The French Line

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The French Line
The French Line.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLloyd Bacon
Produced byEdmund Grainger - Producer
Howard Hughes - Executive Producer
Written byMatty Kemp
Isabel Dawn
Mary Loos
Richard Sale
StarringJane Russell
Gilbert Roland
Arthur Hunnicutt
Mary McCarty
Craig Stevens
Kim Novak
Music byWalter Scharf
Josef Myrow
Constantin Bakaleinkoff
CinematographyHarry J. Wild
Edited byRobert Ford
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • December 29, 1953 (1953-12-29) (St. Louis)[1]
  • February 8, 1954 (1954-02-08) (USA)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Box office$2.9 million (US)[2]

The French Line is a 1953 musical film starring Jane Russell made by RKO Radio Pictures, directed by Lloyd Bacon and produced by Edmund Grainger, with Howard Hughes as executive producer. The screenplay was by Mary Loos and Richard Sale, based on a story by Matty Kemp and Isabel Dawn. It was filmed in three strip technicolor and Dual strip polarized 3D during what many consider 3-D film's "golden era" of 1952-1954.

Gilbert Roland co-stars and Kim Novak makes her first film appearance.

Plot[edit]

Millionairess Mame Carson's (Jane Russell) oil empire spells trouble for her love life. Men are either after her fortune or afraid of it. Her money-shy fiancé Phil Barton (Craig Stevens) has just given her the brush off.

A disappointed Mame heads for Paris on the French Line's Liberté with friend and fashion designer Annie Farrell (Mary McCarty). She swaps identities with Myrtle Brown (Joyce MacKenzie), one of Annie's models, hoping to find true love incognito.

Aboard ship, she falls in love with French playboy Pierre DuQuesne (Gilbert Roland) who, unbeknownst to Mame, has been hired by her zealous guardian Waco Mosby (Arthur Hunnicutt) to keep the fortune hunters at bay. Pierre professes his love for Mame. Is he sincere or is this just a ploy to gain access to her millions? Silliness ensues interspersed with several musical numbers until Pierre's real intentions are revealed.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

The French Line captures Russell at the height of her career, the year after Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, in a splashy musical comedy specializing in costumes so purposely skimpy that it received a "condemned" rating from the Catholic National Legion of Decency.[3] The outrageous outfits were designed by Howard Hughes and the craftsmen at RKO to display Russell's physique to best advantage. Russell's singing, dancing, and comedic skills are also much in evidence. The film was considered scandalous at the time.

Controversy[edit]

Producer Howard Hughes was no stranger to controversy, especially when it came to Jane Russell. His focus on Jane's cleavage in The Outlaw ran afoul of The Production Code in 1941. The film was held up until 1943 before it was finally given a limited release. The French Line had its own set of controversies. Jane's ample bosom literally popped out of the screen in 3-D. To stress the point Howard used the tagline "J.R. in 3D. It'll knock both your eyes out!" as part of the advertising campaign. He also added the raunchy song and dance number "Lookin' for Trouble" performed by Jane in a revealing one-piece outfit with three strategically placed cutouts.

The Breen Office refused to give the film a Production Code seal of approval, branding it "offensive" because of "indecent exposure" during the soon-to-be notorious dance number.[4] Hughes defiantly arranged for the film to premiere at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis on December 29, 1953 without the seal.[1] Russell refused to attend the premiere or do a publicity tour for the film, telling the press that "I certainly don't want to be associated with any picture that's denied the seal."[4][5] RKO was fined $25,000 for advertising and exhibiting the film with neither the Production Code seal nor the approval of the film industry's Advertising Advisory Council,[1][6] and the Archbishop of St. Louis Joseph Ritter forbade Catholics "under penalty of mortal sin" from seeing the film.[7] Nevertheless, the film sold over 60,000 tickets in the first five days of its St. Louis engagement.[5]

On January 9, 1954, RKO announced it would withdraw the film in nine days, in the meantime submitting a new cut to the Breen Office in the hopes of getting certified.[8][9] When the Office still refused to approve the film RKO decided to keep it in theaters, and the Catholic National Legion of Decency graded the film Class C or "Condemned" as a consequence.[5][10] The film was banned in Chicago[5] and Boston,[11] and was only released in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kansas and Detroit after part of the offending dance number was edited out.[12][13]

After the initial run Hughes re-released the edited version of the film flat (without the 3D process). Advertising changed the tagline to "THAT Picture! THAT Dance! -- you've heard so much about!" The publicity surrounding the film guaranteed a success for both versions.

