Sunday, May 9, 2010

MGM Near Bankruptcy, A Morality Tale

A sad, sad outcome for a once-mighty studio. The amount and variety of entertaining films produced by MGM over the decades easily numbers in the thousands.

Everything from musicals with Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor to dramatic films like The Picture of Dorian Gray and Madame Bovary were grist for its mill. It distributed intense westerns like Naked Spur and the Russian melodrama Doctor Zhivago. Then, of course, there were the many Bond films.

Even a borderline case like Gone With the Wind — by some measures the largest box office generator ever — might not have been possible without MGM. Not only did the studio loan Clark Gable for the lead, but producer David O. Selznick learned his trade under the oft-chafing thumb of father-in-law Louis B. Mayer.

It was without question the largest 'star factory' in Hollywood for at least three decades. And that fact points to an important element missing from today's incarnation of film production: the producer.

There are still superb writers (most of whom work for television shows). There are fine actors. There are even a few good directors. But there is no Harry Cohn, Darryl Zanuck, or Samuel Goldwyn anywhere in view. And, before anyone mentions Steven Spielberg or George Lucas (or even the Weinstein Brothers), I'll hasten to borrow a line from one of MGM's greatest films, The Big Country: They're "not fit to shine the Major's boots."

Hollywood won't be even a shadow of its former self until another like them arises. When that may be, or even if it's possible in today's cultural climate, no one can say. That last, after all, is the basic reason the movies are what they are today. And that is perhaps the saddest outcome of all.

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