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Film Industry Slipping Out Of

The Big Money

ONCE upon a lime film-making was a fabulous

industry where no extravagance was too fantastic no profit too colossal to he credible.

Now it looks as if the bubble has been pricked.

THE big men of the film

world everywhere have developed a wary eye for their

balance sheels.

The collapse of the Rank empire is only one manifesta- tion of the new nervousness although the most spectacular one.

Last November J. Arthur Rank anounced the loss of a cool £3½ million or more through film pro- duction in the last financial year. He has closed all but one of his studios, and will keep that going only for another experimental six m0nths. England's second big film maker,

Sir Alexander Korda. has been less ambitious, and has lost less money. Hollywood. which started making

drastic economies two years ago, ¡s beginning to talk more hopefully. How much of this optimism is

justified, and how much only de-

signed to restore public confidence,   it is hard to say, but it does seem as though profits there are begin-

ning to pick up.  

Ncvertheless, Hollywood still has a long way to go to recover its pre-war prosperity.  

The European film industries have been more or less at the point oi death for four years. They are like invalids that have given up caring about the future and are satisfied to have spent a quiet night.

Nearer home the anxieties of overseas producers are reflected in the troubles of local exhibitors.

Box-office returns have been     tumbling in the last three months, and aren't showing any signs of

recovery.

BUT the drop in demand-as the  

rising cost of living forces the periodical visit to the cinema more and more into the spender's "marginal" luxury class—is only one part of a complex picture.

Rank's crisis brought a host of theories, a good deal of recrimina- tion, fewer solutions. The common- est complaint, voiced by both Rank and Korda. has been against the high entertainment tax, which takes about £40 million each year from the British film industry.

A special Government committee

set up to examine the finances of the industry last month, confirmed the opinion that the tax drain was the principal factor in the crisis.

But dollar problems, particularly affecting raw materials and pro- duction costs, Rank's failure to reach the American market, and the Government's switch of policy on American film imports, have

also had their share.

It must be remembered that the downhill run of the British film makers started well before the be- ginning of 1949. Last year only

saw the showdown.

Rank set out to capture the

(caption) A few shillings - and the fate of a huge industry - in their hands. Eager filmgoers queued up at a

George Street theatre.  

American market with costly "prestige" films, like "Hamlet" and "The Red Shoes." The films won plaudits from the New York critics, but they made no headway at all with the public, outside of the discriminating few. "The Fal-

len Idol," "Quartet," "Passport to -

Pimlico," are still having long runs

in the tiny specialised cinemas. which give a show to British and Continental films, but these little houses can't be compared with the huge picture-palaces which show only American films.

"Stix Still Nix to Brits Pix Despite Crix," in the words of America's high-pressure trade paper "Variety" (translation, "Rural areas still negative towards British

By MARTIN LONG

film products despite the approval of newspaper critics"), still sums up the attitude of the American film-going public.

Then there was the muddle with the home market. When the

Government put a prohibitive duty

on American films and the Ameri- can producers retaliated by stopping the supply of films to Britain com- pletely, Rank went all out with

production to fill the gap on the exhibiting side. The result was an alarming drop in the quality of the films made, most of which had neither box-office appeal nor artistic

value.

A glance through the catalogue of British feature films for this

period shows hosts of films that have never been shown in Aus- tralia, and which from their de- scriptions seem much like the bad old pre-war "quota quickies."

When the Government suddenly did away with ihe high duty on

American films the flood of low quality British films failed miser- ably in competition with the pick of two years' Hollywood pro-

duction.

Now Rank has closed all studios but his Pinewood one, and he threatens to close that next June unless the Government comes for- ward with financial aid.

KORDA, the man who made the   finest British films before the advent of Rank, has made up some of the losses on his first post-war films, "Anna Karenina" and "An Ideal Husband," by astutely reissu- ing his old successes-"The Four Feathers," "The Ghost Goes West,"

and others.

He said last November that films made before the war had earned

£ 1,760,000 for London Films, his biggest company, since 1945.

With one of his recent films, Carol Reed's "The Third Man," currently a smash hit in Britain, Korda is facing the future with a little more confidence. He has several large films in preparation.

Some of the few independent English studios (who have not been doing any better) say that the re- moval of the Rank monopoly will mean a brighter future for them, too. Rank's wholesale dismissals have considerably lowered the mar- ket price of artists and technicians, and the smaller studios' hopes have been bolstered by the promise of Government subsidies.

ACROSS the Atlantic Hollywood   is telling itself noisily, but not   altogether convincingly, that every- thing is going to be all right.

A year ago Hollywood was in the depths of gloom. Producers had already had a year or more of heart-searchings and economy cam- paigns since the industry first began to look really sick.

Box-office receipts were falling off alarmingly as the cost of living rose. On top of this there had been the tremendous loss of revenue with the temporary cutting off of

the British market.

Universal Pictures Inc., one of the few studios to publicise its balance sheets, lost £790,000 in the last financial year, and was ex- pecting to lose more through over- seas dollar restrictions and falling

attendances.

Then, about mid-year, the exhi- bitors, through their trade journals, made an urgent appeal to the cap- tains of the industry to quit under-

mining credit by talking about slumps. Since then everything in the Hollywood publicity garden has been more or less lovely.

The desperate urgency to recap- ture the swinging audiences has brought the artistic quality of most American films down with a bang, but theie have been one or two ad- mirable and cheaply made films, mostly with factual backgrounds.   Whether the producers have really been able to stop the drift in atten-

dances remains to be seen.

Certainly Hollywood's produc- tivity is still away down. It fell

from 527 leature films for 1939 to 375 for 1948, and there are no in- dications of an increase for 1949.

Hollywood is nervous—but not very nervous yet—about television. The spokesmen say that television holds no serious threat for the film industry, and probably in tele- vision's present primitive state it doesn't. Nevertheless, they seem to spend a lot of time worrying about

it.

THOUGH the film industry's finances are mainly discussed   in terms of dollar restrictions, tariffs, subsidies, and the like, its future is still in the hands of the man who drops his shillings into the box-office. He (or more often, she) is the one who is going to de- cide just how much he can afford to pay for film entertainment as well as how good the films will have to be before he bothers to go.

Box-office takings are down in England and Australia as well as in America.

Sydney now has three theatres giving flesh-and-blood shows which were showing films at the beginning of 1949. In the film houses new films are coming and going at an alarming pace (a sure sign of weak public support) without reviving the attendances appreciably.

Sydney had 83 new first-feature films, and several reissues, in the last three months of 1949, as against 56 in the same period of

1948.  

Box-office takings are reported to be down 50 per cent, from the best figure of last year, and- there has been a long-range drop in returns

as well.

Mr. Roy Darling, the manager of the "Tatler" theatre, which recently switched from films to variety, said that his theatre, which had taken an average of £2,000 a week four years, ago, took only £150 in one week not long before the change-

over.

The "Exhibitor," the trade jour- nal of the Australian Motion Pic- ture Exhibitors' Association, re- cently appealed to members not to be stampeded into expensive "give- away" stunts to attract diminishing audiences. Such fantastic "give- away" shows were one of the fea- tures of the alarm following the slump in American attendances a

year ago.

The year 1950 may decide the fate of a good many of the great moguls of filmdom. Ultimately, it will be the ordinary filmgoer who does the deciding.

Digitisation generously supported by
Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation
Digitisation generously supported by

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