| COME OUT OF THAT DREAM WORLD, BOYS!
And Take a Peek at a Memo Listing the Hurdles in Independent Film Making
|MEMO to the boys on Dream Street: A considerable number of
Hollywood citizens, not discernibly employed, have managed to keep their names in print since Free
Money came to town by announcing a series of independent motion picture productions variously
described as certain to revolutionize the industry, elevate the culture of the world and send old-line
studio producers hastily into the crying towel business. Two sheets of paper and a five-cent pencil
would equip our bounding buckaroos with the dreadful truth that independent motion picture making
is a specialized, a painful and, above all, a dazzling expensive venture, not to be rashly rushed into while
idly sipping coffee at Chasen's.
Now spinning out its venomous tale before the cameras is a production which serves as an example of
the courage, money and inventiveness it takes to make a worthy independent production these exacting
days. The best place to start, it seems dully axiomatic, is at the beginning. A film director of some
consequence named Alfred Hitchcock wanted to make a picture of crime and poison called "The Paradine
Case," based with consistent honesty on a book of the same name by Robert Hichens. Under contract to
David O. Selznick, Hitchcock took a stance one day and in clear detail explained why he wanted to make
itand how. Selznick agreed and allotted a winsome sumthree million dollarsto the
|Hitchcock assigned Alma Reville to write a treatment from which
a scenarist could make a shooting script. Meanwhile, James Bridie, a British writer of considerable fame
and one not addicted to working for a small sack of marbles, was hired to do the screen play.
Consider the outlay before Hitchcock's words scarcely had died out in Selznick's office: Three million
dollars, Hitchcock committed, Reville committed, Bridie committed.
Hitchcock flew to New York and consulted crime records of poisoners. A week later, Fred Ahern, a
production wizard, flew to New York, joined Hitchcock and together they flew to London. That was last
April. Hitchcock and Ahern passed nine days together in London, choosing locations for private dwellings,
for railway stations, for restaurants, the fronts of Bow Street police station, Holloway Prison and that famous
seat of British justice, the Old Bailey. Ahern made his notes, then chartered a four-seater airplane and he
and Hitchcock flew north to Cumberland for a week of choosing homes, stations, roads, hedges, hotels,
inns, gardens and similar aids to visual integrity. For one considerable expensive thing had been decided:
There would be no "process" shooting in Hollywood.
Actual film made at the sites in England would be cut into the finished picture, with interiors handmade in
California. It was decided that for the first time on any screen, the public would see a replica of the Old
Bailey exact to the last inch, including, for 1946, every brick and chink of plaster displaced by a German
bomb in May, 1941, and still not repaired. This zeal for exactness brought Ahern into the office of Alfred
William Burt, the Keeper of the Old Bailey, a title about 600 years old now held by a man who has had
the job thirty years. Mr. Burt listened gravely, considered all of the precedents and decided to cooperate;
he furnished blueprints and notes, in extenso.
Later, on salary and expenses, with an eight-weeks leave from his grim job, Mr. Burt came to Hollywood to
check the constructed interior of England's most famous criminal court. The set had cost $88,000 to make.
When Burt finished going over it with a fine-tooth comb and with his exact knowledge, another $6,000 had
been added in reconstruction costs. While Burt assembled blueprints and notes and measurements and
details, Ahern went to the offices of Ede & Ravenscroft in Chancery Lane. Ede & Ravenscroft, and only
Ede & Ravenscroft have been making wigs and robes for British law since 1689. Selznick wanted no
Hollywood-tailored replicas of justices' robes and lawyers' robes. He wanted the real thing. Ede &
Ravenscroft made themto measurefor the first two men cast for the picture: Gregory
Peck, as defense counsel for Mrs. Paradine, and Charles Laughton, as the sitting justice in the trial
of Mrs. Paradine.
|Now Ahern had to find private homes which could double as the
Paradine home and the Keane home (Keane being the name of the lawyer who would defend Mrs.
Paradine in the Old Bailey). At 33 Wilton Crescent his practiced eye found the Paradine home. Wilton
Crescent is in the heart of one of London's plush residential areas. He rang the bell and while he waited
read a signCuban Embassy. It took nineteen days for the Cuban Government, from Havana, to
approve filming of the exterior and interior of the house. Next, at 17 Portland Place, another sable and
silk area, Ahern found the proper home for Keane. The home was owned by a leading London physician.
He agreed to filming of the outside and inside of his house providing his name never be used, even in a
story like this.
Next, Ahern and his cameras moved to Lincoln's Inn, the ancient, musty offices, restaurant and chambers
of British lawyers and judges since man can remember. Inside and out his lenses prowled, startling many a
staid barristers. Then, by truck, to the Lancaster Gate, for the exterior of an apartment house and, finally, to
the inside and outside of Holloway Prison. Later, swift shots were made of the Savoy Hotel restaurant, the
Victoria Embankment as seen from the rear windows of that chic cafe, together with a shot of Cleopatra's
Needle and the Waterloo Bridge. Last, Trafalgar Square, Euston Station.
Then Ahern and his men flew to Cumberland. They filmed the Rydal Lakes, Grasmere, Coniston and
Coniston Lake, the railway station at Braithwaite, near Keswick, and then a sunset over Lake Windermere.
An old man of 93, watching all these mystic proceedings, finally understood what was going on and told
them they were sheer daft if they didn't film the Jaws of Borrowdale, a pass between two mountains, and
also the Yew Tree Inn, which was fifty-four years old in 1300, and the Drunken Duck, which opened its
doors for business exactly 700 years ago. All of these will be seen in "The Paradine Case."
|While Ahern poked his impudent cameras at ancient England
(this phase of the production alone came to $60,000), Hitchcock and Selznick in Hollywood ordered set
construction started and began casting. Peck was committed, then Laughton, then Ethel Barrymore as
the tremulous wife of the stern judge Laughton is playing. Ann Todd was enticed over from England.
Alida Valli was brought from Rome to play the Mrs. Paradine role. Charles Coburn was signed in California.
Leo G. Carroll was lured back into films from the theatre. Bridie was turning in pages of screenplay. Unless
young men casually announcing independent production plans can match all of this passionate hunger for
exact detail, can hire casts similar to the one announced above and can calmly assign three million dollars
to the task, they are destined to find themselves huddled and shivering behind a large, gleaming black
eight-ball. That's how it must be. End of memo to the boys on Dream Street.|
| New York Times 23 February 1947|