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20th Century Fox: The Blockbuster Years

20th Century Fox: The Blockbuster Years(2000)


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Originally broadcast on American Movie Classics, Fox - The Blockbuster Years (now available on DVD from Image Entertainment) is an audience-friendly crash course in the history of Twentieth-Century-Fox. Though it's easy to see this documentary as little more than a thinly disguised self-promotional vehicle for Fox movies, it is reasonably entertaining and does a good job of covering more than eight decades in the studio's history within a brisk 113 minute presentation. Naturally, the first half of Fox - The Blockbuster Years focuses on Darryl F. Zanuck, the self-made mogul in charge of production (under President Joseph M. Schenck) whose contributions to the studio were invaluable; his eye for talent was responsible for bringing major directors to Fox such as Ernst Lubitsch, Joseph Mankiewicz and Elia Kazan along with some of the most popular stars of the day - Shirley Temple, Alice Faye, Sonja Henie, Marilyn Monroe, Tyrone Power, Gregory Peck and Richard Widmark. In the 50s, however, the studio fell on hard times due to competition from television and the documentary manages to generate some genuine drama around this troubled period when Zanuck resigned his position to become an independent producer. Spyros Skouras took over production and almost bankrupted the studio with a string of costly failures that culminated in the notoriously over-budget epic, Cleopatra. Skouras was eventually forced out and, in a surprising turn of events, Zanuck returned to run the studio in 1962, hiring his son Richard as production chief. A series of box office hits, led by The Sound of Music, put the studio back on top for awhile, but by 1970 Fox was in trouble again and Zanuck made headlines when he forced his own son out of the company after a stormy stockholders' meeting.

The remainder of Fox - The Blockbuster Years flies through the many other studio Presidents from Dennis C. Stanfill to Marvin Davis to Rupert Murdoch to Peter Chernin but you'll remember less about them than some of the movies produced under their reign: The Towering Inferno, Young Frankenstein, The Omen, Star Wars, Alien, Cocoon, Home Alone, Titanic. The problem with documentaries on major movie studios is that they have a tendency to become one huge clip show. In the case of Fox - The Blockbuster Years, the clips are actually well chosen and often focus on some of the "smaller" pictures like Breaking Away and Raising Arizona. There are also numerous behind the scenes glimpses of mega-productions like The Towering Inferno as well as brief but informative sound bites from former Fox employees like Raquel Welch, Tom Hanks, Gene Wilder, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, Irwin Allen and Oliver Stone. All in all, Fox - The Blockbuster Years is an entertaining way to reacquaint yourself with the studio and its library. In fact, it will probably inspire you to rent some of the wonderful films featured in this documentary which was probably the real inspiration behind this production.

For more information on Fox - The Blockbuster Years, visit Image Entertainment.To purchase copies, visit Movies Unlimited.

by Jeff Stafford