Sunday, April 12, 2009
HOLLYWOOD AND POLITICS
Prohibition No Dead Issue
Politics, prohibition and a smattering of adventures engaged the production eye this week. Three studios announced they already have political stories on the fire and two others indicated they are looking for political yarns. The theory is that as this is a political year, patrons will flock to the theaters to see political pictures.
Clarence Brown began shooting Joan Crawford’s latest picture, “Letty Lynton”; the del Rio company is busily engaged in making interiors of “The Bird of Paradise” after taking the scenario stuff at the islands; George Bancroft completed his “The World and the Flesh,” a story of the Russian revolution, and Fox is waiting for cleared stages to begin shooting four more yarns.
But prohibition! In one way or another it has entered pictures, nearly always through gangster films. Now it has, with one jump, leaped into the center of the show world, and indications are that the silver screen of the next few months will be more talked of than prohibition polls.
Some time ago, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced that it was making a film of Upton Sinclair’s “The Wet Parade.” Hollywood accepted it calmly, thinking perhaps, that it was a rather trite way of cashing in on a controversial subject.
This week, newspaper men were called into the studio to see a preview of the film. The consensus of opinion was that the prohibition argument has just begun.
Peculiarly, “The Wet Parade” furnished ammunition for both sides. It is openly a serious study of the problem, but it is likely to become excellent box office. John Mahin, the writer, and Victor Fleming, the director, took every argument that both sides have used – the old South with its hospitality, the cities with the saloons, and the post-prohibition days of the racketeers.
Mr. Sinclair himself is dryer than a Federal report, and while every attempt is made to stay away from bias, the picture paints a pretty bad picture of liquor as it is consumed, but gives the wets the solace of the old argument that drink shouldn’t be taken away from every one because a few can’t hold theirs.
It is an interesting experiment, so Hollywood believes, in how deeply the screen can enter into a controversial subject and still make money.
In “Letty Lynton,” Clarence Brown daringly takes a girl of uncertain morals, permits her to provide a means, innocently of course – for her ex-lover’s demise, and marries her off happily in the end with every one understanding and forgiving. A short time ago stars would not play such parts where they might be viewed with an unsympathetic public eye.
Of interest in the making of “Letty” is the use for the first time of a new tripod invented by Mr. Brown and his camera man, Oliver Marsh., The camera stand is a contrivance on wheels which will permit every possible angle necessary in the shooting of a picture without the attendant changes in stationary tripods. Its chief virtue is that it saves an hour a day, which means this:
Overhead is roughly $1000 an hour; M-G-M makes forty pictures a year; each picture takes twenty-five days or longer to shoot; result is approximately $1,000,000 a year saved. It may be much less, but even for half the saving the Brown-Marsh invention will pay for itself, inasmuch as it costs about $2,500 to build.
Mr. Brown has quite a reputation in Hollywood as an inventor. He was an automotive engineer before entering pictures, and is credited with many mechanical achievements. He is also an electrical engineer, which has embroiled him in arguments with sound technicians who said things couldn’t be done, which he then proceeded to bring to pass.
The prediction that films would form an excellent historical record is beginning to reach a practical stage of truth. In “The Wet Parade” considerable footage of old news reels is used to put over events and denote the passage of time. This includes war stuff, the signing of the prohibition act by President Wilson and flashes from the Wilson-Hughes campaign.
At Paramount old news reels were used this week to guide the filming of “The World and the Flesh.” Paramount got from its library several reels of Russian revolution shots and thus dressed its people with unquestioned accuracy. While none of the old film is embodied in the current story, as is done in the M-G-M effort, the picture will show results of the reference.
It is difficult to find girls who look unsophisticated. They may be, but the camera can’t tell. Out at the Roach lot they have been looking for two such youngsters for a series known as “The Boy Friends” comedies. Out of 350 applicants, 25 were selected for tests and none came up to the Hollywood requirements of un-sophistication. So the studio went back to two girls who had graduated from “Our Gang,” Mary Kornman and Betty Bolen.
And speaking of youngsters, the grooming of Creighton Chaney, son of Lon Chaney, has begun. The boy was taken up by RKO on hope rather than certainty. He has been cast in a quite small part in “The Roadhouse Murder,” another newspaper yarn, and his work thus far is reported “satisfactory.”
RKO has been having considerable success with Westerns. Having completed six with Tom Keene, they have given him a new contract, and Oliver Drake has been engaged to do the first stories. In the smaller communities Westerns are reputed to be attracting customers who shied at the more sophisticated reels.
The new RKO story board began functioning this week. Because of it, an improvement in stories is expected by David O. Selznick, whose brain child it is. An attempt is being made to view stories from every angle, and for this purpose different types of literary minds have been engaged. There is Kenneth Macgowan, former chairman of the Harvard School of the Drama; H. M. Swanson, editor of College Humor; Adela Rogers St. Johns, looking after the woman’s angle, and James Seymour, former story head of Pathe, who views stories solely from the cinematic grand stand.
Paramount reached a new high in giving work to extras, more people being employed in current productions than at any time during the last two years. Approximately 10,000 extra checks will be given out before the completion of the seven pictures now in work.
One of these, the Bancroft picture, brought work to 1,355, most of whom are bearded Russians from the local colony. This picture, “The World and the Flesh,” is Bancroft’s next to last picture with Paramount. On it and on the one which follows, “The Challenger,” rests the future of the actor with the company. For a time there was a slump with the product of this player, but “Rich Man’s Folly” seemed to re-establish him. If the current film is box-office, and if the following prize-fight yarn clicks, Bancroft will remain one of the “lot’s” fair-haired boys.