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Sunday, December 17, 2017

For Happy 1957 Holidays ...

Clouds Form Over Raintree County

It was MGM president Joe Vogel's first meeting with gathered press. He had been installed a few months before to replace deposed Dore Schary, who was himself a sub for sacked Louis Mayer. This, then, was windmill spun at Loew's, parent corp of MGM, a lion roaring fainter what with viewer loss to TV and better things to do than see movies. Hopeful toward plugging the dyke was Raintree County, tabbed for Fall 1957 release on roadshow basis, a six million dollar job, according to Vogel's June estimate (couple weeks follow-up in Variety adjusted the figure to $5.4 million). Expense was due in part to 65mm lensing, said Metro's chief, the enlarged show to premiere late September in Louisville, Kentucky, near which location photography took place. There was question as to whether prints would be struck in the larger format, conversion costs in excess of $10,000 for theatres inclined to project 65mm. Still, said Leo, the 35mm scope prints, reduced from the oversized negative, would register sharper than Cinemascope, so everybody wins. Being this was a most colossal project since Gone With The Wind, and with similar backdrop ("In the Tradition Of Great Civil War Romances"), MGM sales put exhibition on notice that "the basic deal ... will be a 90-10 arrangement," which meant Lion's share, by thick margin, would go to the Lion. Question, then, for run-up to September: Would autumn-arriving Raintree County live up to Vogel's summer forecast?

A 1957 show world was drunk on roadshows. They fairly spat money from still-running hits The Ten Commandments and Around The World In 80 Days. Then too were the Cineramas, one after other that came to towns and stayed for year minimum, or to whenever a next of the ultra-travelogues was ready. Roadshows were based on two-a-day principle, reserved seats, "theatre parties" with patronage there by busloads. It took an event movie to stir such interest, but what was Raintree County, if not an event? For dollars spent and starry cast (top-lined Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor), it seemed a cinch for record attendance. Metro had bagged six key dates beyond the Louisville bow, "New York, Chicago, L.A., Boston, Philadelphia, and Frisco," according to Variety in June '57 reportage. Whether one of more would use 65mm depended on a TODD-AO house being cleared after Around The World In 80 Days, but that one didn't look to go away for long times yet. Loew's stayed giddy on 65mm, however, pledging it for their Ben-Hur remake, set for '58 filming overseas.

Kansas City Has Raintree County In Its '57 Christmas Sock
Initial theatres would get three trailers, hope being that other first-run houses in respective cities would run the peeks, this a courtesy observed in spots where showmen from time-to-time helped boost one another's product. MGM was using 80 Days for a blueprint, and why not for success Michael Todd's extravaganza enjoyed? Theatre parties and "block-tix" was action Leo wanted in on, but Raintree County was heavier dose than fun-for-all Around The World, latter delivering like further dose of Cinerama, only with stars around each corner. A concern was Raintree County length, over three hours, past even Quo Vadis that had socked over so well for Metro in 1951. To roadshow front came more warriors, 20th Fox with South Pacific, Columbia and The Bridge On The River Kwai, both these figured sure-fire for long runs and advanced admissions. Others had been more conservative. Warner Bros. sent out Giant the previous year on grind basis, would do a same with Sayonara in 1957. Both these were "specials," got in on money for pre-release bookings, but otherwise played as normal attractions.

