The most celebrated of the conspiracy thrillers and rightly so. But I’m not going to start with the Korean brainwashing, extraordinary cinematic sequence that that is, but with the scene on the train, the pickup scene as it might be known in those days, meet-cute now. There is little cute about this picture which stretches the bounds of normality. And I guess I was already so unsettled, and perhaps settling into film noir mode when an easily available woman was always to be distrusted, and thought that the sudden appearance of Eugenie (Janet Leigh) was a plant.
But that wasn’t in itself what lodged that scene in the caboose so firmly in my mind. But the superlative acting of Frank Sinatra as the investigative Major Marco. Sure, we’ve seen good, sometimes great acting before from Sinatra, generally under-rated due to the myth that nobody could seriously give a good performance after just one take, as if stage actors do not do this every night of the week. But this is above and beyond.
What makes this so outstanding is the depth. Whatever he is saying, that’s not what he’s thinking. He is so dislocated his mind is elsewhere.
Now you give an actor punchy dialog and that’s the way he’s going to treat it, like a punchball, zing zing zing, but that’s not the case here. You can see from his expression that while he is responding well enough to this apparently sympathetic dame that his mind is not completely gone, but that he is barely holding himself together. Another actor would have shown greater signs of mental collapse, signs of a tear perhaps or using an artefact for support, a glass to crush in his hands. But not here. It’s all in the face.
He’s helped of course that the dialog is all about identity. Who is Eugenie? Not as in, who is she really, which would be a good question to ask at this point in the proceedings, but how does someone cope with a name like Eugenie and so the dialog rambles around the various shortenings of her name, while at the same time, recognising he desperately needs a port in a storm, she ensures she knows her address.
The way this movie is going that could be code, too, or a trigger, or that when he turns up at her apartment he’s going to encounter some obstacle, but it doesn’t turn out that way either, even though this is a movie where no one is what he or she seems. Insanely ambitious politician’s wife Eleanor (Angela Lansbury) double crosses her country, the Koreans double cross her by turning her son (rather than any old grunt) into an assassin, and in the end the son, the rather effete Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), turns on the mother in the most murderous way imaginable. Much as she loves her son, she is willing to sacrifice him for the chance of becoming the President’s wife and when she does will exert her revenge on the Koreans.
I’ve gone on before about the beauty of the single-take movie (Grenfell, 2023) but here I’m in raptures at the single scene, how a movie pivots on superb acting. I could have used the brainwashing as an example, but that’s not about acting, but about directing, about perception, about how the audience as much as the participants is being led around by the nose by director John Frankenheimer, who would return to questions of identity and voluntary brainwashing in Seconds (1966).
But back to the brainwashing. This hits the mother lode. A troop of captured U.S. soldiers face an audience with a ringmaster demonstrating just how much they are under his command and can be hypnotised into carrying out any order, even cold-blooded murder. But each of the soldiers sees a different audience. That’s the cinematic coup. I would have loved to have been part of the original audience back in the day, brought up on war movies or thrillers that followed a straightforward narrative arc. Even critics singing the praises of the French New Wave would have never seen anything like this.
Anyway, it soon occurs to Major Marco that his ongoing nightmares are part of a deeper problem especially as his memory of Shaw does not tally with what he finds himself saying about his troop leader.
We follow two parallel stories, Marco trying to get to the truth before he fries his brain, and the audience being let in on much of the truth by tracking Shaw, who, to spite his hated mother, has taken a job with, effectively, the opposition and has fallen in love again with Jocelyn (Leslie Parrish), the daughter of one of her husband’s most implacable foes.
You couldn’t get a more twisty movie, set against the backdrop of the Communist witch hunt, when a politician could garner headlines just by pretending to name Communists in high office. The political element is just as cynical as the same year’s Advise and Consent and savage as the ineffectual Senator Iselin (James Gregory) is, he’s not much worse than the clowns in the Preminger picture. So it all rings true.
There’s scarcely a moment wasted as the movie screams towards a terrifying climax. The built-in control trigger I didn’t see coming, and Shaw’s transformation from strict man-in-charge to bumbling romantic fool is a joy.
Frank Sinatra (The Detective, 1968) gives the performance of his life, Laurence Harvey (Life at the Top, 1965) proof of the power of love, Angela Lansbury (In the Cool of the Day, 1963), the mother from Hell, are all outstanding. The support cast includes Janet Leigh (Psycho, 1960), Henry Silva (The Secret Invasion, 1964) and John McGiver (Breakfast at Tiffanys, 1961).
Frankenheimer directs with elan from the script by George Axelrod (Breakfast at Tiffanys) based on the Richard Condon (The Happy Thieves, 1961) bestseller.
Highly under-rated. Mostly because star Frank Sinatra has the audacity at the age of 65 to play an older cop as an older guy, with none of the wisecracking or physical zap of his previous crime movies like Tony Rome (1967) and The Detective (1968). Deliberately downbeat and surprisingly compassionate with a gallery of unusual and realistic supporting characters.
Sure, we start off with a cliché, cop Delaney (Frank Sinatra) about to retire sniffs out a serial killer operating across New York. But that’s about as far as the cliches go. His boss (Anthony Zerbe) is highly territorial and doesn’t want Delaney doing work that might benefit any precinct other than his own. On top of that an operation on artist wife Barbara (Faye Dunaway) has gone seriously wrong and now she’s hooked up to all sorts of machines in hospital, Delaney sitting by her bedside reading from a book.
Unable to use the department’s facilities, Delaney is forced back on improvisation and enlists a museum curator Langley (Martin Gabel), an expert on weaponry, to find the specific type of tool the assailant is using to crack open heads. Langley is old, too, lacking in either wisecracks or physical zap, likely to doze off at inopportune moments.
Delaney isn’t above taking the law into his own hands, gaining admittance by devious means to the apartment of suspect Daniel (David Dukes) only to be told in no uncertain terms that not only has he no just cause to arrest Daniel, a high-flying executive with legal connections, but that any judge would immediately throw out the case thanks to the cop’s law-breaking.
So the movie settles into two parallel stories, both, if you like about observation. Delaney follows the suspect and he watches his wife die, in both instances unable to intervene, not able to prevent the murderer killing again unless he should happen to catch him in the act and as far as the hospital is concerned having to listen to a doctor (George Coe) tell him that doctors aren’t infallible and often get it wrong. Even his only ally, forensic expert Dr Ferguson (James Whitmore), is warning him off.
And where you might expect in another film a bit of romance between Delaney and witness Monica (Brenda Vaccaro) that doesn’t go anywhere either because he is a faithful husband and doesn’t need any distractions from a dying wife and she’s not the kind of woman that often turns up in crime pictures to form an adulterous relationship. If anything, she turns her attention to mothering Langley.
