29 June 2006 | blanche-2
Entertaining look at a great studio
"20th Century Fox: The First 50 Years," narrated by James Coburn, gives us a history of the studio's dual beginnings, merger, and success as a great Hollywood studio under the aegis of the ambitious Darryl F. Zanuck.
There are wonderful clips and homages to some of the stars that made 20th Century Fox great: Will Rogers, Shirley Temple, Tyrone Power, Betty Grable, Henry Fonda, Alice Faye, Don Ameche et al. What's usually missing in these compilations is depth because so much has to be covered, but in this case, they did an okay job. There were also brief comments by stars such as Alice Faye and Roddy McDowell. Of special interest were the early sound tests and a look at the development of Fox's sound system. The early sound clips featured two very young actors, Humphrey Bogart and Spencer Tracy.
20th Century Fox is a particularly fascinating studio because around the late '50s, the lunatics started taking over the asylum, the Cleopatra debacle being a great example as well as all the problems with Marilyn Monroe. There are some clips from the film she did not complete, "Something's Gotta Give," that are great. The fact is, the radiant Monroe was always a problem, as anyone who has ever seen a documentary on Billy Wilder will attest. It's just that once a woman hit 30 in Hollywood - let alone travel down the road past it - the powers that be started to lose patience.
The previous poster mentioned the fickleness of trends as demonstrated by this documentary. I submit it's not the fickleness of trends but of the studios who put some of these great stars out to pasture and/or treated them badly after they'd kept the studios solvent. Since 20th Century Fox is the subject, here are a few examples not mentioned. Alice Faye left because of the hatchet job done on her role in the film "Fallen Angel" in favor of Linda Darnell; there was a small clip shown of "Nightmare Alley," with no explanation that Tyrone Power pleaded with Zanuck to make it, and when Zanuck saw it, he was so terrified for Power's image that he withdrew it from distribution and never publicized it. Nice way to treat somebody who gave you hit after hit after hit. It also isn't mentioned that after "Marie Antoinette," Zanuck refused to lend Power out - not for Ashley in "Gone with the Wind," not for the "The Last Tycoon," which was as a result not made until many years later, not to Harry Cohn, who was desperate to get him for anything, not to Columbia for "Golden Boy," not for "Kings Row." Linda Darnell was of no use to Zanuck when she got married and couldn't play virginal roles anymore, though to her credit, she staged a sexy comeback. And on and on.
Despite its self-serving theme, "20th Century Fox: The First 50 Years" is interesting and entertaining, though a little long. The producers also could have dug a little deeper for unusual clips and paid a little more attention to the clips that were shown. Not everyone has seen "Laura" - was it necessary to show the murderer?