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Thread: Studio tributes

  1. #1
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    Sep 2002
    Ottawa Canada

    Studio tributes

    I located a fine score of vhs tapes yesterday, and all of them are histories/tributes to major American film studios:

    Warner Brothers: Here's Looking at You (hosted by Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and other WB luminaries)
    MGM: When the Lion Roars (a three-tape set- 6 hours- hosted by Patrick Stewart)
    Universal: The Universal Story (hosted by Richard Dreyfuss)
    20th Century Fox: The First 50 Years (hosted by James Coburn)

    plus I got a "Memorable Moments of the Oscars" tape. All of them were a buck each. $1!
    I'd never seen any of them, and I'll post something on each right here. It's cinema history through and through.
    These may not ever be on DVD, either. I've never seen them on DVD, I can't say. Maybe someone here knows?

    In any event, stay tuned.
    Last edited by Johann; 02-07-2012 at 02:07 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  2. #2
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    Sep 2002
    Ottawa Canada

    The History of the Warner Brothers studio

    HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU is a fantastic 108-minute look at the mighty background of Warner Brothers, my favorite film studio, next to Rodriguez' Troublemaker.

    Made in 1991 and narrated/hosted by WB stars Clint Eastwood, Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn, Barbra Streisand and director Steven Spielberg, this is one documentary that you don't want to miss if you are a film buff. It contains everything: film clips, screen tests (great ones), bloopers, and behind-the-scenes footage (including on Kubrick's set!)
    Try to track it down. I loved every minute.
    Written, produced & directed by Robert Guenette and the executive producer was David L. Wolper.
    They crafted a fine, fairly concise portrait of the Warner Brothers and their famous studio.
    It opens with a montage of images from the studios' history accompanied by John Williams' memorable SUPERMAN theme.

    I'm gonna truncate the history here, as there is a LOT to consider. I'll just cut to the chase.

    The Warner brothers (Jack, Sam, Harry and Albert) came from a very poor Jewish family. Dad was a trader always on the move, and every cent had to count.
    Born in London Ontario, Canada and raised in Youngstown, Ohio (after a brief move to Baltimore) Jack Warner is a man I admire very very much.
    He reigned longer than any other studio head- for 55 years!
    A rebellious exhibitionist kid, he built a very formidible film studio, one that almost bought MGM, Fox and United Artists!
    He hated fascism, and even though he was a staunch Republican he supported FDR and made movies with a social context that I just love.
    In Pittsburgh he saw how people flocked to a nickelodeon and decided that movies was the business to get into.
    In 1904 the family horse was sold and a watch was pawned to get money to start.
    Jack started by buying a projector and a print of THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY. Box office was so good they decided to make pictures themselves.
    They were able to buy back the family horse and give it to dad for Hannuka. As Streisand said: "Good kids!"
    They settle into Newcastle, Pennsylvania one year later with their own movie theatre. They had no chairs and had to get them from a funeral parlour.
    In the decision to make pictures, they went West to California in 1912, while back in Pennsylvania the others tried to figure out how to distribute them.
    Harry booked films for the Cascade theatre, and Sam was the projectionist.
    Their first hit was made at the right time: MY FOUR YEARS IN GERMANY (1917) a bestselling book, and it gave them enough success to buy a studio and open it on Sunset Boulevard- they were bullish enough to feel they could take on Paramount and MGM studios.
    They knew they needed stars, as Clint Eastwood tells us along with fascinating film clips. They signed John Barrymore, and film production began:
    Beau Brummel, The Sea Beast, Main Street, Don Juan, Rin Tin Tin- "Rinty" as he was known by casts & crews was a giant star (a dog!) and he got 12,000 fan letters a week! AND wa spaid more than John Barrymore!-
    The Limited Mail also became a hit for them.

    "Napoleonic" 22 year old writer Daryl F. Zanuck is brought on board, and he ends up writing HALF of Warners pictures in one year! Talented man! He did it under other names too. He was the heir apparent to Jack Warner, and he became the Head of Production. Back then studio exectutives knew the nuts and bolts of making films- they really knew what they were doing. They made the films, not just green-lighting them. Zanuck argued with the Warner brothers often and spoke of his times there "as the best and worst", ultimately leaving the studio in 1933.

    The Life of Emile Zola with Paul Muni was the first Best Picture Oscar winner for Warner Brothers, in 1937.
    The second one came from a film that NOBODY thought would be a hit: CASABLANCA, an un-produced stage play.
    The editing of this doc may seem a little odd, because they jump around in times in the studios' history- like right after discussing Casablanca they discuss Chariots of Fire, another Best Picture winner (1981).
    Then they talk about My Fair Lady- the studios' most honored film from 1964, winner of 8 Academy Awards.
    The first Oscar that the studio ever received was for their pioneering work in sound for motion pictures in 1929- and we see a fascinating, HISTORIC Bell Labs screen sound test, conducted with a record phonograph playing to a filmed image in synch. Greatness. That is cinema history right there. Worth the price of the tape just for that!

