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Monday, October 15, 2018

Paramount Test Market In Action



Showmen Find The Selling Key For Doctor Cyclops (1940)

Paramount's 1940 Roll-Out

Made, so said, "behind locked doors," Doctor Cyclops would have been an ideal child's frolic but for its title character killing two of sympathetic doll-size victims in cold blood, an outcome we don't see coming for larkish fun had to that point (though there is tip-off of grim opener death for Paul Fix, bathed in green light as he's put under a lethal ray). A shrunk-to-scale cast interacts with giant props built after example of Devil Doll from MGM in 1936. Dumpsters must have groaned for post-production input, for where could massive books, balsa chairs, what not, ever be re-used? Directing was Ernest Schoedsack, recognized by publicity for trick films past, King Kong his standout, which you could say he followed up here. Interesting to have taller-than-tall Schoedsack calling action and cut on tiny folk besieged by a giant turned loon, for in a sense this was Schoedsack-eye view of peers, or at least how many saw him, though unlike Albert Dekker's mad experimenter, Schoedsack was benign to a fault.








Monster magazines of the 60's were paved with Cyclops stills to promise a moon of thrills if only we could track the rarity to syndicated lairs. Trouble was too few stations running Doctor Cyclops, let alone in color. Our Channel 8 in High Point did in 1967, a multi-hue dream come true. NC stations had begun leasing color prints where they could have them, a response to increased sale of color sets, this primary basis for B/W oldies being banished off VHF television, at least where I lived. Color came at a higher cost however, some broadcasters opting for B/W prints of color titles, an economy hopefully not noted by viewership. Theatres had done similar mischief through the 50's, many reissues of once-vibrant Technicolor features now booked in black-and-white only. Imagine Leave Her To Heaven or The Adventures Of Robin Hood seen that way, and in 35mm on a large screen. Such was compromise to which showmen and audiences resigned.


Paramount Home Office Reaches Out For Showman Assist To Market Doctor Cyclops




Kansas City Among The Test Markets For Doctor Cyclops


Doctor Cyclops was merchandised from the ground up, its offbeat theme, and utter lack of marquee names needing all of help a showmanship community could give. Toward that end, Paramount's home office (NY) reached out to managers proven at making screen fare fly, whatever hurdles stood before them. To sell a Hope-Crosby or a Beau Geste was infant's play --- just open doors and step back --- but Doctor Cyclops was unknown quantity, and peculiar besides. Three men and a woman shrunk by a kook scientist was thumbnail of the plot. Five advance preview sites were picked to make the yarn a magnet for showgoers. Theatre-men judged most capable, in Denver, Kansas City, Nashville, Altoona, and Providence, were put to the task. These would contribute ideas from which a nationwide campaign would develop. Whatever worked for them would be incorporated into posters, trade ads, and the pressbook. Gotham brainstorming could do but so much. It took creative minds wider afield to crack a sales code for Doctor Cyclops. What was achieved got an oddball movie a mainstream embrace, the five managers applauded as swimmers against a tide of patron resistance. Expertise like theirs was worth weight in admission coin, and I'd like to think career advance or at the least bonus reward was had for ideas these men cooked up.




Frankenstein's 1935 Bride Lends a Promoting Hand




Suppose your livelihood revolved around promoting one movie after another. No sooner would a project be done than another came to command your time and creative effort. Projects they were, and distributors were watching. For instance of Doctor Cyclops, Paramount sent field men to observe and report on what you'd do on behalf of the film. They'll help where needed, of course. Need a fifteen-foot high chair as bally display for your lobby? Find a way to get it built, and quick. Your request letter (shown above) arrives from the home office in mid-February for a March 7 opening. There are other features to exhibit and promote during the interim, but the Cyclops campaign must be baked and ready to serve by a set-in-stone playdate, drumbeat to be heard well ahead of that. Ideas develop in lieu of sleep, if necessary. The buck stops with you, as house manager. Trades call Doctor Cyclops a "decided novelty," those words a sword with two edges. Rewards are great if Doctor Cyclops clicks under your watch. An invite to region-supervise for Paramount, perhaps, or something extra in your pay packet. After all, you've helped pull bacon from a possible fire.




