Hollywood International

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Hollywood International

European Protectionism and Working Abroad
Runaway Productions
The Blacklist and Overseas Productions
Case Study: The Ten Commandments As International Epic

The economic strength of the American film industry has depended since the 1920s on two essential components: first, a large and homogeneous national market; and second, an extensive international distribution network. The national market (sometimes described as North American, including Canada) of a billion or more spectators each year allows for production of hundreds of films per year with good production values and a relatively high average cost. International distribution adds a further chance for films to earn back their costs and return a profit. Further, because the primary cost of making a film lies in producing the first copy, it makes economic sense to distribute American films to small as well as large markets. For most countries, it is far cheaper to import American films than to support a competitive film industry of their own.

During World War II, Hollywood's earnings were strongly based on North American distribution, with England being the only important overseas market. This changed fairly rapidly in the twenty years after the war. National sales declined and international sales increased until, in the early 1960s, international income was substantially greater than income from the U.S. market. Great Britain remained the best foreign customer for Hollywood films, but income from Western Europe, Latin America, and Japan also contributed strongly to the American film industry's earnings.

Media historian Jeremy Tunstall described the period 1943-1953 as "the high tide of American media" in the world because of American military, political, and economic power.' In the film industry, the Hollywood companies after World War II had undamaged facilities plus a backlog of hundreds of films not yet shown in Europe or Japan. They therefore had enormous advantages over the struggling, often war-damaged film industries of England, France, Italy, and other European countries. Further, countries receiving Marshall Plan aid after World War II were encouraged to accept American films for political and ideological reasons, and in West Germany and Japan, American occupation forces had considerable control over the national economy.

One factor making foreign markets more and more crucial to Hollywood was the American industry's problems at home. Television and other leisure time activities were cutting into the film audience throughout the 1950s. The same thing happened in England, albeit a few years later. But in continental Europe, television was much slower to get started, and so the larger countries of Western Europe (mainly Italy and France) became important customers of the Hollywood film industry. Italian government statistics show that for the years 1950-1959 American films took in gross box-office receipts of $925 million in Italy, with the high point being $116.7 million in 1956.2

European Protectionism and Working Abroad

Western European countries including Great Britain responded to Hollywood dominance by enacting legislation aimed at limiting their outflow of currency and protecting national film industries. Protectionist laws included import quotas, screen quotas (reserving a certain number of weeks at every theater for national productions), fees and taxes on imports, subsidies for national film companies, and blocked funds. The "blocking" of funds or currency meant that a portion of the income earned in film distribution could only be spent in the country in which it was earned. Economic film historian Thomas Guback lists three alternatives for American film companies faced with blocked funds: they could leave funds in frozen accounts until restrictions were lifted; invest in foreign goods and import them to the United States; or make films abroad.3

Accounting materials for Strangers on a Train (Warner Bros., 1951) provide a useful snapshot of the extent of international distribution and the problem of blocked funds. This film was produced at a cost of $1,568,246 and released in the United States in 1951. As of 27 February 1954 it had earned $1,691,213 in the United States and $86,541 in Canada.4 At this point, Strangers on a Train had been distributed by Warners in thirty-five countries or territories. England was by far the largest foreign market, with income of almost $365,000, but the film had earned at least $20,000 in each of the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, and Sweden. The film had also been released by local distributors to a variety of small markets including Bermuda, Gibraltar, Greece, Iran, Iraq, and Jamaica. "Free" (that is, unblocked) funds taken from international distribution were $871,715, or slightly more than half of U.S. earnings. However, some funds were blocked in fourteen countries, and this amounted to more than $ 150,00.5 By early 1954, the film's foreign earnings (including Canada and the blocked funds) had been about 40 percent of total earnings. Note that in 1954 the film had not yet been distributed in Spain, and it may still have been playing in some international markets.

Clearly Strangers On a Train would have been in dire straits without foreign earnings. The film barely made back its production cost in the U.S. market, which meant it had not repaid distribution expenses (prints, sales offices, physical distribution, and advertising). These expenses are often figured as roughly equal to production costs,6 meaning that Strangers On a Train would have to earn $3,136,000 to break even. However, if one assumes that both production overhead and distribution costs include a certain amount of studio profit, a more realistic break-even point might be 1.6 to 1.8 times production cost. Because of foreign earnings, Strangers On a Train had, by 1954, earned about 1.8 times its production budget and therefore had recovered its costs with the chance of a small profit.7 And even though the blocked funds are a relatively small part of the film's earnings ($150,000+ out of $2.8 million), they are crucial to its balance sheet. It was certainly in Warners' interest to pursue the blocked funds.

Although some Hollywood companies engaged in elaborate schemes to repatriate blocked funds, most of these funds were used to produce films abroad. The Hollywood studios were producers and distributors of films, not general import-export companies, so it made sense to stick to their core business. By employing frozen earnings to produce films, the studios served the interest of the "host" countries (those holding the blocked funds), but also their own interests. For host countries, Hollywood-sponsored productions added to the national economy, decreased foreign exchange problems, helped the national film industry (work for actors and technicians, rental for studios and equipment), and even added long-term benefits such as prestige and tourist activity. For the Hollywood studios, production abroad allowed them to invest otherwise unavailable funds in films that could then be shown in American and international markets.

