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Friday, May 25, 2018

Basil Dazzles In Early Talkie

The Lady Of Scandal (1930) Translates Stage To Screen

Early talk gravitated to properties where maximum chat was so much the better. That meant plays with confined setting, actors stood round furniture and often indistinguishable from it. The Lady Of Scandal and ilk would in hindsight give talkies a bad name, but were critic darlings then because of stage origin and respectability flowed from that. Mordaunt Hall was N.Y. Times defender of legit prerogative and gave but grudging nod to "shadow stories" done from plays. He made exception for The Lady Of Scandal, formerly "The High Road" of Broadway origin, and written by Frederick Lonsdale, whose The Last Of Mrs. Cheyney lent class to a pic industry always on lookout for that intangible. These were teacup marathons that sold inflated tickets at urban opens, but died hard in the hinters, where we knew from nothing, or cared, about Dukes and Earls.

Prestige was second to money as Hollywood-desired commodity. It bought good will of audiences who'd otherwise disdain movies, or call them never so good as theatre. Now that screens spoke, it was legit on the rout. Broadway laid mostly eggs as a public chose bargain that was films, a same now as plays, what with talk, plus bigger names performing than B'way could summon. People liked too the democracy of filmgoing, which had variety within programs, dress code less formal, and eats bought, or at least tolerated, if carried in (nut and sweet vendors street-selling in event venues lacked concession choice). The Lady Of Scandal meanwhile gave glimpse of Upper Crust, in England no less, a ruling class we'd be fascinated with, at least till resenting them after the war and suddenly leveled fields. Now such characters are strictly for period dress, present-day aristocracy likelier to invite laughter, if not scorn. The Lady Of Scandal presents wealth as den of snobbery that would turn out would-be wife Ruth Chatterton, though the longer she, and we, stay, the more humanized they become. Author Lonsdale, who had some creative say, wouldn't let his nobility be mere straw men to feed class grudges.

Reason To Catch A Lady Of Scandal Next Time ---
Basil's Tour-De-Force Telephone Scene

Chatterton stood in for common clay, except she has flawless diction, which others of lower birth presumably lack, but who else of cast to fasten interest on or identify with? Chatterton had been a hit the previous year as a talking Madame X, then with Sarah and Son (popular then, unwatchable now). Chatterton shone in some Warner precodes, had film-started mature (her mid-thirties), then got dowdy and quit Hollywood to stage-work exclusive. Notable, of course, is Basil Rathbone, busy himself at Broadway toil and still with one foot firmly on the stage so far as technique and declamation. He'd adjust to the change, get more comfortable with cameras, but what fun to see him enter-exit as if transition from boards to screen was none at all, the erect carriage, clipped speech, and that high, almost prissy giggle that characterized young Rathbone (young? --- he was 38 here). Athleticism that would express itself later via swordplay gets a look-in, Basil swatting ably at lawn tennis in one of precious few exteriors The Lady Of Scandal affords. There isn't a DVD yet, but TCM runs The Lady Of Scandal, usually on Rathbone natal days, a fitting and most enjoyable tribute, even if followed by Hillbillys In A Haunted House!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Early In Annals Of Serial Killing

Follow Me Quietly (1949) Is A Quiet Trend-Setter

What with every movie or TV show today about serial killers, how's for nod to pioneering Follow Me Quietly, an RKO manhunt that got it done in brief (59 minutes) and for $259K in negative cost, yet still lost money (only $325K in worldwide rentals). Set-up was queasy, a killer called "The Judge" who throws victims out high windows or breaks into women's homes to strangle them from behind. I wonder if the Code kept most part embargo on psycho killer yarns, or were fewer of them submitted during the Classic Era? This one, for all of cheapness, has unease to spare. At one point, the killer seats himself at inner sanctum of police precinct, a cheeky and creepy affront to pursuers. Follow Me Quietly reminded me at times of Seven, being procedural that tickles the horror genre. Val Lewton could have done much here, content and killer bringing to mind his The Leopard Man. RKO merchandising saw chiller ties, Terry Turner as head of publicity selling Follow Me Quietly as Eerie!, Creepy!, and Weird! Inspiration for bent killer narratives had to begin somewhere, and writers who'd later take up the concept may well have gotten start seeing Follow Me Quietly on late night TV.

