United Artists


United Artists Essay, Research Paper

The film studio United Artists started as exactly what its name proclaimed: A group of artists had united to create and distribute their films. The year was 1919, and the artists were the most highly regarded figures in American film: comic genius Charlie Chaplin, superstar actor Douglas Fairbanks, superstar actress Mary Pickford, and master writer/director D.W. Griffith. Superstar cowboy William S. Hart was to have been the fifth artist, but in the end he stayed with Adolph Zukor's company Famous Players-Lasky. United Artists was the inspiration of two Zukor associates, Hiram Abrams and B.P. Schulberg. Fairbanks brought in William McAdoo, who'd been Secretary of the Treasury under President Woodrow Wilson; the two had become friends when Fairbanks sold war bonds. McAdoo brought political and economic prestige, although he had his press secretary Oscar Price made president of the company. Abrams handled distribution, and Schulberg left the company; not long after, Price was succeeded by Abrams. the fledgling studio had little product. Fairbanks, also producing and co-writing, brought in the first UA release, the comic actioner His Majesty, The American; later in 1919 he also made the screwball comedy When The Clouds Roll By, directed by Victor Fleming. Chaplin and Pickford, however, were both still under contracts to other studios. Griffith also had committments to both First National and Zukor, but made a film that UA could release: his classic tragedy of child abuse and interracial love, Broken Blossoms (1919) with Lillian Gish. In 1920 Fairbanks made another muscular comedy with Fleming, The Mollycoddle; then he tried something different, a rousing swashbuckler, The Mark Of Zorro, directed by Fred Niblo. He followed with another of his trademark comedies, The Nut (1921), just in case his new role didn't hit with the public. But hit it did, and in the 1920s Fairbanks became an even greater star in his lavish, stunt-filled swashbucklers: The Three Musketeers (1921), directed by Niblo; Robin Hood (1922), directed by Allan Dwan; The Thief Of Bagdad (1924), directed by Raoul Walsh; Don Q, Son Of Zorro (1925), directed by Donald Crisp; The Black Pirate (1926), directed by Albert Parker; and The Gaucho (1928), directed by F. Richard Jones. Fairbanks also married Mary Pickford in 1920, the same year in which she began making UA films. Sticking to the innocent "America's Sweetheart" roles that made her internationally famous, Pickford became even more celebrated in the '20s. She started with UA doubling as executive producer on Pollyana (1920) and Suds (1920), and then produced all her UA silents, including such memorable films as Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921), in which she played both young Cedric and his mother; Rosita (1923), the first American film directed by Ernst Lubitsch; and the comedy/dramas Little Annie Rooney (1925) and Sparrows (1926), both directed by William Beaudine. Chaplin released only three UA films in the 1920s: the romantic drama A Woman Of Paris (1923), in which he played only a cameo, and two classic comedies, The Gold Rush (1925) and The Circus (1928). Griffith made a dozen silents for the studio in the '20s, but unlike Fairbanks, Pickford, and Chaplin, his stature faded over the decade. Yet he made two of his best films with Lillian Gish, also their last work together: the classic melodrama Way Down East (1920) and the sweeping drama set against the French Revolution, Orphans Of The Storm (1922). Griffith spent most of the '20s trying unsuccessfully to make a star of actress Carol Dempster, despite such impressive efforts as the allegorical Dream Street (1921); the Revolutionary War epic America (1924); the realistic drama of postwar Germany, Isn't Life Wonderful (1924); and Sally Of The Sawdust (1925) with W.C. Fields. Stage actor George Arliss starred in UA's Disraeli (1921), The Man Who Played God (1922), and The Ruling Passion (1922). After Abrams was replaced by Joseph M. Schenck in the mid '20s, more talent entered the studio. Writer/director Josef von Sternberg debuted with his naturalistic The Salvation Hunters (1925). William S. Hart finally made it into UA with his last film, Tumbleweeds (1925). Rudolph Valentino's last films were the UA romantic dramas The Eagle (1925) and The Son Of The Shiek (1926), both with Vilma Banky. Producer Samuel Goldwyn released through UA his hit romantic dramas teaming Banky and Ronald Colman: The Winning Of Barbara Worth (1926), The Night Of Love (1927), The Magic Flame (1927), Two Lovers (1928). Buster Keaton made his Civil War classic The General (1927), as well as College (1927) and Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928). In 