Tidbits from Variety #1939TheMiracleYear

1939 The Miracle Year Tidbits from Variety

I like perusing the pages of old film related periodicals (such as Hollywood Reporter, Photoplay, Motion Picture World,  American Cinematographer), and among such titles Variety is a particular favorite. I am especially attracted to the shorter blurbs when a name or film title catches my eye.

Below I have a selection of a few from its pages for the month of January 1939. With some exceptions I will be writing about these films as I continue in #1939TheMiracleYear.

“Boris Morros, draws the musical direction on Walter Wanger’s “Stage Coach.”
It’s his first assignment since leaving Paramount, where he headed the music department. Louis Lipstone succeeded him there.”

“Desert near Yuma Ariz., is the location of main operations for Paramount’s ‘Beau Geste’ slated to roll late this month with William Wellman producing and directing.
Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, and Robert Preston are cast as the three brothers. J. Carroll Naish and Brian Donlevy the heavies.”

“C. B. De Mille Monday (1/9) directed ‘Union Pacific’ from a stretcher.
He suffered a recurrent attack of an ailment, which forced him to undergo surgery last summer.”

“Ernst Lubitsch’s two-picture deal with Metro is due to net him more than $200,000. First job is the direction of ‘Mme Curie’ starring Greta Garbo. Second is ‘Shop around the Corner,’ which he intended to produce on his own before he made the Metro deal.”

“’Titanic’ story of the greatest modern sea disaster, gets the gun April 1 at the Selznick-International studio. Alfred Hitchcock, British director, arrives late this month with Richard Blaker, English novelist, who is doing the script.
Hitchcock was also set to direct ‘Rebecca,’ but it is not likely to be filmed this year.”

“Lee Garmes is en route from London to be chief cameraman for David O. Selznick on “Gone with the Wind.”  
Susan Myrick, Macon Ga., newspaper columnist and friend of Margaret Mitchell gets the job of head coach of Southern accents and customs on ‘Wind.’ Latest addition to the cast is Hattie McDaniel in the mammy role.”

So – as a quiz to you, dear reader, which of the titles above do you think won’t be written about as part of the 1939 the miracle year series?

Going Fishing with Bill Conrad

Bill Conrad wrangled another 1.2 million budget from Warners for his next project – Chubasco – on which Howard Kazanjian would continue his DGA apprenticeship. Besides being the name of the lead character, the title refers to the heavy thunder storms at sea along the Pacific Coast during the rainy season, a fitting metaphor for the troubled, mercurial young rebel (portrayed by Christopher Jones) who becomes involved in a star-crossed relationship with Bunny (played by Susan Strasberg), the daughter of a Portuguese tuna fisherman (played by Richard Egan).

The director Allen H. Miner also wrote the script. It was a passion project for him. He had covered the lives of tuna fishermen before in a documentary for which he wore all the hats – producer, cameraman, director and editor – The Naked Sea, released in 1954 by RKO. Bill Conrad’s connection to Miner dates back to this film. He provided the narration for it, and a few years later he appeared in a western directed by Miner, entitled The Ride Back.

According to Howard “we had a very strong cast for the day, basically all names.” And many deemed Christopher Jones a rising star. He was being boosted as a successor to James Dean. Miner brought Jones with him as his choice for the lead, having directed him in a couple of episodes in the TV series, the Legend of Jesse James. At this time Jones was married to his co-star Susan Strasberg, and a lot was made of that fact in the ongoing promotion for the picture.  Articles appeared in the press asking the question could they be as successful together as Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. Sadly, they split the year that Chubasco was released. Strasberg remained in the acting profession, but Jones, after appearing in David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter, dropped out of sight for a myriad of personal reasons.

Originally Robert Burks was tapped to be DP. He was Hitchcock’s favorite cinematographer, teaming up with him beginning with Strangers on a Train through Marnie (only missing Psycho). Howard does not recall Burks on Chubasco at all. So for whatever reason, Burks must have left the production prior to Howard’s involvement with it. Two DPs are listed instead. Between Paul Ivano and Lew Jennings, I am not sure which was his replacement. Howard tells me that when you see two DPs, one of them is usually responsible for a specialized type of photography.  In the case  of Chubasco this was most likely for the underwater sequences.