The Hollywood studios quickly found that international productions had other advantages. Labor was often much cheaper in overseas locations; this was important to all pictures, but it could be crucial to epic films requiring elaborate sets and thousands of extras. Filmmakers also benefited from the visual possibilities of shooting in famous world capitals or regions known for natural beauty. And the Hollywood companies found that by creating subsidiaries in various countries they could benefit from the same subsidies and protectionist rules that were supporting local filmmakers. Thomas Guback commented that the first wave of productions abroad benefited from blocked funds, but the second wave was more interested in subsidies.8

Despite the advantages, production abroad was hardly a risk-free operation. The internationally produced films emphasized exteriors (why go abroad to shoot in a studio?), but this meant that weather became a factor. One reason that Los Angeles had long been established as the center of American film production was its dependable weather—more than 300 days of sunshine per year. Locations on other continents were far less predictable, indeed journalistic accounts of production abroad often recorded complaints about endless rain. American companies filming abroad were also subject to local customs and local censorship. In Venice, the crew for Summertime (1955) found that it was difficult and expensive to film from barges, especially since they could be moved only at certain times of day (according to the tides). On this same production, filmmakers learned that they were expected to reimburse storeowners for "loss of business" whether or not any real losses had occurred.9 For Way of a Gaucho (1952), filmed in Argentina, writer-producer Philip Dunne discovered that the followers of President Juan Perón "had made the legendary gaucho, then almost extinct, a national hero and symbol of their own aggressive nationalism."10 The film's script had to be rewritten to correspond with official policy, and the entire production was carefully monitored by Perón's minister of information, Raul Apold."

Runaway Productions

The trend toward filming abroad had serious consequences for California-based film workers. Employment had already been hurt by the decreasing number of films made by the major and minor studios each year. For example, the Production Code Administration approved 429 features in 1950, but only 305 in 1955.12 However, these figures do not adequately show the drop in Los Angeles area employment, because many "Hollywood" pictures were being produced in other countries. A New York Times reporter's unofficial estimate of Hollywood activity in 1953 reported that thirty-four features were made abroad and eight more were shot partly in foreign locations and partly in California.13 A more detailed study of "American-interest" films made abroad was written by labor historian Irving Bernstein for the Hollywood AFL Film Council in 1957. An "American-interest" film is defined as "a picture financed in whole or in part by an American company," but shot in a foreign country and with foreign labor except for stars, director, and perhaps a few other key creative personnel. Bernstein found that 314 features had been made abroad by Hollywood companies between 1949 and 1956, with 55 for the most recent year (see Graph 1).14 This translated to unemployment or under employment for thousands of Hollywood-based workers. Film industry labor organizations were naturally concerned about this development, which they labeled "runaway production." The term took on a pejorative force ("American-interest film" is a more neutral synonym), suggesting that the Hollywood studios were acting irresponsibly when they did not protect the California-based labor force. Of course, the studios had a responsibility to their stockholders as well.

The runaway productions of the 1950s were mostly filmed in Europe, but they also reached Africa, Asia, South America, and various islands. Dozens of films were made in Italy, including Quo Vadis? (1951), Roman Holiday (1953), Beat the Devil (1953), Summertime (1955), Mambo (1954), A Farewell to Arms (1957), Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), Seven Hills of Rome (1957), and Ben-Hur (1959). France was represented by The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), Trapeze (1956), Funny Face (1957), and The Vikings (1958; filmed in part on the coast of Brittany). Egypt was the setting for Valley of the Kings (1954), The Egyptian (1954), Land of the Pharaohs (1955), and The Ten Commandments (1956), sub-Saharan Africa hosted King Solomon's Mines (1950), The African Queen (1951), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), Mogambo (1953), and The Roots of Heaven (1958). Indiawas represented by Elephant Walk (1954), The Rains of Ranchipur (1955), and Bhowani Junction (1956); Hong Kongby Love Is a Many Splendored Thing (1955). A Hollywood company even visited Fiji for the film His Majesty O'keefe (Warners, 1953), starring Burt Lancaster. For many of the colonial or ex-colonial locations, blocked funds and/or subsidies could be obtained from the colonizing country.

Among directors, John Huston was the most traveled filmmaker of the period. He made The African Queen (1951) in Belgian Congo; Moulin Rouge (1952) Paris; Beat the Devil (1954) in Italy; Moby Dick (1956) in Ireland, Madeira, and the Canary Islands; Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) in Tobago; The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958) in Japan; and The Roots of Heaven (1958) French Equatorial Africa, Uganda, and Belgian Congo. In addition to location shooting, some of these films involved studio work in London, Paris, or Rome. Huston had established residence in Ireland in 1952, in part for tax reasons, and so he rarely set foot in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, he was considered one of the top "Hollywood" directors.

Huston and producer Darryl Zanuck were involved in the most disastrous overseas production of the 1950s, The Roots of Heaven. The novel The Roots of Heaven, by Romain Gary, tells the story of a Frenchman named Morel who is trying to protect the elephant herds of French Equatorial Africa at some point after World War II.16 Morel feels that the survival of wild creatures is absolutely essential to human freedom and dignity, but he is laughed at in a colonial society that is closely bound to the ivory trade. Nevertheless, Morel does bring together a band of misfits and malcontents to pursue his quixotic goal of protecting the elephants. He interferes with the hunting process by attacking male hunters with buckshot and publicly flogging a female hunter at a dinner party. Morel receives extensive press coverage and generates worldwide sympathy for his cause, but he does not succeed in stopping the slaughter of elephants.

This subject, with its blend of adventure, exoticism, philosophy, and ecological awareness, could have made a fine film, but the difficulties of production overwhelmed the project. The Roots of Heaven was rushed into location shooting to beat the rainy season. The heat in Chad (then part of French Equatorial Africa) was intolerable; local food and water could not be consumed; malaria and other diseases slowed production; sun-stroke, mental illness, and alcoholism were additional hazards, due to the extreme conditions of the location. The 160 cast and crew members amassed several hundred sick calls. The script, written by Hustons friend Patrick Leigh Fermor, a travel writer, was not very good according to Huston, but there was no time to work on it.17 Indeed, the location company just barely filmed the most needed scenes before the rains came.

