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Thin Ice

Thin Ice(1937)

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According to news items and information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, the title of this film was changed from Thin Ice to Lovely to Look At before it was changed back to Thin Ice on July 19, 1937. The play, as adapted by Fanny and Frederic Hatton, opened in New York on October 23, 1930 under the title His Majesty's Car and starred Miriam Hopkins. Thin Ice was the second film of Norwegian Olympic skating champion Sonja Henie, who was picked eighth on the Motion Picture Herald list of top ten money-making stars of 1937. The Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, also at UCLA, contains conference notes from Darryl Zanuck dated April 28, 1937 concerning the final screenplay, with the following instructions to the writers: "Important Note: You are to go through and cut Lili's [the character played by Henie] lines down-to monosyllablic, one-line speeches, wherever possible." Zanuck also instructed director Sidney Lanfield that, "Every bit player must have a foreign accent." According to information in the legal records, the film was "based very slightly" on the screenplay for Fox's 1933 film My Lips Betray, which was also based on Orbok's play. The legal records note that "only a few incidents" in Thin Ice were taken from the earlier film, which had a screenplay by Hans Kraly and Jane Storm, and dialogue by S. N. Behrman. That film was directed by John Blystone and starred Lilian Harvey and John Boles.

       According to a Hollywood Reporter news item dated March 31, 1937, David Butler was to direct snow scenes at Mt. Rainier, WA with Henie and Tyrone Power, after which Sidney Lanfield would direct the main part of the film in the studio. However, a later news item in Daily Variety stated that although a company went to Rainier National Park, they returned without footage because of inclement weather, and the snow scenes were going to be done by process photography. In their review, Variety stated that outdoor scenes were shot at Mt. Rainier. This May have meant only the background footage in the process shots. The film included three ice ballets involving over 100 skaters. According to a New York Times article, the ice rink used for this and other Henie films was 100 by 145 feet in length. Another New York Times article noted that dance director Harry Losee was not a skater and had not previously designed skating routines. A press release for the film stated that Henie's brother Leif played a reporter in the film. The copyright entry credits Samuel Kaylin with musical direction, while screen credits and all other sources credit Louis Silvers. The names of Christian Rub and Eleanor Wesselhoeft, listed in the roles of "Minister" and "Minister's wife," have been crossed out on an early cast listing in legal records. Leonard Mudie is credited as playing a chauffeur in an early cast listing, but his participation in the final film has not been confirmed. According to the legal records, Elisha Cook, Jr. was originally cast in the role that George Givot eventually played.

       According to the legal records, on July 7, 1937, the day before production ended on this film, Zanuck wrote a letter to Paramount Pictures chief executive Adolph Zukor in which he charged that the Paramount film Easy Living, which was due to be released shortly, was based on the same play as Thin Ice (which was then called Lovely to Look At). Zanuck stated in the letter, "There is no question in my mind but what someone sold you or your Scenario Department a New York version of our Hungarian play....There is no question but what the entire premise [of Easy Living] is exactly the same and a number of the individual scenes are the same....too many of them are the same to blame it on coincidence." Zanuck included an inter-office memo from Raymond Griffith, the associate producer of Thin Ice, in which he specified the similarities: "A poor girl, living in poor circumstances, by accident gets into the car of an important man....She is then mistaken for the mistress of this important man....The rumor is spread...in our case through the hotel manager, and in their case through the hotel manager. Our hotel manager and in the play, the hotel manager takes the girl into a beautiful hotel. In their case, they go to a hotel. In both stories presents are lavished on the girl in exactly the same way. The count and Prime Minister in our picture try to influence the girl in their favor. In their picture the hotel manager tries to have the girl influence the financier in his favor. In ours there is a false rumor that she is not the mistress. In theirs there is a false rumor that the stock is going down. In both our pictures and the play the thing that solves it is that the girl marries the prince in ours, and in theirs she states that the stock is going up." Two days later, on July 9, 1937, Twentieth Century-Fox's legal counsel, George Wasson, wrote a letter to Zukor's attention in which he pointed out that Thin Ice cost in excess of $1,000,000 and then stated, "we are positive that the release of your...production prior to a reasonable period after the release of our picture, would absolutely destroy the value of our picture to us." He warned, "while we do not wish to alter the cordial relations which exist between our respective companies...unless you immediately give us assurance that you will not exhibit or further exhibit your said production until after the completion of the exhibition of our motion picture in the first run houses in the United States...we will be forced to commence action against your company." The planned release date for Thin Ice was 3 September 1937.

       Zukor responded in a four-page letter dated the same day, July 9, 1937. After stating that "the charges, insinuations and tone of these communications are wholly unjustified and unwarranted and have no basis in fact," Zukor claimed that the similar scenes in the two films were not in the original play, but in the treatments developed coincidentally by the two studios. Additionally, he pointed out that Easy Living differed from the play substantially: "...the ignorance of the girl [in the play] regarding the suspicion that she is someone's mistress lasts for a very short time and after that she is part and parcel of the conspiracy...because she is gradually falling in love with the King whose mistress she is supposed to be. Our picture has no such scenes or implications. In ours the girl never knows what she is suspected of being until the very finish of the picture and that only lasts for a few seconds....the girl, in complete ignorance of what everybody else in the picture suspects, goes from scene to scene never knowing what it's all about other than that apparently people are kind to her." Zukor concluded, "I must advise you that there is no reason why we should, and we do not intend to, alter our present plans and commitments for the release of our picture."

       In a letter dated July 13, 1937, Wasson reiterated the claim that the plots of Easy Living and the 1933 film My Lips Betray were "identical" and warned, "Because of the cooperative and friendly relations between Paramount and Twentieth Century-Fox, we regret at this time to disrupt same by legal procedure, however your failure to do anything but practically ignore our rights and the facts in the case has driven us to a position where we see no alternative." Also on July 13, 1937, the Twentieth Century-Fox legal counsel from the New York office, Edwin P. Kilroe, sent a telegram to Wasson after viewing Easy Living, in which he stated that relying on his memory of My Lips Betray, he did not "believe we could sustain our claim of infringement against Easy Living." Kilroe then had a comparison made between the two films. The document concerning the comparison concluded: "Only in general set-up is there a resemblance here....Treatment, development, and details are entirely different....Characters are entirely different....there are almost no scenes or situations common to both scripts in which the same lines could have been used." No further documents concerning the dispute have been located.

       As noted in a review, Sonja Henie and Tyrone Power were, at the time of the film's release, the subject of numerous newspaper columns linking them romantically. According to a biography of Henie, she insisted on Power as her co-star despite Zanuck's initial refusal. The biography also notes that Jack Pfeiffer was dance director Harry Losee's assistant and Belle Christy was cast as a chorus girl. Losee was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on the "Prince Igor Suite" number. According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, this film was banned in Germany during 1937 and 1938.