The AD on the project, Fred Gammon, handed Howard the usual assignments. [Howard –  “Checking in actors into make-up in the morning, seeing that they get breakfast if needed.  Getting them to the set.   All paperwork, time cards, call sheets, production reports, etc. etc. etc.”] He also set the extras for the scenes on shore, notably the confrontation between Jones and the motorcycle gang that was crashing a party under a pier and Jones’ subsequent arrest. Howard placed extras for the bits when the fishermen brought their catches in.  [Howard – “I remember watching the tuna being unloaded and moving up a ramp bumping their heads on the wooden sides.  And then seeing huge piles of tuna in the warehouse.  I loved tuna sandwiches until I saw how they were handled”].

The first phase of the production was tough. The home port for the story was San Diego. So that is where principal photography commenced for the exteriors. [Howard – “I think we were down in SD only two weeks. I stayed at the El Rey Hotel, that was the place to stay at the time. While on location I got the crew and cast to the harbor and sent them out to sea.  I stayed back on shore doing whatever needed to be done. Shooting on water is always difficult.  Always the fewer at sea the better”]. There were more vessels than one involved. Besides fishing vessels upon which the cast performed, another was set apart as the crew vessel. It also acted as a camera platform for master shots focused on the fishing boats. The studio hired a huge yacht to act as courier between the ships at sea and the company base on the mainland.

Just because Howard was land bound by his responsibilities, didn’t mean that he didn’t get to go out on the water. [Howard – “I recall being taken to dinner by Joe Cramer at the Coronado Hotel on the weekend. Joe was one of the best and nicest guys I met in the business and he took me under his wing. He was the assistant to the head production manager at WB, Dutch Meyer, to whom we all reported]. (Aside – The following year Cramer was the unit manager on “Bullitt” and AD on “The Green Berets”).  Cramer arranged for Howard and a few others to have a short cruise and a meal that Sunday. On location the production was shuttered on Sunday, and this yacht sat idle (you can see it in the above video, beginning about the 10 sec mark). It was paid for, so why not use it. Prior to this Howard’s experiences on the water had all been less than pleasurable (even outings to Catalina with his dad when younger, or on fishing expeditions with his uncle). And so it proved again. He became sick immediately upon the yacht casting away from the dock and had to lie down. Someone suggested a meal. In the dining salon a gigantic table (20 foot long) had been set up. It was on gimbals, so it could move but stay level. The chef brought out the meal. The blood from the meat moved around on the plate ever so slightly, but it was enough to send Howard up on deck to the rail.

After the two weeks in San Diego, the production moved up to the studio in Burbank for interiors. [Howard – I was on the film exactly 30 days.   I don’t recall if I saw the wrap or not.   I know I went onto Cool Hand Luke the next day].

Hitchcock and Me

Hitchcock and Me

I had to do some research to nail down the time period that I was at the Cinerama theater. As I mentioned in a former post, the theater changed hands some time during my tenure there. I was able to run down the date that this occurred by checking with the Seattle Times newspaper website. On August 15, 1972, the Cinerama was taken over by the Sterling Recreation Organization.

Using this same site I was able to track down the films that were booked at the Cinerama and hopefully to trace back to the time I started. I am not quite one hundred per cent sure, but I think I began when Stanley Kramer’s film, Bless the Beasts and Children was playing there, which puts the date as sometime in November 1971. I don’t think many people are familiar with this film. Not many saw it when it was out. It was a “coming of age” story about a bunch of misfit boys out to save a herd of bison from slaughter.  It wasn’t long before a second feature, the sci-fi film Marooned was added to it to help out.