Unfortunately, the finished film shows all of these problems. It begins with slow and talky expository scenes made almost entirely at Boulogne Studios near Paris. The match between studio and location is poor, and the film lacks action until the last half hour. The leading cast members—Trevor Howard as Morel, Juliette Greco as Minna, Errol Flynn as Colonel Forsythe—are unimpressive until the climactic scenes. Though the novel insists on Africa as a magically wild place, full of exotic birds and mammals, the film shows only a few minutes of an elephant herd. Darryl Zanuck admitted to biographer Mel Gussow that the beleaguered filmmakers omitted many location scenes that should have been shot: "We took the quickest and easiest way out."18 The Roots of Heaven cost more than $4 million (despite an absence of major stars), and was a box-office disaster. This film was defeated by its location.

By the late 1950s, Hollywood companies were pursuing subsidy and co-production deals as well as blocked funds. British subsidiaries of Hollywood companies could qualify fairly easily for the generous Eady funds given to British filmmakers. The Eady Pool of funds (named for Sir Wilfred Eady, a civil servant who helped to shape Great Britain's post-World War II motion picture policy) was generated by an entertainment tax on all movies. Rebates were then given to those films considered "British," and this included a substantial number of films financed by Hollywood companies. For example, among the officially British films for 1957 were The Barretts of Wimpole Street (MGM), Saint Joan (United Artists), The Prince and the Showgirl (Warner Bros.), Island in the Sun (Twentieth Century-Fox), The Story of Esther Costello (Columbia), The Bridge on the River Kwai (Columbia), and Bitter Victory (Columbia).19 Irving Bernstein notes that American companies made 105 films in England between 1950 and 1957, and that the Eady Pool "was of decisive importance in persuading U.S. producers to shift operations from Hollywood to London."20 France and Italy had similar, but less generous, subsidy programs. Though the original intent had been to support national film producers, Great Britain, Italy, and France were willing to subsidize Hollywood film companies as well in order to stimulate film industry investment and employment.

The "American-interest" films resulting from the subsidy programs were also called "mid-Atlantic," because they combined American and European influences. Many such films were uncomfortable compromises, but a few achieved excellent quality. For example, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) is primarily a British film—directed by David Lean and featuring Alec Guinness, James Donald, and Jack Hawkins. However,

production funds came from the British subsidiary of Columbia Pictures, the producer was Sam Spiegel, and one important role went to Hollywood actor William Holden. The two screenwriters were American—Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson—but they were uncredited because of the blacklist. (Sole credit for the script went to Pierre Boulle, author of the original novel, who did not speak or write English.) In this film, the American and British elements mesh beautifully, with Holden's simple, direct characterization of an American officer contrasting with Guinness's Colonel Nicholson (the highest-ranking British prisoner) and the other British officers, with their host of moral dilemmas. The Bridge on the River Kwai won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1957, and it was recently voted one of the ten best British films of all time.

A co-production is a film made by companies from two or more nations and governed by specific, govemment-to-government agreements between those nations. In Europe, co-production is a commonly used means for achieving higher budgets, higher subsidies, and greater potential audiences for films. (Co-productions now exist in other parts of the world, but in the 1950s they were primarily a European phenomenon.) Strictly speaking, American companies are not a part of co-productions, because the U.S. government does not intervene in the film business to the extent that European governments do, but loosely, all sorts of collaborations are called "co-productions." In practice, via foreign subsidiaries, Hollywood companies can invest in co-productions as they invest in single-nationality films. And American-financed films can therefore enjoy subsidies from two or even three countries. Columbia and United Artists were probably the studios most actively using foreign subsidiaries in the late 1950s.

One of the more fascinating co-productions of the late 1950s was Bitter Victory (1958), directed by Nicholas Ray and financed primarily by Columbia Pictures. This film was considered a French-Italian-British co-production even though the French and Italian elements seem underrepresented. The director was American; the stars were Welsh (Richard Burton), German (Curt Jurgens), and American (Ruth Roman); many of the featured players were British; and the location for exteriors was Libya. As a co-production, the film would have been eligible for French and Italian subsidies plus the Eady levy. With money from an American studio plus three governments, producer Paul Graetz could pay himself a large producer's fee and profit financially whether or not the film made back its cost. He also paid his wife a salary, as location producer. These conditions, which are fairly common in European production, often produce mediocre films. But for Bitter Victory, they meant that the producer left Ray essentially unsupervised on all matters except budget. Commercial success was not so important, and therefore Ray was able to make a haunting film about cowardice, heroism, and lack of self-knowledge.22 This was one case where "mid-Atlantic" production conditions created a degree of freedom for the filmmaker, instead of imposing crippling compromises.

The Blacklist and Overseas Productions

At the same time that the Hollywood studios were expanding their operations overseas, a number of blacklisted, graylisted, or otherwise estranged American filmmakers were also working abroad. Some of these individuals found a place in a non-Hollywood national film industry. Others lived in Mexico, England, France, or Italy, far from the American Legion and the investigating committees, but worked in secret for American film companies. A few managed to make films as independent producers despite being cut off from Hollywood distribution. Hundreds of people—writers, directors, actors, and others—were blacklisted, at tremendous personal and professional cost. However, a few dozen of these were able to find work abroad.