    J-L was impressed enough to go forward with sound pictures.
    Sam started to make short films to show as "teasers" before features. The "Greatest Entertainer of the Time" was Al Jolson, and he was courted.
    THE JAZZ SINGER made history on it's opening in New York City Oct. 6, 1927.
    And eerily, the day before, at age 39, Sam died of a cerebral hemmorhage. The day before talkies "suddenly took on a new dimension".
    The Jazz Singer was quickly followed by The Lights of New York. (in Vitaphonic sound!)

    In 1930 the Warner brothers owned 25% of the movie theatres in America.
    They were sitting on top of the world, and they did it organically, frugally. Tough businessmen who knew how to entertain, who knew what the public needed and wanted.

    The next sequences profiling Busby Berkeley & Ruby Keeler were magical. True movie magic there. Berkely spent 7 years at Warner brothers. The choreography and music and productions- WOW.
    42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Gold Diggers of 1935- Wow. Amazing beauty and elegance.
    Busby was denied an Oscar when he fully deserved it, but he just forged on and died young, a tragedy. What a gifted man- and at such a great time in movie history....
    It was a "Revolution of the Eye", he "altered perceptions", as Streisand pointed out.

    Warners was the only studio at the time without a newsreel.
    They made the best gangster pictures, and they gave non-leading man types like Edward G. Robinson & James Cagney the opportunity to "Be Somebody".
    Clips from Little Caesar and 1931's The Public Enemy drive it home. It was the depression, and these guys were trying to lift themselves out of the gutter and they brought it via the silver screen. Made me want to buy those DVD's. And I will. Cagney is the Greatest Actor ever in my opinion. He's just dynamite to me. Pure dynamite. There is a sequence of clips where he is slapping the shit out of people (men and women alike!) and punching out guys that don't belong in his world. He even knocks out 2 dudes with one shot, while coolly delivering a line:
    TWO FOR ONE. Boo Yah, Jimmy, Boo Yah. We also get a clip of Cagney accepting an AFI Lifetime achievement award and he explains how he got the idea to hitch his pants and snap his fingers- his signature. Yankee Doodle Dandy was made by the great Hungarian Michael Curtiz, and Eastwood lets us know that no director in the studios' history has had the output or excellence of Curtiz. Clips of The Charge of the Light Brigade and others show us how skilled Curtiz was and how adaptable he was as a director, foreigner that he was...the clips from his 1927 NOAH'S ARK were awesome. (it was Warners' answer to MGM's epic Ben-Hur)

    We are told of how Orson Welles slipped away in 1937- BEFORE he made Kane. (nice screen test of him). And of how Clark Gable was shown the door simply because Jack Warner thought his ears were too big. And Lana Turner went to MGM after making only one movie for Warners- "THEY WON'T FORGET"-what a loss that was. Jack wouldn't sign her after her screen test!
    Errol Flynn and Olivia D'Havilland are given their due as well, with fine film clips: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, Gentleman Jim.
    He is described as "Invincible". She is a real screen beauty, a knockout to my eye.

    Bette Davis gets star billing here, as she was "The Fifth Warner Brother", according to Legend. She did 55 films for Warner Brothers.
    Her talent is undeniable. what a firecracker to watch! Dark Victory, Now, Voyager, Jezebel, Cabin in the Cotton- GREAT film clips here.
    And Bogart got his start in a Bette Davis film as a heavy: The Petrified Forest. He was another guy whose looks weren't considered "Leading man". Warner didn't like his lisp or his lip and thought he was just a "wimpy second lead". But he was able to become the foremost male star of the studio by way of John Huston.
    He co-wrote High Sierra, a hit.
    Huston was given the chance to direct The Maltese Falcon, with George Raft. But Raft didn't want to trust his career to a young first-time director so he dropped out.
    Bogart stepped in, know the rest.
    CASABLANCA is the monolithic Warner Brothers film, the quintessential "Jewel in Their Crown" in my opinion.
    "Everybody Comes To Rick's" was an un-produced stage play that was made rather unconventionally. The ending was up in the air, and the way that they decided to end it decided it's Legendary status for all time. If Bergman went off with Bogie, then there is no Legend to it. It was the right decision. A lot of great movies had no ending clearly mapped out:
    Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket- Kubrick actually consulted his ACTORS (!) on how the film should end. Matthew Modine gave him the ending. (FYI)

    Long story short, this doc has a treasure trove of insights and historic footage to illuminate the story of this most famous film studio.
    Find it and enjoy it (over and over).

