2013 Widescreen Weekend Introductions
The 70mm Newsletter
Feature film text by: Several.
Images by: Anders M. Olsson
"The Longest Day" by Sir Christopher
Sir Christopher Frayling introducing "The Longest Day".
in 70mm reading:
Widescreen Weekend 2013
WSW 2013 gallery Friday
WSW 2013 gallery Saturday
WSW 2013 gallery Sunday
"Audience on Stage"
The Making Of The
Guns Of Navarone The First In A Major Opus
John Wayne Was
Set To Play Lawrence Of Arabia
Travel to Bradford
Past Widescreen Weekend programs
Creating the Widescreen Weekend
Projecting the Widescreen Weekend
Planning the Widescreen Weekend
"The Great Escape" by Sheldon Hall
Hall introducing "The Great Escape".
An interesting part of his introduction were two songs; first a "rock video"
of the Longest Day theme sung in French by
then the Great Escape March with the really strange original lyrics
performed by Mitch
Miller and the Gang.
The Great Escape was one of 68 films produced by the Mirisch
Corporation for release through United Artists. Mirisch – founded by
brothers Harold, Walter and Marvin – was an independent company which
became UA’s biggest supplier of product between 1958 and 1974; the film
historian Tino Balio, in his book United Artists: the Company That
Changed the Film Industry, calls it a “studio without walls”. Among
Mirisch’s productions were the Best Picture Oscar winners The
Apartment, West Side Story and In the Heat of the Night,
and six films produced and directed by John Sturges, including The
Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and the 70mm Cinerama
comedy Western The Hallelujah Trail.
The film was budgeted at $2.75 million. Originally only essential
locations were planned for shooting in West Germany, with 90% of the
production to be made at the Goldwyn Studios in Hollywood
(1). Four weeks of
location shooting were supposed to begin on 2 April 1962 but were
delayed until 4 June, while casting continued until late May. In the end
the entire film was made in Germany, the interiors being filmed in the
Bavaria Studios at Geiselgasteig near Munich.
The first stars to be announced were Steve McQueen, James Garner – and
Richard Harris, possibly in the part eventually taken by Richard
Attenborough. John Mills was also approached, presumably for James
Donald’s role (2). McQueen was also wanted by The Guns of Navarone’s
Carl Foreman for his war film The Victors, scheduled to start
shooting in September; but The Great Escape overran its shooting
schedule by 75% due to bad weather, only completing in October, so
McQueen missed out on it (3). Although we now tend to think of The Great
Escape as having an ‘all-star’ cast it’s important to remember that
this was not how the film was regarded at the time. In its review,
American trade paper Variety commented: “Since there are no marquee
‘naturals’ in the cast, this picture will illustrate how superior story
and production values can carry a project to great success without the
aid of prohibitively expensive, souped-up stellar names. Its [sic] still
the picture that counts, not necessarily who’s in it.”
Six rewrites were needed for the script, credited to W.R. Burnett and
James Clavell – the last version was by Ivan Moffat – which pushed the
film further over budget than the weather; it eventually cost $3.8
million, more than $1 million over (5). The rough cut ran five and a half
hours, with the aim of being reduced to four; it came in at just under
three. Sturges was supposed to go on to direct Yul Brynner in the
Mirisches’ The Mound Builders in Mexico immediately afterwards,
but was so exhausted that he dropped out, later making The Satan Bug
for Mirisch instead. Kings of the Sun, as The Mound Builders
was retitled, was taken over by Navarone director J. Lee Thompson.
The Great Escape was given its world premiere, in aid of the
Royal Air Force Benevolent Association, at London’s Odeon, Leicester
Square, on 20 June 1963. The Women’s RAF Auxiliary Band marched the
distance from the Air Ministry to Trafalgar Square, playing the title
theme; Sturges was so thrilled that he granted the RAF a waiver in
perpetuity to play it at concerts (6). Elmer Bernstein’s main title has in
recent years become adopted as an alternative national anthem by British
football supporters abroad, who can often be heard chanting and humming
along to the tune. But how many of them know the original words? There
was indeed a title song, with lyrics by Al Stillman, recorded by Mitch
Miller and the Singalong Gang, and released as a single on the Columbia
label; it was even used in a special trailer and TV spots
Here it is.
The American opening was in July. The Great Escape ranked eleventh at
the US box office among all films opening in 1963, with a good but not
outstanding total of $5,545,692 in distributor rentals
(8). In Britain
however the film was the third or fourth (depending on which source you
read) most successful general release of the year, following From Russia
with Love and Summer Holiday, and running “neck and neck” with
(three of those four were United Artists releases, please note). The
general release of The Longest Day, following its roadshow runs, was in
fifth place (9). Despite its length, The Great Escape was not a roadshow
(there should not be an intermission) and in June 1967 it was reissued
in the UK on a double bill with the Mirisch production 633 Squadron.
The film also did well in non-English-speaking territories. In France it
was number one at the box office, selling over 500,000 tickets in Paris
alone (The Longest Day had been number one the previous year)
Japan it grossed $2 million (11). It was the official US entry at the Moscow
Film Festival, where Steve McQueen won the award for best male
performance (he was also given a prize by the Soviet Union of Sports
Societies). Though the film itself was beaten to the top festival prize
by Fellini’s 8½, a request was submitted to have it released in
the USSR under the Cultural Exchange Agreement
(12). The festival had
rejected The Longest Day as an unsuitable entry because,
according to producer Darryl F. Zanuck, “it did not involve the Soviets
in any way and was removed from their interests”
(13). Why did they like
The Great Escape, then?
To British audiences, the film is perhaps best known for its extended
afterlife on television. It was shown for the first time on UK TV by
BBC1 on 28 December 1971 (the alternative attraction on ITV was the
network premiere of another World War Two film, The Train).
According to ITV’s Jictar ratings service, the broadcast was seen in 7.1
million homes; the BBC’s own audience research unit estimated the
viewing audience as 21.5 million people, making it the most popular
programme of the month after the Queen’s Christmas Day message, shown on
both major channels (14). The Great Escape has subsequently become a
Christmas TV perennial; is it only the British that associate war films
with national holidays, I wonder, and what does that say about our
I’ll leave the last word to a director who made no fewer than eight
films for the Mirisch Company, Billy Wilder, and who said after seeing a
preview of The Great Escape: “If Steve McQueen taught Lawrence of
Arabia how to ride a motorcycle, he’d be alive today.”
1 Daily Variety, 20 February 1962, pp. 1,
Daily Variety, 7 March 1962, p. 2; 18 April 1962, p. 4; 21 May 1962, p.
Daily Variety, 27 April 1962, p. 11.
Variety, 17 April 1963, p. 6..
Variety, 31 October 1962, p. 24.
Daily Variety, 27 June 1963, p. 2.
Variety, 5 June 1963, p. 18.
Variety, 6 May 1991, p. 96.
Kinematograph Weekly, 19 December 1963, p. 5; Motion Picture Herald, 22
January 1964, p. 9; Films and Filming, January 1964, p. 41.
Daily Variety, 27 October 1964, p. 126.
Variety, 15 July 1964, p. 7.
Variety, 31 July 1963, p. 4.
Variety, 5 June 1963, p. 3.
Western Daily Press, 11 January 1972; Cinema and TV Today, 15 January
1972; Television Mail, 21 January 1972.
Daily Variety, 21 May 1963, p. 4.
"The Sound of Music" by Wolfram Hannemann
Hanneman introducing "The Sound of Music".
Good evening, Ladies & Gentlemen, dear
Widescreeners, and welcome to our screening of a movie which was selected by
BBC executives as one to be broadcast after a nuclear strike, to improve the
morale of survivors. A movie which was selected by the United States‘
Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2001
and which was ranked as the #40 Greatest Movie of All Time by the American
Film Institute in 2007. A movie which most likely everybody in the audience
tonight has seen more than once – Robert Wise’s film version of Rodgers &
Hammerstein’s THE SOUND OF MUSIC.
It premiered on March 2, 1965, and played in New York for a record-setting
93 weeks. The movie's initial U.S. release lasted 4 1/2 years, and from 1966
to 1972 THE SOUND OF MUSIC was cited by Variety as the "All-Time Box Office
Champion." It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, 5 of which it actually
won: Best Director, Best Editing, Best Music Scoring, Best Sound and Best
1957, two years before the musical made its Broadway debut, Paramount bought
the rights to the Von Trapp Singers story, intending to cast Audrey Hepburn
as Maria. When Hepburn declined, Paramount dropped plans for a film.
In 1960, Twentieth Century-Fox bought the film rights to the musical, along
with the rights to two German films about the family from 1956 and 1958. The
project was jeopardized by the poor box-office showing of an English dubbed
compilation of the German films in 1961, as well as Fox's financial
difficulties resulting from CLEOPATRA.
After multiple directors had turned down the film, William Wyler finally
agreed to take it on. Wyler at the time was suffering from a loss of hearing
and was highly sceptical about making a film about music, thinking he was
the wrong man for the job. He was slightly appeased in his decision after
seeing the Broadway production. However, he actually scouted locations and
toyed with the script. He had a different film in mind; tanks crashing
through walls, etc. And he wanted Audrey Hepburn to play Maria von Trapp.
During pre-production, it was clear to many that William Wyler's heart was
not really in it. He was approached midway through pre-production by
producers Jud Kinberg and John Kohn who had purchased the film rights to the
John Fowles novel 'The Collector' before it had been published. They already
had a commitment from Terence Stamp and a first draft screenplay by Stanley
Mann. Wyler fell overboard for the script, feeling a much greater affinity
with the material than he did with THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Consequently, he
asked Darryl F. Zanuck and Richard D. Zanuck to release him from his
contract. They agreed. Fortunately, Robert Wise had been experiencing delays
with the production of THE SAND PEBBLES and was now at liberty to make the
Among the actresses considered for the part of Maria were Shirley Jones,
Anne Bancroft and Leslie Caron. Doris Day was apparently offered the role,
but turned it down. Director Robert Wise then decided to cast Julie Andrews
as Maria as soon as he saw “rushes” of her scenes while shooting MARY
POPPINS – a part she was given by Walt Disney who was so impressed by
Andrews’ Broadway portrayal of Guinevere in Lerner and Loewe’s CAMELOT that
he went backstage and asked her to play Mary Poppins. Julie Andrews, by the
way, nearly turned down the role of Maria Von Trapp, fearing the character
was too similar to her role in Mary Poppins.