Dalton Trumbo, one of the original Hollywood Ten, was the most prolific of the blacklisted screenwriters. Upon finishing his prison sentence for contempt of Congress (refusal to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC) in 1951, he moved to Mexico City and wrote several scripts using fronts and pseudonyms. His most frequent employers were the King brothers, low-budget film producers in Los Angeles. One of Trumbo's scripts for the King brothers, "The Boy and the Bull" (written in 1953), eventually became the film The Brave One (1956), which won an Academy Award for the screenwriter "Robert Rich" (Trumbos pseudonym). Robert Rich never came forward to claim this award, which embarrassed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Trumbo returned to the Los Angeles area in 1954 because he found it difficult to negotiate sales and ensure payment for scripts while in Mexico.23 In 1959—1960 Trumbo "broke" the blacklist by receiving screen credit for writing Spartacus for producer Kirk Douglas and Exodus for Otto Preminger.

Other blacklisted individuals who relocated to Mexico in the early 1950s included writers Ring Lardner Jr., Albert Maltz, Gordon Kahn, Ian McLellan Hunter, and Hugo Butler, as well as producer George Pepper. Most of them stayed only briefly; Ring Lardner Jr., for example, moved to Connecticut after six months. However, Hugo Butler and George Pepper established themselves in the Mexican film industry, notably working with the director Luis Buñuel (himself an exile from Francisco Franco's dictatorship of Spain).24 Butler wrote two English language films for Buñuel, Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1954) and The Young One (1960), working under pseudonyms so as not to affect United States distribution. Butler also worked with director Robert Aldrich on Autumn Leaves (1956, using a front) and with blacklisted director Joseph Losey on films made in England.

A number of blacklisted writers and directors found work in Europe. Carl Foreman, the screenwriter for Champion (1949) and High Noon (1952), was blacklisted in 1951 after appearing before HUAC as an unfriendly witness. He moved to England in 1952, where he worked in television and film writing and as an assistant to producer Alexander Korda.25 Foreman appeared before HUAC in executive session in 1956, and was cleared of all wrongdoing. After this he wrote and produced The Key (1958), a high-budget British movie with financing from Columbia Pictures. By 1978, when he was honored by a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, Foreman had become the president of the Writer's Guild of Great Britain, a founding governor of the British Film Institute, a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and a commander of the British Empire.26

Donald Ogden Stewart and Michael Wilson also maintained screenwriting careers while living in Europe. Stewart had co-written a number of high-budget Hollywood comedies in the 1930s and 1940s, including Dinner at Eight (1933), Holiday (1938), and The Philadelphia Story (1940). He was less active in Europe, but he did manage to contribute to scripts for Escapade (1955) and Summertime (1955) and to write the English language dialogue for Roberto Rossellini's Europa 51 (1952). Stewart and his wife, Ella Winter, also made their house in England a kind of salon for American expatriates. Michael Wilson had won a pre-blacklist Academy Award for the screenplay of A Place in the Sun (1951). In the early years of the blacklist, he wrote Salt of the Earth (1953) and collaborated on several low-budget Hollywood scripts with Dalton Trumbo (neither could be credited, of course). In 1954 Wilson moved to Europe, making his home in Paris. He was co-scriptwriter (without credit) on two prestigious films directed by David Lean, The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and he also co-scripted the Italian film La Tempesta (directed by Alberto Lattuada, 1958).

Hannah Weinstein, an American producer based in London, became an unlikely "angel" for many blacklisted writers. Weinstein had moved to Paris from New York after a divorce. (Ally Acker, in her 1991 book on women in film, said that Weinstein moved to Europe because of the blacklist. She had been active in liberal politics in New York.)27 With no experience in the film business, Weinstein produced and successfully marketed a low-budget French film, Faits Divers a Paris (1950). She then moved to London and produced a television series, Colonel Dorner of Scotland Yard. Though talented people were involved, including blacklisted Americans Abraham Polonsky and Walter Bern-stein, the series lasted only one year. Weinstein's next series, The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Richard Greene, was produced in partnership with agent Lew Grade (soon to be a media tycoon) for the fledgling ITV network. It was a tremendous hit in Britain and also in the United States, where it was picked up by ABC. The American network and its sponsors would have been surprised to learn that the pilot for The Adventures of Robin Hood was written pseudonymously by Ring Lardner Jr. and Ian McLellan Hunter (both blacklisted), and that Weinstein employed other blacklisted writers as well.28 Lardner suggests light-heartedly in his autobiography that Robin Hood, with its emphasis on equality and fairness, may have subverted "a whole new generation of young Americans."29

Blacklisted directors had great difficulty finding work, because film directing is such a public occupation. A writer can communicate with only one person, a film's producer, but a director must interact with dozens (in some cases hundreds) of actors and crew. Nevertheless, both Joseph Losey and Jules Dassin managed to work steadily and impressively during the 1950s. Losey was in Europe in 1951 to direct Stranger on the Prowl (1953) when he was subpoenaed to appear before HUAC. He settled in London rather than returning to Hollywood, and he gradually established himself in the British film industry via a series of crime films: The Sleeping Tiger (1954), Finger of Guilt (1956), Time Without Pity (1957), and Chance Meeting (1959). Though these are modest genre films, Losey did manage to inflect them with themes of class and power. Also, Losey first worked with the actor Dirk Bogarde on The Sleeping Tiger; Bogarde would later be the star of Losey's brilliant collaborations with writer Harold Pinter, The Servant (1963) and Accident (1967).

