- The MGM story : the complete history of fifty roaring years
- The M-G-M Story
The Complete History of Fifty Roaring Years
By John Douglas Eames – 1975
The period covered is from 1924 (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer officially came into being on May 17, but Mayer couldn’t wait and inaugurated his studio on April 26) to 1974. During that half-century some titles underwent a sea-change when crossing the Atlantic: they have been noted in each case, the original title appearing first; both versions are listed in the index. The films are grouped according to year of completion, including post-production work. Each year has a short introduction giving a run down on the competition and the industry’s most popular products. There follows an independent description and il¬ lustration of every film completed in that year.
Magnificently produced and beautifully photographed in Italy, George Eliot’s Romola was the second film in which Henry King directed Lillian Gish and Ronald Colman for Inspiration Pictures, an independent production company which chiefly consisted of King, one Charles Duell and stars Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess. The first was The White Sister, a successful Metro release. After Romola, Inspiration was disrupted by a sensational lawsuit brought by Lillian against Duell charging that she had been defrauded of a great deal of money due under her contract. She won. Director King and Dorothy Gish were then signed by MGM to do two pictures (neither was ever made) and in 1925 Lillian joined the MGM roster. Romola also starred Dorothy Gish and William H. Powell (that’s the way he was billed then). Seen here in the wedding scene are Lillian in the title role and Powell as the villain, actually the best part in the picture.
In contrast to the quiet advent of Garbo, the arrival of Lillian Gish at the studio for La Boheme was that of a queen (their films were in production simultaneously in autumn 1925). The spotlight was on the Gish set, where King Vidor was directing the illustrious star whose signing to a long-term contract was a major MGM coup. Aided by Vidor and a passionate performance by co-star John Gilbert, Lillian gave one of her most affecting portrayals of tremulous pathos. Her technique in achieving its realism startled all concerned: for example for three days before filming Mimi’s death scene she parched her lips by allowing no liquid to touch them, and trained herself to breathe without visible movement. Other characters in the Harry Behn-Ray Doyle script from Murger’s ‘Vie de Boheme’ were played by Renee Adoree, Roy D’Arcy and Edward Everett Horton.
‘It’s a real “A ’’picture, ‘joked MGM salesmen getting bookings for The Scarlet Letter. With intensely dramatic performances by Lillian Gish and Lars Hanson under Victor Seastrom’s sensitive direction, the Nathaniel Hawthorne story’s ‘A’ for Adultery could also stand for ‘Art’ on the screen. It was also good box-office. Miss Gish began it immediately after completion of La Boheme, having overcome opposition from Mayer, who feared it might be banned by church groups. Henry B. Walthall (her colleague in the old D. W. Griffith days), Karl Dane and Marcelle Corday led the support. Script: Frances Marion.
Lillian Gish and director Victor Seastrom had an artistic triumph in The Wind, but it was not a box-office success, and Lillian’s contract was curtailed by mutual consent. The story was basically the old favourite about the gentle girl going out to the raw West and being assaulted by a villain. The difference in this film was the extraordinary effect of mounting terror and mental aberration conveyed by actress and director. Montagu Love (here) was the man she killed before being driven mad by her conscience and the relentless winds of the plains. Lars Hanson and Dorothy Cumming were other principals in Frances Marion’s screenplay.
Joan Crawford celebrated 20 years on-screen with an Oscar for Mildred Pierce, but the durability prize went to Lillian Gish, robustly starring in Miss Susie Slagle’s 31 years after looking too frail for this world in Birth of a Nation.
John Houseman must have been a case for the couch when his elegant all-star production of the highly regarded novel The Cobweb suffered a box-office trauma. William Gibson’s book about psychiatrists and patients in a plush nuthouse had no mass appeal as scripted by John Paxton and directed by Vincente Minnelli. But what a cast: from front, Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Charles Bover, Lillian Gish in her first MGM movie for 22 years, John Kerr (debut), Oscar Levant, Jarma Lewis, Susan Strasberg (another debut) and Paul Stewart; also cast were Gloria Grahame, Fay Wray and Adele Jergens.
The Comedians, scripted by Graham Greene from his novel about a group of Europeans and Americans in voodoo-ridden Haiti, was filmed in West Africa and France: Haitian dictator Papa Doc was unwelcoming. Performances by Richard Burton and Alec Guinness (here) and Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Ustinov, Lillian Gish and Paul Ford were the movie’s best assets, artistically and financially, but results were patchy. Producer and director: Peter Glenville.