As soon as Julie Andrews was cast in the movie, attention turned to who
would play her Captain von Trapp. Executives at 20th Century Fox were eager
for Bing Crosby (a suggestion director Robert Wise never took seriously.)
Filmmakers also thought about Sean Connery, Rex Harrison, Richard Burton,
Peter Finch, Walter Matthau, and Yul Brynner – known for his star turn in
THE KING AND I. The part, of course, went to Christopher Plummer, who opted
out of the Harry Palmer role in THE IPCRESS FILE in favor of the Captain Von
Trapp part, a decision he later regretted. Plummer’s singing voice is dubbed
by professional singer Bill Lee.
Among the kids who auditioned to play one of the Von Trapp children were
Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfuss, Veronica Cartwright, and the four eldest
Osmond Brothers (Alan Osmond, Jay Osmond, Merrill Osmond, and Wayne Osmond).
Liza Minnelli, Patty Duke, Mia Farrow, Kim Darby, Lesley Ann Warren, Tisha
Sterling, and Sharon Tate all auditioned for the role of Liesl. Latest news
has it that the actor's who portrayed the von Trapp children are planning to
be on a cruise, departing on October 5th, 2013.
Grace Kelly was considered for the part of the Baroness. However, she had
retired from acting when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco and was not
open to offers to return to her former profession. So the part went to
Fred Astaire was considered for the role of Max Detweiler, which went to
Marni Nixon became famous as the singing voice of Deborah Kerr in Rodgers &
Hammerstein’s film THE KING AND I as well as Audrey Hepburn in MY FAIR LADY
and Natalie Wood in WEST SIDE STORY. Nixon finally appeared as a performer
on camera while singing the part of Sister Sophia in THE SOUND OF MUSIC.
Did you know that the real Maria von Trapp has a cameo appearance in the
background in the Residenzplatz during „I Have Confidence“? Dressed in
Austrian garb, she is visible for only a fleeting moment, as Julie Andrews
sings her story to the cameras. Unaware that filming this short segment
would require several takes, Maria later declared „That‘s one ambition I‘m
Director Robert Wise and his SOUND OF MUSIC cast and crew wrapped up eleven
weeks of shooting on location in and around Salzburg, Austria. The original
plan was to shoot in Salzburg for 6 weeks. However, because of continuing
rain, they ended up staying in the city for 11. Among the locations they
used for shooting was a house owned by actress Hedy Lamarr. Her house became
the Von Trapp home. Principla photography resumed in Los Angeles, where Wise
shot interiors scenes on sets that included the entire ground floor of the
von Trapp villa, the lavish ballroom and the Abbey itself, as filming within
the Nonnberg’s walls was forbidden.
The film was shot in 65mm Todd-AO by Ted McCord, with the famous opening
scene being filmed with a MCS-70 camera. To my knowledge it was McCord’s
only 65mm production. Following THE SOUND OF MUSIC he would do just one
other film before retiring from business.
If you watch very closely you can even spot another famous movie location
within THE SOUND OF MUSIC. It is in the background of the picnic in the
mountain pasture when Maria and the children start singing "Do Re Mi", where
you can dimly make out a castle on top of a hill and I think the 70mm print
should reveal it quite good. This castle, called Hohenwerfen, was featured
more prominently in the Richard Burton-Clint Eastwood thriller WHERE EAGLES
DARE two years later.
When the film was originally released in France, the sequences of the nuns
singing "Maria" and the Mother Abbess singing "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" were
cut as it was felt by the authorities that nuns singing non religious songs
was disrespectful. When the film was released in South Korea, it did so much
business that some theaters were showing it four and five times a day. One
theater owner in Seoul tried to figure out a way to be able to show it even
more often, in order to bring in more customers. So he cut out all the
My first encounter with THE SOUND OF MUSIC was at the end of the 1970s
during one of my first visits to London. During that time the National Film
Theatre had a season of 70mm films and they would show two each day. So I
was very lucky to attend two of their double features, one being BATTLE OF
THE BULGE paired with THE TOWERING INFERNO, the other being CAMELOT paired
with THE SOUND OF MUSIC. I learned that the NFT had rented the SOUND OF
MUSIC print from the United States, because the only print available in
Britain had lost some of its colour. Wow – I never would have imagined that
a cinema would go through all that trouble importing a better print from
overseas! Not to mention the extra money that had to be spend. Then I
thought, well, it is the National Film Theatre which explains everything.
But most important: I fell in love with THE SOUND OF MUSIC! What an amazing
film. And it really shows off in Todd-AO! Several years later I found out
how lucky I was that I had the chance to see this film in its original
English version. I discovered that when the film was first released in
Germany it was cut down by the distributor, 20th Century Fox, from its
original 174 minutes running time to just 127 minutes, eliminating all of
the Nazi stuff. I hope that I am not revealing too much of the film’s plot
by telling you that the cut version ended with Maria’s wedding! And if that
would not have been enough already, this version was completely dubbed into
German – including all the songs! What a nightmare! So I guess I am very
lucky again, being here tonight in this auditorium, awaiting a screening of
the full uncut 70mm print of THE SOUND OF MUSIC in full English language and
again, of course, flown in from the United States.
"Meine Lieder-Meine Träume" in Germany
Wakefield introducing his own film "Remnants", a digital time-lapse
I’m Grant Wakefield - the director, editor and cinematographer of
The film you’re about to see has been the love of my life, and the bane
of my existence, for over two decades!
It all began in 1987, as a proposed 10 min. black + white IMAX film that
I hoped could accompany a main feature presentation. But five Space
Theatre Consortium + Giant Screen Cinema conferences later, and it
hadn’t generated the slightest bit of interest.
Later it expanded into a 30 minute piece, with a colour section
included, but again, nothing…..at which point I began pitching it as a
35mm film. I was very fortunate when Michael Brown of London based
Tattooist Productions ran with it for while, but despite his best
efforts, the broadcasters, the Arts Council and the like, all passed.
That’s when I started thinking about making it myself as a 16mm
anamorphic film with clockwork Bolex cameras. But I could barely afford
to buy or rent equipment, let alone self-finance a trip around the major
Megalithic sites of the British Isles.
And so, in about 1995, reluctantly I gave up.
At least, I thought I did.
Something about the project continued to nag at me.
Every once in a while a freelance job, or a holiday, would take me close
to a location I hadn’t already scouted. I’d schedule in an extra day or
two and photograph it.
By 2005 I had close to a hundred.
In 2006, a long planned feature project, based largely in Ireland, fell
through at the very last minute. A week’s test shoot had been scheduled,
and so I decided to go anyway, armed with a single intervalometer, an
early Nikon digital SLR and a rudimentary motion control head.
Sleeping in the car, and cooking on a stove in the boot, I shot
timelapse at as many sites as time and weather would allow. I take a
certain amount of delight in the fact that one of these shots has
actually made the final cut.
From digitised stills, and this Irish timelapse material, the first,
proper, full length video-storyboard was born.
Paradoxically, when my intention had always been to originate on the
highest resolution medium I could, it was the beginning of the end of
film that proved to be the turning point.
By 2007 I had produced a full treatment and support DVD for a 35 min.
IMAX film proposal. And given that so few large format films have ever
been produced in the UK, I sent this package out to every IMAX and 8/70
theatre in the country with a heartfelt plea:
In a nutshell I said: It looks like film is on the way out. This is
probably the last chance for all of us in the UK with a passion for
large format to produce a proper 65mm film. Will you get behind this,
and help me make it?
I received just 3 responses, and their answer was…no.
But John Rorke at Birmingham’s ThinkTank Museum suggested that I might
try making it in the new digital ‘FullDome’ medium instead.
He kindly invited me to come and take a look. And I was impressed. It
is, essentially, the digital version of OMNIMAX. And with digital SLR
cameras improving almost weekly, I could sense the potential for a high
resolution production after all. There I met theatre manager Mario
DiMaggio, and he recommended I join FullDome’s Yahoo Discussion list.
I duly did, and put out an open call for help with the project.
Within 48 hours I received a response from Glenn Smith, managing
director of the European division of FullDome planetarium manufacturers
and installers SKY-SKAN.
With his shared interest in all things Megalithic, he asked for a copy
of the treatment, and within just a few weeks I found myself at
Stonehenge, shooting test material with a couple of Canon 5D Mk1s. I
take more delight in the fact that several of these shots have also made
the final cut.
But I discovered something problematic immediately. The 180 degree
fisheye lenses needed to shoot FullDome were highly limiting in terms of
composition, and totally unforgiving in any attempt to hide modern
One of my principal aims in the film was to capture an ‘ancient essence’
- the feel and possible look of the sites at the time of their
construction. But the modern world was everywhere. It would take a team
of post-production experts an eternity, and a gigantic amount of money,
to paint out the pylons, houses, wires, roads, planes and all the other
intrusions that 21st century life comprises.
So, early in 2008, we decided to divide the project in two. One half
would be a traditional interviewee and narration led documentary, shot
with fisheye lenses for the FullDome format, called ANCIENT SKIES.
This film would explore the emerging science of Archaeo-Astronomy. A 46
min. version is now complete, and a 25 min. version is in progress.
And whilst I was making this film I would, wherever possible, shoot
material for REMNANTS with flat lenses, with which I would be
able to hide modern artefacts in the frame, and have more control over
Which is exactly what happened.
So, REMNANTS is essentially ‘the other half’ project, shot
whenever the principal cameras were not capturing fisheye material.
Fortunately, it’s suffered very little as a result.