Jules Dassin's post-Hollywood career took him first to France and then to Greece. In France, he directed a superb crime thriller, Rififi (1954), which is clearly influenced by American film noir (and especially by The Asphalt Jungle). However, the characters, dialogue, and setting also seem to be thoroughly French. Dassin's best-known film in Greece, Never on Sunday (1960), was about an American intellectual abroad. It featured Dassin himself as the expatriate American and Melina Mercouri as the prostitute who teaches him to appreciate the material reality of modem Greece. This film in English and Greek was financed by United Artists (despite the blacklist) and was a commercial and critical success. Melina Mercouri, Dassin's wife, was named Best Actress at Cannes and was nominated for an Academy Award.

Charlie Chaplin was not exactly blacklisted: as a wealthy producer and part owner of United Artists, he could hardly be denied access to film production. However, Chaplin was harassed by anti-Communist groups, including the American Legion, throughout the 1950s. He was not a Communist, but he was part of various peace groups and public events that involved Communist participation. Chaplin was also under attack, in the press and the courts, for personal reasons. In the mid-1940s he had been charged with a Mann Act violation (transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes) and a paternity suit, both involving a young would-be actress named Joan Barry. Chaplin won the Mann Act case but lost the paternity suit—even though a blood test showed he could not be the father of Barry's daughter!

When Chaplin sailed from New York to England in September 1952, the U.S. Attorney General notified him that he would not be re-admitted to the United States without an official hearing. This action was based on a section of U.S. law that allowed aliens to be barred for moral and/or political reasons (Chaplin had retained his British citizen-ship).30" Chaplin chose to remain in Europe; he established residence in Switzerland for tax purposes, but spent much of his time in London. He did not return to the United States until 1972, when he was given a special Academy Award.

Limelight (1952), the last film Chaplin made in the United States, tells the story of an aging London vaudeville comedian, Calvero (Chaplin), who helps and eventually marries a beautiful young dancer (Claire Bloom). Of special interest is a scene on stage featuring both Chaplin and Buster Keaton (the only time they appeared on screen together). Limelight is an explicitly non-political film whose theme is the mortality and rebirth of the artist—an older performer (Calvero) dies, and a young performer (the dancer) becomes a star. Nevertheless, Limelight was picketed by the American Legion and had a disappointing commercial career in the United States. The Legion was evidently responding to Chaplin's reputation rather than to the film's content.

A King in New York (1957), made in England, is about the dapper, white-haired King Shahdov (Chaplin), who settles in New York after being dethroned by a revolution. With no money, Shahdov finds himself pitching a variety of products on American television. He also befriends a young boy, Rupert Macabee (played by Chaplin's son Michael) whose parents are in trouble with HUAC. Rupert, who can spout Marxist and anarchist ideas like a much older person, eventually is questioned by committee investigators and names some of his parents' friends without understanding what he is doing. Young, naive Rupert becomes representative of those who have suffered from McCarthyism and the blacklist. Both Chaplin the writer/director and Shahdov the character distance themselves from Rupert's ideas, but the film shows great sympathy for the boy's personal problems. As for King Shahdov, he decides that the American mixture of commercialism and political intolerance is not for him, and so he returns to Europe. A King in New York was respectfully received in England, though some critics acknowledged flaws. Those American reviewers who saw the film in London rejected it both politically and artistically.31 A King in New York did not play in American theaters until 1973.

Orson Welles, like Chaplin, spent most of the 1950s in Europe. Welles had several reasons for living abroad. He owed a substantial tax bill to the I.R.S.—this was the announced reason for his going abroad in 1948, and it was still a problem in 1959. His directing efforts on The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), It's All True (1942, never finished), The Lady From Shanghai (1948), and Macbeth (1948) had all ended in bitter disputes with the studios and were box office failures. Welles was still in demand as an actor, but his Hollywood career as a director appeared to be over. Welles may also have been concerned about the anti-Communist mood in the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s. As a high-profile liberal who had spoken out on international issues during World War II, Welles could have been blacklisted or graylisted had he stayed in the United States.32 Finally, Welles may have relished the personal and professional challenges of living as an itinerant artist (biographer Barbara Learning uses the phrase "glorious gypsy"): constant travel, constant struggles for money, frenetic activity in film, theater, and other media.33

Welles directed two major films in Europe in the 1950s, Othello (1952) and Mr. Arkadin (also known as Confidential Report, 1955). Othello was shot over a period of four years in a variety of locations, with filming halted whenever Welles ran out of money. This Othello is visually stunning but also fragmented (reflecting its production history); biographer David Thomson calls it "fascinating as a sketchbook for a great movie."34 Nevertheless, the film shared the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1952. Mr. Arkadin, with story, script, and direction by Welles, describes an investigation into the early career of financier Gregory Arkadin (Welles), who claims amnesia before 1927. The not-too-bright detective figure (Robert Arden) hired by Arkadin makes it possible for the financier to find and murder all those who remember his early days. In structure, the film is a cynical and perverse remake of Citizen Kane. Unfortunately, the style is so fragmented and the characters so distant that this film soon runs out of narrative energy. The best Orson Welles film from the 1950s is clearly Touch of Evil (1958), which was filmed in Los Angeles for a Hollywood studio (see Chapter 10).

The studio-sponsored runaway productions and the unsponsored (often blacklisted) expatriates were factors contributing to a new cosmopolitanism in world cinema in the 1950s. Hollywood cinema was no longer "made in Los Angeles"; instead, there was an expectation that large-scale productions would film in authentic locations worldwide. Meanwhile, American exiles such as Hugo Butler, Carl Foreman, Joseph Losey, Jules Dassin, and Orson Welles added to the cultural mix of non-Hollywood film industries.

