Tag Archives: 20th Century Fox

Tyrone Power, Basil Rathbone, Fred Caverns and The Mark of Zorro

 

Robin Hood found it’s way on to the list twice and now Zorro has it’s second slot as well. The Mark of Zorro features a climactic duel between Zorro and Pasquale. Basil Rathbone was known already in Hollywood as an outstanding classical fencer, but Tyrone Power’s own excellent skills are displayed here for the first time. The duel is ornate and full of subtlety, as opposed to Rathbone’s duel with Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood, and the duel in The Mark of Zorro (1940) is considered by many movie buffs to be the finest swordfight in cinema.zorro-1940

Staged by Hollywood’s resident fencing master Fred Cavens and atmospherically shot by cinematographer Arthur Miller and director Rouben Mamoulian, the scene takes place in a single room and forces actors to fight rather than jump around in the scenery. In key shots, Cavens’ son, Albert, doubles for Power (such as the shot where he plunges his saber through the bookcase). Scenes of fast fencing were undercranked to 18-20 frames per second, requiring that all the sound for the scene be post-synchronized. Rathbone suffered two scratches on his forehead during its filming, and later said of Power, “He could fence Errol Flynn into a cocked hat.”

I had mentioned before about the Batman connection with the Mark of Zorro. In the DC Comics continuity it is established that The Mark of Zorro was the film which the young Bruce Wayne had seen with his parents at the cinema, moments before they were killed in front of his eyes by an armed thug. Zorro is often portrayed as Bruce’s childhood hero and an influence on his Batman persona. There are discrepancies regarding which version Bruce saw: The Dark Knight Returns claims it was the Tyrone Power version, whereas a story by Alan Grant claimed it to be the silent Douglas Fairbanks original. Bob Kane was himself inspired by Fairbanks’ Zorro, including similarities in costumes, the “Bat Cave” and Zorro’s cave, and unexpected secret identities.mark zorro

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB page):

Glossary of stunt terms as defined by the Wikipedia – Fencing: Which is also known as Olympic fencing to distinguish it from historical fencing, is an activity using bladed weapons. The sport of fencing is divided into three weapons: foil, sabre and épée.

Fencing is one of five sports which have been featured at every one of the modern Olympic Games, the other four being Athletics, Cycling, Swimming, and Gymnastics.

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Ken Bates in Die Hard

 

Here’s the second action movie with a christmas theme (the first being Lethal Weapon). Both just happened to be hugely successful films and even more successful series. Another example of how successful a film series is, can be based on how many copycats come out after it’s been released. After this film came out, every studio wanted their own, “Die Hard With A…” and they scrambled to make their own films in this genre. High explosive action, and fantastic stunts.Die-Hard

One of the more spectacular stunts in this film, was the one where Hans Gruber falls from the Nakitomi Building. Ken Bates acted as the stunt double for Alan Rickman during the fall.  He is also only one of a few stunt performers ever to have won an Oscar for creating safety equipment for the Industry.  In 1993, he earned an Academy Award for Scientific and Technical Achievement for his Bates Decelerator System (more on that below), which is used to slow a fall of a stunt performer without the use of an airbag.

An interesting note about the film, it was based on a book by Roderick Thorp entitled Nothing Lasts Forever – a sequel to another book entitled The Detective, which in 1968 was made into a film starring Frank Sinatra. Because of a clause in Sinatra’s contract for The Detective which gave him the right to reprise his role in a sequel, he was actually the first person offered the McClane role, even though he was 73 years old at the time. Also, Coincidentally, Bruce Willis made his movie debut in The First Deadly Sin walking out of a bar as Sinatra walks into it.

Die Hard was directed by John McTiernan for 20th Century Fox.die hard hans gruber

Things to look up (go to IMDB page):

  • John McTiernan
  • Die Hard
  • 20th Century Fox
  • Alan Rickman
  • Ken Bates

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

Glossary of Stunt Tools: Decelerator or Descender:

Kenny Bates won the Science and Technical Academy Award for the design and development of the Decelerator System, which provides two advantages. First, it allows a stuntperson to fall from much higher platforms. “To back up a little,” Mr. Bates explains, “just to give you an idea of how this came to be, if you date back into the early days of motion picture history, when stuntmen first started doing high falls, they would do it into water, or they would put up two sawhorses and put planks between the sawhorses, and they would actually jump, say, 15 or 20 feet onto these breakaway planks. These are how high falls basically originated.” As falls got higher, stuntmen began to use haystacks, nets, and cardboard boxes. “I’ve heard of stuntmen falling up to 10 stories, or 100 feet, into cardboard boxes. These boxes were actually set up in a configuration to break the fall.” Then came the airbag. “The highest high fall into an airbag is 311 feet. That’s 31 stories.