It’s sad that Thomas Hauerslev isn’t here this year, for it was he that
provided the final piece of the puzzle. He forwarded on an innocent
e-mail request for information about IMAX DIGITAL to your very own
Duncan McGregor here at Pictureville.
For reasons I’m still unsure about to this day, Duncan took a look at my
on-line work and asked: would I like to show some material at the 2009
Widescreen Weekend event?
Yes! I would!
And it was the screening of early material at this, and subsequent
Widescreen Weekends, that provided the inspiration to plough on. Because
I could see that originating in RAW format with Digital SLRs produced an
image comparable to 5 perf. 70mm. And this meant my dream of producing a
high resolution, experiential large format film was no longer a dream,
but a reality.
It is thus fitting, and such a tremendous honour, to be here today at
Pictureville to show the world premiere of REMNANTS.
And I’d like to say a huge thank you first off to: Duncan McGregor and
all at Pictureville and the National Media Museum, both for this
opportunity, and for your support over the years.
And thanks to Alex Hibbitt of Arts Alliance Media, who has also
continually supported my efforts with his beautiful digital prints.
To Thorsten Quaeschning, for his superb score.
To additional cinematographers Lee Ford Parker and Dominic Boudreault,
for putting their icing on the cake.
To Martin Tarrant for building the camera dolly, and to Bryan Mumford
for his super-reliable motion control systems.
And to: the amazing Amanda Davis, for digital image cleaning. Where the
modern world unavoidably combined with sensor dust, and every flying bug
known to humankind, with infinite patience she rescued shots I thought
lost to oblivion.
And lastly, to project sponsor Glenn Smith, whose trust, faith and
generosity made it all possible.
Thank you all, so much.
And thank you for coming.
I hope you enjoy it.
"Seven Wonders of the World" by
Gitch lecturing about the difficulties in the making of "Seven Wonders
of the World", and why it was the second Cinerama film to begin
production, but only the third one released. For more details he
suggests reading the diary of Richard J. Pietschmann at in70mm.com.
With our team’s digital remastering of the Cinerama 3-panel library of
motion pictures, these rarely seen one-time blockbuster road show films
have begun to make their retail bow on Flicker Alley
DVD and Blu-ray,
and can now be screened theatrically from DCP. In 2013 the Cinerama
legacy should become more viewable, and more enjoyable to more people,
than it has been at any time since the 1960’s.
All of this progress, brings us to what are we working on now. The
answer is That's Cinerama’s “Seven Wonders of the World”, their 3rd release,
from 1956, released here in the U.K., on Feb. 12, 1958.
In the U.K., this picture premiered at and played the
London Casino theater for 90 consecutive weeks, making it the 3rd most popular
Cinerama road show to ever play London. Only “How the West Was Won”, at
123 weeks, and “Cinerama Holiday”, at 105 weeks, beat it. It was also
the very last Cinerama picture to play in the mobile Cinerama theater,
the Itinerama or the Super Cinerama, as it was called. It’s last show
played in Walsall on Nov. 4, 1967.
You may have read or heard that “ ‘Seven Wonders of the World’ was the
2nd Cinerama film to start production after ‘This is Cinerama’, but it
was the 3rd film released.” That’s absolutely correct. And there’s an
interesting story behind “Why?” that happened, which I’d like to share
with you this morning.
On the eve of the New York City premiere of “This is Cinerama”, on Sept.
30, 1952, no one could have known what a sensational hit it would be. It
just might have been a flop. Hence there was no firmly pre-set plan in
place to produce any 2nd picture after the first.
A plan did develop by the Spring of 1953, however. Keep in mind that as
soon as the decision was made to make a 2nd picture, Cinerama needed to
evolve as a company. Here’s why.
Cinerama was actually, three companies; 1. Vitarama Inc., privately
owned by Fred Waller-then his estate and Lawrence Rockefeller, owned the
patents to the process; 2. Cinerama Inc., had an exclusive franchise to
those patents, under which it made hardware, cameras and projectors. It
then sublicensed the right to make films and exhibit them in the
Cinerama process to a third entity; 3. Cinerama Productions Corporation
made films in Cinerama. This was itself a private company, owned by
Lowell Thomas and partners. Cinerama Productions received 75% of the
theater profits (the rest went to Cinerama, Inc.), and Cinerama
Productions held this exclusive right to license to other producers,
allowing them to
make films in the process.
Up to this time, the man closest to production was Lowell Thomas. He
then, and well into the 1970’s, was perhaps the loudest proponent of
Cinerama being suited best if not only to outdoor, panoramic reality
coverage. Cinerama’s lack of a true close-up ability was cited by Thomas
as a reason to stick Cinerama’s future firmly in the travelogue style of
It helps to know that
Lowell Thomas was a disciple of Burton Holmes, the
popular American lecturer, who himself was an associate of John Lawson
Stoddard, the man who coined the word, “travelogue”.
Thomas, as a young man, had gotten degrees in oratory, and had taught
oratory. And after becoming a journalist and a WWI correspondent, he
eventually tagged up with T.E. Lawrence in Jerusalem, and shot film of
Lawrence and the Arabs he was helping to up-rise against the Turks.
Thomas had then set about presenting in Madison Square Garden and in
Covent Garden, then around the world, a hugely successful lecture tour
using these film clips.
Starting in the 1930’s, Thomas had made his hosted and narrated
Movietone News newsreels in the style of miniature travelogues- film
clips with narration, before becoming the most famous American radio
broadcaster of his time.
Certainly, Cinerama, “This is Cinerama” and the two other travelogues
Lowell Thomas ended up making for Cinerama, gave him great, audio
“close-ups”. If you came from radio, and newsreels, as a travelogue
host, hosting Cinerama, in the travelogue style, would have been a
Lowell Thomas’s preference for his style of travelogue became well known
to the Cinerama management. However, they also harbored an open-minded
desire to tackle dramatic content next. Former MGM kingpin, Louis B.
Mayer, brought into Cinerama only three weeks after the inaugural
premiere to be the Chairman of the Board, in the hope that he’d curry
Hollywood studio investment capital, also favored…as it was reported,
both fiction and non-fiction for the 2nd Cinerama presentation. Using
his name, in January and March, 1953, Variety, the trade paper, made
hay of Mayer announcing that “Paint Your Wagon”, which Mayer retained
ownership of movie rights to at the time-he’d left MGM, something called
“Lawrence of Arabia” and the June 1953, “Coronation of Elizabeth” would
be the next Cinerama pictures.
As for “Paint Your Wagon”, the Broadway musical of 1951-52, and the West
End darling of 1953, it’s interesting to note that in the last week of
March 1953, Joseph Schenck, the Chairman of Magna Theatre Corporation
had announced that their new Todd-AO process would premiere with “one
multi-million dollar musical” which would be road shown in 1954, in
approximately 25 specially-selected theaters across the U.S.. This alone
may have shied Cinerama away from making a musical in the face of that
potential competition from what became the motion picture, “Oklahoma!”.
After his being let go from his Cinerama Chairmanship, Mayer continued
to try to get “Paint Your Wagon” made into a motion picture, right up to
his 1957 death.
Even before “This is Cinerama” premiered, in the Spring of 1952, Sir
Alexander Korda had traveled to New York and looked at Cinerama test
footage, and likely, dailies for “This is Cinerama”, where upon he
reached an agreement with Cinerama Production Corp’s pre-curser,
Thomas-Todd Productions, to both produce and exhibit Cinerama pictures
in England. Variety reported on May 14, 1952, that Korda was ready to
begin production on “an outdoor spectacle”. Korda referred to the
process as, “…one of the most important inventions in the history of
films.” Subsequent reasons given for the failure of these plans were the
U.K. government’s disapproval of the necessary royalty payments, and the
lack of a single-lens camera.
Gitch introduces "Cinerama Holiday".
After the appointment of Mayer, the General Manager in Charge of
Production for Cinerama Productions Corp., Merian C. Cooper announced
that the next Cinerama picture would begin production in 2 months, be
produced by himself, and directed by his old friend, John Ford. Nothing
came of it. And with Mayer as Board Chairman, no new, 2nd picture was
started. This malaise, happening while Cinemascope was premiering, came
to be called by Lowell Thomas, writing about it 20 years later,
Cinerama’s “fatal delay”.
Now you’ll recall I mentioned that IF Cinerama was to go on making
pictures, it needed to evolve. This all came to an apparent head in the
Spring of ’53. With only three theaters in operation, and each screening
all day long to sold out crowds, Cinerama Productions was spending a
massive chunk of its’ profits on promotion and operation costs, but
needed cash for new productions. Cinerama Inc. needed cash to
manufacture more equipment to fit out new theaters, and it needed to
finance Smith-Dietrich research into the new single booth modification.
The solution was reached in term- licensing exhibition rights to an
experienced theater chain, the Stanley-Warner Corporation.
Meanwhile pacing in the background, Lowell Thomas had, with the approval
of the New York Board of Education, run an essay contest with New York
schoolchildren, entitled, “The Story I Would Like to See in Cinerama”.
If you’ve ever had a souvenir program for “Seven Wonders” in your hands,
you’ll read in it that the ideas behind the picture you’re then about to
see came from the suggestions of you, the Cinerama audience. Later
today, if you come back for “Cinerama Holiday”, the prologue to that
picture features a shot of a large open ledger placed in the theater
lobby, in which patrons could write…as the sign said overhead, “What
would you like to next see in Cinerama?”
Now keep in mind that Lowell Thomas was Cinerama Productions Corp.. To
that extent, he was his own boss, and thereby took off with Paul Mantz
flying the converted Mitchell B-25 bomber and a camera crew only,
including D.P., Harry Squire and his operator, Jack Priestly, and
others, spending an amount reported to be at least $500,000 starting
“Seven Wonders of the World”.
