Selling the Exotic – Pressbook for “24 Hours to Kill” (1965)

No matter how small a picture, its budget had to stretch to a Pressbook. Even if the movie would end up on the bottom half of a double bill or a drive-in programmer and did not have much to shout about, it still needed a Pressbook. Low-budget films meant low-budget advertising campaigns unless your name was Joe Levine who often spent far more promoting films than he did making them.

The Pressbook was essential because it was the source of the movie’s adverts that could appear in a newspaper – these came in a variety of sizes so an  exhibitor could remove the one most relevant and take it down to their local newspaper to make up the display advertisement. In the pre-digital era, it was a crude as that, adverts were effectively cut and pasted.

While some Pressbooks could run to 16, 20 or 24 A3 pages in full color, the most basic requirement would be four pages, enough to show the ads and get the basic message across. This was of the basic variety. In this case, ads took up the first two-and-a-half pages, leaving a half-page to list the credits and explain the plot. The final page contained information about the stars..  

Perhaps as revenge for producer Harry Alan Towers not coughing up enough money for a decent Pressbook, his name was left off it. Instead, filing his slot was Oliver A. Unger, more famous as a pioneer of syndicated television, importer of foreign films and producer of The Pawnbroker (1964). In reality, he was an executive producer, in those days that function being fulfilled by someone who either invested in the picture upfront or once filming was complete bought territorial rights.

Artwork was minimal, one main advertisement, one alternative. But more or less the same taglines appear in both. Hoping to hook in the audiences was the notion of “perfumed harem…in mysterious Beirut…where every hour can be your wildest.. and your last.”

Usually films like these boasting a flotilla of European beauties devoted some space to explaining their origins and puffing up their potential. Not so here. Space is just too tight. The only actors covered are Lex Barker, Mickey Rooney and Walter Szelak. Strangely, no mention is made of Barker’s socko career as a German western hero – the notion that Europeans could make westerns remained absurd at this point (A Fistful of Dollars would take three years following completion to reach U.S. screens).

According to the Pressbook, Barker more or less jumped straight from Tarzan to this kind of thriller. Though he had been out of the loin-cloth for more than a decade (Tarzan and the She-Devil, 1953, his final appearance), the 40 pictures he had made since then (including La Dolce Vita, 1960) did not merit a sentence. The Pressbook did carry a quotable quote from Barker explaining his reasons for quitting jungle life: “It made me feel like a male Bardot because I was always parading around almost nude.” This was the type of quote that only made sense until you realised that Bardot did not become a star till three years after he quit playing Tarzan. Still, who was going to argue?

A strict regimen of physical exercise allowed him to keep in the shape necessary for the film which required him to “run for his life, rescue a pretty hostess from kidnap by helicopter and fight off thug after thug.” 

Mickey Rooney gets a better write-up, especially for making the rare jump from successful child star to accepted by audiences for his adult roles. Though the writer of the Pressbook never appeared to actually go the movies. Spot the mistake in this sentence: “Last seen in runaway box office hit It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World Rooney now appears for producer Oliver A. Under in a drama equally as challenging.” That the first film was actually a comedy and not a drama never seemed to sink in.

The usual promotional material – suggestions for marketing, maybe a record of the soundtrack available, perhaps a theme song to target radio stations, various stunts – was non-existent even though the movie leant itself to a tie-in with an airline or a travel company especially as the National Lebanese Tourist Council had gone out of its way to accommodate the production.

24 Hours To Kill (1965) **

When engine problems force a plane headed for Athens to land in Beirut, the past catches up with purser Norman Jones (Mickey Rooney). He manages to convince captain Jamie Faulkner (Lex Barker) and the crew that claims by ruthless gangster Malouf (Walter Szelak) claiming he has stolen his money is a mistake. But once the kidnappings begin, the doubts set in.

Producer Harry Alan Towers (Five Golden Dragons, 1967), though he remained wedded to the exotic locale, would soon learn to prioritize action over romantic entanglement and this suffers from too much romance – married Faulkner trying to resolve his relationship with stewardess girlfriend Louise (Helga Summerfeld),  co-pilot Tommy (Michael Medwin) ignoring another stewardess Franzi (France Anglade) in favour of local girl Mimi listed in his little black book of previous conquests.

After a failed attempt to kidnap Jones, the gangsters turn their attentions to female members of the crew. Slim built Tommy proves handy with his fists and soon the crew are either running from trouble or running into trouble even as they attempt to enjoy the city high life. The title has a double meaning – the crew take it to mean that they have time on their hands to pass in as pleasant manner as possible only later realizing that their accidental landing provides the gangsters with a complete day to apprehend/kill Jones before the plane’s rescheduled take-off.

Although a good sight more attractive in the 1960s than when  war destroyed the city, Beirut still had comparatively little to offer a visitor beyond a historic site claimed to the Garden of Eden, posh hotels, swimming pools and the kind of belly dancers that you could get anywhere in the Middle East. Still, the movie does its best to convince the audience they are in for an exotic treat. Unfortunately, locale and girls in bikinis do not make up for poor plotting and lack of action.

In terms of casting Towers had hit upon a decent formula in the international coproduction line, Hollywood stars who didn’t cost too much but still retained marquee value and up-and-comers who might be sold as the next best thing to their respective countries, thus bringing in global revenue.  Former MGM child star Mickey Rooney (Secret Invasion, 1964) is the requisite Hollywood star, his credentials buffed up by the hit It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and continually newsworthy for his love life – he was currently on marriage number five.

All-purpose action hero Lex Barker was the surprise box office package. A former Tarzan he was enjoying a new lease of life as a huge star in Germany thanks to the Old Shatterhand series of westerns. Veteran Walter Slezak (Come September, 1961) completed the small group of actors who audiences might automatically recognize.

Heading the newcomers was Englishman Michael Medwin (Crooks Anonymous, 1962) who would later turn producer of If…(1968) ably supported by a stewardess trio played by German Helga Sommerfeld (The Phantom of Soho, 1964), French starlet France Anglade  (The Oldest Profession, 1967) and Austrian Helga Lehner (Games of Desire, 1964). Likely more memorable for purveyors of the European scene would be a brief appearance by another Austrian, Maria Rohm (Five Golden Dragons), wife of the producer. You might also spot Wolfgang Lukschy (A Fistful of Dollars, 1964).

British director Peter Bezencenet (Bomb in the High Street, 1963) was better known for his editing skills but didn’t cover himself in glory in either department here. Australian Peter Yeldham (The Liquidator, 1965) wrote the screenplay along with Towers. While not a great film, you can see the Towers style in embryo, this being only the fourth of the around 100 films that would go out under his banner.

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