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Critical Moments

It may have been a merry holiday for hotel proprietors, department store owners, toy manufacturers and hooch sellers but to the citizens who make a precarious livelihood out of the theatre it was just another festive occasion from which they received nothing. What made it doubly hard to bear was the fact that the old myth, about the week after Christmas being the best week of the show season, was badly punctured. The idea had been nurtured that the week between Christmas and New Year’s was endowed with some magical quality that inspired in people an unsuppressable urge to attend a theatre. As a matter of fact, during the last three or four years post-Christmas has meant nothing to the show business, but the boys continued to hope.

In looking for excuses Broad wayites advanced some interesting alibis, such as: department store business was far ahead of last year, therefore people did not have any money left to spend on shows; there were too many legitimate plays available (my count showed forty); the absence of out-of-town visitors as evidenced by a checkup of hotel registers; the multitude of good pictures; the new habit of dawdling over the dinner table in restaurants which offer a floor show that keeps people around the board until ten o’clock and hence too late for a play; and anything else you can think of.

Unfortunately all the reasons given for the falling off of business can be applied to any other week in the year; but the fact that twelve new plays opened within two weeks and five drew even faintly favorable notices is indicative of a rather new trend in theatre going. In the past few years people have refused to put up the money for the theatre tickets unless they were sure that the attraction was something they would enjoy. The result is that a show which five or six years ago could get by for a six or eight week run now finds itself starved out within two weeks. Theatre-goers have become very choosy and will go only to the out-and-out hits of which there are never enough.

THE YEAR ON THE LEGITIMATE STAGE

All in all, 1934 was not a bad legitimate year. Although vaudeville slipped back a few cogs the legitimate stage enjoyed more prosperity than it has had since 1929. Certainly in the number of productions 1934 far surpassed 1933. At one time there were forty plays running on Broadway. According to Jack Pulaski, one of the shrewdest critics of the drama, 120 shows were presented on Broadway during the season that ended in June, of which sixty were able to show a profit to their producers. Since June a like number have raised curtains and there has been an equal number of successes. This is a good percentage and added to that is the contribution of Hollywood, which spent some $800,000 for the right to make plays into pictures.

The big money maker of the season was “As Thousands Cheer,” which brought into the box-office the considerable sum of $1,200,000. Other lucrative ventures were “Ah Wilderness,” “Roberti,” “Dodsworth,” “The Great Waltz.” On the road Katharine Cornell’s tour did $650,000 while “Green Pastures,” and “The Follies” also did more business than was expected.

THE CINEMA

The past year also showed an improvement for the motion picture industry. Films drew a larger attendance than they did in 1933 but the industry is still far away from the record set in 1928. The pictures that attracted the largest crowds were surprising enough: “Little Women,” “I’m No Angel,” “Judge Priest,” “Dinner at Eight,” “It Happened One Night,” “The Bowery,” “One Night of Love,” “The Gay Divorcee” and “Baby Take a Bow.”

During 1934 the only new star to appear was the very young Shirley Temple but such players as Eddie Cantor, George Arliss, Paul Muni, Will Rogers, Wallace Beery and George Raft were, able to hold their own. Mae West and Greta Garbo, however, disappointed their sponsors. The first named drew only on the strength of her former pictures while the latter was the victim of poor scenarios.

Most interesting event of the season was the entrance of Gaumont British into the picture field here. Formerly English companies showed a reluctance to compete with American films but for the first time it was discovered that the American public held no grudge against English pictures, demanding only that they come up to standard.

Germany, formerly the leader among the foreigners, dropped far to the rear, being outdistanced by both English and Russian producers. Hitler’s insane regulations strangled UFA with the result that not one outstanding German hit was sent across the waters.

The outstanding foreign films sent over here came mostly from England. Two of them: “The Private Life of Henry VIII,” with Charles Laughton, and “Catharine the Great,” with Elizabeth Bergner, met with a warm reception and made the exhibitors very happy indeed. Incidentally the success of these foreign films had a good effect on American productions. It pointed out a new and dangerous source of competition and gave notice that Hollywood had better watch its step.

PERSONAL SELECTIONS

My selection for the best and most enjoyable films of the year would include “Viva Villa,” “Private Life of Henry VIII,” “Catherine the Great,” “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage {SPAN}#atch,”{/SPAN} “Gay Divorcee,” “One Night of Love” and “Mighty Barnum.”

As to the legitimate stage, I feel that first place should go to “The Children’s Hour.” The other plays I enjoyed were “Anything Goes,” “Sailors of Cattaro,” “Stevedore,” “Ah Wilderness” and the D’Oyle Carte Opera Company.

THE JEWISH SITUATION

Certainly the Jews of America can find no fault with the treatment accorded the race by either the stage or the cinema. “The House of Rothschild,” “Power” and the many anti-Hitler films were all pro-Semitic. On the stage there were at least five pro-Semitic and anti-Hitler plays. True enough not any of them ever reached the hit class but that was no fault of the producers. The large number of Jews connected with both the theatrical and motion picture industry may have been responsible for this attitude but the fact remains that no American productions were released that could be considered distasteful to the Jews.

IN PROSPECT

This coming week promises five new plays. “The Petrified Forest” at the Broadhurst; “The Old Maid” at the Empire; “A Lady Detained” at the Ambassador; “Fly Away Home” at the Forty-eighth Street, and “Living Dangerously” at the Morosco. The rumber of plays that will close are legion but at this time a complete list is not available.

“Sweet Adeline,” Warner’s newest musical film with Irene Dunne, opened at the Paramount and “The Little Minister” held over at the Music Hall. “A Wicked Woman” is the offering at the Astor and “I am a Thief” plays the Mayfair. W. C. Fields will be seen at the Roxy in “It’s a Gift.”

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