    These are other titles discussed and profiled:
    Sgt. York, Knute Rockne, To Have and Have Not, Key Largo, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Finian's Rainbow (with a short interview with George Lucas- he was an intern on that movie by Coppola), Mean Streets (Scorsese was an editor at WB), Cool Hand Luke, All The President's Men (with Redford interview- Natalie Wood gave him his break), Bonnie & Clyde and Splendor in the Grass (Warren Beatty also got his start from Natalie Wood).

    One of the best things about this is the profile they give James Dean. All three of his films were for Warner Brothers, and there is an amazing screen test with him and Paul Newman together. (Newman didn't get the part of playing Dean's brother in EAST OF EDEN).
    Elia Kazan is given a brief mention, and we get to see an early screen test of Marlon Brando. GREATNESS.
    Elizabeth Taylor won an Oscar for a WB movie: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
    Judy Garland made A Star is Born with James Mason and Doris Day sang her heart out in Calamity Jane. Jack Warner was aging, and he wanted musicals to mark his last times with the studio: The Music Man and Camelot. Right after Camelot premiered he sold the studio to Seven Arts, a Kinney company, saying "It wasn't fun anymore".

    Irving Lazar states that he was crushed. It was his life, and every day was new year's day at that studio- they cranked out stars and pictures that were just great.
    He had tremendous energy and a tremendous sense of adventure, and those Warner pictures reflected that in spades.
    Marilyn Monroe made only one film for Warners, with Lawrence Olivier.

    Steven Spielberg briefly discusses The Searchers, The Killing Fields, Deliverance, The Nun's Story, Empire of the Sun & The Color Purple.
    Clint Eastwood also gets his due.
    Stanley Kubrick's relationship with Warner Brothers is also highlighted. Excellent on-the-set shots of The Shining and clips from all films he made with the studio to date.
    He is referred to as "THE BEST", and a very wise choice to align themselves with. (The new studio exec team in 1970).
    Woodstock, Goodfellas, The Exorcist, Tim Burton's Batman & Beetlejuice also get honorable mention- all classics in their own right.
    Driving Miss Daisy (another Best Picture winner for the studio) is also given time, along with The Witches of Eastwick.

    It's a great documentary and WELL WORTH WATCHING. Check it out.
    The only important film missing to my mind was John Lennon: IMAGINE, but it's a Wolper production too, so maybe there was a valid reason.
    The Mission isn't mentioned either, a fantastic WB release.
    Last edited by Johann; 02-15-2012 at 12:31 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  3. #3
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    Ottawa Canada
    Looney Tunes & the Merrie Melody cartoons that Warners are so famous for are also mentioned, as well as Arthur, National Lampoon's Vacation, Private Benjamin and Lethal Weapon, and other films are in montages but not discussed- the studio has a lot of films in it's vaults.

    As I said, it's well worth checking out.
    Locating it may be hard, as it's over 20 years old, but a real fim buff will find it.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  4. #4
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    Sep 2002
    Ottawa Canada
    I'm wading through the MGM tapes now, and there is a whole lotta movie history there. My respect for Irving G. Thalberg is high, even though he was dead wrong on a few things, like saying that talkies will never replace silent films.

    Louis B. Mayer I have a little respect for, but not much. He is described as a tyrant who wanted to be loved and respected and when Thalberg died suddenly in Sept. 1936 he said "Isn't God good to me?". I'll explain the context of that in a long post soon- that series is 6 hours. It takes that long to tell the whole story of MGM! I've also watched the Universal and 20th Century Fox histories, and they are great too.
    All I'm missing is the ones on Paramount and Columbia!

    Dream factories all, even though all studios have duds and Masterpieces to their credits.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  5. #5
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    Sep 2002
    Ottawa Canada
    OK, I just looked up on Amazon the status of these films, and all are available on DVD, except The Universal Story.
    The MGM is a 2-disc set and it has been edited according to user reviews- Fred Astaire's footage was all removed at the request of his wife.
    The Warner Brothers doc is available as a 1-disc, and so is the 20th Century Fox.
    I noticed that there is also a doc specifically chronicling the 4 Warner brothers released in 2010.

