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Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1925 Studio Tour

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1925 Studio Tour(1925)


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Loew's Inc., which owned a chain of palace-style theaters, purchased a production company called Metro Pictures in 1920. By 1922, the company had swallowed Goldwyn Pictures in addition to Louis B. Mayer's small production company. In April 1924, the vertically integrated studio became Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or MGM.

A year later, the studio produced and released Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1925 Studio Tour, a well-conceived promotional short that not only announced its roster of stars but educated the ever-expanding movie audience on the process for making a movie. In doing so, MGM proclaimed itself Hollywood's premiere movie studio.

Ever since Marcus Loew began building and expanding Loew's, Inc. as a successful chain of exhibition palaces for movies and vaudeville, he had been in competition with his former partner, Adolph Zukor. Zukor took more chances than the conservative Loew: He was the first to combine production and distribution, dominating the film industry by the mid-1910s. Around 1920, he began buying picture-palace theaters, developing theatrical events called presentation-cinema shows, which were a combination of live performances and motion pictures. Three years later, Zukor's Paramount Pictures had produced the most expensive film to date, DeMille's The Ten Commandments, and had initiated an agenda to acquire theaters at an alarming rate. Paramount would own more theaters, operate the largest distribution network, and be worth more money than any other studio on the stock exchange.

However, MGM, which came under the leadership of Nicholas Schenck in the early 1920s, proclaimed its premiere status by touting other characteristics. Young producer Irving Thalberg, with Schenck's approval, spearheaded a system of making movies that were not only profitable but of admirable quality. During the same year as Studio Tour, Thalberg produced Ben Hur, which earned a domestic gross of $4,359,000 and a foreign gross of $5,027,000, and The Big Parade, which earned $4,990,000 domestically on a budget of $382,000. The studio bragged of record earnings. Also at this time, MGM began to be identified by its large roster of stars, considered the most popular and the most glamorous in Hollywood.

The opening of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1925 Studio Tour promises to bring viewers "into the shadow land of make believe" by introducing the men and women who created and produced the movies from story to screen. The structure of the short is to take viewers through the production process by focusing on the individuals in each department. Their Culver City location is impressive: The camera glides through a colonnaded, neo-classical gate that had been part of the property since the days of Triangle Studio, which had been owned by Mack Sennett, D.W. Griffith and Thomas Ince. An almost 360-degree pan reveals part of the studio's 43 acres, 45 buildings, 14 stages, and three miles of paved streets.

For modern-day audiences, the fun of Studio Tour is the glimpse of writers, directors, and stars who would become the legends and icons of Hollywood. For example, the "foremost writers" who are part of the story department include a young Howard Hawks. A group shot of studio directors features the famous, such as King Vidor, Joseph von Sternberg, and William Wellman, and the infamous, particularly Erich von Stroheim. There are also those who were highly praised at the time but are now overlooked or forgotten, including Christy Cabanne, Victor Seastrom and Fred Niblo.

Of course, it is the movie stars who exude the charisma and glamour that command our attention and mesmerize our senses. Major stars of the 1920s such as John Gilbert, Mae Busch and Ramon Novarro stroll across the lot they rule, never guessing they will be always be associated with an era defined by the silence they cannot escape. Norma Shearer is shown with her fan mail, basking in a popularity attained with the help of her husband, Irving Thalberg. And, then there is the young starlet introduced as Lucille Le Sueur. Could the producers of Studio Tour foresee that she is about to burst onto the big screen as Joan Crawford, achieving superstardom in the sound era that is just around the corner?

After brief visits to the camera department, the art directors' workspace, and the power houses where electricity is generated, the tour concludes with footage of films in production in 1925. Tod Browning is shown directing night scenes for The Mystic, while Edmund Goulding puts Conrad Nagel and Lucille La Verne through their paces in Sun Up. Aside from seeing big-name directors at work on the set, the footage reveals production practices in the days before sound. An orchestra plays on the set to provide mood and atmosphere, while the directors give instruction to the actors during the scene as the action unfolds.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1925 Studio Tour gave movie fans at the time a glimpse into the Dream Factory. Producers could not have known they were also preserving a piece of film history.

-Susan Doll

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