Follow Me Quietly was distinctly a B. All majors increased low-budget output after the war, service for dual bills as necessary as before WWII boom that briefly made cheaper films less a priority. RKO, like Columbia and Universal, had kept with humbler fare for most of release schedules since beginnings --- by late 40's you could count yearly specials from these on one hand. Follow Me Quietly came on heels of Howard Hughes as fresh owner of RKO, being the first, said Variety (8-5-48), "to tee off ... (a) program of 10 to 11 pictures which will be made between now and the end of the year." Hughes left small product alone, recalled Richard Fleischer, who wrote colorfully of B directing days for the beeping tower (Just Tell Me When To Cry, published 1993). Fleischer did a string of what we applaud as noir, lower tier it's true, but up-and-up progress culminated in The Narrow Margin, which made his reputation and was eventual route out of quickies. Follow Me Quietly falls in latter category (20 days shooting, said 7-11-49 Variety), Fleischer's concern was that most such pics would not be seen by a meaningful audience, let alone by critics who could pull him out of a budget hole. RKO salary that Fleischer drew peaked at around $750, which gave little cushion against unemployment later on (a family to support, so how much from paychecks could he save?). Fleischer was glad to be associated with sleeper hits like The Narrow Margin and other noirs, but they weren't route to wealth. He got stung too by Howard Hughes dithering once pictures were finished. Hughes liked to inspect work at leisure, and that in some cases left product a year on shelves while "anal erotic" HH (Fleischer's term) tended distractions elsewhere. Follow Me Quietly wrapped in 1948, but wouldn't see release until summer '49, where it backed RKO likes of She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Mighty Joe Young, or loaded vaudeville (Chicago's Palace used Quietly behind eight stage acts).

Monday, May 21, 2018

The '27 Victory Of Vitaphone

Revisiting Show Biz History With The Jazz Singer

Another of those landmarks too famous for its own good, The Jazz Singer is met at last on even ground that is Warners' Blu-Ray, a fairest shake for the talking pioneer since Vitaphone discs first spun to nitrate accompany. Revivals of The Jazz Singer since 1927 tended toward re-record of sound, then re-record from re-records, losing for generations fresh impact the revolutionary process had. Accounts from the time confirm that when it worked, Vitaphone had no peer for clarity and amplification. There were snafus, plenty, but audiences understood what these shows could sound like, so were patient as kinks ironed out. All knew a future was upon them, talkies a given to come, whatever might become of silent traditions. The Jazz Singer would not wipe out an era single-hand; it took a couple more years and many all-talkies to fully achieve that, but ease of reference permitted The Jazz Singer to define transition as overnight, an expediency more manageable than truth. What I note from seeing and hearing The Jazz Singer in High-Def is what an enjoyable experience it now is, memories of 16mm and TV broadcasts purified by cleansing wave that is digital.

There continues to be discussion, ninety years going, on just what electrified crowds at 1927 runs and inspired their coming back. There had been Al Jolson on talking screens a year back in the single reel A Plantation Act, which played as Vitaphone partner to full-length The Better 'Ole, a Sydney Chaplin comedy with music overlay and no dialogue per se. A Plantation Act was Jolson addressing us with three songs, limited patter, then three bows as he withdrew. This priceless short went missing for many decades until WB found the picture portion and a busted-to-pieces Vitaphone record that was miraculously reassembled. So why didn't A Plantation Act create a 1926 sensation? From myriad of reasons, I'd submit one, that being Plantation Al directing his tunes to unseen viewers (us), while The Jazz Singer had him performing songs before an on-screen audience. Their response is enthusiastic, and more important, infectious. The nitery where grown-up "Jack Robin" first sings is filled and noisy. His songs tap into the excitement and we too are engaged, a first time, I'd propose, when shadow viewers could entice live ones to join their applause. Jolson later singing to his mother allows us to react with her, added energy coming of the emotion they and we invested. This had been a commonplace since film began, but never before with talking plus music. A new way of enjoying movies was born with these two at an upright piano, and a new day for intimacy shared with characters on a screen.