1928 Gloria Swanson starred in Sadie Thompson, written and directed by Raoul Walsh, and the unfinished Queen Kelly, written and directed by Erich von Stroheim. When Lubitsch directed John Barrymore in 1929's Eternal Love, both were saying farewell to silents. United Artists released its first sound film that year, Fairbanks' partial-talkie The Iron Mask, directed by Allan Dwan. Mary Pickford, no longer producing, starred in her first talkie, Coquette (1929), directed and co-written by Sam Taylor. Dropping her ingenue style for a more adult and modern role, she had a hit, yet it was the begining of the end for her career. Neither she nor Fairbanks were able to hold audiences in talkies, starting with the failure of their co-starring in Taylor's Shakespeare adaptation, The Taming Of The Shrew (1929). After Kiki (1931) and Secrets (1933), Pickford stopped acting. Fairbanks made three more of his own productions, Reaching For The Moon (1930), directed by Edmund Goulding; Around The World In 80 Minutes (1931), directed by Victor Fleming; and Mr. Robinson Crusoe (1932), directed by Edward Sutherland. Then he too retired from Hollywood. D.W. Griffith's two sound films were also his final efforts; despite the glories of his Abraham Lincoln (1930) with Walter Huston and his neglected drama of alcoholism, The Struggle (1931), his career was over as well. Chaplin refused to adapt his Tramp character to sound and released two silents in the '30s; they were his greatest films, City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936). For actor Ronald Colman, sound enhanced his career, and he became a bigger star in the Goldwyn productions Bulldog Drummond (1929), Condemned (1929), and Raffles (1930). Goldwyn also had hits with his Eddie Cantor musicals, including Whoopee! (1930), Palmy Days (1932), Roman Scandals (1933), and Kid Millions (1934). John Ford directed two Goldwyn productions, the Sinclair Lewis adaptation Arrowsmith (1931) with Ronald Colman, and the disaster film The Hurricane (1937). King Vidor directed Barbara Stanwyck in Goldwyn's Stella Dallas (1937). Howard Hawks helmed Goldwyn's Barbary Coast (1935), but William Wyler replaced Hawks on Goldwyn's Come And Get It (1936). Wyler then made Goldwyn's These Three (1936), from Lillian Hellman's "The Children's Hour"; the classic Sinclair Lewis adaptation Dodsworth (1936); Dead End (1937), another Hellman filming; and an acclaimed version of Emily Bront?, Wuthering Heights (1939). Other independent producers also released major films through UA in the '30s. Howard Hughes doubled as director on his World War One aviation tale Hell's Angels (1930); he had Lewis Milestone direct the newspaper comedy The Front Page (1931), and Howard Hawks direct the gangster classic Scarface (1932). Darryl F. Zanuck's 20th Century productions included Les Miserables (1935) starring Fredric March and Charles Laughton. Walter Wanger produced two classics: Fritz Lang's crime film You Only Live Once (1937) and John Ford's Western Stagecoach (1939). David O. Selznick's productions included the Hollywood drama A Star Is Born (1937) and the screwball comedy Nothing Sacred (1937), both directed by William A. Wellman. Hal Roach produced the Steinbeck adaptation Of Mice And Men (1939), directed by Lewis Milestone. UA also released the British productions of Alexander Korda, including The Private Life Of Henry VIII (1933), Rembrandt (1936), and The Four Feathers (1939). In 1941, after releasing The Westerner (1940), directed by William Wyler, Goldwyn sold his stock in UA; Korda did the same in 1944, after the release of his productions The Thief Of Bagdad (1940), That Hamilton Woman (1941), and Jungle Book (1942). Management changes in UA didn't help: Al Lichtman replaced Schenck; Atillio H. Giannini and George Schaefer replaced Lichtman; Maurice Silverstone replaced Giannini and Schaefer. Thankfully, UA kept its major talents. Chaplin made two classics, his Hitler send-up The Great Dictator (1940) and his black comedy Monsieur Verdoux (1947). Selznick made Rebecca (1940), Spellbound (1945), and The Paradine Case (1947) with director Alfred Hitchcock. In 1940 Hal Roach released two Laurel & Hardy comedies, A Chump At Oxford and Saps At Sea, and his prehistoric drama One Million B.C.. Walter Wanger produced Hitchcock's espionage thriller Foreign Correspondent (1940) and John Ford's adaptation of Eugene O'Neill, The Long Voyage Home (1940). Other major UA films of the war years include Lubitsch's That Uncertain Feeling (1941), von Sternberg's The Shanghai Gesture (1941), Lang's Hangmen Also Die (1943), Jean Renoir's The Southerner (1944), and William A. Wellman's Lady Of Burlesque (1943) and The Story Of G.I. Joe (1945). Director