art of Selling Movies begins with D. W. Griffith and THE BIRTH OF A NATION. Both the industry and the media predicted THE BIRTH would not sell at $2 a seat (50 cents below top Broadway price and over $50 a seat in today's dollar). They were wrong and wrong big. THE BIRTH in first release was seen by over four times the population of The United States in America alone. No other film maker has taken Griffith's risks. No other has duplicated his success. For an unjaundiced take on Griffith go to Stanley Kubrick: .

I don't find BABY JANE mean-spirited. Crawford and Davis were professionals who knew exactly what notes to strike. They were also watching their lives being flushed down the toilet by an industry that has never known how to build. For example, instead of shutting down their animation departments MGM, Warner Brothers, and others could have kept them together and opened their eyes to the potential that television opened up. After watching the first episode of FEUD I dug out BABY JANE and took a look at it. Boy, it delivers the goods.

D. W. Griffith in THE BIRTH OF A NATION delivered the goods and did it better than anyone has since. Folks would do well instead of disparaging him study him.

7:36 AM  

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