Columbia Pictures


Columbia Pictures Essay, Research Paper

Columbia Pictures originated with a man whose coarseness and bullying earned him such unloving nicknames as "Harry The Horror," "White Fang," and "His Crudeness": Harry Cohn. The New York-born son of Jewish immigrants, Cohn worked throughout the teens at numerous jobs, in and out of the entertainment industry. By 1918 he was an assistant to Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal, who also employed Harry's older brother Jack. The Cohns left Universal in 1920, along with another ex-Laemmle employee, Joe Brandt, and formed the C.B.C. Film Sales Company — dubbed "Corned Beef & Cabbage" by wags unimpressed at the small studio's low-budget ouput. Brandt and Jack Cohn regulated CBC's administration and sales from New York, while Cohn oversaw production in Hollywood, from the Gower Street mecca of cheap film production which came to be known as "Poverty Row." CBC quickly found success with two series: "Screen Snapshot"; shorts, offering a glimpse of Hollywood stars off the set, and the "Hall Room Boys" comedies with the vaudevillians Edward Flanagan and Neely Edwards. The studio's first feature, Cohn's production More To Be Pitied Than Scorned (1922), proved a hit, and in 1924 the Cohns and Brandt renamed their company Columbia Pictures. "The Germ of the Ocean" was the new putdown for the studio, but each year saw more feature releases from Columbia. In 1928 Cohn hired director Frank Capra, who had helmed Harry Langdon's hit feature comedies for First National, The Strong Man (1926) and Long Pants (1927). Capra made successful Columbia quickies such as That Certain Thing with Viola Dana and The Matinee Idol with Bessie Love, and before the end of the year he was given Columbia's first A-production: the rugged actioner Submarine, starring Jack Holt. The film was a hit, and in 1929 Capra directed Jean Hersholt in the partial-talkie The Younger Generation. He followed with Holt in Columbia's first "100% Talking Picture," the whodunit The Donovan Affair, and a second actioner, Flight. Capra's talkies of the early '30s, made with Cohn and writer Jo Swerling, were all hits for Columbia: Ladies Of Leisure (1930), which made a star of Barbara Stanwyck; the hilarious circus comedy Rain Or Shine (1930); the Jack Holt rescue drama Dirigible (1931). Only The Miracle Woman (1931), a Stanwyck drama about phoney evangelists, stumbled at the box office, after being banned in foreign markets for its seeming impiety. Capra bounced back with co-writer Robert Riskin and made the brilliant screwball comedy Platinum Blonde (1931) with Jean Harlow. As Columbia's fortunes rose with Capra, other important filmakers were brought in. Comedy veteran Al Christie directed Charles Ruggles in a version of Charley's Aunt (1930); Howard Hawks helmed the prison drama The Criminal Code (1931) with Walter Huston. In 1931 Brandt was bought out; now Columbia was run by Jack Cohn as East Coast vice-president and treasurer, and Harry Cohn as West Coast production chief. Harry also became studio president in 1932 — the only mogul of his era to wear both hats at once. By the mid '30s the power struggle between the brothers had ended, and Harry was the overlord of Columbia Pictures. Working with Riskin, Capra reached new heights in these years. American Madness (1932), with Walter Huston as a bank president fighting a panic, featured the social themes that would typify Capra's later work; Lady For A Day (1933) and Broadway Bill (1934) adapted Damon Runyan to delightful effect; and the classic romantic comedy It Happened One Night (1934) with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert swept the Oscars, establishing Columbia as a studio of importance. Capra's provocative The Bitter Tea Of General Yen (1933) with Barbara Stanwyck and Nils Asther was his other box-office flop; the film's daring interracial love affair caused it to be shut out of lucrative British markets. By the mid '30s, Columbia also made the classic farce Twentieth Century (1934) with John Barrymore and Carole Lombard, produced and directed by Howard Hawks; the musical One Night Of Love (1934) with Grace Moore; the Dostoevsky adaptation Crime And Punishment (1935), directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Peter Lorre as Raskolinikov; the horror tale The Black Room (1935) with Boris Karloff; and the satire The Whole Town's Talking (1935), directed by John Ford and written by Jo Swerling. In 1934 comedy became a Columbia staple when the Three Stooges began starring in two-reelers. Over the next 12 years, Moe, Larry, and Curly made almost 100 shorts; during that time, Columbia also produced two-reel comedies with such legendary talents as Charley Chase, Buster Keaton, and Harry Langdon. In the late '30s, Columbia also had hits with two farces produced by Everett Riskin and starring Irene Dunne: Theodora Goes Wild (1936), written by Sidney Buchman, and The Awful Truth (1937), directed by Leo McCarey and co-starring Cary Grant. Capra, now also producing, reteamed with Riskin for a trio of classics. Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936), starring Jean Arthur and Gary Cooper, pitted small-town innocence against big-city experience. Lost Horizon (1937) featured Ronald Colman in an adaptation of James Hilton's novel about the mystical Himalayan retreat Shangri-La. You Can't Take It With You (1938), with Jean Arthur and James Stewart, brought to the screen the hit stage comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Arthur and Stewart were reunited for Capra's Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939), written by Sidney Buchman, a comedy/drama about governmental corruption. That same year, producer/director Howard Hawks starred Arthur and Cary Grant in his aviation drama Only Angels Have Wings. Columbia's B-pictures launched two hit series. Blondie (1938) starred Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake as Blondie and Dagwood, after the Chic Young comic strip; there'd be more than two dozen entries over the next decade. The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939), with Warren William as a crime-fighting ex-thief, begat a series that the studio kept with various leads in the 1940s. The war years saw the emergence of Columbia contract player Rita Hayworth as a major star, with such notable films as Ben Hecht's Angels Over Broadway (1940) and the musicals You'll Never Get Rich (1941) and You Were Never Lovelier (1942), where she danced with Fred Astaire, and Cover Girl (1944), teaming her with Gene Kelly. Columbia also scored in these years with the farce His Girl Friday (1940), produced and directed by Howard Hawks; the popular fantasy/comedy Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), produced by Everett Riskin and co-written by Sidney Buchman; and two war films directed by Zoltan Korda, Sahara (1943) with Humphrey Bogart and Counter-Attack (1945) with Paul Muni. The studio also released the British wartime thriller 49th Parallel (1941), produced and directed by Michael Powell (after retitling it The Invaders). Capra and Riskin made their last film at Columbia, a warning against domestic fascism, Meet John Doe (1941) with Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. George Stevens produced and directed three hits: the tearjerker Penny Serenade (1941) with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, and the comedies The Talk Of The Town (1942) with Grant and Jean Arthur and The More The Merrier (1943) with Arthur and Joel McCrea. Among the B-productions were horror films with Boris Karloff (Before I Hang, 1940; The Devil Commands, 1941) and Peter Lorre (Island Of Doomed Men, 1940; The Face Behind The Mask, 1941). Meet Boston Blackie (1941), starring Chester Morris as another reformed thief, began a decade-long "Boston Blackie" series.The postwar years saw hit musicals from Columbia: the biopics The Jolson Story (1946) and Jolson Sings Again (1949), both starring Larry Parks, and the Rita Hayworth vehicle Gilda (1946). Robert Rossen debuted as a writer/director with his gambling drama Johnny O'Clock (1947); he was also producer of All The King's Men (1949), his adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's novel and one of the year's most acclaimed films. Columbia's late-'40s releases include the noir Shockproof (1948), directed by Douglas Sirk and co-scripted by Samuel Fuller; the hallucinatory The Lady From Shanghai (1948), with writer/director Orson Welles starring opposite his soon-to-be ex-wife, Rita Hayworth; and director John Huston's We Were Strangers (1949), a grim tale of Cuban terrorists. By the end of the '40s, Columbia was a major to rival such mighty studios as 20th Century-Fox, M-G-M, Paramount, RKO, and Warner Bros. Unlike them, however, Columbia was not an "integrated major," and so it was unaffected by the government's antitrust crackdown, when the other majors had to divest themselves of their theater holdings. By the same token, Columbia embraced television production in the '50s, when studios were still hoping the new medium would just go away. Screen Gems, a wholly-owned subsidiary for making television programs and commercials, was run by Jack Cohn's son Ralph, and provided another financial boon for Columbia. Above all, the '50s was the era of the studio's