Variety (January 1959)

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January 7, 1959 Fifty-third P^RIETY Anniversary PICTURES 11 SCREEN SEX SANS SUBTLETY I Soviets, Celluloid, and C-54’s *By STUART SCHULBERG0 Now that Berlin Is once again a }black, unhappy headline, I find my memory poking back through the (ruins and the rubble to 1948, when Joe Zigman and I set. up a sort of motion picture command post for Military Government in that drawn and quartered city. We had been sent over originally by Pare Lorentz to produce a documentary rec¬ ord of Nazi crimes to “reorient’* the German people. Before we had even spliced in the end title for that horrific film, we were ordering up the main title for a new chapter in German history — The Blockade bf Berlin. Overnight our little film unit at the gutted Tempelhof stu¬ dio became a Western movie headquarters operating nearly around the clock to turn out newsreels and documentaries which not only beefed-up the morale of the Berliners themselves but also explained their plight to their less political cousins in Western Germany, Because of our presence there, the studio was declared a Military Government installation, and cold, hungry personnel were given one hot meal per day in the dilapidated canteen, and enough coal to pipe some heat into the rusty radiators. Fifteen hundred calories per day and a bit of steam heat were rare luxuries in that pre-Hilton era of Berlin, and Joe and I therefore won the studio popularity poll hands down. Qjir mornings began with a stream of grips, electricians, sound¬ men and secretaries filing into my office and Joe’s cuttingroom to shake hands with us. The same ceremony -was repeated every morning, until we learned to schedule half an hour of each working day just for the “Giiten Tags,” and the “Guten Abends,” the customs and courte¬ sies of Germans at their best. » Meanwhile, between handshakes, they were pasting and wiring their studio back-together again. The lot had a proud tradition dating back to the dawqjfof the industry, when one-reelers w'ere shot in great glass stages there and a young Berliner named Ernst Lubitsch was feeling ,his way to comedy touches. Finally the day came when the first post¬ war feature was announced. ’ It was to be a, Hans Albers picture called “Ueber Uns der Himmel,” and Eric Pommer, who was chief pf the M. G. film section, had not only licensed it but nursed it and coddled ,it from its inception. The plot escapes me now — asv in fact, it seemed to escape the director while it was in production — but it had something to do with the re¬ turn of a weary soldier, Albers, to the war-torn capital just after the war. Its theme was Hope and Optimism, which ; were . about the only two possible ingredients of' a movie in those discouraged days. At any rate, a working, camera was cannibalized ’from .three damaged models, ancient lights were soldered ■ back into flickering operation, and set construction began. I’ll never forget the morning Joe and I wandered onto Stage One to look over that first set. It consisted of a shattered street, some bombed-out buildings, and. piles of debris everywhere. Yfe stared in disbelief. In a city where an undamaged building was a rarity dnd rubble still clogged half the streets? the diligent Germans had created their ruins with plaster of paris, lhth, paint, and monk’s .cloth. The set was a miracle ofhhe scenic artist’s skill, erected some 500 feet, away from the real thing outsicfe the »studio gates. _ There’s a Distinction! When we asked the producer why it was necessary to build new' ruins In a city glutted with authentic ones, he looked at us incredulously and replied, “But Meine Herren, -we are making a -feature film, not a doc¬ umentary.” He had not yet heard of de Sica and Rossellini shooting their little masterpieces in the “open city” of 'Rome, and could not anticipate George Seaton’s realistic “The Big Lift” which, w’as to be shot here six months later. By the time two stages were filled with ar¬ tificial rubble, the blockade 'was oh in earnest and the airlift had be¬ gun to ferry in the daily provisions for 2,250,000 West Berliners. Un¬ fortunately the studio was situated at the edge of Templehof Airport, the hub of the entire U.S. ferry operation. Planes roared in and out every two or three minutes, Sustaining Berlin but bringing on a nerv¬ ous collapse for the unit’s sound engineer in the process. In short, they were trying to shoot “Ueber unds der Himmel” with the “Him? mel” filled with C-54’s and C-47’s. Meanwhile, the sound effects of the