    Reviews for these films on Amazon are accurate, and mostly written by film fans like me. They appreciate this kind of thing.
    Films like these expand and enrich your movie history knowledge in a BIG way.
    I've been making lists (and revising them constantly) about which ones I want to buy.
    Last edited by Johann; 02-10-2012 at 12:29 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  6. #6
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    I'm almost finished my scrutiny of the MGM tapes, and tomorrow I'll post about the first volume, which focuses on the beginning of the studio, it's pre-World War II successes, right through to the sudden death of Irving G. Thalberg in 1936.
    Thalberg was *arguably* the most important man in the history of motion picture production. His legacy is way bigger than the average person realizes.
    Hollywood shut down to honor his sudden passing. EVERY studio shut down in tribute to Thalberg.
    Everybody knew who "The Boy Wonder" was.
    Everybody felt his influence in the whole industry. It's amazing what he accomplished, which was QUALITY CONTROL over motion picture production. He had a real ear for why a movie works or sucks. He improved films that would've been duds- he just had a perspective that no one else had. He wielded an authority at MGM that was quite formidible- even Louis B. Mayer was afraid of Thalberg- Irving was 15 years his junior!
    Last edited by Johann; 02-23-2012 at 02:45 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  7. #7
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    Part I: The Lion's Roar

    Patrick Stewart tells us right off the bat that on April 26, 1924 movies "entered the Industrial Age", because that day was the day Louis B. Mayer and Irving G. Thalberg opened the gates of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer with a golden key.
    Three separate film studios were merged into one, at the behest of New York theatre magnate Marcus Loew.
    Metro Pictures Co., Goldwyn Pictures Co. and Mayer productions were all brought under one umbrella to provide a steady stream of quality films for Loew's theatres. The first order of business was to design a logo for the new conglomerate.
    Leo the lion was chosen because a lion symbolizes strength and dignity.
    The moniker Ars Gratia Artis translated into Art for Arts Sake.
    Culver City California becomes the Base of Operations.
    He Who Gets Slapped is MGM's first hit in December 1924, starring Norma Shearer & Lon Chaney. Clips are shown from the film.

    Erich von Stroheim is the first director and "star" to be profiled, as his film Greed was already in production, started under Samuel Goldwyn's studio, and now MGM was responsible for it. Irving Thalberg already had testy relations with Stroheim when they were both at Universal Pictures, where Thalberg (at age 20!) was Stroheim's boss and ended up firing him for going over budget on Foolish Wives. Stroheim didn't like taking orders from Thalberg. He is quoted as saying "Since when does a boy supervise a genius?"
    Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer ended up taking Greed away from Stroheim, a film with almost 70 reels! "The Epic of All Epics!"
    They took it from him and cut it down to 12 reels- an extreme amount of footage was chopped, and some who saw the whole thing (over three days) said it was fantastic.
    We'll never know how fantastic, because Mayer and Thalberg destroyed the footage and destroyed one of the greatest and Legendary films in the history of the medium. If there was ever a movie jail, both men should've served time.
    An absolute travesty.
    Stroheim never worked for MGM again. Thalberg even remade Stroheim's The Merry Widow in 1934! Amazingly, Stroheim went to Thalberg's funeral in 1936. Thalberg is a man I have gripes with, but I also respect the holy hell out of him for what he was trying to do.
    He wasn't afraid to make oddball pictures, offbeat ones, like Tod Browning's Freaks or The Good Earth or letting King Vidor make the first all-black picture. For all of the sentimentality and glamour of MGM pictures, Thalberg made sure a few gems got made.
    Every crew member and employee on the MGM lot loved and respected Thalberg- the whole studio knew who the boss was and why.
    Louis B. Mayer was keen enough to hire Thalberg, a man who was younger AND smarter. Word of Thalberg's talents at Universal got around Hollywood, and he was scouted by every single major studio to be head of production. MGM got him, and he reigned there for a long time. He was in charge of ALL productions, 52 films a year- ONE A WEEK!
    He had his stamp on every single one- an enormous workload- he had a heart attack when Ben-Hur was completed in 1925 and he felt he would die young at any time. Just like Bobby Darin- exactly like Bobby Darin- they both were driven by a keen feeling that they were not long for this earth.
    Ben-Hur was the most expensive film ever made at the time, and L.B. Mayer flew to Italy to see how the in-production film was turning out. He was horrified at what he witnessed and ordered the whole thing brought back to Culver City- great sequences of this silent Epic.

    Part I of this doc is almost exclusively about Thalberg and his era. It ends with his death.
    "THE BOY WONDER" as he was affectionately known, was an artist, a script doctor, an idea man who knew great ideas when he saw them.
    He revised bad scripts, improving them by leaps and bounds. We are told of how he had a long, big wooden desk that had piles of scripts on them and he would check out each one, make notes, comment on how the stories could be better, etc.
    MGM would tinker with their films under Thalberg. They would hold preview screenings (first studio to ever do that) and ask the audience to write their comments on the movie. Thalberg would adjust or improve the film as a result- sometimes ordering scenes to be re-shot.
    Talking heads say that he always improved the films for the better- there isn't one single instance where he slipped up and screwed up the finished product- he always made the movie better. A valuable man.
    The story of how Thalberg met Norma Shearer is cute. She thought he was an office boy and asked him if he could show her to Irving Thalberg's office. He said sure, led her to his office, sat behind his desk and said " am Irving Thalberg".
    They were married soon after. He was 27, she was 23. She pursued him and he saw her as a great movie star that he could mold.