greatest prestige in filmmaking. Three classic Columbia releases of the '50s swept the Academy Awards: the James Jones adaptation From Here To Eternity (1953), starring Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift and directed by Fred Zinnemann; producer Sam Spiegel's On The Waterfront (1954) with Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger, directed by Elia Kazan; and Spiegel's The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957), starring Alec Guinness and directed by David Lean. Judy Holliday repeated her stage triumph in Born Yesterday (1950), directed by George Cukor; she also scored for Cukor in The Marrying Kind (1952) and It Should Happen To You (1954). Joan Crawford starred in such expert weepies as Harriet Craig (1950), Queen Bee (1955), and Autumn Leaves (1956). Producer Stanley Kramer made several memorable films, including the Arthur Miller adaptation Death Of A Salesman (1951) with Fredric March, directed by Laslo Benedek; the Carson McCullers adaptation The Member Of The Wedding (1952) with Julie Harris, directed by Fred Zinnemann; the Dr. Seuss musical The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T. (1953); the war drama The Caine Mutiny (1954) with Humphrey Bogart, directed by Edward Dmytryk; and the seminal biker film The Wild One (1954) with Marlon Brando, directed by Laslo Benedek. Fritz Lang directed the classic crime drama The Big Heat (1953) and the Emile Zola adaptation Human Desire (1954), both starring Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame. John Ford made his first CinemaScope film, the West Point saga The Long Gray Line (1955). Contract player Kim Novak became a star in such Columbia releases as the William Inge adaptation Picnic (1955), directed by Joshua Logan, and the musicals The Eddy Duchin Story (1956) with Tyrone Power and Pal Joey (1957) with Frank Sinatra and Rita Hayworth. Otto Preminger directed the Gershwin opera Porgy And Bess (1959) for producer Samuel Goldwyn, and produced and directed the Fran?oise Sagan adaptation Bonjour Tristesse (1957) with Jean Seberg and the classic courtroom drama Anatomy Of A Murder (1959) with James Stewart. Toward the end of the '50s, Randolph Scott and director Budd Boetticher made several first-rate Westerns: The Tall T (1957), Decision At Sundown (1957), Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), Ride Lonesome (1959), and Comanche Station (1960). John Ford produced and directed a sharp look at American politics, The Last Hurrah (1958) with Spencer Tracy. Joseph L. Mankiewicz helmed the controversial Tennessee Williams adaptation Suddenly Last Summer (1959), and writer Paddy Chayefsky looked at the Marilyn Monroe myth in The Goddess (1958) with Kim Stanley. Paul Muni had his screen farewell in The Last Angry Man (1959). Blake Edwards debuted as a writer/director with the Frankie Laine musicals Bring Your Smile Along (1955) and He Laughed Last (1956). Two memorable horror films were Curse Of The Demon (1958), directed by Jacques Tourneur, and The Tingler (1959), produced and directed by William Castle. Expert crime films included The Lineup (1958), directed by Don Siegel, and Samuel Fuller's The Crimson Kimonon (1959). Harry Cohn died in 1958, two years after his brother Jack's passing. Abe Schneider and Lou Jaffe succeeded Cohn and oversaw Columbia's release of some of its greatest hits in the '60s, including the epic Lawrence Of Arabia (1962), produced by Sam Spiegel and directed by David Lean, and Stanley Kubrick's classic black comedy, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964). Otto Preminger made the political drama Advise And Consent (1960), his sweeping drama The Cardinal (1963), and the thriller Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965). Carl Foreman produced the hit war actioner The Guns Of Navarone (1961), and wrote and directed the scathing anti-war drama The Victors (1963). John Ford directed the Western Two Rode Together (1961), and Robert Rossen had his swan song with Lilith (1964), starring Jean Seberg. Samuel Fuller made the memorable crime film Underworld U.S.A. (1960), and William Castle's horror films included the transgender thriller Homicidal (1961) and the ax-murder tale Strait-Jacket (1964) with Joan Crawford. Blake Edwards directed the shocker Experiment In Terror (1962), and Sidney Lumet helmed the dooomsday thriller Fail-Safe (1964). Sam Peckinpah directed the epic Western Major Dundee (1964), which was slashed by the studio prior to its release. Arthur Penn directed Warren Beatty in Mickey One (1964) and Marlon Brando in The Chase (1965). Fred Zinnemann produced and directed the Spanish Civil War drama