I've seen a lot of reference to what a bombastic over-actor Al Jolson was, but on evidence of The Jazz Singer, I don't buy it. The move from silence to sound affected him as it would a number of players, even though Jolson had no prior experience with the film medium. He certainly would have had plenty as a spectator, however, and must have somehow convinced himself that to talk in pictures was to turn switches full-on. As a voiceless participant in The Jazz Singer, however, Jolson stays on pitch with others of the cast and does not hog scenes. He underplays with Warner Oland (as his father) and makes moving their conflict. When he does speak, Jolson sells the personality and songs, which was, of course, what he was hired for. I realize much got out of hand later when Jolson felt his oats and overestimated a public's lust to see and hear him, and maybe it's my perception that misreads what to others would be a hoke performance in The Jazz Singer, so to scoffers I'd only say, watch it again, but please do so with the Blu-ray or a TCM broadcast in HD.

Earliest musicals caught beautifully the whiff of backstage life, never minding gritty truth where putting on shows. Most of Hollywood had known that life, Jolson certainly, for he had been at it since childhood. There is a sequence in The Jazz Singer that I would put among his best, despite there being no sound or song. Al is talking (in titles) at his dressing table with May McAvoy. He's focused more on the conversation than application of cork for a blackface number, a process that would by now have been pure reflex for Jolson. How many thousands of times had he blacked up to perform? --- enough to go beyond his calculation, and ours. Watch how he covers every trace of white, including all of both ears, his hands a deft instrument that doesn't need a mirror to know the job's being done right. Here is a lesson in stagecraft long past, and done minus trick or cuts, a highlight of The Jazz Singer overlooked thanks to razzle-dazzle of oncoming sound. Myth attached to The Jazz Singer thanks to Warners appropriating the film as Exhibit A of their courage for having made it. The Great Gamble That Paid made splendid press even if the truth was something different. There was enough accuracy at least to make the difference not matter so much, and certainly the public did not cry foul, even if too few of them actually saw The Jazz Singer with sound.

Hick towns and outliers could but dream of Al Jolson singing from screens. They'd wait, in some cases several years, for talk to be installed in rural houses. In a meantime there were follow-up Jolsons, at least one, The Singing Fool, a bigger hit than The Jazz Singer. Still, the latter had the legend, and whatever of Al's the old-timers saw, they'd invariably recall the experience as The Jazz Singer. It became a generic Jolson title just as Laurel and Hardy's tit-for-tat silent comedies would assume memory's label of The Battle Of The Century. Warners could claim immortality by association with The Jazz Singer, but generating fresh cash from revivals was something else. A re-booking at New York's Warner Theatre for Easter-Passover weeks 1931 (where the film first played) slunk out after five deadly days, the bloom judged permanently off Jolson's rose. Variety's critic took account of picture-making "having changed more in three and a half years since (The) "Jazz Singer" than in 20 since "Birth Of A Nation." The scribe noted 184 titles in The Jazz Singer that took up twenty-three minutes of the film's eighty-eight minute running time, which was decidedly not an endorsement. "The story is sentimental to the saturation point of tear-shedding," said this observer as he noted "less than 150 people" at the Warner Theatre's 3/30/31 evening show.

