MGM Files for Bankruptcy + the History of Hollywood & 'The Bridge on the River Kwai'

Marion Davies, Show People
Marion Davies in King Vidor's Show People

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which decades ago was the most financially stable of the Hollywood studios, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Wednesday.

MGM – initially Metro-Goldwyn – was formed through the amalgamation of Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Productions in 1924.

Goldwyn, by then no longer associated with Samuel Goldwyn, was the largest production company of the three, but the out-of-control superspectacle Ben-Hur had badly damaged the studio's already shaken finances.

Louis B. Mayer, initially with the assistance of second-in-command Irving Thalberg, ruled over the MGM fiefdom for more than a quarter of a century, though both Mayer and Thalberg had to answer to Loews, Inc.'s New York office.

In about fifteen minutes Turner Classic Movies (website) viewers will be able to catch a glimpse of the glorious MGM of yore in King Vidor's Show People (1928), a silent comedy classic starring Marion Davies as a not-that-well disguised version of Gloria Swanson and William Haines, best remembered today as the gay actor who, according to legend (or rather, Anita Loos, who came up with some outlandish stories in her books), left Hollywood so he could remain committed to his male lover.

The famous MGM commissary shot features the following stars: the aforementioned Marion Davies, William S. Hart, Douglas Fairbanks, Norma Talmadge, John Gilbert, Mae Murray, Rod La Rocque, Renée Adorée, Leatrice Joy, George K. Arthur, Karl Dane, Aileen Pringle, Claire Windsor, Estelle Taylor, gossip columnist Louella Parsons, Dorothy Sebastian, and Polly Moran.

Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison

'A History of Hollywood' on TCM

Turner Classic Movies' seven-part documentary Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood is described as “the comprehensive story of the men and women who built the American film industry.”

The mammoth documentary, which kicked off at 5 p.m. PT today (the first episode, “Peepshow Pioneers,” will be shown again on TCM at 8 p.m.) features rarely seen photographs and film footage, clips from numerous American movie productions, and interviews with historians and major Hollywood figures, including Sidney Lumet, Richard Zanuck, Samuel Goldwyn Jr., Peter Bogdanovich, Gore Vidal, Molly Haskell, and TCM's own Robert Osborne.

Also this evening: the early Mary Pickford vehicle Ramona (1910), D.W. Griffith at the Biograph studios in 1909, seven early silent shorts based on the plays of William Shakespeare, the films of pioneer Thomas Edison, and the films of Georges Méliès, who, though no Hollywood filmmaker, was instrumental in the creation of early movie magic.

Moguls & Movie Stars was executive-produced by Bill Haber (TNT's Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King; Broadway's The History Boys and Monty Python's Spamalot) and written and produced by Jon Wilkman.

Moguls & Movie Stars will be presented on Mondays, with an encore on Wednesdays.

This evening's schedule/information below is from the TCM website:

6:00pm Films of Thomas Edison, The (1893)

8:00pm Moguls & Movie Stars, A History of Hollywood: Peepshow Pioneers (2010)

9:05pm D.W. Griffith with Biograph (1909)

11:10pm Films of Georges Méliès, The (1896)

1:00am [Silent] Silent Shakespeare (1908)
A collection of seven silent shorts based on the plays of William Shakespeare, including King John (1899), King Lear (1910) and Richard III (1911).
BW-88 min.

2:30am [Silent] Ramona (1910)
In this silent short, a rancher's daughter runs off with a Native.
Cast: Mary Pickford, H. B. Walthall, Francis J. Grandon, Kate Bruce Dir: D.W. Griffith C-17 min.

Photo: via archives.gov.

Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Gone with the Wind
Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh in Victor Fleming's Gone with the Wind

'Casablanca' Oscar & Vivien Leigh Costumes: 'Moguls & Movie Stars' Exhibit

Turner Classic Movies' Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood special tour tied to the seven-part documentary series that begins tonight at 5 p.m. PT on TCM will reach Los Angeles (at The Grove) on Nov. 18-20.

Among other artifacts, the exhibit will feature an Oscar statuette for Michael Curtiz's Casablanca; a costume worn by Moguls & Movie Stars narrator Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music; a dress worn by Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939); a red jacket worn by Marilyn Monroe in Niagara (1953); and a vest and coat worn by Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik (1921).