Louisville, Kentucky Makes A Holiday Of Raintree's World Premiere

Montgomery Clift Joins Edward Dmytryk At The Los Angeles Opening

Cincinnati Promised a Roadshow ... Settled For Grind
"Special" was the operative word, for in the end, it was quality of your offering that dealt the outcome. "Less than true-epic product," said some, "may well kill the goose that laid the golden egg." Danger lay in unworthy films wanting to be a next Ten Commandments or Around The World In 80 Days for holidays 1957 and into 1958. "What a lot of people are apparently forgetting is that these two pictures had something to sell. They deserved the label of a 'show'," said one ad exec. "But the minute we throw everything into the pot, and attach the label indiscriminately, the magic will fade, and the public will just lose its faith again." Chicago showmen were unhappy with distribs and their roadshow intent for too many films, as these left outlier and neighborhood venues at tail end of distribution, too long after public interest in a new title had cooled. They'd wait to negotiate on Raintree County until boxoffice vote came in from opener engagements. Promise being great, however, caused showmen to join lines for roadshow placement. No one wanted to be left out should Raintree County break big. Cincinnati's RKO Grand Theatre manager Joe Alexander told local columnist Dale Stevens that the film would run on roadshow basis, starting Christmas. This was before November 12 and sudden reverse of policy by Loew's, a result of cold splash Raintree County got when critics and a less-than-expected public got their first look at it.

"So-so" was biz in Chicago, said Variety, and L.A. was "dull." Boston reported "okay" attendance, while not unexpected crowds greeted Raintree County in Louisville. The scramble for alibis was on, Metro's Raintree failing to bloom, they said, because venues were still tied up with Around The World In 80 Days and couldn't make room for a next blockbuster. Variety counseled that "the roadshow is not necessarily the avenue to wealth it's cracked up to be." And yet distribs kept laying across tracks for another Ten Commandments or 80 Days. Unspoke truth was most features not being good enough to pack gear of extended runs and hard tickets. Certainly not forthcoming A Farewell To Arms from Fox, Desire Under The Elms out of Paramount, or Metro again with The Brothers Karamazov, each of these floated as possible roadshows. One unnamed insider put it blunt: "Our good pictures can make good money, but not if we try to sell them as three-ring circuses, or for more than they're really worth." Worse embarrassment came of trumpeting your biggest of big, only to shuffle it off to grinds after public and critics turned thumbs down. Not that Raintree County was especially disliked, but neither was it Gone With The Wind for a next generation. Cooler heads should have seen that and moved accordingly, but this was a money business, and where there's that, especially at MGM level of investment, there's also panic. The November 12 announcement came not a moment too soon. Raintree County would be available for the holiday season as a regular booking with continuous shows. Seventeen minutes would be cut to get it below onus of three hour length that grind houses deplored. Revenue, after all, turned on how many seats they could flip throughout a day. And it wasn't like anyone would be so concerned with Raintree County as uncut specimen roadshow audiences had seen.

A Rarity Book Thicker and More Detailed Than What Sold For Souvenirs in Roadshow Lobbies

MGM sales manager Charles M. Reagan said his company was acting in accord with showman request, which would be marvelous if they had done that all along, but showmen knew what crock such a statement amounted to. Variety, on the other hand, put things more honestly: "It's no secret ... that the pic did not win the critical acclaim that had been anticipated and that b.o. results to date have not met expectations. In addition, Metro faced some difficulty in obtaining theatres for hard-ticket runs because of the critical reception." To hand Raintree County over to grinds was admission of defeat at a time Leo could not afford to be humbled. There was enough of that going on at boxoffices for majority of MGM product, success for the season counted in single digits (sole hits for '57, as in cracking a million in profit: Jailhouse Rock and Don't Go Near The Water). To re-label a roadshow "can be costly in terms of ... trade and public prestige," observed Variety, but wait, three locales wanted Raintree County for Christmas, and on hard-ticket basis. These were St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis, each with their own reason to believe the show could sell at premium rate. Los Angeles, on the other hand, put Raintree County in saturation after letdown of the Fox-Wilshire roadshow. Eight locations played shortened prints during January 1958, and by trade accounts, did surprisingly well. Maybe this was how customers preferred Raintree County after all.

Lunch Break On The "Atlanta Street" Built For Raintree County

Back in Cincinnati on 2-27-62 
Final tally saw Raintree County doing biggest biz of all MGM releases that year, $9.5 million in worldwide rentals, which would have been a historic smash if only they hadn't spent final tally $5.7 million on the negative. Ink ran red, but not by (comparative) much, $368K lost. Raintree County then, should not be remembered as a flop, because people did go to it, especially in general release, and presumably had a good time. Certainly they revere it in hindsight. I don't know many titles for which there is more anxiety for a Blu-ray release. Trouble is an ongoing perception of Raintree County as a stiff. Fact is, digital rescue would yield a stunner, as there's no reason to believe elements are gone or damaged. As with much of oldies, it is money that keeps proper preservation at bay. Warners probably realizes that this would at most be a Blu-Ray release from their Archive series, and where is recovery of six figures in that? Solace is barely had in TCM runs of a whiskered transfer, or a worse laser disc where you can find it. Meanwhile, fans formed by the 1957-58 run are going with their own wind. Who among present day decision-makers would move Raintree County to top of digital priority lists?