The Jazz Singer would henceforth be seen mostly in clips, but these were considerable, as each time WB congratulated itself for introducing sound, out would come Jolson kneeling to sing Mammy. The oft-seen highlight was enough to make many imagine they had seen The Jazz Singer in toto. Films out of rival companies nodded to WB's pioneering, The Jazz Singer cited for decades as the one that talked first. Television sale of Warners' pre-49 library made The Jazz Singer available to local stations, this following a theatrical window through Dominant Pictures for some of titles, including The Jazz Singer. There was fresh paper offered to showmen (the one-sheet at right), but so far, I've found no ads for an actual theatre run. Did any venue roll dice on The Jazz Singer in 1956-57? Revival houses steered wide of most things Jolson for the blackface wrinkle, plus fact he was distinctly un-cool except to ancients who'd stay home in front of their TV in any event. The Jazz Singer can be seen better than ever on Blu-ray, but by how many? All of its initial audience is gone or pushing 100 (I'm saying that a lot lately), so we who care can only imagine what impact was felt when Vitaphone saw Jolson performing on his knees for a public brought to theirs by 1927's modern miracle.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Warner Comedy At Lower Gear

The Girl From Jones Beach (1949) A Late-40's Pin-Up

You'd think this was late 40's sludge from Warners, but I found it nifty for noise both tune-wise in background (many familiar songs WB owned) and clamor the reap of habit this company had at trying too hard. Bright enough writers could still put individual stamp on assigned work; here it is I.A.L. Diamond toiling at formula before lightning later struck via association with Billy Wilder and comedy greats they did. Diamond gets off humorous chat (his is sole screenplay credit from a story by Allen Boretz) and much reminded me of It's A Great Feeling, for which Diamond supplied the story. A trifle like The Girl From Jones Beach was only as good as its gags, and player aptitude for same, so it's a question of how funny we think Ronald Reagan and Virginia Mayo can be ... in any circumstance. Reagan is a glamour artist, as in girl calendars like Vargas, Earl Moran, others who were then very popular in weeklies. Primary sell was on M-M-M-Mayo, as often billed, she of dry run at how M-M-M-Marilyn would be pushed just a few years later. Crux of story is whether brainy, and school-teaching, Mayo can lure a man despite smarts her mother says will drive them off. Sounds like ideal stuff of a modern remake, no?

The Girl From Jones Beach was a part serious actresses would naturally turn down, Lauren Bacall among others said to have done so in a huff. It probably went through much of distaff talent pool before Mayo submitted. The Girl From Jones Beach wasn't actually a B, but doubtless stank of one to those who wanted no part of it, or realized they were trapped in it. Reagan was on contract, had gotten nothing helpful from Warners since coming back from the war, and had no reason to imagine he would. Momentum from King's Row and A's with Errol Flynn was spent thanks to absence from the screen. Ones who served did pay a price for doing so, three-four years away being time for a public to forget, unless you were Clark Gable, Robert Taylor, Tyrone Power. Cartoon-decorated titles tip off The Girl From Jones Beach as comedy, swimsuit lovelies leered upon by Tex Avery-inspired "wolves" of sort that would fade now that war was done. Eddie Bracken, also a gag less fresh since fighting stopped, is in support of Reagan, latter getting off a Fieldsian highlight where he pinch/slaps a bratty kid, something I'd not imagine any farceur daring today. Bracken bids for laffs by making suicide attempts. GF Dona Drake even poisons his drink to make him really go through with it, evidence that dumbest comedies of the era could surprise now and then. Ignore The Girl From Jones Beach to your loss! It's available on DVD from Warner Archive.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Picking Cold War Enemies Early On

Stewart Fights A New Kind Of WWII in The Mountain Road (1960)

