Becky Sharp (1935)

75 or 85 mins | Drama | 28 June 1935

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HISTORY

Although the three-strip Technicolor technique had been used previously in short and animated films and in sequences in feature films, Becky Sharp was the first complete feature-length film to be shot with the process. In an essay, which was published in the Dec 1938 Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers , H. T. Kalmus, a Technicolor pioneer, describes the history of the three-strip process: "...Technicolor had persisted in its research and development work so that by May, 1932, it had completed the building of its first three-component camera and had one unit of its plant equipped to handle a moderate amount of three-color printing. The difference between this three-component process and the previous two-component process was truly extraordinary. Not only was the accuracy of tone and color reproduction greatly improved, but definition was markedly better." (For the three-strip Technicolor process, a yellow strip was added to the cyan and magenta strips of the two-color or Cinecolor process.)
       Encouraged by the tremendous success of La Cucuracha , an award-winning three-strip Technicolor short distributed by RKO, John Hay "Jock" Whitney and his cousin, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, formed Pioneer Pictures to produce color films. Kalmus describes the relationship between Technicolor and Pioneer Pictures: "Early in 1933 Mr. Merian C. Cooper [RKO production executive and friend of Whitney] and Mr. John Hay Whitney began to show a practical interest in Technicolor. After thorough investigation of the Technicolor situation by Mr. Whitney and his associates, and as a result of many conferences, a contract was signed between Technicolor and Pioneer Pictures, Inc., on May 18, 1933, which provided for the production of eight pictures, ... More Less

Although the three-strip Technicolor technique had been used previously in short and animated films and in sequences in feature films, Becky Sharp was the first complete feature-length film to be shot with the process. In an essay, which was published in the Dec 1938 Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers , H. T. Kalmus, a Technicolor pioneer, describes the history of the three-strip process: "...Technicolor had persisted in its research and development work so that by May, 1932, it had completed the building of its first three-component camera and had one unit of its plant equipped to handle a moderate amount of three-color printing. The difference between this three-component process and the previous two-component process was truly extraordinary. Not only was the accuracy of tone and color reproduction greatly improved, but definition was markedly better." (For the three-strip Technicolor process, a yellow strip was added to the cyan and magenta strips of the two-color or Cinecolor process.)
       Encouraged by the tremendous success of La Cucuracha , an award-winning three-strip Technicolor short distributed by RKO, John Hay "Jock" Whitney and his cousin, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, formed Pioneer Pictures to produce color films. Kalmus describes the relationship between Technicolor and Pioneer Pictures: "Early in 1933 Mr. Merian C. Cooper [RKO production executive and friend of Whitney] and Mr. John Hay Whitney began to show a practical interest in Technicolor. After thorough investigation of the Technicolor situation by Mr. Whitney and his associates, and as a result of many conferences, a contract was signed between Technicolor and Pioneer Pictures, Inc., on May 18, 1933, which provided for the production of eight pictures, superfeature in character and especially featuring color."
       An Aug 1934 HR news item announced that Pioneer's first Technicolor production was to be Becky Sharp , not The Three Musketeers , as originally planned. ( The Three Musketeers was filmed in black and white by RKO later in 1935.) The same article mentions that Dwight Taylor was assigned to write the screenplay. Taylor is listed in HR production charts as a co-screenwriter with credited writer Faragoh. The exact nature of Taylor's contribution to the final film is not known, however. Aug and Sep 1934 DV news items stated that because Miriam Hopkins and RKO could not agree on a salary, she was dropped from the project, and both Myrna Loy and Claudette Colbert were put into consideration for the lead. Displeased with the script, Colbert turned down RKO's offer. In mid-Sep 1934, Hopkins and RKO came to terms, and Hopkins was re-instated in the production. Hopkins was later nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award.
       Rehearsals and testing of the color process were completed by mid-Dec 1934, according to FD . Lowell Sherman began as director of the production but died of double pneumonia on 28 Dec 1934. HR notes that Sherman refused to abandon the picture even after his illness had become serious. After Sherman's demise, Rouben Mamoulian reshot the entire story from scratch, according to HR . Pauline Garon, Sherman's wife at the time of production, was given the role of Fifine following his death.
       According to Var , Whitney spent $950,000 to make Becky Sharp . According to HR , Doris Lloyd replaced Elsie Ferguson in the cast after Ferguson became ill. HR news items add Billie Bellport, Montague Shaw , Gaston Glass, Creighton Hale, Keith Kenneth and Joan Arnold to the cast, while HR production charts add Mrs. Leslie Carter to the cast. The participation of these actors in the final film has not been confirmed. Joan Arnold is described in HR as a former Camel cigarette model. Some pre-production news items referred to the film as Vanity Fair . Actor George Hassell's surname is spelled "Hassele" in the onscreen credits.
       Modern sources note that while experts predicted that Becky Sharp would launch a boom in color films, its poorly written script kept box office receipts down, and the picture did not significantly promote Technicolor. Modern sources also state that after preview audiences complained that the film's audio was unintelligible, RKO re-recorded the entire soundtrack by re-recording their Photophone track on Western Electric's rival process. The re-recorded Western Electric track was then transferred back to RKO's Photophone system for the release prints. In 1984, Becky Sharp was restored to its almost original three-color look by the UCLA Film Archives. According to modern sources, in 1943, Pioneer Pictures sold all rights to the film to Film Classics, Inc., which in turn re-issued it in a cheaper two-color process. Although Film Classics' 16mm prints of the film were full-length, their 35mm prints were cut to 66 minutes. After Film Classics went out of business, the film rights changed hands several times, and after a time, only 66-minute, black-and-white 16mm prints were in circulation. The restored version includes 64 minutes of three-color footage, and 24 minutes of two-color footage of varying quality. For information on other versions of Thackeray's story, see listing below for the 1932 film Vanity Fair . More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
31 Aug 34
p. 1.
Daily Variety
12 Sep 34
p. 1.
Daily Variety
15 Sep 34
p. 1.
Daily Variety
11 Dec 34
p. 3.
Film Daily
20 Oct 34
p. 4.
Film Daily
20 Dec 34
p. 18.
Film Daily
5 Jan 35
p. 4.
Film Daily
11 Jun 35
pp. 7-11.
Film Daily
14 Jun 35
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Aug 34
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Dec 34
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Dec 34
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Dec 34
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jan 35
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Feb 35
, 12829
Hollywood Reporter
19 Feb 35
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Mar 35
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Jun 35
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald
5 Jan 35
p. 44.
Motion Picture Herald
22 Jun 35
p. 70.
New York Times
14 Jun 35
p. 27.
Variety
19 Jun 35
p. 21.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Rouben Mamoulian Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir assoc
Des in col by
FILM EDITOR
COSTUMES
Cost supplied by
MUSIC
Mus dir
SOUND
DANCE
Dance dir
MAKEUP
Technicolor makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Chief elec
Pressbook and publicity
Bus mgr
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col dir
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (London, 1848) and the play of the same name by Langdon Mitchell (New York, 12 Sep 1899).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Vanity Fair (1935)
Release Date:
28 June 1935
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 13 June 1935
Production Date:
11 December 1934--20 March 1935 at RKO Pathé Studios
Copyright Claimant:
Pioneer Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
13 June 1935
Copyright Number:
LP5609
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Victor "High Fidelity" System
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
75 or 85
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
PCA No:
735
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