Blogger John McElwee said...

Some very interesting observations from Griff via e-mail:

Dear John:

I note in your long, authoritative discussion of the marketing of RAINTREE COUNTY that MGM licensed a more-elaborate-than-usual book/program about the making of the movie. How I'd like to peruse that! But I would guess that it omitted a key chapter -- that is, the story of the meeting in the Thalberg building in which Metro execs decided to hire Edward Dmytryk to direct the movie. I will concede that Dmytryk had previously done a passable job on THE CAINE MUTINY, but RAINTREE was far beyond his skill set. Whether you regard the ambitious Ross Lockridge, Jr. novel as literature or as simply a thoughtful pot-boiler, this had great possibilities as a screen epic... possibilities that Dmytryk was unable to realize. A shame, because much of the movie looks great -- Robert Surtees did a superb job photographing all three "Camera 65" movies (all right, by the time the MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY remake was finished, the process had been renamed Ultra Panavision). Nice John Green score. Wonderful cast. But the damn thing never comes to life. This was a picture for a Zinnemann, a Cukor, even an up-and-coming Mann or Sturges to direct. A shame.

Many years ago I read John Leggett's Ross and Tom, the tragic story of two American authors -- Raintree County's Ross Lockridge and Mister Roberts' Thomas Heggen -- who both achieved great (and sudden) critical and commercial success... and took their lives not long afterward. It's a sobering account of troubled men that has distinctly colored my view of life in some ways; I'd recommend this. [When Joseph McBride later subtitled his excellent Capra biography "The Catastrophe of Success," I thought, well, it was even more catastrophic for Lockridge and Heggen.] Anyway, there's some very interesting material in the book about MGM -- which sponsored that $150,000 prize that the Raintree novel won -- and Lockridge; the author even came to Culver City and met Mayer.

-- Griff

1:53 PM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

That so-called Atlanta Street looks like the same ol' T-squared MGM city street. Is that the often used marquee on the left?

1:58 PM  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

I must have been all of nine when I saw this one. And I still remember what an endurance contest it was. Nine year olds don't fall asleep in movie theaters so I was awake for every endless minute of it. And this was in a small town so I'm sure it must have been the shortened version. I remember being perfectly okay with the hardly kid friendly "Until They Sail" when I saw it around the same time. But this and the godawful "comedy" "Oh,Men! Oh, Women!" with Ginger Rogers and David Niven remain in my memory as that year's entertainment lowlights. Thank God "The Vikings" was only months away. Now there was a movie that lit up 1958 for me!

6:05 PM  
Blogger Mikeymort said...

At one time, about 30 years ago, the 33 rpm record of the soundtrack from Raintree County was a hard to get and valuable recording that was in the top five of rare recordings.

4:24 AM  
Blogger Tommie Hicks said...

Montgomery Clift predicted this film would make money because people would pay to compare the before and after his car wreck footage.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Ah-h-h ----- "...plugging the dyke..."?

The Wolf, man.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Marc J. Hampton said...

One of those films Ive just never caught up with. Ive only ever heard 2 things about it....that prints of it are a mess, and that it is boring as all get out. Back in the day when I sold movies at Borders bookstores, older customers occasionally asked for it had its fans.

If warners gave it a full restoration...I'd get onboard. A beautifully presented widescreen, stereo presentation has made many a mediocre film come back to life, and film buffs love a good re-apparaisal of an ignored classic.