Case Study: The Ten Commandments As International Epic

Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956) is a good example of a Hollywood film shaped in pre-production, production, and distribution by international politics and economics. The epic genre, with its combination of spectacle, action, and familiar story, was a characteristic and successful product of 1950s Hollywood largely because its appeal stretched beyond national borders. The epic's grand scale attracted a broad, unsophisticated audience, which would generally be less interested in social drama or comedy of manners. It also provided a good showpiece for the new visual technologies of the 1950s (CinemaScope, VistaVision, 70 mm.). And the epic's culturally sanctioned subject matter allowed for a level of sexual display—scanty costumes and suggestive scenes—which would have otherwise encountered censorship problems in the United States and many other countries.

Producer-director DeMille's first crucial decision was to film much of The Ten Commandments in Egypt. DeMille's silent version of The Ten Commandments (1923) had been made in California, but for the remake there were several compelling reasons to go abroad. First, blocked funds could be used to support at least some of the production budget. Second, labor and materials were available at extremely reasonable rates, and DeMille proposed to build a huge city and to film a three-mile-long procession of the Exodus. Third, Egyptian scenes would offer the visual spectacle of famous places and international travel. Fourth, large-scale photography in Egypt would provide a wonderful showcase for Paramount's new VistaVision process. Fifth, for religious viewers a film shot in authentic locales would be much more convincing than a re-creation in Hollywood. The major drawbacks of filming in Egypt were logistical: the need to send all rushes back to Hollywood; language problems; availability of resources, and so on. However, DeMille was known for his ability to organize large-scale productions, and he and his assistants enthusiastically set to work on this one.

The political situation in Egypt was also cause for concern. In the early 1950s, the monarchy of King Farouk ended with a military coup. DeMille was invited to film in Egypt by General Naguib, the new head of state, but when his location company arrived in Egypt Naguib was being eased out by a younger officer, Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser. Fortunately, Nasser also welcomed the film production—according to DeMilles long-time associate producer Henry Wilcoxon, Nasser and his military colleagues admired DeMilles film The Crusades (1935).35 Kenneth Clark, vice president of the MPAA, sent DeMille a three-page political briefing on Egypt, including comments on the Suez situation, attitudes toward Israel and Jews, Moses' status as a prophet of Islam, and knowledgeable Americans in Cairo.36 DeMille and Paramount were fortunate that their location work in Egypt was concluded in 1954. In 1956 a dispute between Egypt and Britain over the Suez Canal escalated into war and world crisis.

The screenplay for the film (by Jesse L. Lasky Jr., Jack Gariss, Aeneas McKenzie, and Frederic M. Frank) closely follows the Biblical account, but with a long and interesting addition to fill the thirty years between Moses' infancy and adulthood which is not covered in Exodus, Chapter 1. Relying on Roman and Jewish authors as well as archeological clues, the screenwriters posit that Moses became a general and a prince of Egypt during the reign of Sethi I. Royal succession at this time descended through the female line, so the script has Moses vying with Rameses (Sethi's son) for the hand of Princess Nefertiri. Moses is then disgraced by the revelation that he is a Hebrew, which explains (according to DeMille and his writers) why he has been excised from the written and visual records of ancient Egypt.37 The addition to the story is ingenious and dramatically exciting, but it remains a speculation. After many scenes of palace intrigue, the film returns to the Biblical account of the Exodus, including Sinai, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the final scene of Moses viewing the Promised Land.

In visual style, The Ten Commandments is eclectic. According to Katherine Orrison's book on the 1956 production of The Ten Commandments, De Mille was specifically aiming for a visual design "that would resonate with the color, pageantry, and detail of the pre-Raphaelite painters."38 The film uses a color scheme of reds, greens, and blues based on medieval painting as reformulated by the Pre-Raphaelite painters of nineteenth-century England. In particular, the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) seems to be a source, not only for colors but for compositions and costumes as well.39 The film also draws on the work of American painter Arnold Friburg, who is best known for his scenes from the Bible and the Book of Mormon.40 Friburg was part of the creative team for The Ten Commandments—he worked on the costumes, on the "'Stages of Moses'" for the makeup department," and on "paintings of each big scene" which after production were assembled in the film's souvenir program.41 Friburg's work helps to add a Christian iconography to the story of Moses, so that, at least subliminally, the story becomes an anticipation of Christianity. A third major visual element in The Ten Commandments is the influence of ancient Egyptian design on the costumes, jewelry, architecture, painting, and sculpture. It bears repeating that the film is eclectic, therefore one should not expect a strict authenticity of Egyptian design. Finally, The Ten Commandments certainly uses Hollywood visual conventions, including three point lighting, soft lighting for female faces, high key lighting in the Egyptian court (except during the ten plagues), balanced compositions, close-ups for emotional scenes, and so on.

In addition to its religious dimension, the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments clearly has a political message. The film's prologue states that it is about whether humanity will be ruled by a dictatorship or by the laws of God. By implication, the Pharaoh's reign can be viewed as a representation of Russian Communism, and the Hebrews as the free and democratic West. The key freedom being presented is religious freedom, but DeMille also casts the Exodus as an allegory for political freedom. Moses' last, prominently featured speech in the film is "Go, proclaim liberty throughout the lands, unto all the inhabitants thereof (Leviticus 25:10), which is the inscription on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. In its biblical context this line is not a statement by Moses, but rather part of the description of the Jubilee year, when debts are to be forgiven and people are to return to their ancestral property. By inserting this line into the scene when Moses views the land of Canaan, the film provides an allegory of American democracy.