    The biggest silent film hit MGM ever had was The Big Parade, which made a huge star out of John Gilbert, Greta Garbo's future hubby.
    Gilbert is described as a strange man, who would be extremely excited when he got great reviews and extremely depressed when he didn't.
    His torrid love affair with Greta Garbo is highlighted, and Garbo is profiled fairly extensively. She was MGM's biggest star, and it's no mystery why.
    We are told that she had something no other actress had before her- and it was in her eyes- something behind her eyes. Something else that she unconsciously or perhaps consciously gave the camera that no other actress even considered. The way Garbo looked into or across the camera or away from the camera was magic. Her intellect shone through- it cut through everything else.

    This volume has the following people mentioned or actually speak of their times at MGM:

    Lon Chaney, Helen Hayes, Maureen O'Sullivan, Lew Ayres, Ramon Navarro, Lillian Gish, Buster Keaton,
    Marion Davies, Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Lewis Stone, Clark Gable,
    Robert Taylor, Jean Harlow, Jackie Cooper, Freddie Bartholomew, Clarence Brown, Frederic March, Johnny Weissmuller, Maurice Chevalier, David O. Selznick, Groucho Marx , Jeanette MacDonald, Ernst Lubitsch, Samuel Marx and director Clarence Brown.

    Jean Harlow's strange husband Paul Bern's death is given some screen time (it was a bizarre series of events, with Mayer seeing the body before the police!). What a beauty she was- the clips of her are great, particularly the one from Red Dust with Clark Gable- what a sweetie she was. If they ever invent a time machine I'm going back to 1932 and rescuing her from Paul Bern. Why she went for that old man I have no clue. Even William Powell! Why did she go with him?

    This volume is primarily letting us know that MGM hit the ground running, Irving Thalberg was King, Greta Garbo was the first major "movie star" for MGM, and that the studio had an impressive mandate and an impressive ability to meet that mandate with film after film. The sheer workmanlike ability to crank out entertaining and polished films (for it's day) was remarkable- they aren't exactly doing it like that today, are they? No they're not.
    In fact, MGM is almost a figment of the imagination, because all that remains of that studio is the films themsleves, the library, which is owned by Ted Turner. They were the dominant film studio of THE EARTH, not just Hollywood or America.

    David O.Selznick (NEPOTISM!- he was Louis B. Mayer's son-in-law) was brought in after Thalberg fell ill 3 months after the Premiere of Grand Hotel, and he felt Thalberg's influence heavily- crews were dead loyal to the Boy Wonder and Selznick ended up leaving MGM because of it, writing a note to Mayer lamenting that MGM is Thalberg's domain. (He would go on to produce Gone with The Wind). Helen Hayes says that Thalberg "died of Genius".

    Irving was livid when Mayer brought in Selznick, it was a slap in the face- he knew they were scheming to get him out because relations with Mayer weren't always rosy. Mayer said "We did it for the boy's good- he was killing himself". Thalberg suggested to them that they make less movies, focus on making a few that are so good nobody can resist them- 52 a year was too ridiculous to maintain. Mayer & Selznick ignored him. Thalberg had another collapse in his office, mumbling the words "They knifed me, Charlie- THEY KNIFED ME"
    Mayer thought he was too extravagant with his ideas. He chastised Irving from time to time, and we're told relations between Mayer and Thalberg were not good for the last two years (1935-1936).They became rivals. We're also told by Samuel Marx (story editor at MGM) that when Mayer drove away from the synagogue after Thalberg's funeral Mayer nudged a studio lackey in the ribs and said "Isn't God good to me?", a brutal comment. Marx says that it was the depression- it was a brutal time. But to me it's another reason why I don't have much respect for Louis B. Mayer. He could flip a switch and be a ruthless evil cocksucker. Like when Luise Rainer went to his office to explain how she doesn't have any fire in her belly any more to act. Mayer said "What do you have a director for?" She knew she couldn't be in the business after that. She couldn't reason with such a person.
    Mayer would also "perform" on cue in front of others- crying, wailing, singing, siezures, he was a total showman. We're told by Jackie Cooper that he wanted to be loved and respected and would do all kinds of wacky antics to do it. People thought he was over the top, a fatherly over-the-top. He wanted all pictures to end with happily-ever-after sentiment and rosy music. Life goes on in a wonderful fantasy in MGM movies. All actors were handsome and all actresses were beautiful. That was a RULE.
    These films were pure escapism, a total attempt to give people an antidote to reality. No expense was spared. It was incredible, actually what that studio did. And Mayer promoted those movie stars like you wouldn't believe. They were mentioned in every newspaper- promotional reels were made (we see some of them)- and Mayer's true legacy is that star system he created- and he kept them there. That system is not in place today and never will be again. The days of contracts for 7 pictures or more is out the window. Actors are free agents these days. TONS of info included in this series- I could type all day in reference to it.

