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.

Wonderful Life (1964)****

I have just discovered a new guilty pleasure. I was too young to remember when Cliff Richard was the British equivalent of Elvis and by the time I became aware of him he was already in the family-favorites league with his own television show and popping up in the wider consciousness from time to time with a number one single. But I was conscious that Cliff’s aspiring film career was totally obliterated by the emergence of the Beatles. I found Wonderful Life to be totally innocuous, highly enjoyable, charming fun. There’s no story to speak of beyond an affectionate spoof of Hollywood but it has zest and exuberance and some decent choreography by Gillian Lynne who went on to be deified for her work on the original London productions of Cats and Phantom of the Opera.

But there are some very funny visual gags, beginning with the opening scene when Cliff and Co are waiters on board a ship attending to a drunk whose glass moves out of reach every time the ship rolls. Having caused a power outage, they are chucked overboard in a dinghy and turn up in the Canary Islands where Cliff becomes a stunt man on the terrible Foreign Legion movie directed by a Hollywood ogre (Walter Slezak) and starring incompetent actress Susan Hampshire who has made a career of sorts playing the daughter of a sheik or sultan. You have to like a movie with lines like, “Follow that camel” and a geek (Richard O’Sullivan) whose scientific predictions invariably come undone. Cliff, realizing the lines are better sung than spoken, begins to make a musical on the back of the drama. And it’s true – the lines are good lyrics.

Britain had no reputation for musicals among the Hollywood cognoscenti unless you count the Jessie Mathews and Gracie Fields films of the 1930s which were far too parochial and contrived for American tastes and in terms of invention and musical technique a far cry from Lionel Bart’s Oliver! which would be filmed a couple of years later and in terms of originality not a patch on A Hard Day’s Night (1964) the same year. The songs are evenly contributed by various members of the Shadows – Bruce Welch composed the standout “A Matter of Moments” and with Brian Bennett the theme song – and the Peter Myers-Ronald Cass team who also wrote the screenplay. But this film comes across as naturalistic, rather than the contrivances of most Hollywood musicals. It doesn’t take much for these lads to strike up a song, any excuse will do. And the film is better for the lack of high emotion attached to every lyric.

You would be mightily surprised to learn that director Sidney J. Furie’s next film was stylish spy thriller The Ipcress File (1965) followed by Appaloosa (1966) with Marlon Brando and The Naked Runner (1967) starring Frank Sinatra. Here, he is in free-association mode, the ideas tumbling out, especially in the Hollywood parody dance numbers sections where we go from Chaplin pastiche to Greta Garbo and Groucho Marx, Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers, West Side Story and James Bond. We have gangsters whose violin cases contain violins, a singing cowboy with subtitles (to explain the growth of the foreign movie) and a song about homesickness played out with Battersea Power Station in the background. If anybody can actually act they’re not putting any great effort into it. And that doesn’t matter either. The storyline is no more preposterous than many of the great Hollywood musicals. Everyone looks as if they’re having a whale of a time and I guess that would include the audience because the movie was the fifth-best performer of the year in Britain. This was the type of movie, during the rise of the permissive cinema, that you could take your grandmother to see and still come away surprised you had enjoyed it so much yourself.

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