5:39 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

During the mid eighties this film was released on video by MGM and it was one of the very few that from around 1988 to 1992 played constantly on cable in Argentina. The pan and scan version didn't help... I have always find this film to be very annoying and the story is idiotic. Everybody underperforms and even good art direction and camerawork is able to rescue this show from mediocrity.

In fact, I don't have any patience for any of these roadshows with overtures and intermissions.

5:55 PM  
Blogger StevensScope said...

THIS MGM PICTURE was filmed in TECHNICOLOR, a very rare item for the studio. MGM was one of the first to bail out from TECHNICOLOR GOING TO THE DREADFUL METROCOLOR(EASTMAN) about the time CinemaScope was introduced (1953). A mistake MGM BOSSES made during this 1950's period had to be the METROCOLOR decision-- along with the major effort of filming and throwing at us SOME of the most dreadful musicals ever made, instead of the regular western- adventure- and family oriented fare that was the norm. . So then, the soon-to-fade general release prints of ''RAINTREE COUNTY" were METROCOLOR prints. Check out the LATER posters for "HOW THE WEST WAS WON" and notice the ads are TECHNICOLOR; but when it left CINERAMA, all prints/ads were/said METROCOLOR. The 16mm prints of "RT" AND "HTWWW" were Eastman/METRO COLOR PRINTS!! ("BEN-HUR", as well!!!). Later, a King Brothers production of "MAYA" in 1966, (a little known CLINT WALKER entry, filmed in INDIA), was lensed in TECHNICOLOR, and although I recall seeing a first drive-in-showing of that film that year, I can't remember whether a TECH, or a METROCOLOR print was shown. Looking back at the event I'm not sure that at that young age did I know the difference, because admittingly, EASTMANCOLOR DOES look good when PRINTS are BRAND-NEW! .So it Seemed MGM $ dollar factors looked favorably towards METROCOLOR release prints; and aside from a few imports here and there, they never used TECHNICOLOR again (what a mistake!). Eastmancolor release prints during the 50's DID NOT EXCLUDE the OTHER STUDIOS from doing this same thing-but only for a short period. By the time the decade was over, MOST studios went back to TECHNICOLOR (early 60's)-- and grateful we are that they did. Throughout it all, ONLY PARAMOUNT and WALT DISNEY KEPT TECHNICOLOR. A wise choice, for sure.

8:54 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

When I lived near a photography store (ah, film: the good old days!) I watched a THE TIME MACHINE example of the daily ravages of the sun on non-technicolor advertising prints in the window. They gradually faded to a hideous sun-burn color. Three-strip Technicolor printing will make the oldest film look brand new. But why spend money on stuff like that? Who in the world wants to watch old movies? The Wolf,man.

9:33 AM  
Blogger iarla said...

It's a very flat film. Lifeless. No energy.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Yes, even in the stills, you can tell the before and after Monty.

10:26 PM  
Blogger Jim Lane’s Cinedrome said...

Nobody who hasn’t read Ross Lockridge’s novel can ever comprehend what a miserable, misbegotten travesty this movie is. If all you know is the movie, it’s only mediocre; that’s both the best and worst you can say about it. But as an adaptation of the novel (which my English Lit PhD nephew once called “definitely the greatest novel I never heard of”), there’s nothing bad enough to say about it. Dmytryk, to my mind, forever branded himself a shoddy hack by boasting that he hadn’t read the book. (For that matter, I’m not sure Millard Kaufman did either.)

To be fair, the novel, covering as it does 50 years in time-jumbled flashbacks from a single day in 1892, would have challenged far greater talents than Dmytryk and Kaufman; probably nothing less than a miniseries could do it (myself, I’d like to see the Game of Thrones gang take a shot). And by the way, Montgomery Clift, with or without the auto accident, was hopelessly miscast (and not for the first or last time).

Here’s a challenge for your readers, John: Read Lockridge’s novel (complete, not the abridgment released with the movie). Then sit through the movie. And just try to imagine what we’d have had in 1939 if David Selznick had treated Gone With the Wind the way MGM treated Raintree County.

5:53 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I confess to not having read the novel, so your remarks present a temptation to seek it out.

7:26 AM  

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