Allan Dwan and producer Edward Small made a memorable series of farces with Dennis O'Keefe: Up In Mabel's Room (1944), Abroad With Two Yanks (1944), Brewster's Millions (1945), Getting Gertie's Garter (1945). Douglas Sirk directed George Sanders in the dramas Summer Storm (1944), A Scandal In Paris (1945, aka Thieves' Holiday), and Lured (1946). UA also distributed such notable British films as Michael Powell's wartime drama One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942); Noel Coward's classic In Which We Serve (1943); David Lean's Coward adaptation Blithe Spirit (1945); and Olivier's Shakespeare adaptation Henry V (1945). The late '40s were lean times at UA, despite such films as the boxing drama Body And Soul (1947), directed by Robert Rossen and starring John Garfield, and the epic Western Red River (1948), produced and directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne. Independent producer Stanley Kramer and writer Carl Foreman began working together with the comedy So This Is New York (1948), directed by Richard Fleischer, and two films directed by Mark Robson: a dark look at boxing, Champion (1949) with Kirk Douglas, and a provocative drama about racism, Home Of The Brave (1949) with James Edwards. In the 1950s Kramer and Foreman made The Men (1950), directed by Fred Zinnemann, Marlon Brando's film debut; the Rostand adaptation Cyrano De Bergerac (1950) with Jose Ferrer; and Zinnemann's classic Western High Noon (1952) with Gary Cooper. Chaplin's bittersweet Limelight (1952) was his last film for United Artists. Writer/director John Huston released two hits, the classic The African Queen (1952) and the Toulouse-Lautrec biopic Moulin Rouge (1953), as well as his satire Beat The Devil (1954). Otto Preminger produced and directed the sex comedy The Moon Is Blue (1953), the drug-addiction drama The Man With The Golden Arm (1955), and the Shaw adaptation Saint Joan (1957). Producer Harold Hecht teamed with writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Delbert Mann for Marty (1955) and The Bachelor Party (1957). With actor Burt Lancaster and producer James Hill, Hecht made such notable films as the Western Vera Cruz (1954), directed by Robert Aldrich; the classic gossip-column drama Sweet Smell Of Success (1957), directed by Alexander Mackendrick; and the Terence Rattigan adaptation Separate Tables (1958). Charles Laughton directed the classic thriller The Night Of The Hunter (1955). Stanley Kramer, now producing and directing, made two landmark films, the racism drama The Defiant Ones (1958) and the doomsday tale On The Beach (1959). Stanley Kubrick co-scripted and directed the caper film The Killing (1956) and the anti-war classic Paths Of Glory (1957). By 1956, the Krim Syndicate had bought out Chaplin and Pickford and owned all of UA's stock; the following year, UA was a public corporation. The late '50s also saw many of the company's biggest hits: the extravaganza Around The World In 80 Days (1956), produced by Michael Todd; writer/director Billy Wilder's adaptation of Agatha Christie, Witness For The Prosecution (1957), and his classic crossdressing farce, Some Like It Hot (1959); and the rousing actioner The Vikings (1958), directed by Richard Fleischer. UA also released David Lean's romantic drama Summertime (1955), starring Katharine Hepburn; the juryroom drama 12 Angry Men (1957), the debut of director Sidney Lumet; John Ford's cavalry tale The Horse Soldiers (1959) with John Wayne; Frank Capra's A Hole In The Head (1959) with Frank Sinatra; and two films directed by Robert Wise, the anti-capital-punishment story I Want To Live! (1958) and the crime film Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). In the 1960s Stanley Kramer made his best films for UA: the classic courtroom dramas Inherit The Wind (1960) and Judgment At Nuremberg (1961), and the slapstick epic It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). Billy Wilder, co-producing with the independent Mirisch Brothers, made several major comedies: The Apartment (1960) and Irma La Douce (1963), with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine; One, Two, Three (1961) with James Cagney; Kiss Me, Stupid (1964) with Dean Martin; and The Fortune Cookie (1966) with Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Other Mirisch productions include The Children's Hour (1961), directed by William Wyler, and The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966) and In The Heat Of The Night (1967), both directed by Norman Jewison. UA released Richard Brooks' adaptation of Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry (1960); John Huston's The Misfits (1961), the last film of both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe; John