Remember the long section in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo when Van Johnson and fellow downed pilots are taken in by Chinese villagers and nursed back to health? That was, by 1960, long ago and decidedly far away. Over fifteen years was passed and China had become our cold enemy along with Russia and others under a Red flag. Many now questioned if we should have had these for allies in the first place. Popular books proposed that China was working against us even as we fought and died to liberate them. Movies had not advanced that proposition outside of a few addressing the Korean conflict --- World War Two had after all been fought and won --- but look-backs did revise assumptions many kept since victory was achieved hand-in-hand with China and against the Axis. Never So Few in 1959 was for most part Boy's Own heroics in Burma, but with stinger that said Chinese plotted against us there, just as they surely would after surrenders were signed. Distrust would harden to drill bit that was The Mountain Road, a China-set WWII enact where the enemy wasn't Japan, but people ... no mobs ... that were killing off our troops without least recognition of all we had done for them. It was up to Major James Stewart to wipe off scourge however way he had to, and to blazes with partnership the US thought it had with a now Evil Empire.

Hadn't bothered with The Mountain Road until TCM's recent broadcast in HD/wide, this a first proper view as its still not been released on DVD, nor streaming that I could find. Precious nuggets are sometimes found like this, and while The Mountain Road is no tall-sitter on Stewart's résumé, it does deal the unexpected and is far less a reprise of WWII incidents than same incidents sifted through politics that informed years leading up to 1960 and persisting to a present day. Noteworthy is Road being a war movie, and fact Stewart did virtually none of those. Strategic Air Command had been about defense in peacetime, and as to others --- well, there simply weren't any after WWII. Stewart had done too much real combat to want to pretend at it once his fight was over. You could say that ones who hadn't served, John Wayne, Van Johnson, others, got the most mileage out of acting in uniform. I'd like knowing what decided Stewart to make exception of The Mountain Road, to step off policy he had maintained since coming home from flight duty. Maybe, or better put, undoubtedly, he felt strong about an ongoing Red China situation, and here was chance to address it. He had batted at Communists the year before in The FBI Story, not so hard a hitter as The Mountain Road, but the one we've been exposed to lots more often. The Mountain Road takes time to become memorable, jolts coming in a second half after a first where we wonder if this team will spend whole of run-time wrecking bridges and blocking passages. Tension is built along lines not dissimilar to Objective, Burma, with a pay-off almost as strong.

Saturation Opening in L.A.
I'll give up this much short of outright spoilers: The Chinese ambush and kill American troops, falling not short of atrocities we had long attributed to Japanese aggressors only. This was hard tack for 1960 viewers to bite on, and I must say it kind of surprised me. Glad to have stuck with The Mountain Road for the haul, for it was a teaching moment in ways Hollywood, at least its conservative element, fought a Cold War. There are arguments for restraint, but where Stewart arms up for revenge in a bracing third act, all of foregoing is mere noise and nuisance. Even Jim confessing for a finish that he might have gone overboard is no wash-away of viewer sentiment entirely with harsh acts he performs. The Mountain Road continued tweak of Stewart persona that Vertigo and Anatomy Of A Murder preceded with. He wasn't yet ready for surrender to fuddy Dad comedies that would nibble off status achieved in the 50's. Problem was The Mountain Road coming to grief with boxoffice Variety reported variously as slow, mild, so-so, or plain sad, this after saturation open on 5/25/60 at 150 locations to run at least through Decoration Day, Stewart canvassing twelve cities on a bally tour, and Columbia throwing $500K at nationwide promotion. Despite this, The Mountain Road failed to crack Variety's annual list of million dollar, or more, renters. Neither would there be network television play, The Mountain Road announced for syndication in May 1964 as part of a 60-title Columbia package.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Universal On The Couch With Huston and Clift

Wallop To Whimper For Freud (1962)