So this isn’t a fast action tough-talking crime picture of the kind audiences had been familiar with from the late 1960s/early 1970s, there’s no car chase to add entertainment heft. In fact, Delaney is an old-fashioned cop, I don’t think you even see him in a vehicle, he’s mostly pounding a beat of one kind or another.
And it’s oddly compassionate. There’s a lot of cross-cutting between the two narrative strands, and it soon becomes pretty clear that this is a different kind of killer, not one carefully planning his next murder, or taking sexual delight from the agony he inflicts, and he isn’t into abduction either, nobody corralled away in a basement or attic, night-time providing murky cover for his activities.
What we’re actually witnessing, it turns out, is a killer’s meltdown, as he hunkers naked in a bath or hides under bedclothes in a closet. And Delaney recognizes that insanity and that this is someone who needs treatment rather than being locked up in a prison. Daniel justifies his acts as a kind of purity. His victims are “all living inside me, I love them and they love me.”
The idea of sacrifice is embedded in the initial image of a neon-lit cross hanging above a street, the crucifix cross-referenced in several other scenes, and Xmas wet and miserable rather than Hollywoodized snow and ho-ho-ho.
So get your downbeat boots on and join the trudge and don’t start complaining this is lazy acting from Sinatra when actually he is delivering one of his finest performances. Nobody complained that Tom Hanks was lazy when he acted old in A Man Called Otto, where sorrow is similarly repressed, or that Hanks had a shade too much zest for a man his age. Faye Dunaway (Three Days of the Condor, 1975) has made an equally bold decision to play a woman who never gets out of bed and she makes no attempt, as an actress, to invoke your sympathy, there’s none of the cuteness you might expect from doomed romance. Critics, in general, have been put off by the fact that she plays a dying woman as if she is actually dying rather than about to spring into a song-and-dance.
You might be surprised to learn that director Brian G. Hutton (Where Eagles Dare, 1968) came out of a self-imposed seven-year retirement to make this picture, in some respects a companion piece to the equally down beat Night Watch (1973). And he makes a terrific virtue out of keeping characters realistic. Add Martin Gabel to the principals for playing old and slow when age dictates he’s old and slow. Screenplay by Mann Rubin (The Warning Shot, 1967) from the Lawrence Sanders bestseller.
Thoughtful, brooding picture, fitting finale to Sinatra’s career. This is the last hurrah without any forced Hollywoodized hurrah.
“It won’t be the same without you,” says the reception desk cop as Delaney hands in is papers. “It’s always the same,” retorts the world-weary cop.
But please go into it with your eyes open and not in expectation of the more typical 1970s crime movies.
Incidentally, I had thought this one of the lost movies, out of circulation due to legal shenanigans, so was pleasantly surprised when it popped up on YouTube.
As is by now traditional (well, it’s the second full year) this isn’t my choice of the top films of the year, but yours, my loyal readers. This is a chart of the films viewed the most times over full calendar year of January 2022 – December 2022.
Jessica(1962). Angie Dickinson plays a young widow who turns so many heads in a small Italian town that their wives seek revenge. The film had debuted at No 30 in the previous year’s chart so showed remarkable staying power.
Once Upon a Time in the West (1969). Sergio Leone’s masterpiece now acclaimed as the greatest western ever made. Top class cast – Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda and Jason Robards – and one of the greatest scores ever written courtesy of Ennio Morricone.
The Swinger (1966). Ann-Margret sparkles as author reinventing herself by writing a sex novel.
Fraulein Doktor (1969). Suzy Kendall as German spy outwitting the British during World War One.
Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humpe and Find True Happiness? (1969). Fellini-esque musical with abundant nudity as writer-director-star Anthony Newley tries to unravel the meaning of life.
Father Stu (2022). Under-rated biopic with Mark Wahlberg as unlikely priest.
Blonde(2022). Andrew Dominik’s controversial reimagining of the life of Marilyn Monroe with Ana de Armas
For a Few Dollars More(1965).Sergio Leone re-teams with Clint Eastwood in the second in the spaghetti western trilogy with Lee Van Cleef as a rival bounty hunter.
A Place for Lovers(1968). Faye Dunaway and Marcello Mastroianni in Vittorio De Sica doomed romance.
Fade In(1968). Burt Reynolds disowned this romance filmed against the backdrop of making the Terence Stamp western Blue but it’s better than he thinks.
The Secret Ways (1961). Richard Widmark in spy thriller set in Hungary during the Cold War and adapted from the Alistair MacLean novel. Senta Berger has a small role. Top film for 2021, so demonstrating the ongoing popularity of films based on the author’s works.
The Sisters (1969). Complicated menage a trois that borders on the semi-incestuous starring Nathalie Delon and Susan Strasberg.
Pharoah (1966). Epic Polish picture about political shenanigans in ancient Egypt. Another film with legs – it was No 3 in the 2021 annual chart.
Water Gate Bridge / Battle at Lake Changjin II (2022). Another epic, non-stop action from the Chinese point-of-view in a sequel to one of the most famous battles of the Korean War.
Harlow (1965). Carroll Baker as the blonde bombshell who rocketed to fame in 1930s Hollywood.
Baby Love (1969). Morality tale as orphaned Linda Hayden tries to fit into an upper-class London household.
Moment to Moment (1966). Hitchockian thriller set in the South of France with adulterous Jean Seberg suspected of killing her lover.
Secret Ceremony (1968). Elizabeth Taylor, Mia Farrow and Robert Mitchum in atmospheric Joseph Losey drama.
Lady in Cement (1969). Gangster’s moll Raquel Welch steals the show in Frank Sinatra’s second outing as private eye Tony Rome.
Subterfuge (1968). Suzanna Leigh steals the show as a sadistic henchwoman trying to prevent Gene Barry uncovering a mole in M.I.5.
P.J. / New Face in Hell (1967). George Peppard taken to the cleaners as down-on-his luck private eye.
The Golden Claws of the Cat Girl (1968). Cult French movie starring Daniele Gaubert as a sexy cat burglar. This was No 6 last year.
The Gray Man (2022). Spectacular Netflix misfire with Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans as rival assassins and Ana de Armas adding some spice.
The Brotherhood (1968). Martin Ritt Mafia drama sees siblings Kirk Douglas and Alex Cord falling out.
Some Girls Do (1969). Richard Johnson returns as Bulldog Drummond battling archvillains Daliah Lavi and Beba Loncar.
Pressure Point (1962). Prison psychiatrist Sidney Poitier treats racist patient Bobby Darin. Very unusual imagery.
The Double Man (1967). C.I.A. operative Yul Brynner battles Russian espionage in Switzerland with Britt Ekland providing the glamor.
Operation Mincemeat (2022). Re-telling of “The Man Who Never Was” World War Two plot that duped Hitler over Sicilian invasion plans.