At the turn of the nineteenth century, ambitious, social-climbing Becky Sharp leaves the snobbish English boarding school where she has been a charity case to live with her wealthy friend, Amelia Sedley. Although Amelia's buffoonish brother Joseph woos her, he never proposes because, as Becky is told, his status-conscious father would disapprove of the match. Her pride wounded, Becky leaves the Sedleys' and finds work as a governess at the estate of Sir Pitt Crawley. She soon wins the heart and hand of Crawley's playboy son Rawdon, an officer in the British army. Not satisfied with her new wealth and station, however, Becky flaunts her charms and beauty among admiring male aristocrats until she gains acceptance into their exclusive continental circle. Becky's indulgent world is shattered, however, when war breaks out during a lavish ball near Waterloo. Before Rawdon is sent off to fight Napoleon, a terrified Becky pledges her undivided love to him and later dedicates herself to helping him procure money to pay off a large gambling debt. While sacrificing her own honor, Becky agrees to allow the rich Lord Styne an evening alone with her in exchange for the needed money, but is caught with the lord by a suspicious Rawdon, who angrily rejects both her and the cash. Alone and penniless, Becky is reduced to singing in cabarets and living in a cheap boardinghouse until her overly pious brother-in-law, hearing of her plight, unwittingly gives her enough money to clear her debts and run off to India with the still devoted ... +


At the turn of the nineteenth century, ambitious, social-climbing Becky Sharp leaves the snobbish English boarding school where she has been a charity case to live with her wealthy friend, Amelia Sedley. Although Amelia's buffoonish brother Joseph woos her, he never proposes because, as Becky is told, his status-conscious father would disapprove of the match. Her pride wounded, Becky leaves the Sedleys' and finds work as a governess at the estate of Sir Pitt Crawley. She soon wins the heart and hand of Crawley's playboy son Rawdon, an officer in the British army. Not satisfied with her new wealth and station, however, Becky flaunts her charms and beauty among admiring male aristocrats until she gains acceptance into their exclusive continental circle. Becky's indulgent world is shattered, however, when war breaks out during a lavish ball near Waterloo. Before Rawdon is sent off to fight Napoleon, a terrified Becky pledges her undivided love to him and later dedicates herself to helping him procure money to pay off a large gambling debt. While sacrificing her own honor, Becky agrees to allow the rich Lord Styne an evening alone with her in exchange for the needed money, but is caught with the lord by a suspicious Rawdon, who angrily rejects both her and the cash. Alone and penniless, Becky is reduced to singing in cabarets and living in a cheap boardinghouse until her overly pious brother-in-law, hearing of her plight, unwittingly gives her enough money to clear her debts and run off to India with the still devoted Joseph. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.