Reception[edit]

Reviews were mostly negative. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times slammed the film as a "cheap, exhibitionistic thing in which even the elaboration of the feminine figure eventually becomes grotesque ... To say any more about the cheapness and obviousness of this R. K. O. film would be but to give it more attention. And that it most certainly does not deserve."[14] Variety called it "a rather mild, gabby fashion parade in 3-D" with "little of the imaginative" in the direction or screenplay.[15] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post wrote that "the essential sin of this half-baked dish is its dull, boring insistence. Since I am trying to forget the details as rapidly as possible, you will forgive me for not going into them specifically."[16] The Los Angeles Times wrote, "As a romantic comedy with music, the film may be described as uninventively reminiscent of such predecessors as 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' and 'Roberta.' Even with an intermission it runs uncomfortably long."[17] Harrison's Reports praised the "gorgeous" Technicolor but called the story "very weak, with the first three-fourths slow and uninspiring. It becomes lively in the model scenes in the last one-fourth, where flesh is displayed prominently, and in the dance sequences, where Miss Russell is tantalizing as she prances about in as scanty a costume as it is possible for a girl to wear."[18] John McCarten of The New Yorker reported that he watched the film's 3D effects "with interest, if very little pleasure," and lamented that Mary McCarty was "grievously wasted on such trash."[19] The Monthly Film Bulletin was somewhat kinder, writing that the script, "though low on comic situations, provides the star with some effective wisecracks and at least one number ('What is this I feel?') in which her comedy talent reveals itself as of a high order."[20]

Among more recent assessments, Time Out London described the song-and-dance routines as looking like "out-takes from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire,[21] and Craig Butler of AllMovie gave it one-and-a-half out of five stars, calling it "loud, garish and trashy -- but not so much so as to be more than intermittently fun and amusing."[22]

3-D Films[edit]

  • The French Line was filmed in RKO's own 3-D process which they titled "Future Dimension".
  • Bwana Devil - 1952 is often credited as the first 3-D film.
  • Recent advances in 3-D films including IMAX 3-D and Digital 3D are opening a new era of 3-D filmmaking.
  • For an extensive index of 3D films see List of 3D films.

Availability[edit]

  • The only known surviving 3-D print of "The French Line" was screened at The World 3-D Expo 2006 September 15, 2006 at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, Ca. The print included the very rare uncensored version of the "Lookin' for Trouble" number.
  • Turner Home Entertainment released "The French Line" on VHS in 1989. Although the box claimed the print to be "The Original Studio Edition" it was the re-edited version with the censored "Lookin' for Trouble" number. The VHS has been out of print for several years. It periodically surfaces on various auction web sites.
  • The Turner Classic Movie (TCM) cable channel occasionally shows the censored version on TV.
  • ABC Television in Australia also occasionally airs the censored version.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "RKO Liable to PCA Fine of $25,000 as 'Line' Premieres". Motion Picture Daily: 1. December 30, 1953.
  2. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954', Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955
  3. ^ "Catholic Unit Condemns Film". The New York Times: 34. January 19, 1954.
  4. ^ a b "Jane Russell Backs Censor in Film Row". Los Angeles Times: 2. December 28, 1953.
  5. ^ a b c d "The French Line - History". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  6. ^ "RKO Studio Fined For Jane Russell Picture". The Sun. San Bernardino, California: 1. January 9, 1954.
  7. ^ "Catholics Put Mortal Sin Tag on Russell Film". Los Angeles Times: 14. January 1, 1954.
  8. ^ "R.K.O. Chief Orders 'French Line' Close". The New York Times: 75. January 10, 1954.
  9. ^ "RKO, PCA Talk Revision of 'French Line'". Motion Picture Daily: 1. January 13, 1954.
  10. ^ "RKO to Release 'Line' Sans Seal; L of D Comdemns It". Motion Picture Daily: 1. January 19, 1954.
  11. ^ "Mass. Censors Hit by RKO". Motion Picture Daily: 19. August 26, 1954.
  12. ^ "'Line' Opens Here May 14". Motion Picture Daily: 2. May 4, 1954.
  13. ^ Butters Jr., Gerald R. (2007). Banned in Kansas: Motion Picture Censorship, 1915-1966. University of Missouri Press. p. 267. ISBN 9780826266033.
  14. ^ Crowther, Bosley (May 15, 1954). "French Line' Anchors". The New York Times: 13.
  15. ^ "The French Line". Variety: 52. January 6, 1954.
  16. ^ Coe, Richard L. (May 12, 1954). "As If the French Need More Woe!". The Washington Post: 24.
  17. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (February 25, 1954). "Jane Russell's Dancing Heats Up 'French Line'". Los Angeles Times. Part II, p. 12.
  18. ^ "'The French Line' with Jane Russell and Gilbert Roland". Harrison's Reports: 2. January 2, 1954.
  19. ^ McCarten, John (May 22, 1954). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 112-113.
  20. ^ "The French Line". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 21 (245): 84. June 1954.
  21. ^ "The French Line". Time Out London. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  22. ^ Butler, Craig. "The French Line - Review". AllMovie. Retrieved October 1, 2018.

External links[edit]