    Host Patrick Stewart dons many different MGM-style costumes in this series, and he teaches us how to make a great martini (just like William Powell in The Thin Man) and narrates the MGM story on stages and mock sets that reflect MGM's legacy. The episode is 2 hours long and I like the way the history of the studio is handled- not too much time on lesser pictures or too little time on landmarks. They give us brief notes on each star and film of note. At first I thought maybe they were too fast with their facts and figures but when you've watched the whole 6 hours, you realize why they did it they way they did. (Time constraints).
    Last edited by Johann; 02-23-2012 at 10:12 AM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  8. #8
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    Part II: The Lion Reigns Supreme

    MGM had an entire Army for film production. Scores of cameramen (1925's BEN-HUR had 40 of them alone, to shoot the chariot race).
    A costume department that could crank out thousands of costumes for one movie, costumes that were designed in terms of how they would look with the sets. They had the best Art department in the movie business: headed by Cedric Gibbons. He is credited with the MGM "LOOK"- Gibbons had his hands on every phase of production, just like Thalberg- stage plans, elevations, choreography, props- you name it- he initialed it.

    Mayer always tells studio employees "Make it Good. Make it Big. Give it Class. You'll have a job for Life".

    One of the best films ever made at MGM was Camille, and it was dedicated to Irving Thalberg- incredibly it was the only time he got a producers credit, because he believed "Any credit you give yourself is not worth having".
    Rare man, huh?
    Camille was a Thalberg project, and Mayer directed David O. Selznick to finish working on the films Thalberg was working on when he died.
    The run-up to World war II is a fascinating one. Mayer had connections in Washington- he was President Hoover's first weekend guest at the White House, and whenever foreign dignitaries were to be hosted, Mayer would be the one to organize the events, showman that he was.
    He even got Washington to block the sale of Loew's company (and MGM with it!) to William Fox. That bit of trivia blew my mind.

    Films of note from this period:
    The Great Waltz, The Great Ziegfeld, Marie Antoinette, Mutiny on the Bounty, Saratoga, Andy Hardy (cheesy series with Mickey Rooney), The Thin Man, Young Dr. Kildare, Maytime, A Yank at Oxford (Vivien Leigh's debut), Goodbye, Mr. Chips- produced when MGM started making films in England- a big hit- Fury (Fritz Lang directs Spencer Tracy in his best role), Captains Courageous- Best Actor winner for Spencer Tracy, Boys Town- another Best Actor winner for Tracy, Broadway Melody of 1938, Babes in Arms, The Wizard of Oz- all Judy Garland films

    interjection: This film makes clear who the men were and who the boys were.
    Clark Gable and James Stewart were man enough to end their movie careers and join the military to fight in WWII.
    Gable eventually earned the rank of Major (amazing!) and Stewart earned the rank of Colonel, winning a distinguished flying cross as a pilot. He shot down enemy aircraft!
    You'd better have respect for these two MEN. They did their duty, and after the war they resumed their movie careers. How awesome is that? Clark Gable lost his wife Carol Lombard in a plane crash before he joined the Army, and before he went to war he said "I don't give a damn if I come back or not".
    That's a Man's Man right there!
    Van Johnson, on the other hand....didn't go to war- he just played a different serviceman every other week!
    Mickey Rooney didn't sign up for war either. He stayed behind with the women and children.
    I guess dying for your country isn't as appealing as eating in the MGM commissary?
    MGM made propaganda films for the war, and they sent Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland and Lana Turner on USO tours to entertain the troops.
    Rooney had talent, but he annoys me. He seems to over-act.
    Greta Garbo may have been MGM's biggest star, but Judy Garland fit that bill to me.
    She was an amazing talent. That much is obvious. Sing, dance, act- pure energy and enthusiam. Total package.

    Wartime film Mrs. Miniver was described by Winston Churchill as More powerful than six armoured divisions. That film was the truest reflection of how Allies felt towards the threat, and it is powerful to watch. Greer Garson (a housewife enduring the horrors of war) slaps Nazis!
    You can't argue with a filmed image! That film hit below the belt- and Hitler saw it. That movie hit a nerve.
    Mayer gave speeches denouncing the attack on life and liberty that the war presented, and everybody in America MOBILIZED.