Speaking with Cinerama production veteran Jim Morrison on the phone a
couple of months ago, I asked him about this first excursion. Morrison
was back in Oyster Bay while the crew was “flying all over hell”, as Jim
put it. Jim told me that as a director, Thomas was an ad-libber. He made
up their shot sheet in his hotel room and in the plane. If you can’t
quite believe that, you might recall Jim’s comments caught in “Cinerama
Adventure”, in which he tells of how the “Seven Wonders” crew found
themselves eating in a Belgian restaurant in the Congo. When one of the
waiters chimed in and said there’s a magnificent active volcano just up
the road a couple of hundred miles, Harry Squire, or perhaps Paul Mantz,
or likely Lowell Thomas, had said, “By Golly, we’ve gotta’ go and shoot
it!” Only Thomas’s approval would have made that happen. And of course,
it resulted in one of the greatest shots in all of Cinerama. So being
spontaneous can be phenomenally rewarding, but comes at a great price.
This may explain why Thomas oddly recalls this first, globe-trotting
aerial excursion this way, from his autobiography, So Long Until
Tomorrow, ”It seems that I had used up the nearly million-dollar budget
for ‘Seven Wonders’ and the picture was still only half finished.” What!
They shot 200,000 feet of film, but then, with money tight, and the
Stanley-Warner deal under negotiation, filming had stopped. Jim Morrison
recalls that the crew ended holed up in a hotel in Cairo perhaps, for
nearly a month, withering on the vine waiting for more money to come. It
didn’t come, and the crew came home. Merian Cooper had then confidently
stepped forward to state that John Ford would step in to direct the
“rest of the picture”, which would feature a narrative story line, and
which would possibly star John Wayne.
As the S-W deal neared signing, the production schedule on the picture
had still not been agreed upon. Simon H. Fabian, the President of
Stanley-Warner did not want to commit to an extended long-range
production program, and was to become contractually bound to produce and
finish a Cinerama picture within one year of signing, as well as a 2nd,
3rd and 4th picture by subsequent set dates.
Now, at this very juncture, Lowell Thomas offers up an explanation in
print, in his last penned book, that I can only describe as “the
troubles of the rich”. Thomas, who write of himself as “…a man of
money”, with his longtime business partner, Frank Smith, simultaneous to
starting “Seven Wonders”, had on the side, just bought an Albany, NY
radio and television station, WROW. They had then hoped to upgrade their
investment and get the Federal Communications Commission, the “FCC”, to
immediately change this station’s ultra high frequency, “UHF” signal
into a more powerful, and far-reaching VHF station. In putting that
maneuver in motion, Thomas had talked with the head of CBS, Dr. Frank
Stanton, to share their desire to also switch their station’s network
affiliation from its’ bottom-of-the-barrel ABC programming, to the
stronger, more lucrative programming of the tiffany network, CBS. This
was all about wanting to broadcast “I Love Lucy” instead of “Wrestling”.
All was in place, until the owners of another UHF station in Albany, the
one now in line to lose their CBS affiliation, learned of their fate.
That station was owned by none other than the Stanley-Warner
Corporation. And they promptly brought suit against Lowell Thomas and
partners on the grounds that they’d had a prior agreement with CBS when
they bought the station. This would have been highly unethical and
illegal. Thomas said they hadn’t, and Stanley-Warner lost the case.
Consequently, negotiations with Stanley-Warner on whether or not to
finish “Seven Wonders”, let alone complete the Cinerama deal at all,
were mired in the bad afterburn. On Lincoln’s birthday, Feb. 12, 1955,
Thomas’ attorney, Gerald Dickler, who had won the TV station case, and
was now, still repping his client, Thomas, sitting idle in the Cinerama
case, was confronted by his wife, for whom he’d promised a vacation in
Jamaica. “Are we going or aren’t we!”, she’s reported as saying sternly.
That prompted him to march into Nat Lapkin’s office, the
Stanley-Warner’s Vice President, and, as Lowell tells the story, loudly
declare, “ ‘Nat, you can have half a picture and an action against
Lowell if that’s what you want. Or you can come up with the additional
money and have a completed picture. You decide – I’m going to Jamaica’.
And he stalked out.”
By the time the Dickler’s vacation was over, the completion money, an
extra one million dollars, was written into the Cinerama contract.
A proviso required that Thomas complete the picture no later than August
Now, with no previous background in production, Stanley-Warner’s Fabian
believed in hiring experts and letting them do their job. Fabian
believed in, as Cinerama historian, Thomas Erffmeyer, called it, “…the
expertise of autonomous corporate divisions”. This extended to film
production. And because of it, Fabian ended up hiring Louis De Rochemont,
the American producer/director with a track record of bankable fiction
and non-fiction films, to make “Cinerama Holiday”. Started under its’
working title, “The Thrill of Your Life”, De Rochemont had himself
brought the story to the deal.
De Rochemont wasted no time, and commenced filming shortly after signing
in December, 1953. And from the day of his signing, before a frame had
been shot…make that three frames, Hollywood trade papers ran headlines
stating, “De Rochemont Producing Second Cinerama Feature”. As a hired
gun, he completed his picture on time, in June 1954. Although, once
edited, the picture sat, waiting for the unexpected longevity of “This
is Cinerama’s” box-office power to fade.
The whole, reconvened “Seven Wonders” crew, with cameras AND Sound Crew,
now fully-funded and re-energized, didn’t fly out of Idylwild for
Prestwick, until Sept. 12, 1954. On Feb. 8, 1955, the “Seven Wonders”
crew was in Dharan and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia., while “Cinerama Holiday”
was finally premiering in Manhattan.
You can read soundman Richard Peitschmann’s
diary of the journey of the
whole crew, as commencing that September, transcribed by Frank Aston,
Brian Guckian and Anders Olsson, as appearing right here on
“Cinerama Holiday” also enjoyed unexpected box-office power. And so the
completed “Seven Wonders of the World”, also sat on the shelf for 8
months. It finally premiered on April 10, 1956, featuring aerial footage
shot in 1953, thus becoming the 3rd Cinerama release. And in the U.S.,
it became the 3rd highest-grossing box-office picture of 1956.
And although the picture proved itself another golden goose for
Cinerama, the critics began to qualify their accolades. P.S. Harrison,
writing in his venerated, exhibitor’s reviewing service newsletter,
Harrison’s Reports, wrote of “Seven Wonders”; “Like its predecessors,
this third Cinerama production is a hodge-podge travelogue which,
despite some sequences which border on the tedious, shapes up on the
whole as a vastly entertaining show. There has been no technical advance
in the process itself; parts of the picture still appear distorted to
those who view it from seats that are off dead center, and the dividing
lines between the three pictures that dovetail into one big picture are
as “jumpy” as ever. One becomes accustomed to these flaws, however, and
they do not seriously affect the entertainment quality.
In his 46th of 52 authored books, entitled Seven Wonders of the World,
published as a tie in with the movie, Lowell Thomas, who may have then
still harbored a desire to maintain his active relationship with
Stanley-Warner, simply skimmed over his own history, and wrote;
“Meanwhile the exhibition of ‘This is Cinerama’ had been taken over by a
newly formed organization called Stanley-Warner, and they produced a
second feature, ‘Cinerama Holiday’, after which another picture was
needed. So it was that we decided to film the Seven Wonders…”
But by the time he wrote, in 1977, his very last book, So Long Until
Tomorrow, Thomas, now 85 years old, let more of the truth be told, and
wrote in far greater candor the true story of his Cinerama adventure
trying to make “the next Cinerama” picture.
Cinerama Color recovery examples
Credits: Cinerama Remastered
Introduction of "Cinerama Holiday" by
Of all of the 3-panel Cinerama
travelogues, “CINERAMA HOLIDAY” is my favorite. Is it yours? |
This was the very first picture that I saw in Cinerama, as projected in
the New Neon Movies Theater in Dayton, Ohio, in 1996. It was pink, red
I didn’t get the chance to sit back and enjoy the whole movie because I
was there making a documentary on film preservation. That particular
segment was on John Harvey and how his print of “CINERAMA HOLIDAY” was
in fact thee last print of the motion picture, as in last print...on the
planet. As a film archivist, that detail hit a nerve in me.
That print, as seen in my doc, “KEEPERS OF THE FRAME”, was the same
print that some of you may have seen here in Pictureville, when it was
shipped over on a 2-year loan. It played here in 2000, the same year
that “KEEPERS OF THE FRAME” played in the Cubby Broccoli. So, that year
you could have watched “CINERAMA HOLIDAY” here, and then watched a film
of people watching it…upstairs. Still on loan, that last print screened
here again in 2001.
It’s amazing, that a print that looked so awful, so bad, so faded, could
still be so powerful, and become so memorable to me, and to some of you.
There are some good reasons why that happened. Firstly, unlike “THIS IS
CINERAMA”, “CINERAMA HOLIDAY” is one unified story, with a beginning,
two middles and an end. And unlike the segmented, “THIS IS CINERAMA”,
you’re less inclined to like or hate a single part of it, you either
like it all or you don’t, period.
It’s “stars”, and I’m going to insist that they are stars, not actors,
but stars, are in it from beginning to end and you’ll find yourself
empathizing with them. If taken at face value, that you’re watching a
Swiss couple, Fred and Beatrice Troller, tour America for the first
time, and a couple of American’s, John and Betty Marsh, tour Switzerland
and France, for their first time, you’ll start thinking “How different,
how unique their albeit scripted adventures must be to them, and how
they must be filled with awe, surprise, or wonder.” After all, the
Trollers and the Marshes really were traveling out of their respective
home countries for the first time.
Just one case in point, as late as the year 2000, American Heinz brand
tomato ketchup was first sold in a squirt tube with a cap in the U.S..
And initially, U.S. sales spiked because of its’ immediate novelty. For
those of you who haven’t seen “CINERAMA HOLIDAY”, you’ll see a ketchup
surprise in it. As an American, I’m telling you…it was a real, honest
surprise…when this was filmed.
“CINERAMA HOLIDAY” is also memorable because of Cinerama, as an effect.
Come on, not all of Cinerama’s visual tricks were pulled out of the hat
in “THIS IS CINERAMA”. Die-hard film fans will often say that whereas
3-D motion pictures throw something at you, they make you duck. Cinerama
pictures pull you in. In my case, the best Cinerama effects make me move
my head. So as I watch the Atom Smasher coaster go up, up, up its’
ascent in “THIS IS CINERAMA”, my head tips backward. Not too much, I
don’t want people in a darkened theater to notice.