Most commonly, though, airbags are used for doing falls from, oh, 20 feet up to 150. The most common falls are between 20 feet and 80 feet.” While airbags are great and they’re still in use today, they still leave one problem. Shooting down. With any of these devices, the director must always shoot from the bottom up to avoid filming whatever it is the stuntman is going to land on. What’s where the Decelerator’s second advantage comes in. Since all you’ve got is a cable attached to the stuntman’s ankle, it doesn’t matter what direction you film in.DieHard_bungeejump_600

“When we did Die Hard, I started using a device called a Descender, to do controlled falls. In other words, we do a controlled fall from I’ve been anywhere up to 105 stories. The fall is controlled because your descending on a small cable. If the film is undercranked, it looks like you’re falling.” What Bates has done is used his knowledge of physics and film to calibrate the speed of the fall versus the degree to which the film must be undercranked. “In Die Hard, where Alan Rickman dies, falling backwards out of the building, that would have been a death defying feat. Instead we came in and packaged an illusion for Joel Silver. Since then I’ve done every one of his films.” He also doubled Bruce Willis when he leapt off the top of the building with a firehose.

Check Out the Book 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts:Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Star Wars: The force to be reckoned with

Star Wars.  THE ultimate space opera.  THE ultimate franchise.  THE ultimate business builder.  Star Wars is THE ultimate success story of all time.  Unless you are living under a rock, you know by now that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be opening to just about every theatre on the planet this week (official trailer is below).  This is the latest installment in the greatest franchise of all time.  Star Wars isn’t just about a few movies, it is in itself a galaxy of connected businesses.

According to Box Office Mojo, the six Star Wars movies have earned a total of $4.5 billion in ticket sales worldwide, including $2 billion in the U.S. The films have generated an additional $20 billion in merchandise sales, making George Lucas, the franchise’s creator, a multi-billionaire with a net worth of $3.25 billion.

Now, Disney enters the picture, after buying the rights to Star Wars (and Lucasfilm) from Lucas for a hefty $4.05 billion.  They are poised to ring in the new year with this year’s blockbuster, and next year, they are counting on the Star Wars brand to invigorate their theme parks.  Going to Disneyworld soon?  You can meet Chewbacca, among other things.

Meet Chewbacca
Meet Chewbacca

With the expectations high, this is one franchise that will deliver as promised.  Marketers everywhere are in on the action, and betting big this holiday season.  The old standbys such as the toy companies like Hasbro and Mattel are joined by car companies like Fiat to promote their brands.

Star Wars Fiat Ad
Holiday Fiat Star Wars-themed ad campaign

They’re far from alone.  In Japan, Nippon Airways has taken a bolder action, and have branded their planes.

R2-D2 Nippon Air
Fly with R2 to Japan

As we all are anxiously awaiting the final trilogy in this epic masterpiece, there will be plenty of Star Wars to go around for many, many years to come.  Many, many more billions will be generated by this machine, or is it more fitting to be branded an Empire?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer (Official) on Disney Video


Paul Mantz and Twelve O’Clock High

 

The second time Paul Mantz makes the list. It seems that he had a specialty that no one else could duplicate. He was the only stunt pilot that could crash planes on command. The B-17 bomber crash landing at the airstrip near the beginning of the movie was no special effect. Stunt pilot Paul Mantz was paid $4,500 to crash-land the bomber. Mantz, of course, walked away from the wreck. Until the 1970s, that was the largest amount ever paid to a stuntman for a single stunt.  It’s a pretty amazing feat, as the bomber is huge!

