Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

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.


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 DBenson 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 Beowulf 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 Waylon123 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  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon just in (12-20-19) with praise for the upcoming DOCTOR CYCLOPS Blu-Ray (part One):

My subscription to DVD Beaver via Patreon gives me a peek at a large pile of frame caps this morning [34 of them!] taken from the upcoming Kino Lorber Blu-ray of "Dr. Cyclops", every baby boomer's favorite mad doctor movie. The fact that a big studio, Paramount, took this one on way back in 1940 and even gave it an expensive Technicolor allowance is just flat out amazing to me, now. As a kid of course I took anything and everything in the movies for granted. I don't anymore! The sets and props are to my taste perfectly convincing, even awesome, with regard to what must in person have been the simply vast setting of the back 'yard' or enclosure of kwazy Doc Cyclops's hut in the jungle. It's so well done that instead of contemplating what it must have taken to construct this monster set and how big it must have been in reality, we merely accept that the normal sized cast shown walking through it are actually shrunken! It absolutely works.

It's already wild that this scary scientist gone bananas should be operating out of some unnamed (as far as I can remember) South American jungle, where there are lots of other bananas, the kind that grow on trees. Versus, you know, somewhere in the usual big city, or even a (cheaper by far) location like 'the desert', someplace. Just a great, adventurous scenario that goes full speed ahead, like all the wonderful and imaginative films we like best from Hollywood's golden age. Inasmuch as this was directed by Ernest Schoedsack and that I should imagine on the immense strength of "King Kong", I wonder if Willis O'Brien was consulted, even a little bit, on the sweating out of the special effects? They have his level of ingenuity, but with the considerable complication of being made in Technicolor, which required in those years something like five times as much light. I pulled that figure right out of my, er, hip pocket! But for those who remember ASA as a rating for film sensitivity, with the slowest one in my youth being ASA 25 for 'glorious' Kodak Kodachrome--vs black-and-white emulsions which were 'faster' and sported higher ratings/numbers--Technicolor is said to have had an ASA of 10! They call any set on a film which is still being used for filming a 'hot set', a warning not to move, bump into, or if possible even tread upon it, to the crew. On a Technicolor film, hot set had an additional meaning: they were like ovens. I spoke with makeup men who'd worked on them back then and they all remembered that element (e.g., Charlie Schram, who worked on "The Wizard of Oz".) So this was but one of the obstacles "Dr. Cyclops" brilliantly overcame, which also impacted the heavy use of rear projected, pre-filmed material, as far as color balance, which is not perfect in some of the composites, but damn good.

7:44 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon:

My late pal Brad Arrington told me that you can see in the early scenes (which if he was right would suggest the movie was shot more or less in chronological story/script sequence), you can tell that Albert Dekker, who's great as the 'chrome dome' mad doctor, is sporting a bald cap! He may well be right. I never tumbled to that. Then again, maybe he was wrong! But the idea would be that it barely passed muster and later a decision must have been made to have him shave his head. More than I know, as I say, but something to look for, perhaps. (Ray Harryhausen revealed that Torin Thatcher was fitted with a very good partial bald cap for "7th Voyage of Sinbad", but opted later on his own to shave his head simply due to the discomfort of wearing the bald pate. That's another one that mostly got by me as a younger guy, though today I can identify when he "is or isn't"--wearing it, that is. I still think it's an excellent job by the anonymous Spanish makeup artist.)

Where this undoubtedly expense 'B' type thriller clearly saved some money was in the remainder of its cast. Apart from one recognizable character face from that day, Charles Halton (and a couple more, including Paul Fix VERY briefly, and Victor Killian), none of these are movie stars, but some are familiar nonetheless. Just not pricey, to hire. But there are two ingenues I can't remember from any other movie. It could be said that the lack of at least a couple of bona fide movie stars, even lower level in grade, might have put this one over the top. But, easy for us to say. They certainly put the money where it showed. The IMDB states that one of the producers was, not terrible surprisingly, Merian C. Cooper.

The basic success in terms of "Dr. Cyclops"'s effectiveness technically and as pop entertainment, boasting the then still very novel format of good-and-loud Technicolor [my beloved late mom, who loved movies, told me it was always a "big treat" to see something in Technicolor in its first decade] makes me so regretful that RKO didn't go through with "Gwangi", only around two years later. I think management made a terrible blunder there. It was going to be a Western, as far as feel and milieu, and that was the time to make a really convincing movie Western! Plus, as we know, the cowboys quite unexpectedly turn up a passel of still-living dinosaurs!--supplied by Willis O'Brien and his colleagues. A clever retread of "King Kong" or the earlier "The Lost World", yes; but, in Technicolor! In my little purview, this film's cancellation is one of the great disappointments and missed opportunities in the history of older Hollywood. I think RKO denied itself a pile of money and denied movie history one of the more delightful ideas for a fantasy film ever concocted (by O'Brien himself.) Ray Harryhausen's later revival is good, and his work is as usual superb; and for me it's aged better than I could have believed when I first saw it, when it was a big disappointment to me, actually. But I would much, much rather have a 1942 Technicolor "Gwangi" (which was the name, just the name itself).

7:44 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019
  • November 2019
  • December 2019
  • January 2020
  • February 2020
  • March 2020
  • April 2020
  • May 2020
  • June 2020
  • July 2020
  • August 2020
  • September 2020
  • October 2020
  • November 2020
  • December 2020
  • January 2021
  • February 2021
  • March 2021
  • April 2021
  • May 2021
  • June 2021
  • July 2021
  • August 2021
  • September 2021
  • October 2021
  • November 2021
  • December 2021
  • January 2022
  • February 2022
  • March 2022
  • April 2022
  • May 2022
  • June 2022
  • July 2022
  • August 2022
  • September 2022
  • October 2022
  • November 2022
  • December 2022
  • January 2023
  • February 2023
  • March 2023
  • April 2023
  • May 2023
  • June 2023
  • July 2023
  • August 2023
  • September 2023