In “CINERAMA HOLIDAY”, I’m on that bobsled, and in that icy run, I feel
those G-forces as my head is tipping from side-to-side on every turn.
That’s not the only thrill sequence in the picture, fortunately. While
on the Ferris wheel, the bottom of my stomach drops out, I slump into my
seat, and my head rocks. I feel vertical movement. I hope you do too.
As I mentioned earlier this morning, “THE THRILL OF YOUR LIFE” as was
the “CINERAMA HOLIDAY” working title, came about because of its’
director, Louis De Rochemont. He had the story in mind when he sat down
with the brand new Stanley-Warner Cinerama management, to discuss making
a picture for them. The picture had appeal to Stanley-Warner, because it
wasn’t so closely akin to Lowell Thomas’ plans for the more narrowly
defined travelogue, “SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD”, that was already in
Commencing in December 1953, Producer De Rochemont accompanied Philippe
De Lacy directing the European sequences with the Marshes, and de
Rochemont’s Associate Producer and co-writer, Otis Carney followed
Robert Bendick directing the Trollers in their American adventures.
“CINERAMA HOLIDAY” has narrative dramatic flourishes, especially in the
second half, in the scenes with the Marshes. When we get to the scenes
of Art Buchwald visiting them in their Paris hotel room, just stop and
take in the picture a moment. You’ll see a dramatic interplay with
3-persons…3-“actors” hitting their marks in a hotel room interior in
widescreen. Compare that to the scenes you’ll see tomorrow of Monroe,
Grable and Bacall in “HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE”, in Cinemascope.
3-actors are hitting their marks in an apartment interior in widescreen.
At this point, I think it’s fair to say that Cinerama hits its’
There are many spots in “CINERAMA HOLIDAY”, which merit a little
background. I’m going to just mention a couple of things I think you’ll
When the Marshes arrive in Switzerland, via the returning DC-6 that had
brought the Trollers to Kansas City at the start of the film, they then
train to St. Moritz, to be entertained at the Suvretta House. Built in
1912 in the Belle Époque style, it was a grand hotel destination for the
rich and famous, and has been ever since. On the day that the “Holiday
on Ice” show was photographed here, it was 10 degrees below zero, and
the musician’s lips were sticking to their instruments.
The legendary Frick & Frack Swiss comedy skating team had been a part of
the American version of “Holiday on Ice” since 1937, and you’ll see
skaters performing their well-known moves here, including Frick’s
“cantilever spread-eagle” and Frack’s “rubber legs” routine. However, as
Hans Mauch, the “Frack” retired in 1953, I have to think we’re watching
his understudy or protégé here. The Frick may be the one and only
original, Werner Groebli, in which case the Frack should be his then-new
skating partner, David Thomas. These performers are not credited.
Seven separate bobsled runs were made in St. Moritz. It was so cold that
during these runs, the film broke six times. One camera cracked up in a
spill. With 1948 Italian Winter Olympic Gold Medal skeleton champion
Nino Bibbia at the controls, the very last run set a world speed record,
by just 1 minute and 25.3 seconds. Nino’s still alive and turned 91 on
The mass skiing scenes on the Parsenn ski run in Davos, if you believe
what your original “CINERAMA HOLIDAY” program tells you, resulted in
more than one casualty. All I can tell you is that it didn’t involve the
crew or the camera.
We’ll drive down the section of Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas
known as Glitter Gulch because of all of the neon signs. And here Vegas
Vic is greeting us. He’s the tall cowboy signage, outlined in neon,
installed in 1951, so here…still so new that his arms move, and his
recorded greeting intermittently drawls out loud, “Howdy Pardner”.
Today, the entire street is covered by a LED display/light show ceiling,
rechristened the Fremont Street Experience, and Vic no longer waves or
The Painted Desert Room was thee place to dine in Wilbur Clark’s Desert
Inn, the 5th of the “original” Vegas resorts and one owned by the
Chicago mob. It had, like many Vegas showrooms, an elevated stage and
terraced table arrangements to make every one of its’ 450 seats a
vantage point. This is where “Ocean’s 11, the original with the “Rat
Pack”, was shot in 1960. Howard Hughes eventually lived there, and then
simply bought it when the hotel asked him to leave. It is sadly no
longer there, as the entire Desert Inn complex, expanded and rebuilt and
expanded again, and then really compressed when it was all imploded in
2001. The Wynn Las Vegas is now on this spot
While the Stanley-Warner deal was being negotiated, Cinerama needed
$150,000 in cash and quickly. Help came from a millionaire real estate
mogul/friend of Louis B. Mayer, San Francisco millionaire, Louis Lurie.
Lurie owned and lived in the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Fran. So I
wonder, could it have been payback that a scene shot in the Hotel’s
tony, “Top Of the Mark” restaurant is featured in “CINERAMA HOLIDAY”?
Because Lurie was Mayer’s friend, we can say, that this scene is Mayer’s
on-screen contribution to Cinerama.
To shoot the Vista Dome shots of the California Zephyr train, each of
the tinted plexi-glass windowpanes had to be removed and replaced
temporarily with clear glass. Such a shame these trains are now long
gone other than surviving here or there in railroad museum, or if you’re
lucky, as a part of a special private charter train somewhere.
One long-time, purported, rumored star cameo associated with this
picture, I must debunk. Smokey Robinson is not a part of The Jolly Bunch
Social & Pleasure Club’s funeral processional in New Orleans. Although
the young man in a blue suit, about 4th from the end of the procession
does bear perhaps, a passing resemblance. Smokey would have been just 14
at the time this was shot, and his bios don’t mention him ever getting
out of the Brewster neighborhood of Detroit by that age. Furthermore,
his Hollywood manager wouldn’t even return my call on this one.
There are many enjoyable and fascinating musical performances in this
picture. Just one is Jazz bandleader, cornetist and Dixieland giant,
Oscar “Papa” Celestine and his Tuxedo Brass Band performing in the
Absinthe House on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, in his only filmed
appearance. He had performed before President Eisenhower, and died in
December 1954, before “CINERAMA HOLIDAY” was released.
The Absinthe House is still open. Early on it was visited by Mark Twain
and Oscar Wilde. You’d likely order a Sazerac here, the first American
cocktail. And the Dog Who Smokes bistro is still there in Paris as it
has been since 1740. So-named because one of its’ first chef’s had a dog
who smoked. Let’s go!
Try to notice, in the scene in the 2nd half when the Trollers and the
Marshes are re-united, and they arrive in front of the Warner Theater in
Manhattan, you’ll see a multi-story broadside movie poster on the side
of the building across the street advertising MGM’s “Brigadoon”. This
shot was originally printed with a diffusion mask filter to prevent you
from noticing that broadside. You don’t need to be reminded that there’s
any other movie on the planet but this one.
By the time ‘CINERAMA HOLIDAY” premiered in the U.S. on Feb. 8, 1955,
the 3-D craze had dramatically subsided there, and “CINERAMA HOLIDAY”
was advertised with the banner, “Imitations come and go but only
Cinerama puts you in the picture.”
Surpassed only by “LADY AND TRAMP”, “CINERAMA HOLIDAY” earned $12
million dollars, making it the 2nd highest-grossing American film in
1955. And now, it’s about to prove, I believe, it’s still got it.
If I wasn’t in Bradford this Widescreen Weekend, I’d be in the Cinerama
Dome for the encore Dome-held TCM Film Festival event there. They are
tomorrow, with the attendance of the two surviving cast members Betty
Marsh, now Betty York, and Beatrice Troller, screening the digitally
re-mastered, recombined and Smileboxed “CINERAMA HOLIDAY“, just like
Pictureville is going to do for you…now.
Enjoy your holiday!
"Hello, Dolly!" by Wolfram Hannemann
Hanneman introducing "Hello, Dolly!".
„Achtung! I have an important annoucement to
make. After an absence of several years there will return to the
Pictureville Cinema tonight the lady who has always had the happiest smile,
the warmest heart and the largest appetite in the city of New York – Dolly
With these (slightly altered) words from Rudolph Reisenweber, the chief
waiter at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, brilliantly played by Berlin born
David Hurst in Gene Kelly’s movie version of HELLO, DOLLY! it is my pleasure
to welcome you to this Widescreen Weekend saturday evening event.
As some of you may already know HELLO, DOLLY! from 1969 will be the only
movie surviving mankind - at least according to Pixar Animation Studios. It
is in their 2008 animation movie WALL-E that the main character, a small
waste collecting robot who seems to be the only living thing on earth in the
near future, constantly watches a worn out VHS copy of HELLO, DOLLY! in his
tiny home. If you have seen WALL-E and watched very carefully you might also
have noticed that our robot is watching a pan- and scan-version of this
movie. And this definitely is a „no go“ for widescreeners like us. Therefore
I am very happy that Pictureville is providing the real treatment tonight,
showing Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau on the big curved screen in 70mm
and 6-track digital sound. It is interesting to note that UK DVD retailer
HMV realized during an analysis of its 3rd quarter figures for 2008 that
HELLO, DOLLY! had sold more copies in this period than in all the quarters
combined for the previous 10 years. This was put down to the popularity of
WALL-E which features clips from HELLO, DOLLY! at several key points.
The original Broadway production of HELLO, DOLLY! opened at the St. James
Theater on January 16, 1964 and ran for 2844 performances, setting a
Broadway longevity record.
The movie version was released theatrically by Twentieth Century Fox in 1969
at the trail end of a trend of big-budget musicals with which Fox wanted to
duplicate the tremendous success of THE SOUND OF MUSIC in 1965, with DOCTOR
DOLITTLE and STAR! being the other two. None of these films came close to
repeating THE SOUND OF MUSIC’s success and, subsequently, were blamed for
the ruination of many studio balance sheets. Suddenly, the merits of these
films were beside the point. The result was that several top studio
executives lost their jobs, and the studio itself went into such dire
financial straits that it only produced one picture for the entire calendar
year of 1970. In truth, Fox would never recoup its losses until a highly
successful theatrical reissue of THE SOUND OF MUSIC in early 1973. While
some of the musicals deserve their fate of late-night television obscurity,
others, like HELLO, DOLLY! do not.