planes synchronized nicely with (Continued on page 52) : — — BUSONIS. THIS By HERMAN G. WEINBERG (The following learned discourse on the good old days when writers and directors used art rather than anatomy to get across the presence of sex values is ex¬ cerpted from a chapter of his forthcoming hook. Sin and Ci¬ nema”) The “new look” in screen sex is down to its own basic fact, e.g., the anatomical differences be¬ tween men and women. The screen’s “new look” (read: “Movies are better than ever!”) is really very old, indeed, and could com ei as" a surprise to no one save the ! perennially sheltered. What Chinatown Film Fans See Imports From Hong-Kong Long on Morality, Magic —Evil Is Always Punished — Good Heart Extolled By SOL CHANELES (Sociologist at N.Y. City Colleae) Mothers1 tears, ancient glory and , never sour towards their basic valjust' desert for saint and sinner are i uc^,,Pf J^T£°SeS\ the principal courses served regu¬ larly at New' York’s three Chinese movie theatres. Judging from the fact thatone out of seven motion pictures and one out of four foreign lanuage features shown annually 4n .New York is a Chinese product stamped with a “made in Hong Kong” label, it would not be ex¬ aggerated, to state that while this . fare may not be -pleasing to the ! occidental palate, it is 'a staple in The family appears in these films as the main arena in which man’s corruptibility is tested: the family is pummeled and repeatedly bru¬ talized, but ;t is indestructible. In “A Mother’s Tears.” the mem¬ bers of a family are literally torn aparts, separated by illness, dpath, kidnapping, war^ and bodily sale, but ultimately. I&ainst a musical background of Beedhoven, Tsehaikovski or Jingle B$ls, the remain¬ ing members are reunited — family Time was, though, when it wasn’t ! 1 n«vfirul?Sb'Ured_at leaSt “nlil the‘ thought necessary to dVrell lecher . Themes recur in these films with j ; T«or. " „vamni0 ousty on the bosoms of actresses such persistent regularity that the i ^ .^lt.ter1Teals. /or, example a nor to find endless pretexts to un npnDilvtp lik^iv at hi<? first pv i Povei tj -stricken girl is oetrayed by dress them, when sex per se was | “. to be assured o£ sampUng « Jj" an illegitimate son ba¬ the issue. An ironic smile, a kiss | what is most typical. whether in i a0™es f. burd?n fci;, h J. and “ behind a fan, the close-up of a ; black and wbite or coior (he ; desperation, she sells the child characters and places and the tech! adoption. -After passing nique of moving them on and off ;th.”u<"h “vcbaI unha!>P-v ^ars the screen are essentially identical 1 "db . a.n nlothher 'vI,0?e in Chinese films, at least for tlieia0’f lbtar<f '? b-m *s ba,sed. uP?n 50-odd the author viewed during i if,. !i hT;“ 5 iggg j wealth from f: Ibrg into the hands Visually static, unconcerned with transitions which heighten the time sense of the vie\ver,_ an ap¬ parent lack of interest, in light gradience or perspective, Chinesei, . , .. films move slowly but unswerving ! doc‘OT "ho dl£covers * ly . towards the unfolding of the £or Parf°>™"3 a corneal trapsplot. With little stylistic or plot in¬ ventiveness from one. film to the ... ~ ■ next, the Hong Kong product falls (the film is The Marriage Cir; neatiy an(j humbly into three slots. I ap?ear cle ) subsequently looks for her;, . . ; kudos. Virtues i ; In what is a rare and gracious piece of didacticism. the natural bedroom door meaningfully being opened or closed — such trifles were once enough to make their points. When Lubitsch had Mi¬ riam Hopkins, bored playing h game of checkers with Maurice Chevalier (in “ The Smiling Lieu¬ tenant ”), suddenly throw tlie checkerboard on the bed. the point was succinctly made. When Monte Blue, drew Marie Prevost’s scarf closer around her in the chill night air during their garden ren¬ dezvous, she contemptuously' flings it off because she is warm, not cold — and another point has been made. And when Florence Vidor l | of his concubine’s children, the , ' boy runs away. • He is given shef' ' ter by a kindly wife of a research i physician. The boy is trained in i medicine and. in turn, becomes | plant. On the very day when his ! colleagues <ir.e to bestow on him i the highest ' laurels, of their pro| fession, the hero’s three “Mothers’* to claim a share cf his ACLU Opines On Tree Speech’ • United States Supreme Court . continues to dpek the main issue concerning motion picture censor¬ ship, i.e., whether or not the basic principle of prior censorship is in violation of constitutional free speech. This Is noteq by the Amer¬ ican