The Jolson Story grossed $8 million in 1946 and Jolson Sings Again grossed $5 million in 1949….beating out all the critically top films of that year, The Heiress, A Letter to Three Wives, All the King’s Men and Twelve O’clock High.
But those last four films have stood the test of time. Entertaining “movies” might make money, but if they’re not good “films” they will be forgotten.
It’s difficult to sit through either of the Jolson pictures today, but it’s still thrilling to watch the fine acting of Montgomery Clift and Olivia deHavilland (pictured above), and hear the flawless script of The Heiress.
Also there is this to consider: NONE of Orson Welles’ American-made pictures (including Citizen Kane and A Touch of Evil) were profitable except for one — 1946’s The Stranger. Typically, Welles dismissed this, his own creation, and regarded The Stranger as something less than one of his lesser pictures.
Do you love director Joseph H. Lewis’ 1950 thriller, Gun Crazy, costarring John Dall and Peggy Cummins? We do too.
But this picture acquired it classic status slowly. It’s now rightfully considered one of the best independently made movies ever to come out of Hollywood. When it was first released via United Artists, though, it bombed big time at the box office.
Now it is the only movie that is remembered from the King Brothers, Frank and Maurice King, a couple low-rent bottom feeders whose output as a rule never lost money.
The eternal tension between box office success and aesthetic worth will always be with us. All we can hope for is that the two will occasionally intersect.