The film premiered in New York at the Rivoli Theater on December 16, 1969
and at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles on December 19. Production
had wrapped more than a year earlier, but release was significantly delayed
for legal reasons. A clause in the 1965 film sale contract specified that
the film could not be released until June 1971 or when the show closed on
Broadway, whichever came first. In 1969, the show was still running. Eager
to release the film to recoup its cost, Fox negotiated and paid an "early
release" escape payment to release the film at an estimated $1–2 million
One of the actresses considered for the role of Dolly was Elizabeth Taylor,
who was passed on because she couldn't sing. Doris Day and Shirley MacLaine
were both briefly considered as well. Carol Channing was never considered
for the role because it was felt, despite her Oscar nomination for Best
Supporting Actress in the musical MODERN MILLIE, that she could not carry a
film of this stature despite being one of Broadway's top leading ladies.
Channing's MILLIE co-star, Julie Andrews, ironically turned the role of
During filming, Barbra Streisand as Dolly and Walter Matthau as Horace
Vandergelder fought bitterly. He disliked her so intensely that he refused
to be around her except when required to do so by the script. I guess this
is the reason why their pairing in the film works so perfectly. Matthau is
famously quoted as telling Barbra that she "had no more talent than a
butterfly's fart". In the final shot Horace kisses Dolly in front of the
church. Walter Matthau detested Barbra Streisand so much that he refused to
kiss her. To get around this he leaned near her and the camera was
positioned so that the angle makes it appear that he kisses her when, in
reality, his face was several inches from hers.
The set for the Harmonia Gardens filled an entire sound stage at Fox Studios
and occupied three levels: a dance floor, a main section that surrounded the
dance floor and an upper mezzanine. The Harmonia Gardens sequence took an
entire month to shoot. For all of you who have seen THE SOUND OF MUSIC
yesterday: in the Harmonia Gardens, the back wall behind the hat-check girl
is the wall from the ballroom of the Von Trapps Villa. And the large
fountain in the Harmonia Gardens set was reused in THE TOWERING INFERNO. It
can be seen in the top floor restaurant. It gets knocked over by the water
and kills the bartender played by Gregory Sierra.
During the filming of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID director George Roy
Hill heard about the turn-of-the-century New York set constructed for HELLO,
DOLLY!. He wanted to use the set to film a brief sequence in which Butch
Cassidy and Sundance Kid and Etta Place visit the Big Apple. The producers
were proprietary about the set, and didn't want it to appear in another
movie. 20th Century Fox, however, allowed Hill to take still photographs of
his stars Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katharine Ross on the set,
surrounded by the extras (who appear in the old-time, tinted photos as city
crowds) which were used in a montage sequence that served as a transition
between the U.S. West and Bolivia sections of the movie.
Let me tell you about my personal experience with HELLO, DOLLY! It was in
the 1990s that I first came across that movie. Not in the cinema, but in my
home theatre. Being an laserdisc addict during that time I collected every
laserdisc I could get my hands on. American laserdiscs featuring a Dolby
Digital audio track were the Rolls Royce of my collection – I just had to
have all of them. When Fox Video released HELLO, DOLLY! as one of their
widescreen editions with Dolby Digital sound it immediately became part of
my collection. Having never seen the film before I was very curious to see
this Todd-AO production for the first time on my 4x3 color TV – and was
disappointed very much. So I put the disc back into the shelf where it stood
untouched for several years. All this changed all by a sudden in 2005 when I
came to Bradford to participate in Widescreen Weekend’s tribute to 50 years
of Todd-AO. HELLO, DOLLY! was one of the films which were shown with new
70mm prints during that occasion. WOW! I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was
like I had never before seen this film. I loved it from the first minute to
the last. Not only did I enjoy the film so much, I also thought that this
must have been one of the best 70mm prints I ever encountered. I will never
forget the spontaneous applause from the audience following the waiters‘
ballet sequence and it will be very interesting to see whether this happens
tonight as well. So my personal experience with HELLO, DOLLY! proved once
and for all for me that certain movies really need an auditorium like this
to showcase their full potential. I am very glad to be here tonight.
Please note that due to an error the running time of HELLO, DOLLY! is
incorrectly stated as 129 minutes in the festival brochure. Rest assured
that we are going to see the full 148 minute version including an
"The Wonderful World of the Brothers
Grimm" by Duncan McGregor
McGregor introducing "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm".
"How to Marry A Millionaire" by Tony Sloman
Sloman introducing "How to Marry a Millionaire".
The fourth of November, 1953: The world
premiere of ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’, the first motion picture ever
filmed in 20th Century-Fox’s new anamorphic big screen process called
CinemaScope, whose 60th anniversary we celebrate this year.
‘Millionaire’ wasn’t the first film shown in CinemaScope: that was ‘The
Robe’ which premiered on September 16th, 1953: Head of Fox Darryl
Zanuck, in his wisdom, realised that ‘The Robe’ would be a more serious
appropriate debut for the CinemaScope process, given its subject matter,
than the frivolous ‘Millionaire’, which, although filmed before ‘The
Robe’, didn’t open until November 1953, at The Globe and at Loew’s State
in New York simultaneously, where it was supported by Disney’s first
anamorphic effort, the cartoon ‘Toot, Whistle, Pluck and Boom’, plus a
‘scope Coronation short. Zanuck, as usual, was right to open ‘The Robe’
first, as cinema history proved.
Let’s take a moment to talk about that history, before we move on to
‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ itself. By 1953, U.S. cinema audiences were
dwindling; post-war domestic audiences held enthralled by a new device
called tele-vision, and older stars, and a few failed film comedians,
were proving hugely successful on the home medium, and hordes of people
now stayed at home to watch the likes of Milton Berle, Jackie Gleason,
or Red Skelton on their televisions, especially on Saturday nights, that
evening once solely reserved for the special treat of going out to the
The movies fought back with a huge triple-screen and stereophonic sound
process called Cinerama, and, for a while, Cinerama was immensely
successful, but its size and its complexity of operation made it hard to
travel: audiences had to travel to it, rather than the film to the
3-D was also tried, but the process was virtually sabotaged by inept
projection, and the excuse of 3-D glasses causing alleged headaches lead
to the process being a flash in the 1952-53 pan, only to resurface
successfully very recently in the wake of digital projection, obviating
the need to run two projectors in perfect synchronisation in order to
achieve the three dimension effect. So if 3-D couldn’t maintain its
success back in 1953, what was the answer?
Anamorphosis. It is a word of Greek origin – an origin that made it
especially attractive to the Greek-born head of 20th Century-Fox, Spyros
Now, 20th Century-Fox owned Movietone News, and a French inventor called
Henri Chretien had perfected a camera lens he called a Hypergonar, and
had used it experimentally on newsreel shorts. The lens ‘squeezed’ the
image anamorphically, changing the screen ratio from 1.33 to 1
(approximately a square) to 2.66 to 1 (vaguely resembling a letter box),
and Chretien had presented a paper in Paris on the principle of
Anamorphosis as early as 1927, but the film industry had seemed totally
At least they were in 1927.
But in 1952 Spyros Skouros’ attention was brought to Professor
Chretien’s lenses, and he sent a 20th Century-Fox representative to
France to try to locate Chretien.
(Oh, and incidentally, as soon as Warner Bros. heard that Fox’s
representative in France was looking for Henri Chretien, Jack Warner
initiated his own search for Chretien – after all, Warners had once
revolutionised the film industry themselves once before, with a little
invention called ‘talking’ pictures):-
In November 1952, a full year before ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’
premiered, Fox’s Herbert Bragg commissioned Bausch and Lomb to
manufacture test anamorphic lenses based on Chretien’s original design –
only to discover that Britain’s Rank Organisation had an option on the
lenses, due to expire on December 16th.
On December 18th, 20th Century-Fox picked up Henri Chretien’s option,
and the following day screened short tests for Spyros P. Skouros at the
Rex Theatre in Paris.
Impressed, Skouros flew to Chretien’s home in Nice, and secured an
agreement with him for Fox to use the lenses…
And just one day after that agreement had been signed, Jack Warner’s
representative Joe Hummel managed to reach Chretien in Nice…
Having secured the rights to Chretien’s Hypergonar anamorphic lens,
Spyros Skouros instructed studio head Darryl F. Zanuck to use it
immediately on Fox’s long-gestating epic ‘The Robe’, which was to star
Gregory Peck. But Peck had just walked out of his ‘Robe’ contract, and
whilst Fox were searching for an available replacement – who would turn
out to be the new young contract star Richard Burton – Zanuck ordered
that the new process be first used on the next Nunnally Johnson
production, a movie that Johnson was putting together utilising one of
Fox’s oldest-ever plots, and one that could benefit from the new
process, now renamed CinemaScope, and utilising magnetic stereophonic
6-track sound, with a ratio of 2.55 to 1 with the magnetic track, or
2.33 to 1 where an optical soundtrack would be available in addition to
the magnetic striping. And such was Zanuck and Skouros’ confidence in
their new motion picture process that cinemas not equipped to play
stereophonic CinemaScope would henceforth be denied future 20th
Century-Fox product. So there!
The ploy worked. In the last quarter of 1953 the first and fourth
biggest box office grosses were Fox’s first two CinemaScope movies. ‘The
Robe’ was at number one, followed by ‘From Here to Eternity’ and
‘Shane’, with ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ coming in at number four,
ahead of Disney’s ‘Peter Pan’ at number 5, which, not so coincidentally,
featured an animated Tinker Bell whose attitude and looks owed more than
a little to one Miss Marilyn Monroe.
‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ was the fourth collaboration for producer
Nunnally Johnson and director Jean Negulesco, who had had previous
successes together with ‘Three Came Home’, ‘Phone Call from a Stranger’,
and ‘The Mudlark’. ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ was to be their most
popular and most successful.