Orgy for the Dead (1965). Bizarre cult horror tale where most of the female characters appear to be auditioning for a nudie film.
Texas Across the River (1966). Alain Delon acts against type in Dean Martin comedy western.
Wonderful upbeat performance from Frank Sinatra lifts this out of a misogynistic pit where women were either dumb, desperate to get married or passive-aggressive harridans. Bachelor playboy Alan (Frank Sinatra) has more women on a string than there is string. When younger brother Buddy (Tony Bill) moves in, Alan introduces him to the fun ways of the world, not expecting Buddy to be such an apt pupil.
Alan keeps main squeeze Connie (Barbara Rush) dangling while, pretending to have Hollywood connections, making hay with actress wannabe Peggy (Jill St John). He also keeps customer Mrs Eckman (Phyllis McGuire) sweet in transactional sex fashion and there’s no shortage of other women liable to appear out of the woodwork.
Meanwhile, his boss, apoplectic father Harry (Lee J. Cobb), goes around screaming at everyone, berating Alan for his lifestyle and moaning at harassed wife Sophie (Molly Picon). Most of the time it looks like it’s going to swerve into a more typical English farce with various women being hidden out of sight from various other woman or Harry or an equally apoplectic cuckolded husband (Dan Blocker).
But, with considerably more sophistication than that, the story takes the more interesting tack of character development. Alan, who might appear to be sitting pretty, woman at his beck and call, a glorious modern apartment, cocktails on tap, is brought up sharply by his brother’s delight at such a shallow life. Alan gets to play Hollywood honcho with Peggy while Connie delivers an ultimatum that threatens to bring Frank to his senses though, naturally, he believes it’s all hooey.
The fraternal business is well done, instead of the normal rivalry genuine affection and the older sibling offering guidance, though primarily in how to get drunk and get off with women rather than anything that might otherwise stand him in good stead. Though you might argue that being shown how to dress, and how converse with women, and organise a fun party might be as much education as a young gentleman in the Big Apple required.
Playwright Neil Simon, the toast of Broadway at this stage, exhibited such a keen sense of structure that the story never sagged. Any time that appeared a remote possibility, instead of a stranger coming in a la Raymond Chandler with a gun, it’s Harry stomping all over the place. There are some good catchphrases, genuinely funny moments, and some great lines, the best, I have to confess, from Peggy who bemoans the fact that she was stranded in a hotel room with Alan at a ski resort by all the snow outside. Redeeming factor: her homely kind of dumb serves narrative purpose, making the otherwise unbearably charming Alan come across as a heel.
This is quite a different Sinatra, like he’s channeling his record persona, none of the anguish, dramatic intensity or Rat Pack bonhomie he brought to other pictures. Often you hear of actors just playing the same character or a variation thereof, but this ain’t a Sinatra persona I’m familiar with and brings verve to the whole shebang.
Lee J. Cobb (Coogan’s Bluff, 1968) gives in to overacting. You can see how that loud style might work on the stage, but it’s less effective here. Jill St John (Tony Rome, 1967) is very good as the uncertain beauty, who could be incredibly seductive if only she could work out how, and not quite a victim either, and still managing vulnerability. Barbara Rush (Robin and the 7 Hoods, 1964) is wasted, though. Set up as a modern woman, she collapses at the first sniff of marriage, though framing her eyes in a mask of light in a taxi cab is about the only compositional mark of any note.
Quite what possessed director Bud Yorkin (Divorce American Style, 1967) to stick in the title song in the middle of the picture is anybody’s guess. Norman Lear (Divorce American Style) wrote the script but you can hardly go wrong with a Neil Simon template.
End up: it’s mostly about family and people coming to terms with themselves and each other.
These days fact-based magazine articles commonly spark movies – The Fast and the Furious (2001) was inspired by a piece in Vibe, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) started life in Esquire – but it was rare in the 1960s (see Note below).
However, a series of seven lengthy historical articles in the multi-million-selling Life magazine in 1959 about the Wild West, extensively illustrated with material from the time, captured the attention of the nation. Bing Crosby acquired the rights, not as a potential movie, but for a double album recorded in July 1959 on a new label Project Records set up specifically for the purpose – two months after the series ended – and a proposed television special.
When the latter proved too expensive, the rights were sold to MGM which then linked up in a four-film pact with Cinerama to create the first dramatic picture in that format, the three-screen concept that had taken the public by storm in 1952 with This Is Cinerama. Since then, Cinerama had focused exclusively on travelogs and coined $115 million in grosses from just 47 theaters, including $9 million in seven years at the Hollywood theater in Los Angeles. Eight years in its sole London location had yielded $9.4 million gross from a quartet of pictures, Cinerama Holiday (1955) leading the way with (including reissue) a 120-week run, followed by 101 weeks of Seven Wonders of the World (1956), 86 for This Is Cinerama and 80 weeks for South Seas Adventure (1958).
Box office was supplemented with rentals of the projection equipment. But the novelty had worn off, lack of product denting consumer and industry interest, many of the theaters set up for the project returning the equipment, so that by the time of this venture there were only 15 U.S. theaters still showing Cinerama. The company went from surviving primarily on equipment royalties to becoming a producer-distributor-exhibitor. Ambitiously, the company believed it could generate $5,000 a week profit for each theater, and, assuming growth to 60 houses, that could bring in $15 million a year.
Crosby initially remained involved – crooning songs to connect various episodes – but that idea was soon abandoned. Director Henry Hathaway (North to Alaska, 1960), claimed he came up with the movie’s structure. “The original concept was mine,” he said, “The first step in the winning of the West was the opening of the canal, then came the covered wagon, next the Civil War which opened up Missouri and the mid-West then the railroads, and finally the West was won when the Law conquered it instead of the outlaw gangs; which was the theme I worked out for the picture.
“So I conceived the whole idea and then got writers to work on the five episodes. Each episode was about a song originally. Then I travelled all over the country to find locations.”
For once this was a genuine all-star cast headed up by actors with more than a passing acquaintance with the western: John Wayne (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1962), Oscar-winner Gregory Peck (The Big Country, 1958), James Stewart (Winchester ’73, 1950), Richard Widmark (The Alamo, 1960) and Henry Fonda (Fort Apache, 1948) with Spencer Tracy (Broken Lance, 1954) as narrator plus George Peppard (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961) in his first western.
The two strongest female roles were given to actresses playing against type, Carroll Baker (Baby Doll, 1956), who normally essayed sexpots, as a homely pioneer and Debbie Reynolds (The Tender Trap, 1955), more at home in musicals and comedies, as her tough sister. The impressive supporting cast included Lee J. Cobb, Eli Wallach, Walter Brennan, Robert Preston, Carolyn Jones and Karl Malden.