    This volume begins with discussions about Adrian, the famous costume designer and Cedric Gibbons. He won 11 Oscars (and designed the statuette). Gibbons is credited with the atmospheres, the tapestries, the mystery, majesty and magic of MGM. He did the special effects, supervised models and miniatures and we're told he had impeccable taste and dressed impeccably well. Right after the death of Irving Thalberg there still lingered an aura of "Pursuit of Cinematic Excellence" that he dedicated himself to.
    Irving Thalberg was the Fire behind it all.
    2 years before his death Louis B. Mayer created a secret team to take over when Thalberg would go: "The College of Cardinals".
    The Cardinals were executives who would each handle a production unit and be responsible for the films Thalberg wouldn't get to complete.
    Mayer is described as a "paragon of virtue", a philistine, ruthless, temperamental, avuncular and a total showman- his "surprise" birthday parties are testament to that. He would always be "surprised" by these surprise bithdays, where he would be showered with accolades and gifts- all organized by himself.
    Helen Hayes notes that for all his "good", he was EVIL.
    And I get that.
    I see that.
    Another reason why I don't like Louis B. Mayer. The last words he muttered were "Nothing matters. Nothing matters." He was 72, dead of leukemia Oct. 29, 1957.
    After Irving Thalberg's death film production surged ahead. It soared.
    Child stars like Jackie Cooper, Freddie Bartholomew and Mickey Rooney were promoted and considered malleable long-term investments (as long as they never asked for any more money). Mayer is now completely in control, The Monarch, we're told.
    On June 7, 1937 Jean Harlow dies at age 26 of uremic poisoning. Her mother's religious beliefs prevented her from getting the proper medical treatment. A tragedy.
    Mickey Rooney says everything seemed to close up on the lot to honor Jean's passing. It was like a family member had died.
    We're told that her death in some ways seemed to be symbolic of the end of the Thalberg era.

    Jeanette MacDonald is given a small profile, and she is also a screen beauty. Wowza. Love Jeanette MacDonald.

    This volume runs through personalities/stars:

    Lewis Stone, Myrna Loy, Clark Gable, Lionel Barrymore, Robert Taylor, Vivien Leigh, Roddy McDowall, Spencer Tracy, Ricardo Montalban, Jerry Maren (a munchkin in The Wizard of Oz), Joan Crawford, we bid farewell to Norma Shearer, we learn of the "blunder" picture with Greta Garbo: Two-Faced Woman, a disaster for MGM- the beginning of Garbo leaving the studio for good, June Alyyson, Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr (Wow what a sexy exotic woman!), Katherine Hepburn and Greer Garson.
    Great to see such classic, vintage footage of these people in interesting movies. MGM movies are not really up my alley- I don't go apeshit over MGM films because of how they just threw money at any old movie and if it flopped then it flopped. No big deal. The process and art form should have more respect than that. I'm not saying you can't make a special one-off if it's for "PRESTIGE", but how often does that happen and then we're left with a classic?
    You dig?
    MGM has got way too many "prestige" flops under their banner. $$$$$$ went down the DRAIN, Mandingo. A LOT OF MONEY.
    And this is a film studio that couldn't be saved in any way?
    Last edited by Johann; 03-12-2012 at 04:09 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Ottawa Canada

    This "Story of a Hollywood Empire" ends in a bizarre way.
    Epic "boardroom" or "corporate" EGO squabbles unravelled that mighty studio.
    Louis B. Mayer squeezed out Irving Thalberg, indulged in a little nepotism, spent more time at the racetrack watching his horses race than running the studio, and even though his name was on the company, he answered to the Skenks, Head management at Loew's Company.
    Nicholas Skenk was looking for a reason to fire Mayer for twenty years, and Mayer eventually was fired when he demanded that Skenk choose between him and V.P. in charge of production Dore Schary. Skenk chose Schary. Mayer packed his bags. Nicholas even forced Mayer to sell his horses at auction, and who buys some? HARRY WARNER. An arch-studio rival. Mayer left MGM in shame.

    He was given an honorary Oscar for all of his "work" in the motion picture business, but Mayer ran MGM like it was his family even though he treated his family members like fish, big ones and little ones, who would be favored as he saw fit. He was capable of making a star out of anybody, but he felt you owed him your soul if he did so. As an actor you had almost no control over how a movie would turn out. Louise Rainer said she was just a tool in a toolshed. Debbie Reynolds says that Mayer refused to allow her to do a television show appearance. She reasoned that nobody knew her, and that TV was more exposure. Mayer refused to acknowledge the invention of televison. He said it was "just a little box that will amount to nothing" Milton Berle threatened the movie studios. Uncle Milty could give a family a reason to stay home instead of going out to a movie. Louis B. Mayer HATED televison and he practically had to be forced to accept it as a reality. He never saw the end of "The Golden Age".
    He couldn't get his small head around it.
    The numbers on how many TV sets were being sold didn't sway him?

