Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Affidavit

United Artists' publicity department must have worked overtime to get the word out about "U.F.O." In April of 1956, a scant month before the movie's release, producers Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse signed a sworn statement affirming the movie's authenticity, and the resulting affidavit was rushed into advertisement format (see).

Maybe it's worth noting at this point that Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse produced some well-received movies during their career, listed prominently via Internet movie sites. If you ever saw the (original) movie, "D.O.A." starring Edmund O'Brien, another black and white fifties release, maybe you noticed that the screen writers were Greene and Rouse, probably just on the verge of forming their own production company. Greene's former association with the industry included working with Popkin Productions, which produced the important movie, "The Well" in 1951 (Greene had told Tom Towers he would have been perfect for the key role of sheriff in this film about racial tensions in a small town).

It's rather obvious that the extraordinary publicity campaign preceding the motion picture's national opening reflected far more excitement and glare than "U.F.O." itself, and that tremendous build-up seemed almost guaranteed to precipitate a huge yawn from members of the audience who anticipated more. Documentary or not, Greene and his director could logically have bent a little more toward the dramatic effect that Al Chop and Tom Towers craved from the start. But Greene wouldn't budge. The affidavit and other publicity vehicles subsequently failed to impress audience members who expected aliens and saucers, not merely huffy historical recreations, to leap threateningly from the screen and into their popcorn bags.

Nevertheless, one can't help thinking simultaneously of William Castle and the fifties gimmicks he employed to attract audiences into the theater to see his own scary movies, features such as "The House on Haunted Hill" (a fake skeleton suspended in the air would fly over the audience), "Macabre" (the promise of a life insurance benefit paid to the family if anybody died of cardiac stress while watching) and "The Tingler" (some theater seats were equipped to give miscellaneous audience members a mild electrical sensation during frightening scenes). I've gathered these tidbits about Castle from memory, so if any film buffs are in a mood to correct me, please feel free.

While the affidavit looked great, this wasn't the only version. When I was seeking and purchasing publicity material in the sixties, one seller somewhere in the country kindly threw in an unexpected brochure, a four-page movie ad printed in green and black that I never saw anywhere else. It boasted not only the affidavit, but also played up the artwork and movie to the point that one would almost expect a fifties sci-fi flick instead of the documentary Clarence Greene painstakingly wished to portray. The routine movie posters were suggestive and over-hyped enough, but this additional item pushed the sensationalism envelope to the max -- and we'll feature it in the next blog entry.