20th Century-Fox had had a major success back in 1932 with a movie
called ‘The Greeks had a Word for Them’, based on a play called ‘The
Greeks had a Word for It’. By Broadway sophisticate Zoe Akins, quite
simply a plot about three gold-diggers – played by Madge Evans, Joan
Blondell, and Ina Claire – looking for husbands, and it was very
successful. (By the way, a young ingénue called Betty Grable appeared in
it, playing a small role as a model).
Fox remade it six years later, in 1938, only this time they called it
‘Three Blind Mice’, and the girls were Loretta Young, Marjorie Weaver,
and Pauline Moore.
In the meanwhile, Fox and Zanuck have turned that ingénue from the first
version, young Miss Betty Grable, into a star when their own biggest
musical star, Alice Faye, became pregnant, and instigated a style of
casting which Zanuck would perfect throughout the next two decades: that
of co-starring the out-going blonde with the incoming blonde, a line of
talent that roughly went: Alice Faye, Betty Grable, June Haver, Marilyn
Monroe, Sheree North, and Jayne Mansfield, who would become the last of
the great Fox blondes: by the way, the successor to Jayne Mansfield was
emphatically not a blonde – Mansfield’s co-star in ‘The Wayward Bus’ was
So – ‘Three Blind Mice’ was remade in 1941 as ‘Moon over Miami’, and
starred, yes, Betty Grable (with Carole Landis and Charlotte Greenwood),
and was further remade as ‘Three Little Girls in Blue’ in 1946, with
June Haver, Vivian Blaine, and Vera-Ellen.
So when writer-producer Nunnally Johnson (who you’ve just seen
uncredited as Marilyn Monroe’s escort at the ‘How to Marry a
Millionaire’ premiere) was looking for a new Fox project, he certainly
didn’t have to look too far!!
Johnson went right back to Zoe Akins source material ‘The Greeks had a
word for It’ for his ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ screenplay, and
cleverly updated it by incorporating another play called ‘Loco’ by
Katherine Albert and Dale Eunson, from which he drew Loco Dempsey, the
character played in ‘Millionaire’ by top-billed Betty Grable. But note
carefully, only on the actual film’s main title itself is Grable billed
over Monroe, which was a contractual requirement in Grable’s contract
On June 3rd 1953 20th Century-Fox issued a press release which stated
that ‘Twentieth Century-Fox announced today that the studio and Miss
Betty Grable have amicably agreed to end their contract’ : So Grable’s
contract with Fox ended as ‘Millionaire’ was shooting. Grable –
contractually –has billing over Monroe on the actual screen credit
titles, but Marilyn had just scored a monumental success at Fox with
‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ in 1953, and so on all advertising materials,
including posters and trailers, from henceforth Marilyn Monroe was
billed above Betty Grable, who was, in fact, the contractual star of
‘How to Marry a Millionaire’. And Marilyn took over Grable’s dressing
room on the Fox lot. Never before – and never again – would Darryl
Zanuck’s blonde replacement policy become so obvious. And in the
premiere newsreel that you’ve just seen, Betty Grable was a no-show,
claiming that she couldn’t appear without an escort, as her husband
bandleader Harry James was on tour. But Marilyn turned up without an
escort – you saw her clinging onto the arm of writer-producer Nunnally
Johnson; no fool, she.
Incidentally – there are three good private jokes about the ‘real’
husbands of the co-stars in ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’: Grable
references Harry James by name, Lauren Bacall mentions ‘that guy in ‘The
African Queen’’, whilst Marilyn –ever Marilyn – just mentions the title
of her last smash hit movie ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ – ‘nuff said.
Incidentally, another private joke was not lost on contemporary
audiences – and might be worth recalling today – is that all three
co-stars in ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ were, in fact, actually married
Betty Grable was married to America’s hottest bandleader, trumpeter
Harry James (they had wed in 1943, Betty being five weeks pregnant!, and
were to divorce in 1965).
Lauren Bacall, of course, famously married her ‘To Have and Have Not’
co-star Humphrey Bogart in 1945 (you remember ‘If you want me, just
whistle’) and remained married until his death in 1957.
She wasn’t actually married whilst ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ was in
production, but during its worldwide release she wed the world’s
greatest baseball legend Joe di Maggio on 14th January 1954!
Dollar Millionaires, all!!
‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ was such a big success for Fox that they
virtually remade the plot of three women looking for husbands several
times – Negulesco himself followed ‘Millionaire’ with an even bigger
smash hit with the same theme – called ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’,
about three women in Rome; then again with ‘Woman’s World’, ditto, set
in New York; less successful with a remake of ‘Three Coins’ set in Spain
with a younger crowd called ‘The Pleasure Seekers’; and lastly a more
sophisticated trio as he filmed ‘The Best of Everything’. Same plot. If
‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ is actually the 4th remake (i.e. 5th time
out for the same story) of ‘The Greeks Had a Word for It’ – well, you
work it out…
Just one more point before we let you wallow in this brand-new
CinemaScope print – courtesy of 20th Century-Fox Los Angeles.
‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ begins, uniquely, with an on-screen
MGM was just about to win an Oscar for the best short subject with their
CinemaScope filming of the overture to ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’,
consisting only of the score played by the MGM Studio Orchestra, and
Zanuck got miffed at this news so he had the first film in CinemaScope
also begin similarly – although by opening ‘The Robe’ before ‘How to
Marry a Millionaire’, he had lost his historical advantage. As you view
today, sixty years on, think of this orchestral overture not just as the
overture to ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ – which of course it is – but
the overture to 60 years of CinemaScope – 60 years of those Henri
Chretien Anamorphic lenses – whether called CinemaScope, Panavision,
Technirama or whatever – 60 years young, and here to stay for ever!
This overture consists of the great Alfred Newman, multiple
Oscar-winner, conducting the 20th Century-Fox Studio Orchestra in his
composition ‘Street Scene’ – and if it sounds familiar to you, well it
is. Fox used it over and over, most notably as title music to those
urban New York-set ‘films noir’, ‘Hot Spot’, ‘The Street With No Name’,
‘The Naked City’, and now, most notably of all, the very first motion
picture filmed in the wide screen process known as CinemaScope – Happy
60th Anniversary!: ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’.
"The Guns of Navarone" by Brian Hannan
Hannan signing his books "The Making of The Guns of Navarone" and "The
Making of Lawrence of Arabia".
Lowell Thomas, who made yet another impromptu appearance this year at
Bradford when the Brothers Grimm broke down, was more famous in
the US than for being one of the driving forces behind Cinerama. He was
the man who invented Lawrence of Arabia and after the success of This
Is Cinerama he was looking around for a dramatic subject for the new
process. His plan to make Lawrence of Arabia fell through but thereafter
Cinerama targeted every big budget film. One of these was The Guns Of
Navarone but the restrictions and producer Carl Foreman examined the
possibilities but the restrictions the camera imposed on composition
eventually ruled it out.
Foreman had been a victim of the anti-communist witch hunt in the US in
the early 1950s and fled to Britain where he had a production deal with
Sir Alexander Korda. Foreman was an exile with a difference – he had
£250,000 in the bank (about $4m in today’s equivalent) thanks to a
payoff from the Stanley Kramer company, for whom he had written a number
of successful films including High Noon. He turned out several
screenplays including a first draft of Bridge On The River Kwai
before landing a production deal at Columbia on condition that he made
all his movies abroad. Columbia bought the Alistair Maclean novel and
gave it to him to produce, handing him 50% of the profits.
In terms of casting, Foreman went after the biggest name in the world.
Not a movie star. But opera singer Maria Callas, tracking her down to
Aristotle Onassis’s yacht, where Winston Churchill was a guest, and
spending three days wearing down her resistance. Although Foreman later
denied it, there’s a good chance that insertion of the folk tunes into
the movie were part of his attempt to snare her. Incidentally, there
were no women in Alistair Maclean’s bestseller, but Foreman, who wrote
the script, switched the gender of both partisans. He chased William
Holden and Cary Grant for the male leads – Grant was so keen he asked
for first refusal. Richard Burton, Peter Finch and Kenneth more were all
considered. In the end the cast was headed Gregory Peck.
But between signing up the star in 1959 and the film’s release in summer
1961 Peck turned into more of a liability than a box office guarantee.
Of his last six pictures, only two had been hits and one of those, the
William Wyler western The Big Country, had gone so much over
budget its profits were almost nil. His last picture Beloved Infidel,
about F Scott Fitzgerald, had been a colossal flop, the worst performing
movie of his career, and attracted dismal notices.
Director Alexander Mackendrick, who had made the Ealing comedy the
Ladykillers and the razor sharp Sweet Smell Of Success in
Hollywood with Burt Lancaster, took ill and had to be replaced. There’s
a myth that Mackendrick was actually fired but there’s no truth to this,
the main source of this rumour coming from co-star Anthony Quinn who
contended that since Mackendrick wanted to move a boat at sea a few
inches to get a better shot that he was therefore incompetent. Quinn had
clearly forgotten that David Lean, with whom he had worked with on
Lawrence Of Arabia, was considered the greatest director in the
world precisely for insisting on moving things by millimetres. To
Columbia’s astonishment, Foreman, who had been in charge of a second
unit, suggested himself. Columbia rejected this idea out of hand and J
Lee Thompson, who had made Ice Cold With Alex, arrived at short
Foreman objected to Thompson’s work methods, which involved more
rehearsal than was normal with the consequence that very little footage
got shot until late in the day. While this pushed the production over
budget, you can see how effective it was in any number of scenes, where
every movement has a purpose. His grouping of the actors in scenes is
distinctive and allows sequences to flow without endless cutting from
face to face. Thompson also endured Foreman’s wrath when, by accident,
he blew up one of the ships which were being provided free of charge by
the Greek government. This was not the only accident. The exterior gun
set, the biggest ever built-in Britain, collapsed during filming and had
to be rebuilt. David Niven nearly died after being immersed in the lift
shaft. Incidentally, in the Maclean novel there is no water in the lift
shaft. For all his keen intelligence regarding the anti-war elements of
the film, Foreman otherwise had Hollywood’s disregard for reality in
other scenes. What caused the tidal wave during the storm, for example?