Civil Liberties Union in its . year-end review. . Instead, comments ACLU, the -nation’s highest tribunal continued to confine its verdicts, as it has done in the publishing field, to the individual merits of each film bluepencil case “on the basis *of a nar¬ row definition of obscenity.” No surprise to the trade Is the ACLU finding 'that Brigitte Ba ltdot’s “And God Created Woman” gave city officials across the coun¬ try their biggest migraine since Warners’ “Baby Doll.” The ACLU report does little more than reprise censorship cases of the year (the period covered is July 1, 1957, to June 30, 1958, ac¬ cording to the publication, al¬ though some actions mentioned ac¬ tually were subsequent to the lat¬ ter date). Underlined is the continuing ac¬ tivity of the Chicago city police censor , panel which, among other things, saw to it that “Desire Un¬ der the Elms” could be viewed . only by persons of 21 and over despite Production Code approval. husband (Monte) in the garden, her slipper catches in the scarf as it scuds across the grass in a rip¬ pling wind and, since” it is a scarf of the sheerest crepe-de-chine, she does not notice it and continues to search for her errant, spouse with the silent evidence of his marital defection carried along by her. This kind of movie eloquence (tlie cinematic equivalent of the Wildean epigram) has long since been forgotten, this gossamer stuff of which screen sophistication . once was made. Purely, it Is . not sophistication tor revel in bosoms and behinds — and how far, in the last analysis, can you go on the screen, with all its . taboos? If the current, vogue for a literal rendering of sex via (Continued on page 52) I mother states before the assem| blage that in order to merit the i title of “real” mother, a wonian : must: bear, care for and .teach her ; child. She Waives her claim to • her son as her funefon was only . biological; the boy’s first adoptive The “Over the Hills and to the j Poorhouse” approach, in such films ; as: “Hard Won Love and Justice,” “Our Doctor’s Mother,” “Real Love,” “Shadow’s of Flowers and • Death,” and “The Unlucky Song | Girl,” drive with unremitting force 1 to depict the suffering of the in 1 . , . . . . nocent at the hands of the un j mother mere.y cared for him and conscienably amoral and immoral. ; f.°. ^ but Partiady qualified: The These films delight in portraying i third motner, on the OLher hand, in painful detail, the social evils ' ^ the_ most deserving as it was which the Chinese associate with she who performed tne most imthe well-springs of injustice. i portant function by teaching the. Gambling, lechers’, disrespect for : boy and guiding him lmo a hie elders, desertion of a mate, pros of humanitarian service titution, cowardice and avarice take I j _ No Smooching _ [ their toll in human suffering and t kissing is ever shown, nor are properly punished. The vie j s^Tis rajSed or knees petted; the tiins of man’s inhumanity turn grey, eventually stoop with age but SHIRLEY MacLAINE secondary comic figures take their prattfalls, doors are slammed and windows broken: potential fathers ’ in-law cbnsume large quantities of ' “3-star Hennessy” to drown con¬ vention in the face of their de¬ termined offspring. Late model convertibles glitter on the boule¬ vards against a background of sampans; disguised young men sneak into women’s college dormi¬ tories causing Dean Prude to shud¬ der and faint; jealous husbands and suspicious wives energetically dart out from closets breaking into song, high-pitched, nasal commen¬ taries on life, love and nature. The inevitable happy ending is high¬ lighted by the cast queuing on the imaginary apron of the screen, blissful in renewed social solidar¬ ity while Benny Goodman’s rendi¬ tion cf “Deep Purple” crashes in crescendo. The viewer will find the pres¬ ence of male and female magicians in Chinese films a source of some interest. No mere prestidigitators these Chinese conjurers. In “The Emperor Came to the South,” “The Magic Knife,” “Blood Roots,’* and “The War Lord,” adventure, the internecine manipulations of a unwieldy bureaucracy mingle with the enchantment of human transformations, rivers welling from saucepans, sudden disap¬ pearances and bewitched women of overwhelming beauty doing the bidding of the sorcerer. In itone^of the Chinese films IS there an attempt to develop “sus¬ pense.” The view’er has no trick endings to expect. The viewer knows all along What will happen to whom and why — he dobs not have to be titilated into varying degrees of uncertainty regarding the° ending.