TIME (23/Dec/1940) - The New Pictures
(c) Time (1940)
- keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Carole Lombard, David O. Selznick, Laurence Olivier, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Selznick International Pictures, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, Warner Bros.
Santa Fe Trail (Warner) is one of those vast panoramas of an epoch on whose details Hollywood cameras love to dwell. It begins in 1854 with graduation ceremonies at West Point, shows Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis addressing the graduating class. Then it moves west, watches seven of the Class of 1854 patrolling the vast reaches of the frontier from their post at Fort Leavenworth, Kans. Among the seven are George Custer (Ronald Reagan), Phil Sheridan, James Longstreet. George Pickett and J.E.B. Stuart (Enrol Flynn), a handsome lad from Virginia.
The dangerous duty of the septet is to mop up John Brown (Raymond Massey) and his followers, then engaged in smuggling slaves out of the South. On this peg is hung a moving and tragic theme: that these friends, fighting side by side, are innocently feeding a flame which will soon surround them, find them enemies in an irrepressible conflict. With the help of Director Michael Curtiz' well-tempered direction and Massey's passionate interpretation of Zealot Brown. Santa Fe Trail, in spite of its hackneyed romance, becomes a brilliant and grim account of the Civil War background.
When Charles Einfeld, Harry Brand and Russell Birdwell uttered their first infant cries, little did their mothers realize the distance those childish voices would one day reach. For Charlie, Harry and Russell have since grown into the foremost trumpeters of Hollywood's bizarre and boisterous activities. They are publicity men. It is their job to keep the world aware of movies, beglamored about movie stars, and thus herd in admissions to the box office.
Charlie, Harry, Russell & Co. have done the job so well that Hollywood is now considered the third largest news source in the U.S. More than 400 reporters, from matter-of-fact A.P. to Paul-Prying fan magazines, now scavenge Hollywood for tidbits to feed millions of readers. To keep them happy, Hollywood studios maintain vast publicity departments filled with smooth-writing ex-reporters, quick-smiling "contact men," expert photographers, menial flunkeys.
Lots of people can run a publicity department, but it takes a peculiar man to think up ideas. Charlie, Harry and Russell are primarily idea men—each with a different approach.
Russell Birdwell, most spectacular of the three, is a fox-faced, natty fellow with a thin mustache and a strange accent modeled after the English. Two years ago, Birdwell left his job as head of Selznick International's publicity department to set up shop for himself. Three pretty secretaries guard his locked inner office, where he works long & hard creating gags for Selznick (whose account he still handles) and a number of individual actors like Carole Lombard, who are willing to pay as much as $25,000 a year to keep their names conspicuous.
A Texas boy who was graduated from the State University at 16, Birdwell has always had a feeling for the sensational. The great work of his life was keeping Gone With the Wind in print from the summer of 1936, when Selznick bought the book, until late 1939, when the film was released. Birdwell turned the trick largely by centring attention on the casting of Scarlett O'Hara. He still had GWTW in the news last week with an "anniversary premiere" in Atlanta celebrating its first year. He dispatched Vivien (Scarlett O'Hara) Leigh, Husband Laurence Olivier and Director Alfred Hitchcock by plane to lend glitter to the event; but luck turned on him when fog closed the airport and they failed to arrive.
Usually his tricks contain more splash. To advertise Nothing Sacred, he hired a young lady to ride horseback down Los Angeles' busiest street wearing only a flesh-colored G-string and a long yellow cellophane wig.
Harry Brand, whose province is 20th Century-Fox, takes things easier, but his results are as good. First he pampers the press into pliability with his genial hand-pumping personality; then he showers them with copy and stills of the forthcoming production. Thanks to Brand—and to the Fox commissary press room, where the food is the best of any studio in town—Fox is the most popular studio in Hollywood with reporters. Harry's office is always open to them; his invariable procedure is to crack a few jokes, pat them on the back, roar: "You're my pal. Let me know if there's anything I can do for you." When the time arrives for the correspondents to do something for Harry, they find it easy to reciprocate.
Charlie Einfeld considers himself more a merchandiser of photoplays than a press agent. At Warner Brothers he is an executive—in charge of advertising and publicity. A good part of his time is spent supervising advertising in Manhattan, where he was born 39 years ago, went to school and college (Columbia). But Einfeld keeps his finger deep in the publicity pie, and it was he who originated Hollywood's favorite exploitation stunt: the out-of-town premiere.
Einfeld considers his greatest junket the one plugging 42nd Street, a Warner's musical released in 1933. With the U.S. deep in depression. Einfeld loaded his 42nd-Street Special with a bevy of the prettiest girls he could find, swept them across the country with 28 stops. Incidentally, the trip plugged Southern California's climate and General Electric's products (he fed his beauties from an electrically equipped kitchen, tanned them under a G.E. sun lamp set up in a Malibu Beach wagon).
Last week Charlie Einfeld set out on the "junket to end junkets." He loaded 250 big stars, small stars and reporters on a "glamor train," toted them off on a four-day trip to Santa Fe, N. Mex. for the world premiere of Santa Fe Trail. Since the train arrived on Friday the 13th. he adopted a hard-luck motif. Invitations were attached to rabbits' feet, read: "The date is Friday, the 13th, and the place is Santa Fe. Here you'll find at the end of the trail the start of a perfect day." At Albuquerque it was planned to have a black cat appear on the train: an over-zealous assistant turned up with four. When the train pulled into Santa Fe a blizzard was in progress. The shivering crowd of 2,000 who met the train couldn't hear a word the stars said, as the sound system went haywire. The altitude speedily knocked out 75-year-old May Robson, who had to be removed to lower surroundings. And Olivia de Havilland, leading lady of the film, doubled up with appendicitis, had to be flown back to Hollywood. It all added up to 150,000 words of copy filed from his press car in 24 hours. Charlie was well satisfied.
Go West (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) shows the Marx Brothers bounding like bandersnatches through a Wild West background. The characters who are really native to this scene, make the foolhardy mistake of showing up from time to time, are quickly reduced to mincemeat by the ruthless trio. The Marx lunantics are only faintly marred by a barely perceptible thread of plot, involving young love and a deed to Dead Man's Gulch.
Like W.C. Fields, Groucho, Harpo and Chico Marx are screamingly funny to their admirers, idiotic to others. Groucho's fixed grin, knowing impudence and Chico's leering wop accent tickle many a funny bone, but, as usual, Harpo's mute pursuit of buxom beauties draws more yells than either. For orthodox Marxians it should prove the slap-happiest occasion since A Night at the Opera.
Typical crack: While the brothers are prowling in the villain's office one night, Chico mentions that they can phone the police for help if anyone appears. Turning to the audience, Groucho growls: "What do you mean, 'phone for help?' This is only 1870. Don Ameche hasn't invented the telephone yet."