Columbia Pictures

Columbia Pictures: Portrait of a Studio

BERNARD F. DICK Editor
Copyright Date: 1992
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130hrz7
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  • Book Info
    Columbia Pictures
    Book Description:

    The recent $3.4 billion purchase of Columbia Pictures by Sony Corporation focused attention on a studio that had survived one of Hollywood's worst scandals under David Begelman, as well as ownership by Coca-Cola and David Puttnam's misguided attempt to bring back the studio's glory days. Columbia Pictures traces Columbia's history from its beginnings as the CBC Film Sales Company (nicknamed "Corned Beef and Cabbage") through the regimes of Harry Cohn and his successors, and concludes with a vivid portrait of today's corporate Hollywood, with its investment bankers, entertainment lawyers, agents, and financiers.

    Bernard F. Dick's highly readable studio chronicle is followed by thirteen original essays by leading film scholars, writing about the stars, films, genres, writers, producers, and directors responsible for Columbia's emergence from Poverty Row status to world class. This is the first attempt to integrate film history with film criticism of a single studio. Both the historical introduction and the essays draw on previously untapped archival material -- budgets that kept Columbia in the black during the 1930s and 1940s, letters that reveal the rapport between Depression audiences and director Frank Capra, and an interview with Oscar-winning screenwriter Daniel Taradash.

    The book also offers new perspectives on the careers of Rita Hayworth and Judy Holliday, a discussion of Columbia's unique brands of screwball comedy and film noir, and analyses of such classics asThe Awful Truth, Born Yesterday, From Here to Eternity, On the Waterfront, Anatomy of a Murder, Easy Rider, Taxi Driver, The Big Chill, Lawrence of Arabia,andThe Last Emperor. Amply illustrated with film stills and photos of stars and studio heads, Columbia Pictures includes a brief chronology and a complete 1920-1991 filmography. Designed for both the film lover and the film scholar, the book is ideal for film history courses.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4961-5
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PART I. THE HISTORY OF COLUMBIA, 1920-1991
    • FROM THE BROTHERS COHN TO SONY CORP.
      (pp. 2-64)
      BERNARD F. DICK

      Film historians distinguish between the Big Five (MGM, Warners, Paramount, Twentieth Century-Fox, and RKO) and the Little Three (Universal, Columbia, and United Artists), the eight motion picture companies that provided the bulk of the movies made during Hollywood’s heyday—the “studio years,” which ran roughly from the mid-1920’s through the 1950s. Certainly Columbia was not on a par with MGM; it could neither boast, as MGM did, of “more stars than there are in the heavens,” nor lay claim to MGM’s title, “The Tiffany of Studios.” Columbia also had no theater chain; although the absence of one proved a blessing...

    • CHRONOLOGY
      (pp. 65-68)
  5. PART II. THE ART OF COLUMBIA
    • 1 FRANK CAPRA AT COLUMBIA: Necessity and Invention
      (pp. 70-88)
      CHARLES MALAND

      It all started, Frank Capra tells us, by accident. Late in 1927 Harry Cohn ran down a list of unemployed directors, looking for one to hire. At the top of the list was Frank Capra, a Sicilian-American immigrant who had worked his way through Throop Polytechnic Institute (soon to be known as “Caltech”) and had already achieved modest success as gag writer for Mack Sennett and director of two Harry Langdon silents,The Strong Man(1926) andLong Pants(1927). Fired by Langdon and then unable to find a directing job after the failure ofFor the Love of Mike...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 2 COLUMBIA’S SCREWBALL COMEDIES: Wine, Women, and Wisecracks
      (pp. 89-105)
      JOY GOULD BOYUM

      The golden age of American movie comedy is traditionally held to be the 1910s and 1920s, the time before pictures learned to talk. It was then that such artists as Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, and Langdon dominated the screen, swathed by the silence that has always been asine qua nonfor clowns and that comic theorists and movie historians tend to take as requisite for great film comedy as well. Unencumbered by speech, the argument goes, funnymen were able to give play to their anarchic energies, to the pratfalls and bumbles, the chases and double-takes that are not only the...

    • 3 FILM NOIR AT COLUMBIA: Fashion and Innovation
      (pp. 106-117)
      J. P. TELOTTE

      In the immediate post-World War II era, one of the most popular kinds of film wasfilm noir.This genre,¹ with its tales of urban crime and corruption, typically shot with low-key lighting and an expressionist concern for shadows, strange camera angles, and irregular compositions, differed from mainstream Hollywood in both subject and style. Yet Columbia, known for its conservative production policies and conventional narrative practices, became in this period one of the leading producers of such films. The studio’s embracing offilm noirmay, however, have been less noteworthy than the sort ofnoirit turned out. Columbia produced...

    • 4 RITA HAYWORTH AT COLUMBIA, 1941-1945: The Fabrication of a Star
      (pp. 118-130)
      WILLIAM VINCENT

      To say that Rita Hayworth came along at the right time in Columbia’s history is to mythologize the event. Actually, she was a manufactured product—trained, honed, hyped, and market-tested before Harry Cohn decided to put her in her first leading role, Sheila Winthrop inYou’ll Never Get Rich(1941). From the beginning Hayworth was the perfect example of the fabricated Hollywood star. There was nothing new in this; as Carl Laemmle said, “The fabrication of stars is the fundamental thing in the film industry.”¹ What are interesting in Hayworth’s case are the process of fabrication, the image that emerged from...

