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Old 02-13-09, 08:50 AM   #1
Paul Mavis
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DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

I read Jeffrey Kauffman's DVD review of Goodbye, Mr. Chips at http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=36271 and...

"Dolittle was more of a traditional musical than Chips, but its failure begs the question as to why producer Arthur P. Jacobs, who must have not been especially happy with Dolittle's lackluster box office, would then turn around and do another big musical with Bricusse starring another non-singing actor."

Actually, Jeffrey, it didn’t quite happen that way; there’s a fairly typical "Hollywood story" reason behind this decision. The idea for making a straight book musical out of MGM's 1939 version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips came from composer Andre Previn, way back in 1962. Previn worked on the project for over five years, with a score's worth of songs completed by him (with lyrics by his wife, Dory). In 1964, Arthur P. Jacobs was attached as a producer with the project, with Richard Burton and Samantha Eggar eventually signed, along with Vincent Minnelli as director (imagine the possibilities of that team!). Unfortunately, cast changes ensued (as they always do), with first Eggar gone, then Lee Remick hired and fired with Petula Clark replacing her (an action that caused Remick to sue MGM), with Burton then leaving and O'Toole brought on. Previn then walked (along with his songs), and Alan Jay Lerner was slated to step in, but he found his commitments to Paint Your Wagon too pressing, so Bricusse was brought on by Jacobs at the last minute.

As for Jacob’s pick of Bricusse, it's not as surprising as you suggest, because of the time lag between Bricusse's work on Chips, and his contribution to Dolittle's actual production and that film’s release date. Bricusse by all accounts got on well with Jacobs, doing triple duty for the complicated Dolittle production, so it made sense for Jacobs to bring him on to work on Chips, particularly since no one yet knew what kind of box office reception Dolittle would get, with Bricusse already working on Chips prior to Dolittle’s December, ’67 release. As well, it was thought prior to the film's release that Bricusse's score for Dolittle was going to do well (Rex Harrison actually changed his mind about starring in the film based on Bricusse’s score alone, which caused Christopher Plummer, who had already signed on as Dolittle, to get a nice $300,000 paycheck for simply bowing out), and with Bricusse's history of crafting big-selling singles, all signs pointed to his assignment on Chips to be an equally smart move.

You also suggest that putting Chips into production was a bad move because the studios hadn’t “learned their red-ink lessons” with big musicals that failed (with “the mammoth Hello Dolly on tap,” and “Paint Your Wagon playing to empty houses”), but that’s a bit misleading, because again, Chips was well into pre-production before all of those movies debuted, while those “failed” musicals you point out were only failures, ultimately, with the studio – not with audiences. They scored quite well at the box office, actually, so the studios had every reason to believe that the genre should continue. Paint Your Wagon, far from playing to “empty houses,” was the seventh biggest grosser of 1970 (with a U.S. gross of over 30 million, and rentals of over 14 million). Hello Dolly did even better – fifth for the year, with over 15 million in rentals. Star!’s box office was small here in the States, but it captured over 10 million for a total worldwide gross during its first release. Even the lowest-grossing Doctor Dolittle managed to crack the Top 20 releases for its year, with an even bigger worldwide gross (actually, Fox didn’t lose all that much on Dolittle at first, because Jacobs had pre-sold the film with a ton of marketing tie-ins). It wasn’t that the big-budget musical genre was unpopular with audiences; there were numerous musicals during this late 60s period – when supposedly the big-budget musicals were “dead” – that took in huge grosses (Funny Girl, Oliver!, Thoroughly Modern Millie, even eventual “failures” such as Camelot and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang sold a lot of tickets). The problem for the studios came with some of these films’ grossly over-inflated budgets – that’s were the real red ink flowed. And that’s where the studios erred, eventually learning their lesson with a musical like 1971’s Fiddler on the Roof, where the budget was kept relatively small (half of Dolittle’s 1967 budget), allowing for huge profits from the subsequent spectacular gross.
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Old 02-13-09, 09:46 AM   #2
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

Hi, Paul, yes, I'm aware of Chips' backstory. In fact, I believe I'm one of the few people with the complete Previn (demo) score on CD. I'm surprised you didn't mention that the songwriting chores then passed to Tony Hatch, which is what occasioned Petula Clark's association with the film. In fact there's a wealth of great info on this very subject in the expansive liner notes to the FSM CD release I mention. The good news is that I have it on good authority a respected album producer is trying to license both the Previn and Hatch scores for Chips and finally everyone may be able to hear the wonderful songs that were written for these aborted versions.

Last edited by JMK; 02-13-09 at 09:57 AM.
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Old 02-13-09, 10:02 AM   #3
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

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I'm surprised you didn't mention that the songwriting chores then passed to Tony Hatch, which is what occasioned Petula Clark's association with the film.
That's not already in the review?

I was more interested in your theories about failed big-budget musicals, as well as your question about why Bricusse was involved.
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Old 02-13-09, 10:09 AM   #4
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

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That's not already in the review?