Glenn Ford and Burt Lancaster were unavailable. Frank Sinatra entered initial negotiations but ultimately turned it down. Gary Cooper, also initially considered, died before the film got underway.
Initially under the title of The Winning of the West screenwriter James R. Webb (The Big Country, 1958) was entrusted with knocking the unwieldy non-fiction story into a coherent fictional narrative. In effect, it was an original screenplay at a time when Hollywood was turning its back on bestsellers, “the pre-sold theory less compelling.” His first draft accommodated various montages covering the journey from the Pilgrim Fathers to the building of the Erie Canal and the Civil War and it was only in subsequent drafts that the tale of Linus Rawlings (James Stewart) emerged with surprising focus on female pioneers.
Webb’s initial ending had involved a father-son conflict, presumably a fall-out between the Rawlings played by James Stewart and George Peppard, but that was rejected in order not to finish on a “note of bitterness” out of keeping with the spirit of the movie. Although he did not receive a credit, John Gay (The Happy Thieves, 1961) also contributed to the screenplay.
Given the film’s episodic structure it is amazing how well the various sequences fit together and the narrative thrust maintained. The story covers a 50-year stretch beginning in 1839 with the river sequence bringing together James Stewart and Carroll Baker. After Stewart is bushwhacked by river pirates, he marries Baker and they set up a homestead. The next section pairs singer Debbie Reynolds with gambler Gregory Peck whose wagon train is attacked by Indians on the way to San Francisco. Later, Stewart and son George Peppard enlist in the Civil War (featuring John Wayne as an unkempt General Sherman).
Stewart dies at the Battle of Shiloh. Peppard joins the cavalry and later as a marshal in Arizona meets Reynolds and prevents a robbery that results in a spectacular train wreck. It took a superb piece of screenwriting to pull the elements together, ensure the characters had just cause to meet and to create solid pace with a high drama and action quotient.
The undertaking was too much for one director. Initially, it was expected five would be required but this was truncated to three – John Ford (The Searchers, 1956), Henry Hathaway and George Marshall (The Sheepman, 1958) although Hathaway carried the biggest share of the burden and Richard Thorpe (Ivanhoe, 1952) handled some transitional historical sequences.
The directors broke new ground, technically. The Cinerama camera was actually three cameras in one, each set at a 48 degree to the next and when projected provided a 146-degree angle view. Each panel had its own vanishing point so the camera could, uniquely, see down both sides of a building.
But there were drawbacks. The cumbersome cameras required peculiar skills to achieve common shots. Directors lay on top of the camera to judge what a close-up looked like. Sets were built to take account of the way dimensions appeared through the lens, camera remaining static to prevent distortion. When projected, the picture was twice the size of 65mm and before the invention of the single-camera lens led to vertical lines running down the screen. Trees were built into compositions to hide these lines.
“You couldn’t move the camera much,” recalled Hathaway, “or the picture would distort. You have to shove everything right up to the camera. Actors worked two- and three-feet away from the camera. The opening dolly down the street to the wharf was the first time it had ever been done.
He added, “Over 50 per cent of the stuff on the train was made on the stage (i.e. a studio set) and 60 per cent of the stuff coming down the rapids. I never took a principal up north to the river, the principals never worked off the stage. We never photographed the scenes with transparencies in three cameras with Cinerama – we photographed them with one camera in 70mm and then split the negative.
“I wouldn’t shoot close-ups in Cinerama – I shot the close-ups in 70(mm) and then separated the negative because in Cinerama it distorted their arms. When (George) Stevens shot The Greatest Story Ever Told he used only 70mm and split it all. So from then on they never used the three cameras again. Now they’re actually shooting it in 35(mm).”
Rui Nogueira, “Henry Hathaway Interview,” Focus on Film, No 7, 1971, p19.
After a year spent in pre-production, an eight-month schedule due to start on May 28, 1961, and a completion date of Xmas 1961, MGM anticipated a 1962 launch, Independence Day pencilled in for the world premiere. The original $7 million budget mushroomed to $12 million and then to £14.4 million, $1 million of that ascribed to adverse weather conditions, hardly surprising given the extent of the location work. A total of $2.2 million went on the 10 stars and 13 co-stars, virtually talent on the cheap given the salaries many could command, transport cost $1 million and the same again in props including an 1840 vintage Erie canal boat.
Rain and overcast skies added $145,000 to the cost of shooting the rapids sequence in Oregon and another $218,000 was required when early snowfall scuppered one location and required traveling 1,000 miles distant. Nearly 13,000 extras were involved as well as 875 horses, 1,200 buffalo, 50 oxen and 160 mules. Thousands of period props were dispersed among the 77 sets. Over 2,000 pairs of period shoes and 1500 pairs of moccasins were fashioned as well as 107 wagons, many designed to break on cue.
Virtually 90 per cent of the picture was shot on location to satisfy Cinerama customers accustomed to seeing new vistas and to bring alive the illustrations from the original Life magazine articles. Backdrops included Ohio River Valley, Monument Valley, Cave-in-Rock State Park, Colorado Rockies, Black Hills of Dakota, Custer State Park and Mackenzie River in Oregon.
The picture, including narration, took over a year to make. Cinerama sensation was achieved by shooting the rapids, runaway locomotive, buffalo stampede, Indian attack, Civil War battle and cattle drive. Motion was central to Cinerama so journeys were undertaken by raft, wagon, pony express, railroad and boat, anything that could get up a head of steam.
Initially, too, the production team had been adamant – “rigid plans for running time will be met” – that the movie would clock in at 150-155 minutes (final running time was 165 minutes) and there was some doubt, at least initially, on the value of going down the roadshow route in the United States. Roadshow was definitely set for Europe, a 15-minute intermission being included in those prints, for a continent where both roadshow and westerns were more popular than in the States.
Big screen westerns in particular in Europe had not been affected by the advent of the small-screen variety. Some films received substantial boosts abroad. “The Magnificent Seven and Cimarron (both 1960) took giants steps forward once they made the transatlantic crossing.” British distributors also reported “striking” success with The Last Sunset (1961) and One-Eyed Jacks (1962) which had toiled to make a similar impression in the U.S.
In the end the decision was made to hold back the release in the U.S. in favor of another Cinerama project The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, which had begun shooting later and ultimately cost $6 million, double its original budget. Rather than bunch up the release of both pictures, MGM opted to kick off its Cinerama U.S. launch with Grimm in 1962 and shifted How the West Was Won to the following year. MGM adopted the anticipation approach, holding the world premiere in London on November 1, 1962, and unleashing the picture in roadshow in Europe.
