Archive for February, 2013

Richard Todd and Walt Disney – Two great friends !!

In 1951 Walt Disney cast Richard Todd in the title role in his British made classic ‘The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men’ a film that was shot in England at Denham Film Studios  and Burnham Beeches.

This film followed Treasure Island – another British made movie of his – and in fact his very first all live action film. It was a success but Robin Hood was destined to be a bigger box office hit -  it certainly was the most expensive film made in England up to that time – and it showed.

I have a feeling that this picture was taken before the film was made and it was taken in the USA.

I think this photograph was taken at Coney Island and I seem to have read that Richard Todd thought he was in at the very first idea Walt Disney had for Disneyland which was opened in Florida in 1956. He may well have been right.

This  is the letter sent by Richard Todd to the Daily Mail – as above picture.    It shows the friendship between Walt Disney and the British actor that lasted long after he had completed his films for the him in the early fifties. I did read somewhere that Walt Disney was happy to take advantage of Richard Todd’s connections in Britain. He does seem to have been very popular and well  connected. He had by this time become a friend of Ronald Reagan and many years later he and his wife dined with the President at No 10 as the guests on Mrs. Thatcher who coincidentally came from Grantham where Richard lived – and died.

 

The Letter as follows:-

Daily Mail 10th December 2001.
Walt Disney  was a close friend from 1952 to 1966, when my wife, our children and I enjoyed the kindness and good humour of a remarkable man.
Walt’s avuncular benevolence seemed to be inculcated into his entire workforce. He seemed to know the names of everyone there, whatever their position.
Walt was at his most relaxed in his own home, but his real heart was to be found in the garden: the well-groomed lawns, beds and the barn which he brought from his boyhood home in Kansas and re-erected in his garden as his model railway workshop.
My eldest son, Peter, was born soon after I finished working on my first Disney film Robin Hood and his Merrie Men, and within weeks he received a large hamper of gifts. Thereafter at each Christmas for the next 14 years, Peter received a large box of presents, each one relevant to his age and with a gift label signed with love from Uncle Walt. When our daughter Fiona arrived four years later, she had the same sort of gifts from Uncle Walt.
In 1966, the container arrived usual by ship, but this time I had to tell the children there would be no need for a letter of thanks from them. Uncle Walt had died just after these gifts had been despatched.
This was the man I knew.
Richard Todd
Grantham
Lincolnshire.”
I have heard Richard Todd tell this story before on a radio interview.
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Alexander Korda – The Man who built Denham Film Studios


Alexander Korda was born on September 16, 1893 atTurkeve on the Great Hungarian Plain. He was the oldest of three sons. As a young boy, his sight was damaged by the improper treatment of an eye condition. Throughout his life he always wore thick glasses. Despite this detriment, he was a voracious reader, and acquired a near-photographic memory.  He also mastered about a half-dozen languages, and was known to be a brilliant (some say “hypnotic”) conversationalist.

Age age thirteen his father died and shortly afterwards he went to Budapest. There he became a short story writer for a daily newspaper.

In 1911 he out to start a career in films and spent several months in Paris, doing odd jobs in the Pathé studio — at the time, the most advanced film factory in the world. He returned to Hungary and joined a film company in Budapest.

Though the Hungarian film industry was in its infancy, the country would produce a surprisingly rich heritage of film. Influential filmmakers like Alexander Korda, Michael Curtiz, and George Cukor were Hungarian. The country also boasted the world’s first film journal. And at this period, Korda became one of the most important figures in the formative years of Hungary’s film community.

Korda managed to raise  finance and built his own studio  in a suburb of Budapest where the Mafilm Studios are today. Though Korda served as director, he also served as executive producer by overseeing all production activity at his impressive company.    In 1919, he assisted the sCommunist government (though Korda was not a member of the Communist party) when it made Hungary the first nationalised film industry in the world. When the Communist government fell and was replaced by the right-wing “White Terror” regime, Korda was briefly imprisoned. In November 1919, he left Hungary with his actress wife Maria. He would never again return to his homeland.

He then made his way  to Vienna to join the Sascha Film Company. Desperately seeking his independence, he moved to Berlin to form his own company Korda-Film, directing film vehicles for his wife Maria Corda.  His films were well-received, and led to an offer from the First National studios in Hollywood for both Kordas to come to America.

In Los Angeles had directed at First National and Fox.    The films were received half-heartedly by the public, and Korda was dissatisfied with the results. He asked Fox studios to release him from his contract, in 1930 — thus ending his career as a Hollywood director.

Disillusioned, he returned to Europe, determined not to return to Hollywood, except as his own producer and studio boss. After making several important films in Paris and Germany, he moved to England in 1931.    At that  time the English film industry was in a depressed state, dominated by American films. Most English production companies made what were called “quota quickies.” These films were often cheaply made movies used solely to fill screens at a time when the British government mandated that British cinems must show a certain percentage of British-made films.

Korda felt that the only way to bring the English film industry to prominence would be by concentrating on quality films. Alexander Korda organised London Film Productions, and risked everything on a deceptively-lavish movie The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) starring Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester. The film became a worldwide blockbuster.