The scale of The Ten Commandments can in itself be viewed as an advertisement for American economic and technological power. John Belton has described how the United States and the Soviet Union competed in a series of World's Fairs to show who had the most spectacular motion-picture technology.42 This competition extended into the commercial marketplace as well, with the Soviets providing their own widescreen technologies, including approximate versions of Cinerama and Todd-AO. The Soviet Union could not, however, match the worldwide reach of Hollywood distribution. The Ten Commandments was intended to show off Paramount's VistaVision technology, but it was also a demonstration of American power and American values. Any film epic communicates (among other things) the power, wealth, and skill of its makers. In fact, writer Michael Wood commented that "the ancient world of the epics was a huge, multi-faceted metaphor for Hollywood itself."43 The Ten Commandments, with its near-legendary director and studio and its quote from the Liberty Bell (and Leviticus), presented itself to the world as not just a corporate but an American product. As to values, the emphasis on freedom and the blending of religious and political discourses are both characteristic of Cold War America.

The political positioning of The Ten Commandments is subtly modified by the film's easting. The positive characters in the film are played by white Anglo-Saxon Americans, notably Charlton Heston as Moses and John Derek as Joshua. The English actor Cedric Hardwicke playing Pharaoh Sethi has an in-between status—kindly disposed toward Moses but still somewhat foreign, therefore suspect. The two villains of The Ten Commandments are very interesting. Yul Brynner as the cruel Rameses is an exotic (or orientalist) figure—sexy, powerful, of unknown and probably mixed racial heritage. Though DeMille and Brynner evidently had a good personal relationship, Brynner's casting as Rameses creates an unfortunate "Us versus Them" stereotype. To prove the point, imagine a Ten Commandments with Brynner as Moses and Heston as Rameses—the meaning changes substantially.

The second villain is Dathan, overseer for Pharaoh and traitor to his own Hebrew people, who is played by Edward G. Robinson. Here we encounter a complex tangle of Cold War ideology. Robinson, a big star of the 1930s and 1940s, had been blacklisted (or perhaps graylisted) in the early 1950s because of his work for liberal causes and so-called "fellow-traveler" organizations. Robinson struggled to clear his name, but he could not recant because he was never a Communist and he remained proud of his liberal activities.44 Finally, the politically conservative DeMille cast him as Dathan, breaking the blacklist and restoring Robinson's credibility in the film industry. Robinson in his autobiography praises DeMille's fairness and his "sense of decency and justice."45 However, there seems to be a regrettable stereotype here as well. The liberal Jewish actor, accused of communism, plays a villain and a traitor in a film where Charlton Heston plays a Jewish hero.

The scenes of The Ten Commandments shot in Egypt concentrated on visual spectacle: enormous stone cities and endless lines of people and animals. Charlton Heston, speaking in 1990, called the Egyptian scenes "essentially a second-unit shoot";46 this is an exaggeration, because the vast Egyptian tableaux were essential to the film. DeMille, an excellent director of spectacle, was present for the duration of the location shoot. Of the major actors, only Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner made the trip to Egypt. The huge exterior sets were built by Egyptian workmen under the supervision of architect Anis Serag El Dine. Four VistaVision cameras shipped from the United States beautifully photographed the cities, pyramids, and sphinxes, aided by the brilliant desert sun. The only near-catastrophe of location shooting was a heart attack suffered by the seventythree-year-old DeMille, who was, however, able to continue working.

The Ten Commandments does an excellent job of matching the exteriors shot in Egypt with the dialogue scenes and dramatic set pieces (such as the golden calf and the parting of the Red Sea) filmed in Hollywood. In the scenes of Moses building Sethi's city, the film cuts fluidly between images taken in Egypt and images taken in California, with a few shots combining Egypt and California in composite images (as when Charlton Heston as Moses opens a curtain to show the city as it is being built to Cedric Hardwicke as the Pharaoh). In the Mount Sinai sequence, the blend of images is less impressive, with the long shot location images not matching the studio-shot close-ups. For strictly visual values, the entire sequence might better have been shot in California. But the filming on Mount Sinai fulfilled a promise to religious viewers. The film presents itself as a pilgrimage (the opening credits announce that "Those who see this movie & will make a pilgrimage over the very ground that Moses trod more than 3,000 years ago"), and Mount Sinai is by far the most sacred site in the picture. Therefore, DeMille, Heston, and the crew spent several days on Mount Sinai filming in difficult conditions (with no road to the top and no electricity).

The acting in the film is a mixture of standard Hollywood and something less familiar. There is no doubt that the star power of Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, and Edward G. Robinson gives the film much of its cachet. But The Ten Commandments also has a unique and curious acting style—simplified, a bit larger than life, but consistent and usually dignified. With this acting style plus the eclectic costumes and settings, DeMille was somewhat successful in creating a defamiliarized context for ancient Egypt. Unlike Howard Hawks, who blamed the failure of Land of the Pharaohs (1955) on not knowing how a Pharaoh talks,47 DeMille and company had actually imagined a compelling, though not authentic, version of pharaonic Egypt.