From then until the take over, I tore tickets for:

Ryan’s Daughter – by one of my favorite directors – David Lean

Sometimes a Great Notion – Paul Newman (starred and directed) which might have been a re-release as it opened originally in 1970

A Clockwork Orange – Kubrick – this carried an “X” rating for its violence and controversy

Silent Running – directed by Doug Trumbull (famous for the SFX on Kubrick’s 2001)

While Bruce Dern and his robots Huey, Dewey and Louis were trying to save the last of Earth’s plant life, another figure joined the lobby to promote an upcoming film. And I had my eye on him.

Alfred Hitchcock was a great showman as well as a legendary director. For his upcoming film he had had full size cutouts of his standing figure created for theater lobbies across America. There he stood with a finger pointed at whomever he was facing. And attached to the back of the figure was a small tape recorder that continually played a message from the Master of Suspense – all centered around neckties – to huckster for his latest film – Frenzy.

I prevailed upon Mr. McKnight to give me the cutout after the film completed its run. And he acceded to my request, but not until after the run was stretched a bit when Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me was added to boost the attendance.

When Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask” moved in, I moved Hitch out and gave him a ride home in my Roadrunner.

Upon arriving home, I propped Hitch up on the front step and rang the doorbell. When my Mom answered the door, she must have jumped a foot in the air, and three feet back. After she recovered her composure, she told me, “Let’s do it to Dad!”

So we did.

Bodega, Stockton and Sonora

There were some scenes that Francis Ford Coppola and Howard Kazanjian captured on their trips around the Bay area that did stay in Finian’s Rainbow. And they were clearly not those done by Carroll Ballard because the presence of Fred Astaire and Petula Clark are unmistakable.  (Ballard was sent out after principal photography with some doubles for the stars – in which he covered the likes of Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty and scenic parks in Utah and Montana).

There is a gorgeous shot, with Fred and Petula, as they walk along a fence line with a small village in the background. Only seven buildings are visible, two are notable, one a church and the other I thought might be a courthouse.  I asked Howard if he recalled the location. (Howard – I believe it was the same town in which Hitchcock filmed The Birds). I looked again. Face-palm! No wonder I thought there was something very familiar about that “courthouse.” It was indeed the building used by Hitchcock. It was the schoolhouse, that set the locale for one of the attacks by the birds. In real life it is the former Potter Schoolhouse, now a private residence in Bodega, CA.

Fred and Petula at one time are viewed from shore traveling up a river on the deck of a boat. I took it to be along the Mississippi River, somewhere in the south. Actually, Francis and Howard had been driving through Stockton, CA when the director spotted the boat and seized another opportunity.

It may have been on the same trip that they ended up in Sonora where they had scheduled to shoot some footage of their romantic lead Don Francks as he is returning home to Rainbow Valley on a train. Coppola caught a lot of coverage with the actor in various parts of the train – inside, outside, and atop.

On the spur of the moment, Francis decided to add a new element to the sequence. He had seen an effect in another film and wanted to replicate it. (The film was a short by Charles Eames called “Toccata for a Toy Train” – see below). The effect gave the sense that the train was hurtling toward the camera, enveloping it and passing on – from the front, right through the back.  No one on the crew could figure out how it had been done without losing a camera. So Phil Lathrop, the DP, made some calls to ask around – this is what they found out – it was done with a mirror.  Howard was sent out to find the biggest one available.  He came back with a huge 6’ by 6’ one which they mounted at a forty-five degree angle across the tracks. Then from the side the operator framed the shot to take in the full size of the reflected image as the train moved towards it. The mirror, however was not of the best quality and consequently there was a bit of a vibration as the train moved down the tracks. There was only one take, for the train smashed into the mirror. And so it was done, the broken mirror edited out of course.

With this the location shoot was finished, and they returned to the studio for a couple weeks of rehearsal prior to beginning production in the sound stages and on the backlot.

[To view the first four minutes of Finian’s Rainbow to see the Bodega and Stockton footage try this link:

http://www.tcmscreenonthegreen.com/watchtcm/movies/19397/Finian-s-Rainbow/

and select the clip Look to the Rainbow]

[Below is the Eames film mentioned above – the effect Coppola wanted begins around the 8:47 mark]