Following the success of this film, Korda was hailed as the saviour of the British film industry. On the strength of this film, he was also able to land an American distribution deal with United Artists.

Korda constructed the stately Denham Film Studios on a 165-acre estate outside London. He also established his own stable of contract actors – and very impressive they were – including Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon (who became the second Mrs. Korda in 1939), Wendy Barrie, Robert Donat, Maurice Evans, and Vivien Leigh.

Some of his more ambitious films included Rembrandt (1936), which he also directed; Things to Come (1936) a $1.5 million adaptation of the H. G. Welles book; and The Thief of Bagdad (1940).

While Britain was war-torn in the early 1940s, Korda took up an extended residence in the United States.

In March 1943, Korda entered into a merger between his independent company London Film Productions and MGM-British.    Korda would become the new executive producer of the English division of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.He returned to England. However, his dissatisfaction with the deal brought about his resignation in 1946.

Korda then with his London Films, bought a controlling interest in British Lion Films which was involved in such productions as The Third Man (1949).

In 1948 he received an advance payment of £375,000, the largest single payment received by a British film company, for three movies, An Ideal Husband (1947), Anna Karenina (1948) and Mine Own Executioner (1948). He released three other films, Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948), The Winslow Boy (1948) and The Fallen Idol (1948).  Some of these films did well but others were expensive failures, and Korda was badly hurt by the trade war between the British and American film industries in the late 1940s. In 1948 Korda signed a co-production deal with David O. Selznick.

Korda did recover in part due to a ₤3 million loan British Lion received from the National Film Finance Corporation.  In 1954 he received ₤5 million from the City Investing Corporation of New York, enabling him to keep producing movies until his death. The last film with Korda’s involvement was Laurence Olivier’s adaptation of Richard III (1955).

A draft screenplay of what became The Red Shoes was written by Emeric Pressburger in the 1930s for Korda and intended as a vehicle for his future wife Merle Oberon. The screenplay was bought by Michael Powell and Pressburger who made it for J. Arthur Rank.  During the 1950s, Korda reportedly expressed interest in producing a James Bond  film based upon Ian Fleming’s novel Live and Let Die but no agreement was ever reached.

He died at the age of 62 in London of a heart attack and was cremated. His ashes are at Golders Green Crematorium in London.

There are not many so called ‘giants’ in any industry but that work could sum up Aleaxander Korda – The Man who built Denham Film Studios and very nearly pulled it off and put  British film studios on a par with Hollywood.

Sadly Denham with its sheer size was forced to close in 1952 and now it is not easy to know where it was. I am pleased to say that I know where it is !!! - and as a film lover it is a  place that is very special to me. I do drive past and look when I am down that way.

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Richard 111 – Laurence Olivier 1955

Well it seems that this King is very much in the news at the moment. The story doesn’t do much for me – I expect it is because at school we had to read and learn extracts from the Shakespeare play – which was not at all a favourite of mine !  We even went with the school to see the film when it came to our local town – and even then I found it less than inspiring. It seemed to me so stagey but then again maybe that was the point.

The above Film Still looks like the ‘Princes in the Tower scene. 

Richard III was released in the UK on 16 April 1955, with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip attending the premiere.Alexander Korda had sold the rights to the film to NBC  in the U.S.A  for $500,000 and the film was released there on Sunday, 11 March 1956.

 This film release was unique in that it had its U.S. premier on the same day both on television and in cinemas, the first instance of this ever.

The film, although slightly cut for television, was generally well received by critics, with Olivier’s performance earning particular notice, but due to its simultaneous release through television and cinemas in the U.S., it was a box office failure, and many critics felt at the time that it was not as well-made as Olivier’s previous films. However, the airing on U.S. television received excellent ratings, estimated at between 25 and 40 million.

In addition, when the film was reissued in 1966, it broke box office records in many US cities. Its critical reputation has since grown considerably, and many critics now consider it Olivier’s best and most influential screen adaptation of Shakespeare.

The film’s failure at the U.S. box office, however, along with Korda’s death, ended Olivier’s career as a Shakespeare film director. Olivier had been planning to make Macbeth  but one of his other major backers, producer Mike Todd died in a plane crash.

The Film was restored and remastered and released a few years ago – above.

Claire Bloom was only about 24 when this film was made

Claire Bloom was born in London on February 15, 1931.     In 1948 she was cast as Ophelia in Hamlet.  She won praise for her early movie role in Limelight (1952) with Charlie Chaplin . She successfully combined a stage career with films, and continued to star in both films and on television.

 

Laurence Olivier invited her to costar with him in his film of Richard III - See Above.    Claire Bloom, who had just appeared on the cover of Life magazine, found that playing  opposite Olivier, 24 years her senior, was ‘like being caught in an electric  current’ but off stage much of the power and passion was gone.

She described him as having “a kind of false charm.”

‘Although deeply under Olivier’s spell, I was never remotely in love with him,” She said   “and never, for one instant, confused my feelings for him with my love for  Richard Burton.”

Olivier’s marriage to Vivien Leigh was in meltdown. ‘Perhaps he was trying to  show her he could still enjoy success with young girls. In other words, for our  own purposes, we were using each other.