The most questionable performances involve the leading actresses, Anne Baxter as Nefertiri and Yvonne de Carlo as Sephora (who becomes Moses' wife). Anne Baxter's performance is intense and sometimes over the top. She is not helped by unrealistic dialogue, for example "Oh Moses, Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool." Baxter as Nefertiri wears loose tunics which nevertheless emphasize her breasts (she looks a bit like 1950s pinup Bettie Page). Her scenes with Yul Brynner—two sexual predators vying for dominance—are fun but campy. As for Yvonne de Carlo, she is very much the American girl next door rather than a member of a desert tribe. Sephora is modestly dressed, well-groomed, and well-spoken—a properly brought up young woman of the American middle class. The problem here may be that DeMille was working with stereotypes from the 1920s—Nefertiri as the Vamp, Sephora as the Virgin—but his audience was no longer comfortable with this dualism. Debra Paget as Lilia is a more complex and more modem female character. Courageous, loyal, faithful to her beloved Joshua, she is forced into concubinage by Baka (Vincent Price) and Dathan, in one of the film's many vignettes of sexual domination. But when Lilia is liberated, she overcomes her shame and becomes Joshua's wife.

The Ten Commandments was promoted as a special event, attempting to attract spectators who would not ordinarily come to the theater. DeMille and Paramount aimed particularly to attract religious audiences. Priests, ministers, and rabbis were invited to preview screenings in the United States and then asked for their comments. The Hollywood Citizen-News of 22 October 1956 contained a sample of such comments: Cardinal James Francis Mclntyre of the Catholic Church called the film "a great mission given to Mr. DeMille;" David O. McKay, president of the Mormon Church, described it as "truly great—the greatest picture ever made"; Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin of Los Angeles declared "I don't know when I have been so moved and inspired."48 Paramount used similarly favorable comments by clergymen to publicize the film in Europe and South America. The studio also tried to attract Muslim audiences, by quoting, for example, the prime minister of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali.49

Another marketing strategy was to emphasize the name "Cecil B. DeMille." In 1956 DeMille was the most widely known American director (Alfred Hitchcock's peak of popularity came a few years later, via the success of his television show). DeMille's two previous films, Samson and Delilah (1949) and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) had been huge box-office successes, and The Greatest Show on Earth had won the Oscar for Best Picture. DeMille himself represented the entire history of American cinema, including both silent and sound pictures; indeed, his silent version of The Ten Commandments had been a worldwide hit in 1923. Though DeMille had made a variety of films, he was associated with the large-scale historical epic, and his works included some of the biggest, most spectacular movies of all time. The director's fame was so great that The Ten Commandments was almost always identified as "Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments," even though this phrase could be construed as borderline blasphemous. One further strategy connecting director and film was the use of DeMille as narrator. He appears on-screen in the very first scene to introduce the film, and then provides occasional voice-over narration for the next three and a half hours. DeMille is thus literally telling us the story.

When DeMille visited Europe to personally publicize his film, he was treated as a celebrity, and also as an important, though unofficial, representative of the United States. DeMille was, in fact, active in the Republican Party (the party of President Dwight D. Eisenhower) and he had publicly spoken out on Cold War issues. In London, DeMille met Queen Elizabeth and Sir Winston Churchill and was interviewed at length on BBC Television. In Paris, he received a medal at the Hotel de Ville, met President René-Jules-Gustave Coty, and spoke with Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish leaders. In Rome, DeMille was blessed by Pope Pius XII and spoke with President Giovanni Gronchi. In Germany, he met Chancellor Konrad Adenauer of the Federal Government and Berlin mayor Willy Brandt, and he delivered a speech before the Berlin League of Human Rights.50 It is difficult to imagine a contemporary American director receiving such a reception. In promoting himself, DeMille promoted his film, and he also promoted America.

Critical reaction to The Ten Commandments in the United States was no better than mixed. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times thoroughly appreciated the film, declaring that "it is a moving story of the spirit of freedom rising in a man, under the divine inspiration of his Maker," and that "it strikes a ringing note today."51 W. R. Wilkerson of The Hollywood Reporter was effusive in his praise. Both Variety and Newsweek were more cautious, praising the film's large-scale spectacle but questioning the script and the acting.52 Arthur Knight of Saturday Review found the film "one-dimensional," and John McCarten of The New Yorker described it as "high, wide, occasionally handsome, and full of coarse special effects."53Time magazine was savage in its criticism, accusing DeMille of vulgarity and perhaps blasphemy. A typical comment from Time's reviewer is "the Exodus itself seems almost a sort of Sexodus—the result of Moses' unhappy (and purely fictional) love life."54

On the other hand, public reaction to the film, as expressed by the box office, was incredibly positive. After one year The Ten Commandments had grossed $26.5 million in the United States, with almost 10 percent of that figure coming from one Manhattan theater, the Criterion.55 It eventually took in more than $100 million worldwide, which easily surpassed the previous record set by Gone With the Wind (1939). More than half of this income came from foreign distribution. But The Ten Commandments did not play in President Nasser's Egypt, which had moved toward Arab nationalism after the 1956 Suez war. Censors in the United Arab Republic (Egypt plus Syria) banned the film because they felt it favored the Jews over the Egyptians.56

For the twenty-first century spectator, The Ten Commandments is an amazing mixture of spectacle, drama, religion, politics, commerce, and self-aggrandizement. Brilliant visual feats blend uneasily with Cold War ideology. The huge scale of the film is itself a statement, an embodiment of American wealth and power and a challenge to the Soviet adversary. The Ten Commandments reaches out to audiences of various religions and nationalities, but it retains an aggressively American point of view.

The most perceptive modem critique of the film comes from director Martin Scorsese in his compilation film A Personal Journey Through American Movies. Scorsese describes the film as a "sumptuous fantasy," in which "the marvelous supersedes the sacred." He adds praise for "the tableaux vivants, the colors, the dreamlike quality of the imagery, and of course the special effects." What Scorsese implies, but tactfully does not say, is this: One can respect and enjoy The Ten Commandments without accepting the film's tangle of social, political, and religious motifs.

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