 Twelve_O'Clock_High_crash_landing
Paul Mantz crashing the B-17

Frank Tallman, Mantz’s partner in Tallmantz Aviation, wrote in his autobiography that, while many B-17s had been landed by one pilot, as far as he knew this flight was the first time that a B-17 ever took off with only one pilot and no other crew; nobody was sure that it could be done. The footage was used again in the 1962 film The War Lover.Twelve O'Clock High Stunt

Screenwriters Bartlett and Lay drew on their own wartime experiences with Eighth Air Force bomber units. At the Eighth Air Force headquarters, Bartlett had worked closely with Colonel Armstrong, who was the primary model for the character General Savage. The film’s 918th Bomber Group was modeled primarily on the 306th because that group remained a significant part of the Eighth Air Force throughout the war in Europe.12 bomber b17

Veterans of the heavy bomber campaign frequently cite Twelve O’Clock High as the only Hollywood film that accurately captured their combat experiences. Along with the 1948 film Command Decision, it marked a turning away from the optimistic, morale-boosting style of wartime films and toward a grittier realism that deals more directly with the human costs of war. Both films deal with the realities of daylight precision bombing without fighter escort, the basic Army Air Forces doctrine at the start of World War II (prior to the arrival of long range Allied fighter aircraft like the P-51 Mustang). As producers, writers Lay and Bartlett re-used major plot elements of Twelve O’Clock High in Toward the Unknown and A Gathering of Eagles, respectively.

Twelve O’Clock High was directed by Henry King for 20th Century Fox.

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB page):

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Harrison Ford: promising carpenter’s career cut short

Harrison Ford was at a crossroads.  He could continue to be a craftsman, and build decks for the rich and famous, or he could throw that all away and aspire to be an actor.

He chose the latter.  Or rather, it chose him.

As has been widely accounted, the story of Harrison Ford’s meteoric rise to stardom came from a serendipitous event.  He was doing a masterful job fitting a door for Francis Ford Coppola at his American Zoetrope studio, when Coppola saw that his co-founder, George Lucas, needed someone to read lines to the actors auditioning for a campy space opera called Star Wars.  Lucas remembered Ford from their time on the set of Lucas’ previous film American Graffiti.  He also remembered the brash Ford asking for $15 more per week above the $485 Lucas offered him for his role in said film.  Ford told him that it made up for the money he would lose by not doing carpentry work.

Harrison Ford, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66.
Harrison Ford, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66.

That story has been told already.

Little do many know, however, what a craftsman Ford really was.  Ford took to carpentry to salvage a fixer-upper he bought in the Hollywood Hills.  Just like acting, he had no previous training.  That said, he was no slouch with a hammer and nails.  His first carpentry job was to build a recording studio for Sergio Mendes.  He admittedly had problems.  He once said that he was standing on Mendes’ roof with a textbook in his hand.  Luckily, he didn’t hurt himself.  He also made a sun deck for Sally Kellerman (M*A*S*H, Back To School), and cabinets and furniture for Richard Dreyfus, John Gregory Dunne and Valerie Harper.

It wasn’t until the release of Star Wars that Ford finally hung up the tool belt.  That was a banner day for woodworkers everywhere.


Kenny Rogers and Six Pack

 

I’m going to start a new series of blogs for the 100 Years Blog, based on great little films that seem to have been forgotten over time.  My first post is with the great little family gem called Six Pack (1982) that came out in the early eighties.  It’s arguably the best movie that Kenny Rogers ever starred in and is most remembered for his hit theme song Love Will Turn You Around that was featured in the film.six pack kenny rogers

My only complaint about the film would be the title that seems to be a play on words and seems to be in direct conflict with it’s family theme because it’s a reference to Beer.  Which is also interesting that Kenny’s name in the film is Brewster and he goes by Brew for most of the film.  I really think that the marketing was a big miss on this one as I think it really kept some families from going to see the film, which is a shame, because it’s really good.  The title makes it feel like an adult contemporary comedy about drunk guys out for a wild night, not a cute family movie. So I guess you could also file this one under missed opportunities.

The film is notable for having a young Diane Lane and you can definitely see the potential for being a great actress even that early in her career.  It also stars Anthony Michael Hall in his first movie role, before he made it big in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Sixteen Candles (1984) and Breakfast Club (1985).  I want to also state that he’s a very under-rated actor!  He’s still fantastic, and I found him to be just hilarious in Psych last year and Rosewood this season. He needs to get more work.six pack kids

The film was directed by Daniel Petrie for 20th Century Fox.  Daniel Petrie is best remembered as the man who directed Sally Field in an Emmy Award winning role for Sybil, and for Fort Apache the Bronx and for the classic film A Raisin in the Sun starring Sydney Poitier.