A record advance of $500,000 was banked for the London showing at the 1,155-seat Casino Cinerama (prices $1.20-$2.15) on roadshow separate performance release. Before the advertising campaign even began in October, a full month prior to the world premiere, over 62,000 reservations had been made via group bookings. Critics were enamored and audiences riveted. The cinema made “unusually large profits” and after two years had grossed $2.25 million from 1722 showings.
Dmitri Tiomkin (The Alamo, 1960) was hired to compose the music, but an eye condition prevented his participation though he later sued for $2.63 million after claiming he was fired before the assignment began. Alfred Newman (Nevada Smith, 1966) wrote the thundering score but uniquely for the time MGM shared the publishing rights with Bing Crosby. In the U.S. Bantam printed half a million copies of a paperback tie-in, sales of the soundtrack were huge and there was a massive rush to become involved by retailers and museums with educational establishments an easy target.
Audience response was overwhelming, a million customers in the first month, two million by the first 10 weeks at just 36 houses, some of which had only been showing it for half that time. But it failed to hit ambitious targets – predictions that it would regularly run for three years in some situations “based on the star roster and the fact the pic offers more natural U.S. vistas than anything yet done on the screen” proving wildly over-optimistic. Still, it had enjoyed 80 roadshow engagements including eight months at the Cinerama in New York and grossed $2.3 million in 92 weeks in L.A, $1.14 million after 88 weeks in Minneapolis and $1.5 million after one week fewer in Denver.
By 1965, as it began a general release 35mm roll-out with 3,000 bookings already taken, it had already passed the $9 million mark in rentals including a limited number of showcase breaks the previous year.
Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, it won for screenplay, sound and editing. The movie became MGM’s biggest hit after Gone with the Wind and Ben-Hur. In my recent book The Magnificent ‘60s, The 100 Most Popular Films of a Revolutionary Decade I placed it twelfth on the chart of the decade’s top box office films.
It provided a popularity fillip for most of the big stars involved, none more so than James Stewart who, prior to shooting, had been on the verge of retirement. Box office appeal diminishing, work on his next picture Take Her, She’sMine postponed by the Actor’s Strike, after the death of his father he had “quietly begun to make plans to get out of his Fox contract, retire, and move his family out of Beverly Hills.” He had spent $500,000 on a 1,100-acre ranch and was already well set to quit acting having accumulated a large real estate portfolio in addition to oil well investments.
NOTE: Robert J. Landry (“Magazines a Prime Screen Source,” Variety, May 30, 1962, 11) pointed to Cosmopolitan as the original publication vehicle for To Catch a Thief (1955) by David Dodge in 1951 and Fannie Hurst’s Back Street (1932), serialized over six months from September 1930. Frank Rooney’s The Cyclist’s Raid – later filmed as The Wild One (1953) – first appeared in Harpers magazine. Movies as varied as Edna Ferber’s Ice Palace (1960) and The Executioners by John D. MacDonald, later filmed as Cape Fear (1962), were initially published in Ladies Home Journal. The Saturday EveningPost published Alan Le May’s The Avenging Texan, renamed The Searchers (1956), and Donald Hamilton’s Ambush at Blanco Canyon, renamed The Big Country (1958) as well as Christopher Landon’s Escape in the Desert which was picturized under the more imaginative Ice Cold in Alex (1958).
SOURCES: Brian Hannan, The Magnificent ‘60s, The 100 Most Popular Films of a Revolutionary Decade (McFarland, 2022) p168-170; Marc Eliot, James Stewart A Biography (Aurum Press, paperback, 2007) p350-351; Rui Nogueira, “Henry Hathaway Interview,” Focus on Film, No 7, 1971, p19; Sir Christopher Frayling, How the West Was Won, Cinema Retro, Vol 8, Issue 22, p25-29; Greg Kimble, “How the West Was Won – in Cinerama,” in70mm.com, October 1983; “Reisini Envisions Cinerama Leaving Travelog for Fiction Pix,” Variety, December 14, 1960, p17; “Metro in 4-Film Deal with Cinerama,” Variety, March 1, 1961, p22; “Cinerama Action Awaits Plot Tales,” Variety, March 8, 1961, p10; “Fat Bankroll for How West Was Won,” Variety, May 24, 1961, p3; “Return to Original Scripts,” Variety, June 28, 1961, p5;“MGM-Cinerama Set 3-Hour Limit For West Was Won,” Variety, August 23, 1961, p7; “Hoss Operas in O’Seas Gallop,” Variety, August 23, 1961, p7; “Coin Potential As To Cinerama,” Variety, September 20, 1961, p15; “Changing Economics on Cinerama,” Variety, October 11, 1961, p13; “Bantam’s 22 Paperback Tie-Ups in Hollywood,” Variety, October 25, 1961, p22; “How West Was Won for July 4 Premiere,” Box Office, December 11, 1961, p14; “Crosby Enterprises Holds West Cinerama Songs,” Variety, January 24, 1962, p1; “Grimm First in U.S. for Cinerama but Abroad West Gets Priority,” Variety, April 4, 1962, p13; “Cinerama Fiscalities,” Variety, April 11, 1962, p3; “Cinerama Story Pair Burst Budgets,” Variety, May 16, 1962, p3; “Tiomkin’s $2,630,000 Suit Vs MGM et al,” Variety, June 27, 1962, p39; “Hathaway a Pioneer,” Variety, July 25, 1962, p12; “Bernard Smith Clarifies Fiscal Facts,” Variety, August 8, 1962, p3; Review, Variety, November 7, 1962, p6; “London Critics Rave Over West,” Variety, November 7, 1962, p19; “Brilliant World Premiere in London for West,” Box Office, November 12, 1962, p12; “West in Cinerama the Big Ace,” Variety, November 14, 1962, p16; Feature Reviews, Box Office, November 26, 1962; Bosley Crowther, “Western Cliches; How West Was Won Opens in New York,” New York Times, March 28, 1963; “Big Book Aid for West,” Box Office, April 1, 1963, pA3; “West Was Won Seen By 2,000,000 in 10 Weeks,” Box Office, June 3, 1963, p15; “How West Was Won for 19 Showcase Theaters,” Box Office, June 15, 1964, pE1; “West End,” Variety, November 11, 1964, p27; “How West Was Won Ends Roadshowing,” December 9, 1964, p16; “3,000 Bookings Expected for How the West Was Won,” Box Office, May 3, 1965.
I always wondered why this was a flop. I’m still baffled. Not only is it a perfectly serviceable caper picture, but it’s also high-concept before the term was invented, a World War Two submarine involved in holding up high-end ocean liner Queen Mary (yep, the real thing, thanks to cooperation from owners Cunard).
The dialogue’s crisp, the robbery well-planned, a good number of twists, plenty underwater thrills, hostility between crew members, and sexual tension kept high by the presence on board of the Italian Miss Big. Diver Mark Brittain (Frank Sinatra) is sucked into a treasure hunt in part because he needs the money and in part through the sexual magnetism of Rosa (Virna Lisi), the expedition backer, who already has suave Vic (Anthony Franciosca) on a string.