She successfully combined a stage career with films, and continued to star in both films and on television.

During the filming of the battle scenes in Spain, one of the archers accidentally shot Olivier in the ankle, causing him to limp. Fortunately, the limp was required for the part, so Olivier had already been limping in the parts of the film already shot.

Another Scene from the film. 

The British Film Institute  has pointed out that, given the enormous TV audiences it received when shown in the USA in 1956 the film “may have done more to popularise Shakespeare than any other single work”.

The film’s promoters in the USA picked up on the fact that the cast included four knights (Olivier, Richardson, Gielgud and Hardwicke) and cleverly used this as a selling point.   The four members of the cast who had already achieved British knighthood were all listed as “Sir….” in the film credits.

  • Sir Laurence Olivier as Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later King Richard III), the malformed brother of the King, who is jealous of his brother’s new power, and plans to take it for himself. Olivier had created his interpretation of the Crookback King in 1944, and this film transferred that portrayal to the screen. This portrayal earned Olivier his fifth Oscar nomination, and is generally considered to be one of his greatest performances; some consider it his best performance in a Shakespeare play.
  • Sir Cedric Hardwicke as King Edward IV of England, the newly-crowned King of England, who, with the aid of his brother, Richard, has secured his position by wresting it from Henry VI of the House of Lancaster. Hardwicke was a stage actor who had moved to the U.S. to pursue a film career. He was mainly known for supporting roles in Hollywood. This marked his only appearance in a film version of a Shakespeare play.
  • Sir John Gielgud as George, Duke of Clarence, brother of the new King. Gielgud’s standing as the great stage Shakespearean of the decades immediately preceding Olivier’s career was a cause of a certain enmity on the part of Olivier, and it was known that he disapproved of Gielgud’s “singing” the verse (i.e. reciting it in an affected style that resembles singing).[5] Gielgud’s casting in this film can be seen as a combination of Olivier’s quest for an all-star cast, and the fact that Olivier had rejected Gielgud’s request to play the Chorus in Olivier’s 1944 adaptation of Henry V.
  • Sir Ralph Richardson as the Duke of Buckingham, a corrupt official, who sees potential in Richard’s plans and eventually becomes a fellow conspirator when Richard goes too far. Richardson was a lifelong friend of Olivier’s, and was one of the great four theatrical knights of the 20th century along with Alec Guinness, Gielgud and Olivier. At first, Olivier wanted Orson Welles as Buckingham, but felt an obligation towards his longtime friend. (Olivier later regretted this choice, as he felt that Welles would have added an element of conspiracy to the film.) I think personally the he got the right man here. Orson Welles to my mind may have been too overpowering – About this time he appeared in Trouble in the Glen but he was way over-the-top in that and not very good.

 

 

 

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The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957

This was and is a really good film and  – for the time – the special effects are excellent. The story too was an original concept at the time.

The stars of the film are Grant Williams as Scott Carey and Randy Stuart – funnily enough they appeared again together in a 1963 episode of Hawaiian Eye – Grant appeared in over 40 episodes of this famous TV series.  The Incredible Shrinking Man  is even shown today – as the above poster shows.  I wish I had known and would have gone to see this one in Bath.

                                             

 

 

 

 

 

Two Scenes that show the terrific special effects that this film had when Scott Carey’s wife played by Randy Stuart sees what is happening to her husband and above much later in the film when even smaller – and getting smaller by the day - Scott (Grant William) has to fight off a house spider in a thrilling sequence.

This is simply a superb science-fiction drama. Taking a holiday  on a boat, while his wife Louise (Randy Stuart) is below deck, husband Scott Carey (Grant Williams)  becomes exposed to a radioactive mist, that changes his body’s metabolism . Then a few weeks later it dawns on Scott that he is losing weight and getting smaller.

Much later in the film we had the attacks from a cat and a spider,  one soon feels great sympathy for this character and his family. Williams, a handsome actor gives a beautiful performance, and narrates over much of the film which later has no dialogue, but he is greatly aided by a wonderful score –  the title piece is haunting with its Trumpet solo set against an advancing cloud that gets bigger while the human frame dwindles.  Randy Stuart is terrific as the suffering wife,  and yet the following year’s “Man From God’s Country” – 1958, was  her last film although she continued to appear in TV series for a number of years afterwards – in fact up until 1975.

View the Film  Trailer on the link below:-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=vTIWloXBCww

Director Jack Arnold paces beautifully, Richard Matheson script is intelligent and the closing scenes have a wondrous quality that few films have ever matched.  Jack Arnold felt that Grant Williams should have got an Oscar for this acting performance – much of it acted out to nothing with the effects added in later – something that is done a lot these days with digital effects.  Of course it was done then with the superb matte paintings that we have covered on the Blog before – and will come back to again no doubt.

It seems also that the film was released in a very short version for an 8mm home projector – but this was not unusual at all at this time. Walt Disney did it with Treasure Island and The Story of Robin Hood as I have those films. I didn’t know though that this one was available.

This promotional item above was interesting too – above.

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