Hopeful Trade Ad Relies On Critic Kudos
Freud was Universal and John Huston's bio of the "founding father of psychoanalysis" (Variety) that got stuck in an art box and hasn't gotten out since. "Obviously a labor of love," said the trade, but that love wouldn't extend to a mass market, whose idea of fun Freud was not. "Like educational television" was  comparison that could hardly be more damning, whatever praise for "integrity and artistic merit" that went with it. These unfortunately gave off skunk smell to mainstream mob Uni needed to recover money spent on Austria and Germany shooting. Game effort was applied, and for a while it looked like Freud would be a major hit, till it transitioned from site-of-success arties into nabes, or worse, provincial markets where Freud was known or cared about like homework from school. Punishment is passed down via Universal disinterest in letting us see Freud again. There's not a DVD or digital stream in the US, although there are at least three Region Two releases, all of which I rolled dice on, only a most recent being adequate (non-anamorphic transfers being the bane until a latest disc from France). Euros obviously value Sigmund Freud more than Yanks ever did. Was his attribution to sex as motivating force for all we do since infancy a put-off to our acceptance of Freud, man or movie? The Legion Of Decency gave special clearance for explicit content Huston laid down, and yes, Universal finally gave in to friskier title that was Freud: The Secret Passion, but dye was cast ...

A Shock For Us Watching NBC in 1968 When Ilya Kuryakin Turns Out To Be a Sex Pervert

Daring Dailies Had Option To Run This Explicit "Sexual Fantasy" Ad

Freud got by far its biggest audience when NBC had a 2-10-68 premiere, ratings below Saturday Night At The Movies average thanks in part to the pic being black-and-white, plus long. Still, there were millions more watching than were induced to do so when Freud ran in theatres from late 1962 into '63, and what fond memories were generated for many began with NBC that February evening (me included, as spooky Freud played very much like a Euro-horror). Too bad television never uses it now. The title role was done by Montgomery Clift. He had trouble with director Huston that is now stuff of legend. These two were really oil and water. Huston didn't like his script monkeyed with, a prerogative Clift claimed from word go. Susannah York told Focus On Film in 1972 that "constantly we had rewrites," and she "fought quite bitterly" with Huston. Clift developed trouble with cataracts and Universal tried to hang production hang-ups on him in lawsuits filed after Freud's completion. These and other complications could form a fascinating production history, if more people knew or took interest in Freud. Montgomery Clift thought the part should net him a long-awaited Academy Award, and told his brother Brooks Clift so in a telephone conversation that was recorded, and which survives. There wouldn't even be a nomination, sad to say, and Clift would not have opportunity to try such a challenging part again.

Part Of Selling Strategy: Convince Us That We're All A Little Nuts

Freud had begun filming 9-11-61 and took 118 days to finish. Said Susan Kohner, playing Mrs. Freud: "I've been working on Freud so long, I feel like I've been on "Schizo Row." Her chore far from finished at close of production, Kohner was tied to promotion's plow and sent to worldwide points well into 1963 on Freud behalf. Here was familiar instance of a principal player chosen to stick by a film through the selling process, a longer and often tougher haul than doing the pic. Wonder what, if any, extra pay Susan Kohner got for excess of a year she spent pumping Freud. Another cast member to note was Larry Parks, erstwhile Jolson of two biopics who had been drummed out of movies by the HUAC investigation. Here he was back and, for scenes he's in, carries as heavy a thesping load as star Montgomery Clift. I wonder if Monty problems (retaining dialogue, health concerns) caused speeches to be rerouted to Parks. Latter was certainly equipped to do the rescue. Wish someone had asked John Huston re Larry Parks' value to Freud, as I bet it was considerable. Speaking of Clift, here's one for Ripley: several columns reported in early '62 that he was contacted on the Freud location by Doris Day to co-star in her next, The Perfect Set-Up, DD asking "Why haven't we done a picture together?" Why indeed?