And why when tons of rock landed in the water when the guns were
exploded was there not a single ripple in the water? The idea of the
lift shaft somehow being flooded is preposterous. Why would the
efficient Germans allow it – and where would the water come from?
The score would be one of the last from Dmitri Tiomkin. The Russian had
revolutionised attitudes to film music. Unlike other composers, he
refused to be tied to a long-term contract with one studio. He was the
first composer to be paid overtime and the first, in High Noon,
to use a song to express the central dilemma of the film. He received a
record $62,500 for Navarone, and although the score was well regarded it
was out-done in sales by The Alamo. Shortly afterwards an eye
condition caused him to be fired from How The West Was Won and
thereafter he turned primarily to production, being the driving force
behind the 70mm film Tchaikovsky which was nominated for Oscars
and he was also a producer on the western Mackenna’s Gold that reunited
Foreman, Thompson and Peck.
Foreman wanted The Guns Of Navarone released as a roadshow in the
US. But Columbia refused. Too many big budget films had failed as
roadshow attractions. Despite concerns that war films were not hot
tickets and that neither Peck, Quinn nor Niven had enough box office
clout, the film raced out of the gate in its opening in New York,
setting a house record at the Criterion of $83,000 (about $830,000 in
today’s money). In the annual box office in the US it came in at No 1.
"Gettysburg" by Sheldon Hall
While promoting his Technirama 70
epic "Solomon and Sheba" in December 1959, director King Vidor
told Variety that in order to attract filmgoers,
movies in future would “have to go scenic or go spectacular. I look for
stories that just can’t be done on television. For my next, I’m thinking
about either a Civil War story – maybe the Battle of Gettysburg – or one
that will show some of the country’s scenery.” (1)
In the event, "Solomon and Sheba" turned out to be Vidor’s last
feature film, and ironically it was only through television that
"Gettysburg" was to reach the big screen as the subject of a
full-scale feature film.
Four years earlier, MGM had produced an Oscar-nominated CinemaScope
short subject, "The Battle of Gettysburg" (1955), written and
produced by the studio’s head of production, Dore Schary, and narrated
by Leslie Nielsen. The US Department of Defense purchased 175 16mm
prints of the film for use in inducting all new military recruits to the
services. (2) (This short
can be seen as an ‘extra’ on the DVD of "Gettysburg".) In 1957,
Delbert Mann, the Oscar-winning director of Marty, made a one-hour TV
drama, "Lee at Gettysburg", written in blank verse and focusing
on General Robert E. Lee. Mann called it “a factual study in terms of an
epic Greek tragedy”. (3) The
year before, another television production, Who Is Byington?, written
and directed by Charles Bennett (the scriptwriter of many of Hitchcock’s
British films, including "The 39 Steps"), featured Harry Morgan –
Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War episode of "How the West Was
Won" – as a newspaperman covering the battle. (The play’s title
refers to a query asked by President Lincoln of a participant in it.)
(4) Yet another 1957 TV
show, "Odyssey", had dramatised Pickett’s Charge, and it was
reported at the time that a number of pilots for Civil War-themed series
were in preparation.(5)
In October 1964 it was announced that Blake Edwards, whose company
Geoffrey Productions had made "The Pink Panther" and "A Shot
in the Dark" for the Mirisch Corporation, and who was currently
shooting "The Great Race" for Warners and preparing "Planet of
the Apes" for Fox, would produce six more films for Mirisch at a
total cost in excess of $20 million, beginning with "What Did You Do
in the War, Daddy?" and "The Battle of Gettysburg". "The
Battle of Gettysburg" (6)
was budgeted at $8 million and was intended for roadshow
release in 70mm, possibly in Cinerama theatres.
(7) Edwards’ contract was highly lucrative: for
each of the six films, he was guaranteed a fee of $375,000 as
producer-director, plus a fee as writer of $150,000, plus 20% of the
gross after breakeven. But "What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?",
a $7 million World war Two comedy starring James Coburn, was a major flop, as was
Edwards’ next film for Mirisch, the Peter Sellers vehicle "The Party".
The remaining four films on the contract, including "The Battle of
Gettysburg", were never made and Edwards’ subsequent Pink Panther
sequels did not involve the Mirisches.(8)
Further attempts to put the battle on the big screen emerged two decades
later. In December 1987, director Kieth [sic] Merrill, who had recently
completed "Alamo: the Price of Freedom" (1988), a short
drama-documentary in IMAX, declared that his next project would be a
film about Gettysburg in that format. (9)
It too was not made. But in August 1990, Bob Katz and
Moctesuma Esparza announced that on their company’s slate of forthcoming
productions was "The Killer Angels", a $20 million adaptation of
Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1975 novel of that name about
Gettysburg, to be co-written by the author and director Ron F. Maxwell.
According to Katz, the film would “avoid giving a history lesson and
instead focuses on the heroism of those involved”.
(10) Rights to the novel had been
acquired by another company, Visualscope Television, in 1978, but again
no film had resulted.
In 1991, it was reported that ABC Television had taken over the project,
and that at the same time a rival film version of the battle was being
produced by Paul Maslansky and Hugh Wilson. (12)
By the following year, the project had finally
found a home at Atlanta-based cable station Turner Network Television,
owned by Civil War buff Ted Turner, where it was planned to turn
"The Killer Angels" into a mini-series costing $10 million. The eventual
cost was $13.5 million, making it TNT’s most expensive original
production to that date. Turner himself appears in a small role as
Lt.-Col. W.T. Patton and, according to Bob Katz, “‘had the time of his
life’ dying”. (13) Also
appearing in a cameo is Ken Burns, director of the acclaimed 1990 PBS
documentary series "The Civil War".
There’s no more fastidious stickler for accuracy than a military history
buff, and the producers of "Gettysburg" (as the film
was now called) determined that
historical authenticity was to be the keynote. The battle took place in
July 1863; it was recreated from July to September 1992. It was filmed
on the actual locations, in Gettysburg National Military Park – the
first time filmmakers other than documentary crews had been permitted to
shoot there. (Cannon were placed on sheets of plywood to protect the
ground.) According to Maxwell, the decision to shoot on the site of the
battle was as much for psychological reasons as historical ones –
because it provided a “mystical experience” for those who took part in
They included thousands of Civil War re-enactors, many of whom brought
their own uniforms and equipment and, unlike professional film extras or
standing armies, gave their services free of charge. Some 3,800
participants appeared in the sequence of Pickett’s Charge alone, which
was claimed to be “the single largest scene shot in the United States
since the Confederate hospital scene in "Gone with the Wind"”.
The production also boasted “42 cannons, 4,150 muskets, 75 swords, 250
flags and 6,000 pounds of explosives”. (14)
In some respects one could have wished for less
authenticity – the facial hair budget may well have been the single
biggest expense, making the film’s trailer, at least, a rather hilarious
gallery of increasingly hirsute, mostly unrecognisable faces.
It was initially intended that the film should debut on cable, but in
July 1993 it was announced that it would have a limited theatrical
release on 15-20 screens in 70mm; this was subsequently raised to around
60 theatres, with one-third of those to be in 70mm. "Gettysburg"
was world-premiered at the Boston Film Festival on 20 September 1993 and
opened nationwide on 8 October. Distributed by New Line, which Turner
had acquired as a subsidiary, it was Turner Pictures’ first production
to be released theatrically in America, though some earlier titles had
been released in cinemas overseas, notably the Charlton Heston vehicle
"Treasure Island" (1990). It was also New Line’s first film to be
exhibited in DTS. The US release earned a distributor’s rental of
$10,769,960. (15) The film
was then released on home video in January 1994 and finally appeared as
a six-hour mini-series (including commercial breaks, so not much longer
in real terms than the theatrical version) on TNT over two consecutive
nights, 26-27 June 1994, when it received “more viewers than any other
movie or miniseries in basic cable’s history”.
(16) A prequel, "Gods and Generals", based
on a novel by Jeff Shaara, son of the late author of "The Killer Angels",
followed in 2003, also directed by Ron Maxwell and featuring some of the
same cast; but a promised third instalment, "The Last Full Measure",
was not made.
Not until September 1994 did "Gettysburg" open in Britain, with a
70mm presentation at the ABC Shaftesbury Avenue (probably the same print
we are seeing today). I saw it at the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle,
where it was shown (in 35mm) without an intermission: I was told by the
management that they thought audiences would enjoy it more without
interruption. Today we will be presenting the film with the intermission
intact, in order (to quote Billy Wilder once again) “to give your
kidneys a break” – indeed, a break long enough for lunch. Despite its
large scale, "Gettysburg" still seems to me to have some of the qualities
of a TV movie, not least a tendency to come to frequent halts to give each
major character the opportunity for a lengthy philosophical speech or
two. But before I fall into the same trap, I should just shut up, step
aside and let you enjoy the film.
1) Daily Variety, 3 December 1959, p. 3.
2) Daily Variety, 3 April 1957, p. 9.
3) Daily Variety, 7 September 1956, p. 16.
4) Daily Variety, 24 May 1956, p. 9.
5) Variety, 27 March 1957, p. 15.
6) Variety, 14 October 1964, p. 4.
7) Variety, 14 October 1964, p. 15; 30 December 1964, p. 7.
8) Tino Balio, United Artists: the Company That Changed the Film
Industry, pp. 194-5.
9) Variety, 2 December 1987, p. 4.
10) Daily Variety, 21 August 1990, p. 12.
11) Daily Variety, 12 July 1978, p. 7.
12) Variety, 28 January 1991, p. 95.
13) Daily Variety, 25 August 1992, p. 2.
14) Daily Variety, 19 August 1992, p. 2.
15) Variety, 24-30 January 1994, p. 14; 30 January-5 February 1995, p.
16) Variety, 11-17 July 1994, p. 27.
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