People and companies to look up on IMDB:

  • Kenny Rogers
  • Diane Lane
  • Anthony Michael Hall
  • Daniel Petrie
  • 20th Century Fox

six-pack

 

The Towering Inferno, Best of Irwin Allen’s Disaster Films

 pposter4 towering inferno irwin allen paul newman

The Towering Inferno is my favorite of Irwin Allen’s disaster film series.  It’s got everything that makes these films so much fun, a great all-star cast, lavish sets, tension, suspense and fantastic stunts! It missed being singled out in my book 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts for 1974 simply because of the complexity of Bumps Willard and Raymond McHenry’s incredible mathematical car stunt in The Man With The Golden Gun.  So it gets a mention in our 100 Years Blog!

Based on two novels: “The Tower” by Richard Martin Stern, and “The Glass Inferno” by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. After the success of The Poseidon Adventure(1972)(also mentioned in the book for Best Stunt of 1972), disaster was hot property and Warner Brothers bought the rights to film “The Tower” for $390,000. Eight weeks later Irwin Allen (of 20th Century Fox) discovered “The Glass Inferno” and bought the rights for $400,000. To avoid two similar films competing at the box office the two studios joined forces and pooled their resources, each paying half the production costs. In return, 20th Century Fox got the US box office receipts and Warners the receipts from the rest of the world.

steve mcqueen in towering inferno

Both novels were inspired by the construction of the World Trade Center in the early-1970s, and what could happen in fire in a skyscraper. In Richard Martin Stern’s novel, “The Tower”, the fictional 140-floor building was set next to the north tower of the World Trade Center. The climax of the novel was centered around a rescue mounted from the north tower of the World Trade Center. Sad fact is that the World Trade Center themselves were the setting of a real-life horror, when they were hit by airplanes flown by terrorists in September 11, 2001.  Strangely, the real events far surpassed anything that was imagined on any of these Irwin Allen films as way of unfathomable terrifying disaster.  If he would have gone to the studios with the script of 9/11, they would have laughed him out the door for what seems like pure science fiction.  One strange coincidence regarding The Towering Inferno and it’s close resemblance at times to 9/11 was the last day of film production occurred on September 11th, 1974.

I’m doubtful, a film of this type could ever be made today, as the events would seem too real for most people and not just a fun popcorn blockbuster action film, like it did in the early 70’s.  The audience flooded the theaters back then for films like these and if you can forget about real-life, are still quite enjoyable today.  The stunts are especially nice and are littered throughout the entire film.

paul newman in towering inferno

The expanse of the stunts were so broad that a lot of storyboards were made to visualize what we would be seeing on screen.  Here’s some examples of how big this production really was. These storyboards were created by Joe Musso. Courtesy of The Tom Pennock Collection.

towering_inferno_scene490 towering_inferno_scene488 towering_inferno_scene468 towering_inferno_scene137 towering_inferno_scene9

The thing that is remarkable in a film like this is that the stunts really are endured by everyone, the actors, the crew, and the stunt team.  The danger factor for everyone is extremely high.  You can see a lot of the actors doing the stunts themselves, Paul Newman did most of his own stunts, including climbing up and down the bent stairwell railing.  Steve McQueen did most of his stunts for the film, including having 7,000 gallons of water dumped on him in the climactic final attempt to put out the fire.  Throughout the entire film, as the disaster rages throughout the building, eventually everything gets destroyed.  Of the 57 sets built for the production, only eight remained standing when filming ended.

My favorite scenes have to be the ones with the grand outdoor elevator.  The scenic elevator is actually one of two in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco. This elevator was used in numerous movies including Time After Time (1979), High Anxiety (1977), Telefon (1977), and Freebie and The Bean (1974) (which we mentioned in the blog last week).  Irwin Allen directed all the action sequences in the film himself, including the climactic final explosions to put the fire out. According to Susan Flannery, 20th Century Fox refused Irwin Allen to direct all of The Towering Inferno. Irwin Allen directed all the action sequences and John Guillerman was hired only to direct the actors only for non-action sequences. There were a total of four separate camera crews were utilized in some scenes, a record at the time. The crews were designated with capturing different aspects of the scenes: character filming, action shots, special effects, and aerial shots.

Towering Painting

Producer Irwin Allen as defined by Wikipedia:  Irwin Allen (June 12, 1916 – November 2, 1991) was an American television, documentary and film director and producer with a varied career who became known as the “Master of Disaster” for his work in the disaster film genre. His most successful productions were The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974). He also created several popular 1960s science fiction television series, such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, and Land of the Giants.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

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