Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Cut and Paste Film Making

Yesterday being a bank holiday meant that some channel somewhere would be showing an old war movie - and, lo and behold, ITV4 obliged with Tobruk, a 1967 Hollywood desert war epic.  I have to say that, by no stretch of the imagination could Tobruk be considered a good film.  Historically speaking, it has only a nodding acquaintance with the facts of the war in the Western Desert.  But it is spectacular featuring, as many war big budget war movies of its era did, large scale battle sequences, (featuring, as ever, lots of anachronistic equipment, particularly the tanks: the Afrika Korps are driving aound in post war US M48s, for instance).  However, my main interest in Tobruk is in its role as a 'donor movie', with its action sequences being lifted wholesale and transplanted into a different movie.  Raid on Rommel (1971) is one of my favourite examples of 'cut and paste' movie making.  On paper, it sounds like an impressive war movie, featuring none other than Richard Burton in the lead.  In reality, though, it was actually a cheap production, originally intended for TV, built around the action sequences from Tobruk.  Well actually, it went further than that, utilising just about every long shot of military hardware on the move from the earlier film.  It must have been an easy shoot for Burton - all he had to do was wear a costume matching George Peppard's from the earlier film, and film a few close ups and dialogue sequences.  That said, the matching of shots and the integration of the footage from two different films shot years apart is very good.  Indeed, had I never seen Tobruk, I might have thought Raid on Rommel an exciting big budget war movie.

Not only does reusing footage in this way allow for the production (in both cinematic and manufacturing senses) of a new film on the cheap, it also allows the studio to wring more value from the earlier film.  This is especially important if that film had been an expensive production which suffered disappointing box office returns.  Tobruk, though, had been a box office success, as had another 'donor film' used to create a 'new' war movie.  633 Squadron had been a big box office success in 1964.  So much so that the producers wanted some kind of follow up.  An inexpensive one, though.  Consequently, most of the flying sequences were lifted for Mosquito Squadron, with David McCallum wearing Cliff Robertson's wardrobe from the previous film and Nicky Henson improbably doubling for Angus Lennie.  Once again, the matching up of footage is pretty much seamless. Thankfully, the new film didn't use the poor model shots from the climax of the earlier film, instead substituting some dodgy model shots of its own.  It also lifts some shots from another sixties war movie - the opening shots of the V1 launches and subsequent attack on London are taken from Operation Crossbow.

But the 'cut and paste' method of film making isn't confined to war movies: the 1973 Rod Taylor version of Trader Horn is notoriously built around stock footage of two earlier films, the the original footage confined to those scenes involving Taylor (shot in Hollywood rather than Africa).  Sometimes film-makers would remake their own films, using footage from the original.  In 1955, for instance, Zoltan Korda remade his own pre-war colour production of The Four Feathers as Storm Over the Nile, with all of the expensive battle sequences being re-used from the earlier film.  A few years later, Cubby Broccoli's Warwick Films did something similar, building 1958's The Bandit of Zhobe around the action sequences from Zarak, which they had released the previous year.  Matching the shots was pretty straightforward as both films starred Victor Mature.  (A lot of the battle footage from Zarak later turned up in Hammer's Brigand of Kandahar.  All three films were directed by John Gilling).  One of my favourite examples of this sort of cannibalisation is the Italian movie Black Cobra 4, 'starring' Fred Williamson.  Wanting a a fourth installment of the popular action cop/blaxploitation series, but not willing to pay Williamson for his services, the producers simply edited together footage from the previous three movies, redubbing and repurposing them into a new plot, linked together with some newly shot expositional footage.

The format was pioneered by Republic Pictures back in the forties, when they started fashioning new cinema serials out of their older products in order to cut costs.  Usually, they'd take two earlier serials, take their action and effects footage (Republic's serials, despite limited budgets, featured some excellent effects and model work, not to mention the best stunt work) and build a new sory around them.  As with the later productions using this method, the new leading actors would be costumed to match up the shots.  The end results were, more often than not, highly entertaining.  I'm sure that I've discussed all of this in a previous post but, despite numerous searches of the blog, I'm damned if I can find the post.  So, I decided to do it all over again.  (I'm also planning to use some of this material in a forthcoming podcast).



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