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The Eve of St. Mark

The Eve of St. Mark(1944)

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According to a November 16, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item, Warner Bros., Paramount, M-G-M and Twentieth Century-Fox had each offered to meet Maxwell Anderson's asking price of $300,000 for the screen rights to his successful Broadway play before he selected Twentieth Century-Fox. Included in the purchase was an agreement not to release the film before January 1944, in order to give the play time to finish its run. Cast members Michael O'Shea, Stanley Prager, Joann Dolan, Toni Favor, George Mathews and Joven E. Rola reprised their roles from the Broadway production of the play.
       In June 1943, Hollywood Reporter announced that Dana Andrews, James Engler and Brian Donlevy were being considered for top spots in the picture, and that "after making exhaustive tests for the femme lead," the studio handed the role to Dorothy McGuire. In July 1943, Hollywood Reporter noted that Charles Bickford had been cast as "Deckman West," and in August 1943, that Maureen O'Hara would play "Janet Feller," as McGuire was not available for loanout from David O. Selznick for the role. Another August 1943 Hollywood Reporter item stated that Aline MacMahon would be reprising her Broadway role of "Nell West" for the film. According to studio publicity statements, Tony Hughes was to play the chaplain, although that part is played by Harry Shannon in the finished film, and Leland Gray was cast as a soldier. Gray's appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed, however. Ray Collins was borrowed from M-G-M for the production, which marked the screen debut of Stanley Prager. Michael O'Shea, who had been billed as Eddie O'Shea on Broadway, received such good notices for The Eve of St. Mark, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item, that Twentieth Century-Fox signed him to a long-term contract, which was shared with Hunt Stromberg.
       According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the film had numerous censorship problems, which began in 1942 when Paramount and M-G-M asked the PCA for approval to adapt the play. PCA director Joseph I. Breen strongly advised against the purchase, stating that a film based on the material could never be approved. Breen cited as problematic the scene in which the percentage of soldiers who will be sexually active is discussed; the characterization of "Lill" and "Sal" as prostitutes; the sequence in which "Quizz," while at home before being shipped out, and "Janet" contemplate consumating their relationship before they are married; and the "blasphemous language which occurs throughout the story." The June 9, 1943 first draft continuity submitted to the PCA by Twentieth Century-Fox was rejected by Breen due to the "percentage" concept relating to sexual activity, the men's interactions with "Lill" and "Sal," and the discussion between "Quizz" and "Janet" about the morality of becoming lovers before he leaves for combat duty. Breen also objected to "Janet" and "Nell" telling "Quizz" in the dream sequence to come home so that he can fulfill his relationship with "Janet." To make the screenplay acceptable, Breen suggested that the studio make it clear that the "percentage" scene referred to soldiers becoming drunk and disorderly. Although the studio did insert the suggested dialogue for that scene, as well as dropping the controversial discussion between "Janet" and "Quizz," numerous other dialogue bits objected to by the PCA were kept in the finished film, including "Ruby's" frequent use of the word "rutting"; "Mulveroy's" line, "With me, they got to have shoes!" when referring to his sexual preferences; and much of the suggestive dialogue in the sequences with "Lill" and "Sal."
       Although the picture received generally favorable reviews, several reviewers criticized the ending, in which it is definitely implied that "Quizz" is still alive. The New York Herald Tribune reviewer commented, "There are those, undoubtedly, who will question the propriety of changing the ending....[that] found a farmboy dying on a South Sea atoll shortly after Pearl Harbor as 'one of the first to go, one of the first to die that we May keep this earth for free men.' Anderson was writing of his nephew, Sergeant Lee Chambers, and dedicated the play to him." According to the Los Angeles Times critic, "the prophecy contained in the title is never fulfilled. This prophecy, a 'vision' of death on St. Mark's Eve, was originally shot as written and then changed when preview spectators complained of the 'unhappy ending.' As a consequence, Anderson's whole point is blunted and his title rendered meaningless." Early scripts contained in the studio files indicate that Twentieth Century-Fox did originally intend to preserve Anderson's ending. The Variety reviewer, however, asserted that the change had its "compensations," noting, "If 20th-Fox's purpose was to give hope to friends and relatives of Philippine defenders 'missing in action'-and there's little question that such was its intent-then it's a commendable token of how Hollywood has done much in this war to promote the morale of the American civilian."
       According to the obituary of writer Marion Hargrove (1919-2003), Anderson based the character of "Pvt. Francis Marion" on him. Among Hargrove's many books was the comic novel See Here, Private Hargrove, upon which a 1944 M-G-M picture of the same title was produced (see below).