    MGM has the balls to ask Walt Disney if Mickey Mouse can be in an MGM picture and dance onscreen with Gene Kelly.
    In a meeting with Walt, MGM executives are told point blank: "MICKEY MOUSE WILL NEVER BE IN AN MGM PICTURE".
    So Mickey became JERRY mouse, and audiences went crazy when they saw a live-action Gene Kelly dance in step with a cartoon mouse.
    I have to admit it is cool, and would have been back in the fifties, when no one had seen anything like that before.
    It was like a great leap forward.
    Money was no object at MGM studios.
    During World War II MGM made a ton of money we're told, because people were crying out for entertainment, anything to get their minds off the war. MGM's employees and crews are the highest paid in the business. The studio is the envy of Hollywood.
    This volume focuses on the great "MGM MUSICAL", Arthur Freed & Vincente Minnelli, Joe Pasternak's films, the first appearance of heartthrob Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams' "Bathing Beauty" and all of her swimming films, Fred Astaire is mentioned VERY briefly- all of his footage was removed. People talk about Fred here, but not one shot of him in this documentary at all. At the request of his widow. Cyd Charisse speaks, The WONDERFUL Judy Garland is given more time than anyone else and she should have. Vincente Minelli says that Judy could have been as great as Garbo or Sarah Bernhardt. He says "the surface wasn't scratched with Judy. She NEVER forgot a line".

    From 1946 to 1948 not a single Academy Award is given to any MGM film.
    Profits are the lowest since the depression.
    Lots of extravagant "experiment" pictures get made, never justifying the cost- we see screen captures of a litany of them.
    L.B. Mayer is an absolute Conservative, and Head of Production Dore Schary is a Liberal.
    They clash over what kind of movies to make. Mayer wants family movies, like Lassie Come Home and National Velvet.
    Schary wants hard-hitting reality based "message" pictures.
    So the output from MGM during that time is reflected in those two "styles" of studio management.
    Films like the great BATTLEGROUND- hard to believe it was made in a studio- GREAT WAR FILM THERE.
    Mayer called it depressing but audiences said it was Magnificent, and it made money.

    I'm glad "tough Hombre" Wild Bill Wellman is mentioned- he was one of the best directors we've ever seen. This doc doesn't gloss over his contributions to cinema. Or John Huston, who made The Asphalt Jungle and The Red Badge of Courage for MGM.
    Both of these men are Titans to me, and anyone who cares about cinema history should drop a fuckin' knee and have a shot of something strong for William Wellman and John Huston. Heroes. Legends. Brave and Manly.

    Of course this documentary covers
    Singin' in the Rain and An American In Paris, two crown jewels for MGM. Not my cup of tea, but I won't knock them. They are what they are. A talking head says that Singin' in the Rain could just as well be called "Hollywood".

    The onset of CINEMASCOPE is discussed, Forbidden Planet, Brigadoon and Knights of the Round Table are singled out.
    Elvis Presley and his long run at MGM is mentioned, with clips from Jailhouse Rock and others.
    We're given context on how the great studio declined from the fifties onward to when they released stuff like Shaft.
    Don't get me wrong- I love SHAFT. (Damn Right....) but it's a far cry from Gone With The Wind, you dig?
    Outta sight.
    MGM toyed with sex with Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
    They went race car on us with Grand Prix.
    They had a hit with Gigi.
    They had the good sense to leave Stanley Kubrick alone and give him everything he wants for 2001: A Space Odyssey.
    He changed movie history with that movie. Period. And he did it at MGM studios. No Kubrick fan will ever forget that fact.

    Long story short on MGM: They reigned for a long time and died for a long time. It was gradual.
    The demise was slow.
    The backlots were sold to condo developers in the 80's- a virtual Disneyland in the waiting- sold on the cheap! Wow. All buildings and sets Bulldozed away. Wow.
    Ted Turner bought the studio in 1986 for $1.5 BILLION.
    He had no money to make it into a movie making machine anymore, so tits up.
    He sold it all and kept the film library.

    So Loew's created MGM to make films for it's theatres, MGM wasted away and now the films are shown on that little box that LB Mayer hated on a channel called TCM.

    THE END.
    Last edited by Johann; 03-12-2012 at 05:11 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd


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