The plan evolves into piracy when Brittain discovers a World War Two German submarine on the seabed. As it happens, skippering the salvage vessel is former German U-boat captain Eric (Alf Kjellin). After Mark successfully raises the sub, it’s game on, Vic’s qualms wilting under Rosa’s seductive gaze. The other team members are engineer Tony (Richard Conte) and wireless operator Linc (Errol John). The prize is a cool million in cash and gold bullion.
Catch No 1: the sub can’t stay submerged for more than an hour. Catch No 2: it’s not that seaworthy and could spring a leak at any time (“don’t just look for water, listen for it,” advises Eric). Catch No 3: in order to successfully board the Queen Mary looking for vital equipment, one of these very American Yanks has to pass himself off as a British sub captain on a secret mission.
Potential Catch No 4 has already been dealt with – if the Queen Mary officers rumble the ruse and call the thieves’ bluff the hijackers plan to put a dummy torpedo up the spout and fire it into the ship’s hull. Catch No 5: there’s so much pent-up hostility among the team the whole endeavor could be sunk. Mark and Vic are vying for Rosa’s favors and clever bombshell that she is she intends to keep it that way, stringing both along.
Racist Vic takes against Eric and also resents splitting the loot with late arrival Tony. Alf not only resents Mark, also a former sub officer, for ending up on the war’s winning side, but exhibits psychopathic tendencies and might just for the hell of it blow a passing tanker out of the water. Like any gang, each member brings something specific to the party. And without giving too much away, the endgame turns into a battle of wits, especially when the unexpected occurs.
I’m a big fan of Sinatra’s acting style. He is so natural, his gestures don’t look like they’ve been rehearsed for hours in a mirror, you’ll never accuse him of Method acting, or picking parts with Oscars in mind, but somehow he still manages to inhabit his characters.
This is a fascinating role for Virna Lisi (How to Murder Your Wife, 1965), reminiscent of film noir in the way she handles men, but also years ahead of her time not just in combining sexual and financial independence but of being the boss funding the heist and recruiting the team, and soon has the reluctant Mark playing ball with no sense that’s ultimately she’s going to fall at his feet.
Anthony Franciosca (Rio Conchos, 1964) is mostly a distraction, engaged in a private feud with James Coburn as to who has the brightest and biggest screen teeth. Richard Conte (Lady in Cement, 1969) and Alf Kjellin (Midas Run, 1969) are the physical and mental muscle, respectively, and Trinidadian Errol John (Man in the Middle, 1965) essays an interesting role. Jack Donohue (Marriage on the Rocks, 1965) keeps it all ticking along.
Rod Serling (Planet of the Apes, 1968) devised the screenplay from the novel by Jack Finney (Good Neighbor Sam, 1964). So why did critics and the public have such a downer on the picture? Critical attitudes to the star were easier to understand. Sinatra’s films were generally disliked, and knowledge of his one-take preference allowed critics to thumb their collective noses at his acting, assuming he put no effort into it.
Rumors of his underworld connections were beginning to emerge, he had just married Mia Farrow, less than half his age, and the Beatles and the British invasion had usurped his position in the pop rankings. The general feeling was he was on the way out so why not boot him while he was down. This was despite him receiving some of the best notices of his career for Von Ryan’s Express (1965).
Audiences might have been expecting another Rat Pack lark in the vein of Ocean’s 11 (1960) or felt the supporting cast lacked lustre, Lisi a little known commodity, this only her second Hollywood picture, Franciosca still the second banana, and Hardy Kruger would certainly have invested the German with more malevolence. Otherwise, it’s hard to see what there is to complain about. As I mentioned the dialogue was good, characters simmering, and the story satisfying enough.
Sure, a better director might have extracted more tension from the set pieces, lifted the pace, and added a booming score as with Ice Station Zebra (1968).
It might not be the best heist picture ever made, but it’s too good to be dismissed.
Frank Sinatra in cruise control reprises his Tony Rome (1967) private eye in a hugely enjoyable and vastly under-rated murder mystery with man mountain Dan Blocker of Bonanza fame and femme fatale Raquel Welch of pin-up fame. One of the actor’s greatest characterizations, albeit with little in it for the Oscar mob, this is one of the coolest gumshoes to hit the screen. Exhibiting none of the self-consciousness of latter-day Philip Marlowes or Sam Spades, Sinatra embellishes the character with more “business” than ever before, larding his dialogue with quips while he talks his way out of sticky situations and, as a big star, happy to be picked up by Blocker and dumped on a work surface. Can’t see Newman, Redford, McQueen, and Eastwood et al putting up with that kind of treatment.
Tony Rome is almost as much of a bum as he is a detective, betting on anything possible, wasting his time on fruitless quests for sunken treasure, lazing around in his yacht until in one of his deep sea forays comes across the naked titular damsel. Reporting the murder sees Rome co-opted by cop Lt. Santini (Richard Conte) to ID the woman. Sent to the apartment shared by Sandra Lomax and Maria Bareto in search for a potential client, Rome encounters Waldo (Dan Blocker) who hires him to find Lomax.
That takes Rome to Jilly’s go-go club where his conversation with dancer Maria (Lainie Kazan) is rudely interrupted by owner Danny Yale (Frank Raiter). Next stop is a swimming pool and who should emerge in a wet bikini than millionairess Kit Forrest (Raquel Welch) whose party Sandra attended. But a) she’s an alcoholic with memory issues and b) objects to snoopers so calls in neighbor and former hood Al Mungar (Martin Gabel) who sends Rome packing. When Maria is bumped off, Waldo is the prime suspect.
So we are enveloped in an interesting plot that soon involves blackmail and robbery and a suspect list that extends to Mungar and son Paul (Steve Peck) who has the hots for Kit, Yale and muscular boyfriend Seymour, and of course Waldo (whose reason for finding Sandra is revenge) and Kit. Despite the seeming light touch, inheritance is a theme, and the tale is character-driven, relationships complex, locales somewhat off-beat, a crap game in a mortuary, a nude painter’s studio, strip clubs, massage parlors and go-go dancing establishments abound, but with none of the moralizing that came with the territory. A racetrack is almost prosaic by comparison.
For most of the picture Santini and Rome have an antagonistic relationship until we find out, in a lovely scene, that Rome was the cop’s ex-partner, that the grumpy cop has a loving home life and that Rome is greeted with delight as “Uncle Tony” by Santini’s son. Rome is also very well acquainted with film noir and knows that a woman who appears too good to be true is in fact too good to be true so he’s sensible enough to steer clear of seduction (the bane of any film noir character’s life) unless he’s just pretending in order to glean information.
