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The Big Lift

The Big Lift(1950)

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This film's working titles were The Quartered City and Two Corridors East. George Seaton's onscreen credit reads: "Written and Directed by George Seaton." The opening titles include the following statements: "This picture was made in occupied Germany. All scenes were photographed in the exact locale associated with the story, including episodes in the American, French, British and Russian sectors of Berlin. With the exception of Montgomery Clift and Paul Douglas, all military personnel appearing in this film are actual members of the U.S. Armed Forces on duty in Germany." According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, the Berlin production was plagued by logistical and political problems. Seaton wrote an article for the New York Times in which he detailed some of the difficulties involved in filming: "Finally the Soviets promised cooperation on the condition we inform them well in advance as to what, where, when and how we planned to shoot. We supplied the information to their satisfaction and a few weeks later made our way through the Brandenburg Gate. Our location, just inside the Gate, was deserted. While shooting in the other sectors, we had been given soldiers or district police to handle traffic and the inevitable crowd that likes to watch a picture company at work. Here there was no one. We controlled the spectators who quickly gathered as best we could and began rehearsing. Then, just as we were about to turn the camera, a radio blared forth. Looking up, we saw, directly over our heads, a newly erected loud-speaker through which was coming the voice of a news commentator revealing 'the miserable poverty which existed the world over except in Russia, certain neighboring countries and the East Zone of Germany.' We waited and waited, but the voice droned on. There was nothing to do but to shoot the scene silently and add the dialogue sound track later. The scene over, we packed up our equipment and returned into the British sector. The radio stopped abruptly. Out of curiosity we went back to the spot the next day-the loud speaker had been removed."
       According to documents in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, also at UCLA, the production was based at the Ufa Studio on Viktoriastrasse in Berlin. That studio supplied the sound crew and filled various other craft positions including camera assistants, makeup artists, and assistant director. In an Am Cin article, cinematographer Charles G. Clarke described other problems involved in shooting in post-war Germany; "One of the inducements for making The Big Lift in Germany was that it afforded opportunity for our studio to utilize some of its 'frozen' funds in that country-money that had been earned there by other 20th Century-Fox releases....As the script required that many of the scenes be played in heavily overcast weather, to point up the difficulty with which the airlift was carried on, we shot many of the scenes in stormy weather....Those who have seen the picture remark about the very effective aerial shots. These May be attributed to the fact that we used a C82 'Flying Boxcar' for our camera ship. The construction of this famous Fairchild plane is such that the rear of the fuselage May be removed, permitting a clear, unobstructed view and allowing panorama shots up to 170 degrees....In the very beginning we were under pressure to complete all scenes in which Montgomery Clift appears, because he had another commitment back in the United States. Then, after these scenes were disposed of in record time, we faced a new problem; time was running out on our German leading lady, Cornell Borchers, who was committed for another picture." Studio records reveal that shortly after Clarke and camera operator Lou Kunkel arrived in early May, before prinicipal photography began, they shot much of the activity at both terminals of the Lift, in addition to shooting process plates for later use.
       According to studio records, the supporting cast May also have included Harold Dyrenforth, Otto Grevis, George Ghermanoff, Erno Kiraly, John Peters, Fred Spitz, Walter Thiele and Bruce Morgan. On Sunday December 11, 1949, additional filming was done at Lockheed Aircraft Service Inc., Burbank. A radio dramatization of the story starring Paul Douglas was broadcast on the Screen Directors' Playhouse program on January 18, 1951.