Behold A Pale Horse (1964) and the acclaimed Robert Bolt adaptation A Man For All Seasons (1966). Stanley Kramer produced and directed the Katharine Anne Porter adaptation Ship Of Fools (1965); the hit comedy of interracial love, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1967), with Spencer Tracy, Katharie Hepburn, and Sidney Poitier; and the comic The Secret Of Santa Vittoria (1969) with Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani. Richard Brooks wrote and directed the Joseph Conrad adaptation Lord Jim (1964), the Western actioner The Professionals (1966), and the Truman Capote adaptation In Cold Blood (1967). Other Columbia hits of the '60s include the spy spoof Casino Royale (1967); the musicals Bye Bye Birdie (1963), Funny Girl (1968), Head (1968), and Oliver! (1968); the satiric Western Cat Ballou (1965) with Lee Marvin; and the landmark counter-culture biker film Easy Rider (1969). The studio also released such noteworthy British films as The L-Shaped Room (1963), written and directed by Bryan Forbes; Georgy Girl (1966) with Lynn Redgrave; and To Sir With Love (1967) with Sidney Poitier. In 1968 Columbia reorganized, becoming Columbia Pictures Industries, but by the mid '70s it was facing financial ruin after a series of bad moves, despite such quality films as I Never Sang For My Father (1970), The Last Picture Show (1971), and director John Huston's Fat City (1972) and The Man Who Would Be King (1975, a Columbia/Allied Artists co-production). Stanley Kramer flopped with RPM (1970), Bless The Beasts And Children (1971), and Oklahoma Crude (1973). Actor Jack Nicholson, after the success of Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces (1970), fared badly with A Safe Place (1971) and The King Of Marvin Gardens (1972), but came back with director Hal Ashby's The Last Detail (1973). Former Wall Street banker Herbert Allen Jr. bought control of Columbia, became president and CEO, and brought in the management team of Alan Hirschfield and David Begelman. They led Columbia to such hits as Ashby's Shampoo (1975); Ken Russell's film of the The Who's rock opera Tommy (1975); the Barbra Streisand musical Funny Lady (1975); Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976); Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977); the Peter Benchley adaptation The Deep (1977); the prison film Midnight Express (1978), directed by Alan Parker and written by Oliver Stone; and the Neil Simon comedy California Suite (1978). In 1978 Begelman left in an embezzlement scandal; Hirschfield followed soon after.Frank Price replaced Begelman and took Columbia to such mega-hits as the Dustin Hoffman films Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979) and Tootsie (1982); the Bill Murray comedies Stripes (1981) and Ghostbusters (1984); Richard Attenborough's biopic Gandhi (1982); and The Karate Kid (1984) and its sequels. Price left in 1985; his successor David Puttnam stayed only briefly and was replaced in 1987 by Dawn Steel. Coca-Cola, which bought Columbia in 1982, formed Columbia Pictures Entertainment in 1987, merging Columbia with Tri-Star. The new company was in turn bought by Sony in 1989, making both Columbia and Tri-Star self-contained financier/distributors. During these years, the notable releases included the Richie Valens biopic La Bamba (1987), directed by Luis Valdez; Roxanne (1987) with Steve Martin; director Rob Reiner's Stand By Me (1986) with River Phoenix and When Harry Met Sally (1989) with Billy Crystal; and Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor (1987).Mark Canton became the chairman of Columbia Pictures in 1991; three years later, he was chariman of the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Companies. Under Canton, Columbia went on to such films as Boyz N The Hood (1991) and Poetic Justice (1993), written and directed by John Singleton; the Billy Crystal comedies City Slickers (1991) and Mr. Saturday Night (1992); The Prince Of Tides (1991), directed by and starring Barbra Streisand; Francis Coppola's horror film Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992); Rob Reiner's A Few Good Men (1992) with Tom Cruise; Groundhog Day (1992) with Bill Murray; In The Line Of Fire (1993) with Clint Eastwood; Little Women (1994) with Winona Ryder; Fly Away Home (1996), directed by Carroll Ballard and starring Anna Paquin; and director Spike Lee's Get On The Bus (1996). No matter how many shake-ups and buy-outs may continue to plague Columbia, its ability to produce first-rate films remains intact; with luck, it will continue to captivate audiences in the 21st century.

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