Wayne's epic The Alamo (1960); the musical West Side Story (1961); Frank Capra's last film, Pocketful Of Miracles (1961); and two films directed by John Frankenheimer, the prison drama Birdman Of Alcatraz (1961) and the espionage tale The Manchurian Candidate (1962). The real spy gold for the studio began with Dr. No (1962), first in a series of James Bond movies starring Sean Connery. Other major '60s releases include Blake Edwards' comedies The Pink Panther (1964) and A Shot In The Dark (1964), both with Peter Sellers; the caper film Topkapi (1964), produced and directed by Jules Dassin; George Stevens' life of Christ, The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965); and the drama of New York hustlers, Midnight Cowboy (1969), directed by John Schlesinger. In 1967 United Artists became a subsidiary of TransAmerica Corporation, a diversified organization known mostly as an insurance company. Yet quality films continued to appear in the '70s. Wilder made the Mirisch productions The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes (1970), which was badly cut by the studio, and the comedy Avanti! (1972). Director Hal Ashby debuted with the Mirisch comedy The Landlord (1970); later in the decade he helmed the Woody Guthrie biopic Bound For Glory (1976), the Vietnam-veterans drama Coming Home (1978), and the Jerzy Kozinski adaptation Being There (1979). Woody Allen made his comedies Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask (1972) and Annie Hall (1977), as well as his first dramatic film, Interiors (1978), and his bittersweet comedy Manhattan (1979). Director Sam Peckinpah made the actioners Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia (1974) and The Killer Elite (1975), and the trucker comedy Convoy (1978). Bob Fosse directed Dustin Hoffman in the Lenny Bruce biopic Lenny (1974); Robert Altman helmed the satire Buffalo Bill And The Indians (1976), and Brian DePalma directed the Stephen King adaptation Carrie (1976). Sidney Lumet directed two of his best films for UA: the television satire Network (1976) and the psychological drama Equus (1977). Roger Moore replaced Connery as 007 in Live And Let Die (1973) and kept playing Bond for the next 12 years. The studio also did well continuing its "Pink Panther" franchise with Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers. Other UA box-office hits in the '70s include the Mirisch production Fiddler On The Roof (1971), directed by Norman Jewison; the Ken Kesey adaptation One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975), directed by Milos Forman; the World War Two epic Midway (1976); and Sylvester Stallone's sequel-maker Rocky (1976). The studio also scored releasing Francis Coppola's war film Apocalypse Now (1979) and Bernardo Bertolucci's erotic drama Last Tango In Paris (1972), both with Marlon Brando. Other important UA releases included the bisexual drama Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971), directed by John Schlesinger; Billy Wilder's macabre tale of fame, Fedora (1979); and the drag-queen comedy La Cage Aux Folles (1979). In 1978, UA lost five of its top executives after squabbles with TransAmerica; they then formed Orion. The studio was further damaged by the box-office flop of Michael Cimino's big-budget Western Heaven's Gate (1980). The following year, TransAmerica sold UA to MGM, who changed its name to MGM/UA Entertainment in 1983. The last notable "United Artists" releases include Samuel Fuller's war film The Big Red One (1980) and Martin Scorsese's biopic of boxer Jake LaMotta, Raging Bull (1980). The MGM/UA hits in the '80s include Alan Parker's musical Fame (1980), Barry Levinson's comedy Diner (1982), Tobe Hooper's sequel-spawning horror film Poltergeist (1982), and Blake Edwards' musical Victor/Victoria (1982). The downside were such bombs as the Korean War epic Inchon (1982), the Bette Midler comedy Jinxed (1982), and Yes, Giorgio (1982) with Luciano Pavarotti. In 1986 the Turner Broadcasting System purchased MGM/UA. The studio saw several years of flux and released mostly negligible films; the few hits were Moonstruck (1987), A Fish Called Wanda (1988), and Rain Man (1988). Giancarlo Parretti's Italian conglomerate Path? Communications took over MGM/UA in 1990, making Yoram Globus president of MGM-Path? Communications. The next year, Parretti was out and producer Alan Ladd Jr. was the chairman and CEO of MGM-Path?. In 1992, MGM-Path? was bought up by its creditor, French bank Credit Lyonnais, which renamed the company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. With the stroke of that contract's pen, the history of United Artists came to an end.

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