Sixty Glorious Movie Years – part 1

Standing alone ….. Gary Cooper starred in one of the year’s big films, High Noon

The Diamond Jubilee may be less than a couple of weeks away – but don’t panic!  I’m not planning to festoon my blog with bunting, or become dewy-eyed about our second-longest-serving monarch.  But I am going to use the forthcoming celebrations as an opportunity to look back at cinema history during the other landmark years of her reign: 1952, when she succeeded as Queen; 1977, the Silver Jubilee; and 2002, the Golden Jubilee.

So, into our cinematic time machine and back we go to 1952.  It’s the year when tea rationing came to an end (rationing as a whole didn’t end until 1954), the UK population reached 50.5 million, the average annual income per person was £7,500, the New Musical Express published its first UK singles chart, Bill and Ben made their TV debut and a loaf of bread cost 3d.  And, of course, King George VI died.

Despite post-war austerity, there were over 4,500 cinema screens in the UK – television was in its infancy – and a ticket cost an average of just 1s 8d, or 8p in today’s money.  For today’s price, just add a couple of noughts – at the very least! Long-gone names such as ABC and Gaumont were among the main cinema chains.

Changes to the Cinematographers Act in 1952 resulted in the arrival of the notorious ‘X’ certificate, the first age-restricted classification in this country, which prevented those under 16 from seeing X-rated films.  Women of Twilight (known in the USA as Twilight Women) is believed to be the first British film to receive an X certificate.  It also included a part for a young, and not-very-well-known, Laurence Harvey.

The big films of the year were The Greatest Show On Earth (also the highest grossing film of the year, netting $14 million), Singin’ In The Rain, High Noon, The Quiet Man, The Bad And The Beautiful and The Snows of Kilimanjaro.  At the Oscars, A Streetcar Named Desire netted three of the four acting awards – Vivien Leigh won Best Actress, Karl Malden Best Supporting Actor and Kim Hunter Best Supporting Actress, but Marlon Brando lost out as Best Actor to Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen.  Best Picture, however, went to An American In Paris.  And Cinematography and Art Direction still had two categories – black and white and colour.

The year’s claim to cinema history fame comes in the wide screen shape of Cinerama.  It made its debut in 1952 in New York in a film with the imaginative title This Is Cinerama.  The format arrived in the UK two years later at the London Casino cinema in Old Compton Street, followed by the opening of the ABC Cinerama in Birmingham.  However, only two feature films were made in the original format – The Wonderful World of The Brothers Grimm and the epic western, How The West Was Won – and it was soon overtaken by other, cheaper wide screen formats. 

Anne Bancroft made her film debut in 1952

Other debuts in 1952 included the arrival into the world of Harvey Weinstein (19 March), Robert Zemeckis (14 May), Gus Van Sant (24 July) and Mickey Rourke (16 September).  Anne Bancroft made her on-screen debut in Don’t Bother To Knock.

Veteran actor/director Charlie Chaplin hit the headlines this year, not for his films but because he was refused entry back into the USA, despite having lived there for 20 years.  He had been associated with left-wing activity and Senator Joseph McCarthy was just getting into his stride.  Chaplin settled in Europe, only returning to America 20 years later to collect an honorary Oscar from the American Academy.

With 1952 behind us, in the next part, we’ll leap forward to 1977, the year of the Silver Jubilee.  Comedy was riding high at the movies – and it marked the film debut of a certain Ms Streep ……


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