    • 5 JUDY HOLLIDAY: The Star and the Studio
      (pp. 131-144)
      RUTH PRIGOZY

      The brief career of Judy Holliday is one of the anomalies of film history: she played dumb blondes, but her IQ was in the near-genius range; she won an Academy Award, but her subsequent film career never even approached her early success; she played roles that emphasized her sexual appeal, yet she was big-boned, small-bosomed, and tended to be overweight. She was hailed for her brilliant portrayal of a dumb blonde, yet spent the rest of her life alternately rejecting that image and retreating behind the safety a familiar role provides. As early as 1951, shortly after she was nominated...

    • 6 AN INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL TARADASH: From Harvard to Hollywood
      (pp. 145-151)
      BERNARD F. DICK

      Today, law degrees are common in Hollywood, but not so in the 1930s. In 1938 it was unusual for someone with a Harvard law degree to show up at Columbia, of all studios, to work on the screen version of Clifford Odets’sGolden Boy.But Daniel Taradash was neither a typical lawyer nor a typical screenwriter.¹ Despite his prestigious degree, he never practiced law; and while other East Coast writers went west for the money, Taradash went because he had won a playwriting contest. The theatre was his first love, and when he had finishedGolden Boy,he planned to...

    • 7 ON THE WATERFRONT: “Like It Ain’t Part of America”
      (pp. 152-168)
      ADAM J. SORKIN

      It is no longer a question as to whetherOn the Waterfrontis about informing. The film presents as its central character a man who becomes an informer, depicts him in such a way as to win the audience’s sympathy, and imagines his difficult decision to testify in open hearings as growth toward self-knowledge and maturity. Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) begins as a loner, a chip-on-the-shoulder tough, uneducated as well as unreflecting. He is first shown as a loyal and unambitious stooge for waterfront union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). Soon, however, influenced by the local parish priest and...

    • 8 ANATOMY OF A MURDER: Life and Art in the Courtroom
      (pp. 169-181)
      JEANINE BASINGER

      Many of history’s most celebrated movie directors have been unable to resist the cinematic challenge of the courtroom drama. Where lesser talents might shrink from the restrictions imposed by contained space, controlled dialogue, monitored behavior, and limited decor, successful directors seem to be morbidly fascinated by them. Is it some secret impulse to self-destruct on screen, or perhaps the urge to solve a series of filmmaking obstacles? Whatever it is, film abounds in excellent courtroom dramas, many directed by the best in the industry: Alfred Hitchcock(The Paradine Case[1948]); Billy Wilder(Witness for the Prosecution[1957]); and John Ford...

    • 9 COLUMBIA AND THE COUNTERCULTURE: Trilogy of Defeat
      (pp. 182-190)
      SYBIL DELGAUDIO

      For those who rely only on memory, the counterculture of the 1960s was energetic, idealistic, radical, and optimistic; for those who rely only on movies, it was wrongheaded, laughable, hopeless, and dead. The New Hollywood, which appeared to challenge the traditions of classic Hollywood (and seemed to spring, at least in part, from the cultural defiance of the period), was identified in the early and mid-1970s by such scholars as Peter Lloyd and Thomas Elsaessar, who suggested that linear narrative, generic conventions, and motivated heroes were being replaced by looser structures, less predictable characters, ambiguity, and other identifiable borrowings from...

    • 10 TAXI DRIVER: Bringing Home the War
      (pp. 191-199)
      LES KEYSER

      In 1987, United Artists releasedYou Talkin’ to Me?,a political fable about an ethnic New York actor who idolizes Robert DeNiro inTaxi Driveryet is lured by greed, ambition, and lust into being the spokesperson for a Christian family broadcasting empire and preaching racism to laidback surfers on the West Coast. This low-budget, law-and-order melodrama, whose villain, Peter Archer, could easily be a Jimmy Bakker clone, was produced by the aptly named “Second Generation Film Productions” and acknowledged its enduring debt toTaxi Driver’sdirector, Martin Scorsese, star Robert DeNiro, writer Paul Schrader, and producers and artistic consultants...

    • 11 LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, 1962, 1989: “It Looks Damn Good”
      (pp. 200-207)
      GENE D. PHILLIPS

      David Lean’sLawrence of Arabia(1962), which chronicles the life of Thomas Edward Lawrence, the British officer who became a legendary leader of the Arab people during World War I, has won wide and continued public acceptance since its original release, when it garnered seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

      At the time of its premiere, in December 1962,Lawrence of Arabiaran 222 minutes. When the film went into nationwide release in 1963, producer Sam Spiegel had excised 20 minutes from it to allow for an additional showing each day. Further trims were also made when...

    • 12 A SOLDIER’S STORY: A Paradigm for Justice
      (pp. 208-217)
      JIM WELSH

      A Soldier’s Story(1984) must be considered a breakthrough film for Columbia and Hollywood in general. It told a story about black soldiers and utilized a predominantly black cast at a time when no such pictures were being made. It precededThe Color Purple(1985) and the later films of Spike Lee. At the end of the decade it was followed byGlory(1989). Not only wasA Soldier’s Story“the first serious drama about American blacks released by Hollywood in close to a decade”; it also helped establish “media visibility” for blacks in the 1980s in both film and...

    • 13 THE LAST EMPEROR: A Subject-in-the-Making
      (pp. 218-230)
      JANICE MOUTON

      Pu Yi, the emperor who was not an emperor, the Chinese ruler who was not Chinese, the subject as yet unconstituted as a subject—this Pu Yi now appears in Bernardo Bertolucci’sThe Last Emperor,searching for the past, searching for the Self.

      What kind of undertaking is this? Does a search for a past and a Self imply that such things are there to be found? Isn’t history just “in our minds” or “what we think happened?”¹ As for the Self, does it even belong to the order of being? Isn’t it, rather, something about which we say, “that’s...

  6. FILMOGRAPHY: The Columbia Features, 1920-1991
    (pp. 231-285)
  7. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 286-287)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 288-293)