Nothing Sold During Summer Months Like Air-Conditioned Comfort




So results are in from the five test runs and all are outstanding. Altoona does 22 percent over normal, Nashville with the best business they've seen for a past year. Test cities top every Paramount attraction they've had since Beau Geste (Denver did it despite an otherwise crippling snowstorm). Looks like cakes and ale for all concerned, and sure-fire strategy for Doctor Cyclops as it goes into general release for late Spring and summer 1940. By then, theatres will labor under weight of hot days and hotter auditoriums. Some still close for swelter period, as who could be entertained from oven-vantage? Lush-equipped venues could boast air-conditioning, banners hung from marquees to let patronage know there was refuge here from heat. They'd watch Doctor Cyclops, or anything else, repeated times just to stay cool. Ads trumpeted the advantage, as there was no greater leg-up during summer months than refrigerated air.


A Lobby-Constructed Mad Lab To Bally Doctor Cyclops




"Romance" Ads Geared To Distaff Trade Not Otherwise Disposed To Sci-Fi Thrills

Doctor Cyclops was at the least a fun time for youth. They'd enter a heavy-promoting lobby and see wonders as great as what waited on the screen, if not a giant chair then perhaps a mad lab like the one Doctor Cyclops will use in the film, or a mirror display to peek through and see a pretty girl shrunk to pygmy-size. All in a day's visit to a well-run 1940 playhouse. Children were best served by Doctor Cyclops, so pair it with something else from Paramount they'll like, Gulliver's Travels or The Biscuit Eater perhaps, or at the least a serial chapter. We giggle at parts of Doctor Cyclops now, but who's to say it didn't scare them plenty in 1940? Are there survivors yet who recall the ferocious tabby with its low growl pursuing a shrunk cast through Technicolor'ed foliage? That unsettled me a bit and I'm supposed to be way more sophisticated than audiences back then. What we need is more eyewitness accounts of film-watching during the Classic Era. Otherwise, how's to know what effect these films had? Most of such access and opportunity is gone, or going, now. Doctor Cyclops survives mainly in memory of those who saw it on television, this no adequate place to watch, especially over years when it ran B/W only. Universal's DVD is bright compensation however, one of their better efforts at preserve and presentation. TCM should lease Doctor Cyclops and let one of their capable hosts celebrate it. There is still "decided novelty" here, and fresh veal for movie mavens who think they've seen everything.

9 Comments:

Blogger Dave K said...

Man, I love, love, love this post on one of my favorites! From a 2018 vantage point, the idea of a big budget Sci-Fi feature being such a risky sell is, well, quaint!

And I did first see this on a UHF indie circa 1963-4, in black and white of course. I think I have mentioned before, John, this local station running a package of what I assume was the rock bottom assortment of MCA Paramounts, mostly prehistoric talkie A's and a lot of later 30's and early 40's B's (where I first learned Akim Tamiroff and Lynne Overman actually got top billing sometimes.) These were run grindhouse style in a solid three hour block, the same feature repeated twice or three times, no commercials in a dead weekday afternoon slot. There were a few diamonds on the slag heap (INTERNATIONAL HOUSE, DAUGHTER OF THE DRAGON, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, etc) but DR. CYCLOPS was the hit of hits as far as this budding monster kid was concerned. Watched it twice back to back, wanting more. Nabbed the Castle Films 8mm version as soon as that was available (once again B/W, and now silent.) Still think it has some of the slickest rear screen and forced perspective effects.

Oh, and even as a kid I noticed you had to wait until after the 'THE END' credit to find out who the actors were!

11:52 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Oh, and I just realized that one of the testimonials is from the manager of the Allyn Theater in Hartford, CT, the very same movie house in which I spent so much of my misspent youth (well, 25 years later)! And they seemed to have used that 'girl-in-a-bottle' stunt too! Wonderful!