It’s a classic detective story, one lead following another, naturally a few contretemps along the way, some deception, and the laid-back Rome proves not as relaxed as you might expect, possessing a handy right hook and a neat uppercut. Interesting subsidiary characters include Al’s neglected wife, a bumptious beach attendant and a whining nude model.
Director Gordon Douglas – who handled Sinatra in Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964), Tony Rome and The Detective (1968) – brings out the best in the actor, keeps the action zipping along despite multiple complications and prefers a quip to a momentous speech.
Sinatra is just so at ease he oozes screen charisma. His shamus is no slick unraveller of truth, but a steady digger, accumulating information. You might think any tentative relationship with Kit stretches the age angle a tad but bear in mind at this stage Sinatra was married to Mia Farrow, 30 years his junior. Raquel Welch (The Biggest Bundle of Them All, 1968) is surprisingly good as a vulnerable mixed-up wealthy alcoholic and, except in her opening scene, manages to steer clear of a bikini for most of the picture.
Richard Conte (Hotel, 1966) is as dependable as ever but Martin Gabel (Divorce American Style, 1967) steals the supporting show as an apoplectic racketeer trying to go straight. You might like to know Lainie Kazan (Dayton’s Devils, 1968) is still working, The Amityville Murders (2018) and Tango Shalom (2021) among her recent output. It’s a shame Dan Blocker did not live long enough (he died in 1972) to build on his idiosyncratic performance.
The lively screenplay was written by Marvin H. Albert (A Twist of Sand, 1968) and Jack Guss (Daniel Boone: Frontier Trail Rider, 1966) based on Albert’s novel. Mention, too, for the jaunty theme tune by Hugo Montenegro (The Undefeated, 1969). You’ll find yourself humming it for days on end, it pops up often enough.
Into the catchphrase hall of fame must go Blocker’s exhortation “Stay loose” just before he unleashes mayhem. And while we’re about it, what is it about the quality of actor or status of a star that permits hoodlum Al’s peeved “I tried to go clean and you dragged me down” to be ignored while a couple of decades later a similar line from The Godfather Part III (1990) uttered by Al Pacino is hailed as a classic. You know the one I mean: “Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.” Steven Spielberg is another who should have watched this picture for tips on how to deal with marauding sharks – Rome’s solution: kick them on the snout. By the way did Blocker fall out with imdb? Despite third billing, he’s not listed at all in the main credits and when you scroll down to the extended credits, he’s at the very bottom. Jeez!
I started this Blog two years ago this month and to my astonished delight it is now read in over 120 countries. I am now well past over 500 reviews. So I thought you might be interested to know which of these reviews has attracted the most attention. This isn’t my choice of the top films in the Blog, but yours, my loyal readers. The chart covers the films viewed the most times since the Blog began, from June 1, 2020 to May 31, 2022.
The Secret Ways (1961). Richard Widmark exudes menace in this adaptation of an early Alistair MacLean spy thriller set in Hungary during the Cold War. Senta Berger has a small role.
Jessica (1962). Innocently gorgeous widow Angie Dickinson finds her looks turn so many male heads in a small Italian town that the female population seeks revenge.
Ocean’s 11 (1960). The Rat Pack makes its debut – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. et al plan an audacious Las Vegas robbery.
Pharoah(1966). Priests battle kings in Polish epic set in ancient Egypt. Fabulous to look at and thoughtful.
Fraulein Doktor (1969). Suzy Kendall in the best role of her career as a sexy German spy in World War One.
The Golden Claws of the Cat Girl (1968). Cult French movie starring Daniele Gaubert as a sexy cat burglar.
The Swinger (1966). Ann-Margret struts her stuff as a magazine journalist trying to persuade Tony Franciosca she is as sexy as the character she has written about.
It’s Not All Rock’n’Roll (2020). Ageing rocker Dave Doughman aims to mix a career with being a father in this fascinating documentary
A Place for Lovers (1969). Faye Dunaway and Marcello Mastroianni in doomed love affair directed by Vittorio De Sica.
The Venetian Affair (1966). Robert Vaughn hits his acting stride as a former CIA operative turned journalist investigating suicide bombings in Venice. Great supporting cast includes Elke Sommer and Boris Karloff.
Moment to Moment (1966). Hitchcockian-style thriller with Jean Seberg caught up in murder plot in the French Riviera. Also features Honor Blackman.
4 for Texas (1963). Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin face off in a Robert Aldrich western featuring Ursula Andress and Anita Ekberg with Charles Bronson in a smaller part.
Age of Consent (1969). Helen Mirren stars as the nubile muse of jaded painter James Mason returning to his Australian roots.
The Double Man (1967). Yul Brynner chases his doppelganger in the Swiss Alps with Britt Ekland adding a touch of glamour.
Subterfuge(1968). C.I.A. operative Gene Barry hunts an M.I.5 mole in London. Intrigue all round with Joan Collins supplying the romance and a scene-stealing Suzanna Leigh as a villain.
A House Is Not a Home (1965). Biopic of notorious madam Polly Adler (played by Shelley Winters) who rubbed shoulders with the cream of Prohibition gangsters.
Can Heironymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humpe and Find True Happiness? (1969). Off-the-wall musical directed by star Anthony Newley that has to be seen to be believed. Joan Collins pops up.
Pressure Point (1962). Prison psychiatrist Sidney Poitier must help racist Nazi Bobby Darin.
Deadlier than the Male (1967). Richard Johnson as Bulldog Drummond is led a merry dance by spear-gun-toting Elke Sommer and Sylva Koscina in outlandish thriller.
Valley of Gwangi (1969). Special effects genius Ray Harryhausen the star here as James Franciscus and Gila Golen encounter prehistoric monsters in a forbidden valley.
The Naked Runner (1967). With his son held hostage, Frank Sinatra is forced to carry out an assassination in East Germany.
Orgy of the Dead (1965). Bearing the Ed Wood imprint, mad monster mash-up with the naked dead.
Once a Thief (1965). Ann-Margret is a revelation in crime drama with ex-con Alain Delon coerced into a robbery despite trying to go straight. Supporting cast boasts Jack Palance, Van Heflin and Jeff Corey.
The Sicilian Clan (1969). Stunning caper with thief Alain Delon and Mafia chief Jean Gabin teaming up for audacious jewel heist with cop Lino Ventura on their trail. French thriller directed by Henri Verneuil. Great score by Ennio Morricone.
Dark of the Sun / The Mercenaries (1968). More diamonds at stake as Rod Taylor leads a gang of mercenaries into war-torn Congo. Jim Brown, Yvette Mimieux and Kenneth More co-star. Based on the Wilbur Smith bestseller
Stiletto (1969). Mafia hitman Alex Cord pursued by tough cop Patrick O’Neal. Britt Ekland as the treacherous girlfriend heads a supporting cast including Roy Scheider, Barbara McNair and Joseph Wiseman.
