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Monday, August 21, 2023

Ads and Oddities #3


Ad/Odds: The Dark Mirror, First Comes Courage, Daughters Courageous, and 1940's Swiss Family Robinson

THE DARK MIRROR (1946) --- Olivia DeHavilland as twin sisters, one sweet as was onscreen Olivia till then, the other psycho, stark depart from what this actress did before. Ads pulled a punch by calling bad sister “bewitched,” going fuller boar with art showing ODeH hovered over her victim with scissors which business end did the deed. 1946 was occasion to make with the unexpected by stars long threatening to go stale, though for DeHavilland, time was charmed for an Academy Award, then another, but few seasons off. Women wielding weapons was plum art for postwar lust after stronger meat, less likely the miscreant the better. Twins seemed inherently untrustworthy to movies … seems one invariably made deadly mischief. Director Robert Siodmak made industry of the sort, The Spiral Staircase and The Killers behind him, others to come. Co-star Lew Ayres was out of US Medical Corps where he received citations, conscientious objector status understood now and objections to same expunged. How far ads went toward ID of femme star as killer would vary according to showman nerve and blood-thirst. Sampling here is picked off the original pressbook and so represent approved technique to sell, but look below at how free-think exhibs ratcheted The Dark Mirror to near horror placement. Well, producers asked for it. They were by the way “International Pictures,” independent cartel of writer Nunnally Johnson plus moneymen who relied on his known capacity to deliver story goods. The company did not last, Johnson’s near-perverse inclination to not give his public what it wanted borne out by Casanova Brown and Along Came Jones, two of the worst ventures star Gary Cooper was ever attached to.

… AND THEN JAPAN! (1943) --- I hoped the short featured here, from The March of Time series, would be at You Tube, but no soap. Did more attend the Aztec for … And Then Japan! than for proposed lead attraction First Comes Courage? Latter is obscure, though I did locate it at YT and on bootleg discs. Aztec’s program was weighted with war, 1943 being peak of concern over outcome. Would … And Then Japan! answer questions put forth in this ad? The March of Time is today described as “didactic,” HBO said to own them. Citizen Kane’s newsreel spoofed The March of Time. Some of ones not about the war are entertaining, all about lifestyles, frolic of the era. Actuals during war must have upset many in the audience, those there for froth confronted instead by shorts grimmer than headlines fled from. War stories needed to be more about romance than battle, which is why Merle Oberon and Brian Aherne clinch in dominant art shown. Would viewers worry all through First Comes Courage if war with Japan would “drag on for years”? Or if licking Germany and Italy might make Japan softer for the windup? Imagine stress the US lived under for four long years … and think how movies supplied crucial relief. Was Axis film industry doing as much for their people? Our stuff was “propaganda” to extent, but nothing like what Germany evidently got, while of Japan, we know less. Did these folk go to shows a lot, or was it forbidden? Germans and Japanese surely missed our movie imports once they were blocked. Most say US film enabled victory for the Allies. I can believe that based on energy of what is still around and shown, many rightly celebrated. How much of what the enemy produced can boast of that?

DAUGHTERS COURAGEOUS (1939) --- There were three daughters each named Lane plus Gale Page, who looked Lane enough to pass for a fourth. A quartet featuring the foursome came between 1938 and 1941, returns diminishing after a first two that were good, Daughters Courageous not related story-wise to the others and maybe that’s why I like it best. The Lanes were potential times four for Warner stardom, though only Priscilla broke big, a qualified win as she never got beyond nice girl and fresh face parts, this not unlike male counterpart Jeffrey Lynn, introduced also in Four Daughters to accompany of promise for big future which never fully came. Bland were both players it seemed, balance of Lanes fading off Warner payroll or to character duty in support. Rosemary was wholesome interest to Cagney for The Oklahoma Kid, while Lola had hard enough expression to be hateful in Hollywood Hotel where she shows more promise than with sisses. Bigger noise from Daughters was John Garfield, trailer pushed second to Jeffrey Lynn, but look where fate left Lynn in comparison to Garfield, whose “Mickey Borden” was preview of rebellion to come postwar, a twist Garfield had for himself over short while before WB undercut him with vehicles misguidedly made off crime and gangster blueprint. There was something in Garfield not seen before, and it would be the fifties before manufacturers grasped the model sufficient to exploit it better (Dean, Brando, the rebel lot), Daughters Courageous meanwhile a best job Garfield was early put to. “Mickey” was not Mickey for having died at finish of Four Daughters, which was why Courageous offered a different family, one that for me appeals more.

SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1940) --- How important were serials to a program? I see Terry and the Pirates featured here with Swiss Family Robinson, a chapter-specific ad at lower right. Policy indicates Saturday-2:00 “only” play for Terry. I suppose the mention and art was figured to fit well with Swiss Family Robinson, a family-aimed attraction. Our Liberty Theatre relied heavily on serials to fill seats, two ongoing during peak of the format, one for Saturday, the other mid-week. Shorts were critical to any balanced show. By 1940, the only alternative to a double feature was front-loading with one and two-reelers. Appealing enough content could bring patronage indifferent to the feature. Maybe it was worth a dime of a child’s allowance or his parent’s wage to see a latest Popeye. Certainly they’d not discourage patronage. Benefit of signing season contracts for a small exhibitor was getting the best of short product. Did the Apollo Theatre have dibs for all the Popeyes in 1940, plus a deal with Columbia for four serials they’d release that year? Swiss Family Robinson often ran for kid shows through the forties, which itself may have stimulated Disney to do a remake. Either way, they bought 1940’s negative for 1960’s fresh version, after which the original largely disappeared. Swiss source novel was written in 1812, which I agree with the ad makes it sort of immortal. Was Space Family Robinson of the sixties comic books what became Lost in Space on television? The concept appears good enough to invite reimagining forever. The fact Swiss Family Robinson is itself public domain as a literary source assures re-makers to come. Could Terry and the Pirates be the same sort of evergreen? Interesting the properties we’ve grown out of or might again grow into.


Blogger DBenson said...

"The Nazi Titanic (1943)" is the present title of a German propaganda film framed as a Hollywood-style blockbuster. The idea was to present the sinking as the result of British hubris and greed, building public support for the planned invasion of England. The hero was a fictional German officer, trying in vain to warn his arrogant superiors of danger.

The making of the film turned into a grotesque comedy, a runaway production that required massive resources, a real ship, and even troops just when the regime could least afford them. The original director was removed and became a prison cell "suicide". When finally completed, the government banned its showing in Berlin. The city was being bombed, so not the time for a disaster epic. The ship used in the film figured in a horrific atrocity near the war's end.

There's an excellent documentary titled "Nazi Titanic" which has played on the History Channel, not currently available on Amazon. It covers how Goebbels realized that slick entertainments were more effective than shrill "documentaries", and had high hopes for his anti-British epic. There's also a book titled "The Nazi Titanic", which focuses on the ship used in the movie, and the movie itself is on YouTube.

5:13 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Recall reading somewhere that Olivia campaigned for Lew Ayres to have the male lead in THE DARK MIRROR to help get his career going again.

7:27 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

That "Nazi Titanic" movie is available online for free from Tubi, where I watched it just last month; it's worth a gander; the production values are good.
Here's a link:

8:00 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

That Titanic picture was the most expensive German production up to that time; the director made a big deal out of using a real ship. Yet the ship's exterior appears once, as I recall, while the interiors look like a sound stage. I have no idea where all that money went, other than, perhaps, meals for the director and, maybe, the extras. Interesting strictly for historical purposes only.

7:19 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

With all the zillions of hours of material Disney has not made available, it's interesting that the 1940 SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON did pop up for streaming on Disney+ right away!

11:14 AM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

Another Nazi epic from that period was KOLLBERG, which followed the same pattern of huge budget (in color, yet!), cast of thousands (again, soldiers who figured dying onscreen was better than getting shot by the Allies), and bad timing (by the time the film was released, the real Kollberg was captured). Ach du lieber!

4:17 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Re Terry and the Pirates: There was an attempt to revive it late in the last century, starting with a slick, updated comic strip meant to anchor a franchise. Herewith the story:

I was a bit annoyed with the serial version. I'd read the first year or two of the strip. It was set in China, served up sexy female characters with the pirate Dragon Lady at the top of the list, and was genuinely exotic. The serial played as generic jungle hijinks, with the Dragon Lady now a good-girl white goddess tribal ruler.

6:35 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer speculates on crowd reaction to THE DARK MIRROR and to come THE SNAKE PIT:

I’m sure the people lured into the Woods by that advertisement for “The Dark Mirror,” featuring a knife-wielding Olivia de Haviland in a negligee, were in for a surprise. Was it a delightful surprise, such as that 42nd Street crowd enjoyed with James Agee when they watched “Curse of the Cat People”? I doubt it. Later “The Snake Pit” features the same simple, mechanistic approach towards psychoanalysis as “Spellbound,” but is a good deal grimmer and less entertaining than the Hitchcock film. Miss de Havilland’s character is either dramatically dysfunctional or child-like, plaintively reciting the nostrums of her psychoanalyst, but hardly more functional for that. Leo Genn as the psychoanalyst is wise and caring, but he is part of the hierarchy presiding over an institution that is essentially a warehouse for the mentally ill and infirm. There seems to be a contradiction here, unless Genn is playing that time-honored role of the reformer versus the establishment, like Bogart in “Crime School,” matching wits with the evil warden of a reformatory for boys, with the “Dead End” Kids as the inmates, ethically challenged but not necessarily without their share of mental defects.

I wonder if the Woods provided a “square up” reel for the less gruntled of their patrons and, if so, what it might have consisted of?

7:14 AM  

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