20th Century-Fox: The First 50 Years (1997)

TV Movie   |  TV-G   |    |  Documentary

20th Century-Fox: The First 50 Years (1997) Poster

The first half century of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation from its beginnings under Hungarian immigrant William Fox to it emergence as a major studio.


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10 October 2002 | petershelleyau
With James Coburn as narrator, you know what to expect
The litmus test for this kind of compilation film is usually the time spent on and the patience you have with lesser known material. Usually titles are lesser known for a reason. However, as this doco runs over 2 hours (It's no joke that one title is The Longest Day), I found myself growing more and more desperate for lesser known material, like a man with a restricted diet.

The problem with the films of this particular studio is that their catalogue doesn't contain much of anything that hasn't been featured in similar studies of Hollywood. I mean, how many times have you seen the Shall We Dance number from The King and I?! The expectation of seeing The Grapes of Wrath, Shirley Temple, Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda, Laura (with the murderer revealed!), All About Eve, The Robe, Marilyn Monroe, Cleopatra, and The Sound of Music, is met. Success is defined here by box office takings, and to a lesser extent Academy awards. This is ironic since Daryl Zanuck, head of the studio for the majority of the 50 years, is hailed for his literary aesthetic, as opposed to vulgarians like Jack Warner, Harry Cohn and Louis B Mayer. It is said that only a non-Jew like Zanuck was brave enough to make the anti-semitic Gentleman's Agreement, but not mentioned whether any Jews went to see it. (Maybe they didn't have to, if they lived it). There is a glimpse of Nightmare Alley, a work of great daring, which is deemed a failure, along with the dull Wilson, and a good 20 minutes devoted to Cleopatra, which bears the reputation of bankrupting the studio, though it did ultimately make a profit.

If this documentary demonstrates anything, it is the fickleness of trends. After rescuing the studio from the Depression, Temple was let go because she grew up. Grable did marvels for morale in WW2 but she was outed by Monroe, just as Grable had outed Alice Faye. Monroe was fired from Something's Got to Give because of her unreliability, though we aren't told she was re-hired before she died. We see out-takes from the incompleted film, which are fascinating and highlight her luminous beauty. And the attempts to battle TV in the 1950's by producing Cinemascope spectacles are exhausted by the fate of Cleopatra. (It is thought that the studio would have had more patience with Monroe if it wasn't for their pre-occupation with Liz). Of amusing note is how Hello Dolly! is hailed as one of Fox' later successes, along with The Poseidon Adventure, Planet of the Apes, The Omen, and Star Wars, when my understanding was that Dolly lost about as much money for the studio as The Sound of Music had made. Perhaps it was best to wrap up this "story of our century" with the mythology intact, and Fox being the multi-media giant it now is.

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