Larry Parks Learns About The Freud Campaign From Universal Ad Staff

The Twin Art Address Where Freud Had Gotham Premiere --- and On Both Screens

Universal knew from beginning that Freud would need special handling. First off: Who knew Freud? Was he a person or some plant-vegetable? Ask any youth or most adults and they'd go blank. "Freudian slip" was a term you'd hear, but how many assumed that was a ladies garment rather than reference to the long-gone head doctor? Best then to launch Freud among the intelligencia, whatever of that was left stateside, ideal nest for eggheads being Dartmouth College, where a new auditorium had opened amidst splendor of the school's $7.5 million "Hopkins Center," to which John Huston and eveready Susan Kohner would show for a preview plus event where "politicians and personages" would be on hand (Variety, 11-14-62). Free-lancing shill and seen-it-all Arthur Mayer was there to moderate. What he didn't know about the selling game, nobody did. Prestige could be sniffed in the air, and Universal chose Freud sites that would best reflect special-ness of the venture, Gotham's Cinema I and II on December 12, 1962, then L.A.'s Beverly Hills Music Hall three days later. Scheme was to qualify Freud for Academy Award nominations, that necessitating playdates before year end. Advance chatter made Freud seem a cinch for the gold, critic-wise if not commercially.

Blank check from the Legion Of Decency took onus off the sex theme, their endorse for "sensitive restraint and conspicuous regard for good taste" a buffer against complaints Universal might be in for from regions turned off by the good doctor's reading of s-e-x into every move we make. Well ain't it the truth, Universal figured, but how to let folks know Freud was hotcha in addition to school-bookish? A title tweak was considered early on (10-3-62) --- maybe "Freud --- The Dark Passion," but that could backfire and undo seriousness applied to the pic's making. Gotham opening got hobbled by a newspaper strike, plus cold-as-whizz December. Universal turned to TV and small mags to spread word. That might have been preferred way to go in any case, as Freud proved a wow at the Cinema I and II (both sides of the twin played it). Behind this came "gigantic" haul from L.A., $12K a first week from the BevHills Music Hall which had but 720 seats. Variety reported that "the crix rate beaucoup credit from Universal" for Freud's liftoff. Yes, critics were useless ... unless they were useful. Freud was said to have outgrossed everything on Broadway for run-up toward the holidays. Universal put forty "mobile units" (trucks, cars, whatever) out on streets to trumpet Freud, side banners daily freshened with review excerpts. Montgomery Clift appeared as a "mystery challenger" on What's My Line (1-20-63), a priceless artifact today (and on You Tube) as he and host/panelists talk about Cinema I and II's engagement plus the newspaper strike that had imperiled business. Freud stayed three-four months on both coasts, sock receipts for whole of time, but acid test was seeing if Freud would widen beyond embrace by these NY/LA premieres.

It's Official As Of October 1963: Freud Was Now Freud: "The Secret Passion"

John Huston flew in from his Ireland estate to promote Freud's late February bow at key venues across the country, most of which he'd engage with conference calls to press and interviews on radio. Flap over accuracy of Freud came from the title figure's son, Ernst, plus a nephew who was teaching at Cambridge. It got press, but not enough to queer momentum Freud had built at initial bookings. What sounded alarm was bottomed-out biz in Minneapolis, where Freud did so poorly that subsequent sites cancelled their runs, a bad portent as what was Minneapolis but indicator of how the rest of middle America might turn? "Exhibs said that too many of their potential patrons were unacquainted with the discovery of psychoanalysis and the title was detrimental to business" (Variety, 10-9-63). What to do but sweeten the title? --- which Universal did, to warmer prospect of The Secret Passion. Reward was immediate: "The nabe houses have started to book it, and what's more, to their surprise, it's drawing exceedingly well for them." This was all salvage work, for Universal had earlier (July) written off Freud as an overall disappointment along with '63 releases The Birds and The Ugly American, their so-far biggest hit for the year To Kill A Mockingbird. Hope for remaining months of 1963 hung on October opener The Thrill Of It All, and sure smash for Christmas, Charade. Freud would not make Variety's "Top Rental Features" list of 1963 (published 1-8-64). Among U releases that did: 40 Pounds Of Trouble, The List Of Adrian Messenger (directed by John Huston), and King Kong vs. Godzilla. Maybe ongoing corporate perception of Freud as a flop is what kept it off DVD release charts. In any case, this very worthy show remains unavailable to US buyers.
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