Maroc 7 (1967). Yet more jewel skullduggery with Gene Barry infiltrating a gang of thieves in Morocco who use the cover of a fashion shoot. Top female cast comprises Elsa Martinelli, Cyd Charisse, Tracy Reed and Alexandra Stewart.
The Rock (1996). Former inmate Sean Connery breaks into Alcatraz with Nicolas Cage to prevent mad general Ed Harris blowing up San Francisco. Michael Bay over-the-top thriller with blistering pace.
The Swimmer (1968). Burt Lancaster’s life falls apart as he swims pool-by-pool across the county. Superlative performance.
Hour of the Gun (1967). James Garner as a ruthless Wyatt Earp and Jason Robards as Doc Holliday in John Sturges’ realistic re-telling of events after the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Fade In (1968). Long-lost modern western with Burt Reynolds serenading low-level movie executive Barbara Loden whose company is actually filming Terence Stamp picture Blue.
Dr Syn Alias the Scarecrow (1963). The British movie version of Disney American television mini-series sees Patrick McGoohan as a Robin Hood-type character assisting local smugglers.
P.J./New Face in Hell (1968). Private eye George Peppard is duped by shady millionaire Raymond Burr and mistress Gayle Hunnicutt in murder mystery.
Sol Madrid/The Heroin Gang (1968). In his second top-billed role David MacCallum drags hooker Stella Stevens to Mexico to capture drugs kingpin Telly Savalas.
A Twist of Sand (1968). Diamonds again. Smugglers Richard Johnson and Jeremy Kemp hunt long-lost jewels in Africa. Honor Blackman is along for the voyage.
Genghis Khan (1965). Omar Sharif plays the legendary warlord who unites warring Mongol tribes. Stellar cast includes Stephen Boyd, James Mason, Francoise Dorleac, Eli Wallach, Telly Savalas and Robert Morley.
Interlude (1968). Bittersweet romance between famed conductor Oskar Wener and young reporter Barbara Ferris.
Woman of Straw (1964). Sean Connery tangles with Gina Lollobrigida in lurid tale of murder and inheritance.
Bedtime Story (1964). Marlon Brando and David Niven are rival seducers on the Riviera targeting wealthy women.
Sisters (1969). Intrigue, adultery and incest haunt Nathalie Delon and Susan Strasberg as they try to recapture the innocence of the past.
We’ve all been there. You are scrolling through a movie website and you come across a new Audrey Hepburn picture called The Loudest Whisper (1961) and you get all excited and wonder how on earth you could have missed it. You check it out. Something about the other credits sounds familiar – directed by William Wyler, co-starring Shirley Maclaine. Wait a minute, isn’t that The Children’s Hour? Yep, you got it. Welcome to the title jungle, the constant changing of the names of movies from country to country.
You could see how this was necessary, possibly even essential, as different languages and cultures struggled to make sense of Hollywood titles. There could be other reasons. What actually does To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) mean and is it translatable into Greek or Italian? What happens if the publisher of the bestseller-cum-movie has already changed the title? Or if an American bestseller sank like a stone in other countries and the whimsical title means nothing to nobody.
But The Loudest Whisper was the British title for the William Wyler picture. And Britain, it turns out, was not shy about changing titles. Elia Kazan’s America, America (1964), a straightforward title you might think, suggesting longing, was changed into the incomprehensible The Anatolian Smile, assuming the ordinary public knew where (or what) Anatolia was. Burt Kennedy western Mail Order Bride (1964), an idea too obvious for the sensitive Brits, became the meaningless West of Montana.
Glenn Ford-Stella Stevens western comedy Advance to the Rear (1964), a simple joke in any language unless your mind ran in cruder directions, turned into Company of Cowards. Glenn Ford again, Experiment in Terror (1962) was translated for British audiences as The Grip of Fear. Rene Clement French thriller Joy House, perhaps suggestive of a house of ill-repute, with Alain Delon and Jane Fonda became the no-less risqué Love Cage. And any notions that The Stripper would prove impossible to resist for any red-blooded male were scuppered by renaming it Woman of Summer.
In any case, the Italians had already co-opted the whole stripping thing, Warner Brothers musical Gypsy (1962) was translated as The Woman Who Invented Striptease, which was actually what Gypsy Rose Lee was famed for even if Hollywood did not want to admit it upfront. In fact, the people in charge of foreign titling often came up with a better choice than the original. Two Seducers was the Italian title for Bedtime Story (1964) starring Marlon Brando and David as, guess what, rival seducers.
In case you had no idea what The Prize (1963) referred to, what could be better than renaming it, as in Italy, Intrigue in Stockholm or, in accepting some knowledge of the Nobel Prize, the Greek version No Laurels for Murderers, both revamped titles a bit more persuasive above a marquee than the bland original, especially if the Irving Wallace bestseller on which it was based had not been a success in the respective countries.
Cape Fear (1962) – based on a book with the straightforward title of The Executioner – was improved upon in several countries, all taking a similar approach to the problem. In Switzerland it was known as Bait for a Beast, in West Germany Decoy for a Beast, both of which actually touched more succinctly on the main plot than the Hollywood version. And some countries believed in saying it as they saw it, Irma La Douce (1963) shown in Greece as The Streetwalker.
Clearly, some Hollywood titles provoked much head-scratching as titling experts tried to work out if they had, perhaps, a hidden meaning. Frank Sinatra comedy Come Blow YourHorn (1963) was variously called I’ll Take Care of the Women (Italy), If My Sleeping Room Could Talk (West Germany), If My Bed Could Talk (Greece) and the more straightforward Bachelor’s Apartment (Israel).
Some titles came with inbuilt bafflement. Italy had an interesting take on MGM musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), tabbing it I Want To Be Loved in a Brass Bed. Move Over Darling (1963) emerged as One Too Many in Bed (West Germany) and Her Husband Is Mine (Greece) while another Doris Day vehicle Lover Come Back (1961) became A Pajama forTwo (Switzerland), and A Pair of Pajamas for Two (West Germany). But some essential facet of the character of Hud (1962) was captured in Wildest Among a Thousand (West Germany) and Wild as a Storm (Greece).
And back to that To Kill a Mockingbird problem. Italian audiences were treated to Darkness Beyond the Hedge and Greek moviegoers to Shadows and Silence. Incidentally, in Israel The Stripper was known as Lost Rose while Advance to the Rear in West Germany appeared as Heroes without Pants.
SOURCE: “How U.S. Titles Are Retitled in Foreign Lands,” Variety, May 12, 1965, p108 and examination of movies on Imdb.