|. . . Comparison of 70mm and 35mm runs of "Around the World" shows the wide film far ahead in gross in a variety of situations
by GEORGE SCHUTZ
Editor, "Better Theatres"
As a new production in the Todd-AO process comes to the screen, evaluation of wide film has timely significance, and with "South Pacific" the third picture to be
exhibited in this technique, judgment can be based on practical experience at box office as well as in booth and on screen.
Novelty Value at First
Both "Oklahoma!" and "Around the World in 80 Days" have proved the use of 70mm prints technically practicable for commercial application. But since they
require very considerable special installations in the theatre, it is proper by now to ask whether, and how, such technique also distinguishes itself at the box office.
As a rule, grosses do not represent public interest in the physical nature of a screen attraction. If it introduces a brand new process, some portion of the public may
be curious about its technical novelty. After that, mere acceptance of the process is the most that later productions in it can inherit as an exploitable feature. "The
play's the thing."
The qualities of a screen performance, however, are those of its physical as well as creative technique. A story cannot be developed without reference to the
technical resources available to tell it. These have been importantly refined and greatly extended by larger pictures in a format feasible for a width approaching
saturation of the effective field of vision. The Todd-AO process is a method calculated to achieve such dimensions without sacrifice of other physical qualities of
the performance that are just as important as scale
Problem About Whipped
Its 70mm film also provides six track stereophonic sound with the facility of combination prints. The primary aim, however, is realized rather in the use of film wider than 35mm to fill the field of vision with a picture that. is "sharp." That function must have impact on the box office somewhere along the line.
For indoor theatres, the problem of light introduced by the Big Picture has been practically whipped by developments in projection lamps and screen surfaces. That of excessive magnification .is quite another matter. Much of the impact and sense of presence achieved by greater scale has been balanced by loss in resolution of the film photograph. Inadequate resolution robs the performance of its potential conviction, of its realism and pictorial beauty. That loss has to show in box office grosses somewhere, sometime.
One of the Todd-AO productions has had many months of exhibition in two technical versions one the regular 70mm
with six sound tracks, the other a 35mm anamorphic print-down with four tracks. This is "Around the World in 80 Days," which followed wide film exhibition of "Oklahoma!" in large cities throughout the country. The Mike Todd production therefore was not appealing to curiosity about a new technique. Yet the box office record of "80 Days" has been generally better with the wide film version than with the print-down.
For comparison, the engagements in San Francisco and St. Louis offer comparable conditions of population and available clientele. In the California city, "80 Days" has been playing since December 26, 1956, in the 70mm version.
In St. Louis, this picture in the 35mm version opened at the Esquire theatre June 4, 1957, and closed December 31, a run of 29 weeks. The total gross was $253,000. In its first 29 weeks in San Francisco, at the Coronet, "80 Days" did $705,000! Still running, the San Francisco engagement completed 63 weeks March
5, with an aggregate gross of $1,461,000. By then, it is reliably reported, it had paid $950,000 in film rental.
Let us take two comparable cities of much smaller size, Hartford, Conn., and Albany, N. Y. In Hartford, "80 Days" played 15 weeks in 70mm. The 35mm version was used in Albany, where the run was eight weeks, for a total gross of $53,000.
In Hartford, the gross for the first eight weeks was $158,000!
To compare performance in yet another class of community, medium-sized cities that are regional metropolises: In Denver "80 Days" in 70mm ran 30 weeks, in
Salt Lake City the 35mm version ran 15 weeks, achieving a gross of $92,000. But in its first 15 weeks in Denver, the 70mm version ran up a gross of $157,000!
Technique Is A Factor
In the mass of factors determining the career of a motion picture, these figures definitely trace the influence of technical qualities. This influence emerges even
more clearly in figures comparing the 35mm version of "80 Days" with other outstanding productions in 35mm. They put evaluation pretty strictly on a basis of
story and stars, the qualities which are supposed to control public response to a screen attraction, mane or less to the exclusion of everything else. Such relative
performances as the following may be noted:MOTION PICTURE HERALD, MARCH 22, 1958
In St. Louis, "The Ten Commandments" grossed more in 12 weeks than the 35mm version of "80 Days" did in its run of 29 weeks! The DeMille epic of course is a
sterling performer wherever it plays--it has everything that produces strong billing among all classes of the population. But the grosses of other screen hits compare
favorably with those of "80 Days"' in 35mm. In Troy, N. Y., for example, where "Ten Commandments" ran 64 per cent. ahead, "Sayonara" showed almost as much
relative strength, doing 50 per cent better than the print-down of the Jules Verve classic. At the same theatre, Loew's, in Norfolk, Va., the print-down was matched or headed by releases of such diverse appeal as "Don't Go Near the Water," "Blackboard Jungle" and "High Society."
Thus the record shows that the distinctions of the Michael Todd production as a creative effort have achieved their fullest public recognition only where that
creative effort had the benefit of the Todd-AO technique from camera to screen. The 70mm version did not always do better than the print-down at the start of the
run, but it built faster, and continued to hold its appeal for a longer run. That is typically the pattern. Such performance can be accounted for only by
word-of-mouth advertising. "80 Days" in Todd-AO must have had impact which "80 Days" in 35mm did not.
This bears out the evidence of booth and screen. The Todd-AO 70mm print has an aperture area of 1.65-inch, against an area of .652 for the print-down. The latter
is anamorphic at 1.56-to-1. While squeeze allows a larger aperture and shorter focal length lens than 35mm "flat," the factors of resolution are still present in
magnification, and enlargement of the print-down film photograph runs to around twice that of the wide-film frame. For a picture 52 feet wide, the 35mm frame
would be enlarged 290,000 times, and only 115,000 for 70mm.
In the theatre are the ultimate resources of writer, director, player. What they do, and what comes of it, are also things of aperture dimensions, of magnification, of
foot-lamberts, of sound localization, of dynamic range, etc. Those things don't belong on the marquee, but they wind up in the box office just the same.