I was more interested in your theories about failed big-budget musicals, as well as your question about why Bricusse was involved.
No, because my review is of the film, not the long history of its development. But it really is an interesting history and I for one love the Previn score. Andre spent a lot of money recording a fully orchestrated demo which is sumptuous. I only have a second generation cassette (remember those?) of the Hatch tunes, but they're fascinating, too--a completely different side of Clark's "hit" writer.

I don't think I really posited any "theory" about failed big-budget musicals, just made a passing comment that 1969 was not a good year. I can tell you, for instance, that having had some interactions with Paramount honchos who were around at the time, PYW may have placed #1 on the international box office charts at the time (of course I'm joking), but it lost a *ton* of money. "Sweet Charity"'s rentals were a mere fraction of its 20M budget (huge for those days). And, yes, "Hello, Dolly" certainly did better than its musical competitors, but it, too, failed to really ignite at the box office. There's a reason Fox let Butch Cassidy use the NYC set constructed for Dolly--they were desperate to recoup some of their investment.
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Old 02-13-09, 10:27 AM   #5
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

Well, that was my point in the post: they may have lost money in the end for the studios, but 1969 (nor indeed the lates 60s in general) wasn't a "bad year" for musicals as you say, because the public went to them in droves. The numbers are the numbers. With millions invested already in pre-production on these years-long gestating projects, the studios couldn't and wouldn't abandon them, and they continued to roll out in front of the cameras, with the studios always hoping the "next one" would turn a profit.
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Old 02-13-09, 10:35 AM   #6
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

I respectfully disagree with you, and I'd actually say that starting around 1967 or so (Camelot, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, just to name three), the red ink started piling up in larger "droves" than any audience numbers, LOL. Of course there were success stories, too. But I think 1969 was a major demarcation line--it was the last year all the major studios (with the exception of Warner, which was probably still licking its King Arthur sized wounds) had "big" productions in the pipeline simultaneously (whether or not those had been in development for years), and none of them did "boffo" boxoffice. Just in tangentially related information, notice how the supposed Academy Award for orchestration of musicals started changing names (repeatedly) over the next few years--as I mentioned vis a vis Clark's musical career, there simply wasn't the product there had been in years previous.

Last edited by JMK; 02-13-09 at 10:42 AM.
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Old 02-13-09, 11:05 AM   #7
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

Well, we'll agree to disagree, then , and I'll stick with the numbers (and remember: the average ticket price in '69 was $1.47, so do the math when you consider how many people actually saw these films):


1969 -- Hello Dolly and Paint Your Wagon: each gross over 30 million (adjust that for inflation, and we're talking grosses today of over 167 million). Hello Dolly was fifth on the top ten list for tickets sold, Paint Your Wagon seventh (hardly empty houses) for 1969-70 (because they went road show and then general release). And you can continue on with 1970, with the Top Ten successes of "musicals" The Aristocats and Woodstock (you could debate those )

1967's Camelot was 11th for its year (over 70 million in today's rentals, twice that in gross) in a year when Thoroughly Modern Millie was 9th, and even underperformer Doctor Dolittle was 19th (and remember that its grosses were "hurt" by the discount kiddie matinees -- a lot of kids saw Dolittle, which tallied up far fewer actual dollars). A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (which was actually released in '66, and which was sold more as a comedy rather than a musical), returned rentals of 3 million, so that's a gross of at least 6 million, against an estimated 2 million budget -- and a 3-to-1 return rate equaled a hit back then. The musical genre was just fine in 1969 with audiences. Studios, however, spent too much. When they kept the budgets down, and picked the right material, they cleaned up -- only two years later, Fiddler on the Roof.
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Old 02-13-09, 11:56 AM   #8
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

I, too, have two CDs-worth of ALL the demos for this film - it's not just Previn and Hatch, it's also Rod McKuen and I believe someone else is in there, too - might be wrong on that, but there were a lot of songs written for this film.

Interestingly, whether one chooses to believe the grosses above or not (Dolittle was a DISASTER at the box-office no matter how you want to couch it), the one clear thing is that Dolly, Wagon, Camelot, and Dolittle were all critically lambasted and since no one has mentioned it, that would include the box-office disaster called Half A Sixpence. Star was a disaster, box-office-wise. Fox lost plenty on that AND Dolittle. If these films had all done the sort of box-office alluded to above, I'm sorry, but many other musicals would have immediately been put into production. I think we can add on the fingers of two hands the number of major studio film musicals that WERE put into production in the 1970s.
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Old 02-13-09, 12:11 PM   #9
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

Well, the figures come from several sources, including IMDB (which is usually pretty reliable) and Box Office Report's archives. They're in earlier first-hand sources, too, such as Dunne's The Studio.