3:00 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

I don't remember when or where I saw this film first. But I remember a presentation around 1991 on a cable channel in a week devoted to B movies. Yes, there is nothing B in a 1940 production filmed in Technicolor. I don't know what happened when the film was originally released at the time and if I go to look for reviews published then I won't really get anything.

While sellers had to figure out how to promote this movie, what nobody have ever mentioned in how this film was originally greenlighted by Paramount. There are no stars in the movie and nobody that I can remember despite the presence of Paul Fix and Albert Dekker who were more journeymen than people I will immediately recognize.

Visually, the film is interesting but the special effects are less engaging than what the stills or the adverts display. In that sense, this is only a B movie in Technicolor. Today, a remake would host recognizable people in the cast, more convincing visual work... but it could be an even more ridiculous film than the 1940 production.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

Didn't catch up with this one until the DVD era, but remember the low-budget "Puppet People" on TV -- I was especially creeped out when that mad scientist decided to entertain his victims, forcing one of the girls to play a scene opposite a marionette. When MAD Magazine satirized the 60s show "Land of the Giants", the final panel mentioned "Dr. Cyclops" as having done it all already.

For me, films about shrunken people usually sank or swam on the props. "Land of the Giants" would show a giant setting down a crisp, stiff dollar bill, then show one of the tiny characters grappling with a butcher paper blowup, limp as tissue. The near-flawless "Darby O'Gill" unleashed a painfully unconvincing prop hand to grab the Leprechaun King. Meanwhile, the elves or whatever that freed the princess in the usually cheesy "The Magic Sword" were surprisingly effective.

I was aware of "Dr. Cyclops" only through the little Castle Films brochure, but unlike Dave K I never saw that or any of the Castle horror titles on retail shelves (by the time I found out about mail order via Sears and Blackhawk, I was fixated on silents and cartoons). The moment has definitely passed, but at one time I think a compilation of Castle 8mm reels would have been a hit.

4:33 PM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

Svengoolie shows DR CYCLOPS every couple years.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Thanks to FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND this was one of the many I screened in 16mm at Rochdale College in the 1970s. Great film. Lots of fun. The print Universl gave me did justice to the title. Great post.

8:17 AM  
Blogger kenneth Von Gunden said...

A.N. Notopoulos was both the manager AND the owner of the Altoona (PA)Capitol Theater and 11th Avenue and 14th Street. It opened in 1912 and was still there in 1962.

Altoona is just a hop, skip, and a jump from Dead Center PA (better known as State College and where I live) and was a big vaudeville town since the main line of the Penn. RR ran through. The Wolf, man.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

In Australia we too saw the L&H, often, early on, played often around 6pm of a Saturday. Missing your kids? Find them down the street at a neighbor's house who had an early TV and there they are watching L&H. Little Rascals were also screened. We got The Three Stooges in half hour(few ads then) brackets with one about 17mins and another chopped to 10mins. A boy in my high school class had a dad in the TV station running these an often brought matchboxes to school with frames from The Stooges. He wanted to go into TV and later, when school was over for us I was in the area of the school one very wet Saturday morning and here had been a bad car accident. There was Barry Thomas with TV camera photographing the incident. he got his first wish. The station also played other Columbia shorts under the generic title of Hilarious Hundreds. From memory they all had the Screen Gems title card attached instead of Columbia. The Screen Gems name had been used for other things long before TV came along. I believe a few of those shorts are missing such as a couple of Andy Clyde. A missing MGM Three Stooges in color was found in Australia along with a col,or MGM Charley Chase short but from ma different source. The Stooges find was by luck and just in time.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

I'm thinking about dressing up as Dr. Thorkel (Cyclops) for a sci-fi convention next year-I'm old enough, have the glasses, have the shoes (or can get them) have two khaki pants, and I can get a khaki shirt. Not bad for what will be my first cosplay at a sci-fi convention, at the age of 51!

I think that this movie could be made and acted better today, or just as well as the 1940 original; the only problem I see is the confirmation bias of movie goers (in particular fans of classic cinema) who think that every new movie is crap.

10:54 PM  

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