Also: an original bound script from Yankee Doodle Dandy, which earned James Cagney a Best Actor Oscar; a signed check from MGM to John Gilbert, one of the highest-paid stars in the silent era; a vintage silent film camera; and a demonstration of a zoetrope, an early precursor to motion pictures.

The additional information below is from the TCM press release:

The immersive exhibit also includes interactive panels that represent different aspects of the documentary series, including The History, The Moguls, The Movie Stars and The Audience.  Fans will be able to experience classic movie imagery, film facts, Moguls & Movie Stars clips, touch screens with photographs of rare memorabilia from the studio era, classic movie trivia and a poll about favorite studio-era films.

The following is the schedule of TCM's Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood upcoming exhibit tour (they've already covered Atlanta and New York):

  • Denver (Nov. 4-6, during Denver Film Festival): King Center
  • San Francisco (Nov. 11-12): Embarcadero Center
  • Los Angeles (Nov. 18-20): The Grove

Alec Guinness Sessue Hayakawa The Bridge on the River Kwai
Alec Guinness, Sessue Hayakawa in David Lean's The Bridge on the River Kwai

'The Bridge on the River Kwai' on TCM

David Lean's 1957 blockbuster and multiple Oscar winner The Bridge on the River Kwai will be presented tonight at 5 p.m. PT on Turner Classic Movies.

Many consider The Bridge on the River Kwai one of the greatest war movies ever made. Whether or not you agree with that assessment, Lean's war epic is surely one of the longest, clocking in at 162 minutes.

Alec Guinness deservedly won a Best Actor Oscar for his stiff-upper-lip British officer, while silent-screen veteran Sessue Hayakawa should have taken home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar as well – but lost to Red Buttons in another East Asian-set movie, Sayonara. William Holden (as box office bait) and Jack Hawkins are the other two top members of the extensive (nearly all-male) cast.

One of the major controversies regarding The Bridge on the River Kwai is that author Pierre Boulle, on whose novel the film was based, was officially credited for the screenplay adaptation. As a result, Boulle was honored with an Academy Award.

In truth, the ones responsible for the Bridge on the River Kwai screenplay were Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, both of whom had been blacklisted during the Red Scare hysteria of the '50s.

It took the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 26 years (1984) to rectify that injustice. Carl Foreman died that same year; Michael Wilson had died in 1978.

Laurent Bouzereau's 2010 documentary The Making of The Bridge on the River Kwai is supposed to follow the feature presentation at 8:30 p.m. PT, but I suggest you check your local listings as the TCM website has David Lean's (very good) 1944 feature This Happy Breed preceding the documentary.

As per the TCM site, Bouzereau's documentary “includes archived footage of the cast and crew of The Bridge on the River Kwai at work, and shows much of the efforts that were required to make this piece of film history a reality.”

Schedule/film info from the TCM website:

5:00pm Bridge On The River Kwai, The (1957)
The Japanese Army forces World War II POWs to build a strategic bridge in Burma.
Cast: William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Sessue Hayakawa Dir: David Lean C-162 min.

8:30pm Making of The Bridge on the River Kwai, The (2010)

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  1. kent beuchert says:

    When someone claims a film to be the "greatest war or WWII film ever made" I have to insist that
    teh film portrays events that actually happened. This film is total fiction and therefore can be characterized as a phoney war film. Certainly the
    major personalities in the film are rather preposterous and the storyline implausible, at best. When the film was made (and I was around then as a moviegoer) Hollywood did not bother to inform the viewers that they were watching fiction. That, in my view, is pure fraud. On the other hand, practically no war film that Hollywood has ever produced was accurate either.
    That goes for Saving Private Ryan, Patton, etc.
    The Longest Day is the only one I'm aware of that is a faithful rendition of what actually transpired. One out of a thousand tells me that
    one must assume anything Hollywood comes out with in this genre must be assumed BS, until proven otherwise. Hollywood just doesn't get it – history is a better story than anything their scriptwriters can throw together, usually, it seems, over along weekend.