Musicals kept getting green-lighted (duds such as Song of Norway and hits like Fiddler), but eventually, when the studios realized that spending millions on pre-production for buying iffy Broadway shows or "original" musicals like Dolittle wasn't netting them a profit, they cut back (and don't discount the success of Easy Rider, which totally threw the rigid studios for a loop -- they had no idea how to change gears so quickly away from their standard fare like the straight book musicals). But successful musicals still popped up throughout the seventies, such as Lady Sings the Blues, Funny Lady, and obviously Travolta's Grease, with the MGM That's Entertainment compilation films also scoring at the box office.
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Old 02-13-09, 12:17 PM   #10
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

Yes, I've always considered Easy Rider one of the best musicals from that era.
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Old 02-13-09, 12:25 PM   #11
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

Ha! Actually, I meant its success threw the whole system out of whack, with the studios not knowing how to appeal to the suddenly discovered "youth movement" who didn't go with their parents to see Florence Henderson running up and down the hills of Norway.

But now that you mention it...with Easy Rider's soundtrack pretty much layering the whole film, and the success of the soundtrack and film leading eventually to something like Saturday Night Fever...maybe it is a musical!
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Old 02-13-09, 12:28 PM   #12
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

You wanna know what a musical geek I was (am?)? I dragged my parents to see SONG OF NORWAY.
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Old 02-13-09, 12:39 PM   #13
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

I saw it with my mom at a matinee at our local Jerry Lewis Theater...on the bottom of a double bill with The Great Waltz.




I did not request to see that double feature.
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Old 02-13-09, 12:43 PM   #14
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

Oy--an Andrew and Virginia Stone double feature--the mind boggles.
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Old 02-13-09, 12:53 PM   #15
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

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Oy--an Andrew and Virginia Stone double feature--the mind boggles.
And the rear-end goes numb.



I wanted to see Arnold and The Omega Man double-bill next door, but nooooooooo.....
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Old 02-13-09, 12:57 PM   #16
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

I saw THE OMEGA MAN at a funky little USO theater in Germany where my sister was the Service Club manager. I don't know what was scarier--the film or the place I was seeing it.
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Old 02-13-09, 01:00 PM   #17
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

I don't consider Lady Sings The Blues a musical, but that's just me. And, as I said, on the fingers of two hands.

I have on my wall an ad slick created by a very funny press person (who handled a film I was involved with) - the reviews for The Great Waltz were so horrifying that she felt the only way to sell the film was to quote them in the ads - her lead off quote goes:

"Watching The Great Waltz is like sticking your finger down your throat" - Rex Reed

Followed by:

"One of the year's worst disasters." Newsday

"Utterly ridiculous. The lyrics, wooden characterizations, sappy dialogue, dreadful dancing and idiotic situations add up to a quality of artistic miscalculation that approaches the sublime. A genuinely bad film." NY Times

"The Great Waltz moves from goo to glue as it sinks into absurdity. Mary Costa avoids acting at every turn, and Nigel Patrick and Yvonne Mitchell are ludicrous." Cue

"Combines miscasting, bad acting, poor directing and a weak script into a symphony of triteness, an ode to boredom, and an orchestration of desperately poor filmmaking. Andrew Stone has either made the worst film of the year or he's the funniest man in the business" - WPIX-TV

None of the above, however, is as funny as Paul's comment about the reliability of the imdb.
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Old 02-13-09, 01:11 PM   #18
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

Granted, there are mistakes on all sites (hello, Wikipedia), but when the figures match up with other sources, including primary sources from that time period....
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Old 02-13-09, 06:28 PM   #19
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

Here's the bottom line: Dr. Dolittle, Sweet Charity, Half A Sixpence, Paint Your Wagon, Camelot, all lost money.
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Old 02-13-09, 08:57 PM   #20
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

Of course they did -- never said they didn't. If you go back to my first post, you'll see I was discussing the popularity of the genre. "Lost money" is a relative term to ticket sales, grosses, rentals and popularity with audiences. Coming to America made 300 million dollars at the box office, and Paramount told Art Buchwald it "lost money." I still read articles about Kevin Costner that say the turning point in his career came when Waterworld flopped...it actually turned a hefty profit with international grosses factored in. The prevailing generalization about big studio musicals from the mid-to-late sixties is that nobody went to them...but ticket sales for many titles say different.

Paint Your Wagon and Camelot had big, big grosses; they were extremely popular with audiences -- they just cost too much to recoup a profit on first run for the studios (they went into the black, though, after TV sales and international grosses). Sweet Charity's and Doctor Dolittle's grosses were disappointing (but still respectable if they hadn't cost so much). My original point still stands: musicals as a genre were still popular with audiences in the late sixties and earlier seventies -- just too many of them had budgets that made it almost impossible to return a profit to the studios (and of course, there were outright flops that apparently didn't appeal to anyone, like Half a Sixpence).
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Old 05-13-12, 12:34 PM   #21
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Re: DVD Talk review of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'

Are your previn-tracks instrumental?
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