The Making of a Cinerama Movie
I’ve just returned from a vacation and roadtrip and have a new addition to the Roadtrip-'62 ™ library of 1962 books. It’s this book on the making of the movie “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm”. It’s a thin book but contains lots of information on the movie, which was the first Cinerama feature telling a cohesive story, unlike all the previous movies, which had been travelogues. Its world premier was on July 14, 1962 at the Denver Cooper Cinerama theatre. The film was one of the highest-grossing films of the year and won an Oscar for Best Costume Design in a Color Film for Mary Wills.
I bought the book because I have a thing for Cinerama format movies, and of course for its 1962 connection. Cinerama was the first of several widescreen movie filming and projection systems introduced during the 1950s, in an effort to get people back into the theatres after they had begun staying home in droves to watch the new phenomenon of television. It originally involved projecting images simultaneously from three synchronized 35mm projectors onto a huge, curved screen, using three synchronized cameras sharing a single shutter to shoot the film. I discuss the history and technical details more on my roadtrip down highway US-16, starting at Detroit, Michigan. The book covers some history of how Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and Cinerama came to create this joint production, the stars of the movie, the stories portrayed in the movie, locations used for filming, and the people that made it all possible. Several of the photo that follow are from the book.
MGM and Cinerama began working on movies together in late 1959, moving the entire Cinerama operation to Hollywood. Producer-director George Pal had been working on a treatment of the Brothers Grimm script for several years, having previously produced “Tom Thumb”. He was also well known for his stop-motion animation Puppetoons, which he brought to the Brothers Grimm. Everything came together and a film crew went to the Bavarian Alps region of Germany for filming. This region allowed for exterior scenes that would supply the type of grandeur that Cinerama audiences had become used to from the earlier travelogues, including actual castles. Local museums also supplied the film crew with many 19th century period artifacts for use in the film.
Stars of the film included Laurence Harvey, who had recently appeared in “Butterfield 8” with Elizabeth Taylor, playing both Wilhelm Grimm and The Cobbler, Yvette Mimieux as the Dancing Princess, Barbara Eden, who would later become famous as Jeannie in the TV show “I Dream of Jeannie”, Buddy Hackett, who was also in 1962’s “The Music Man”, and Jim Backus, who I would enjoy later that year as the voice of the cartoon Mr. Magoo in “Magoo’s Christmas Carol”. The production also used a number of well-known European actors. Because of the two very different story-telling styles in the movie, two directors were used: Geroge Pal, the producer, also directed the fairy tale sequences, and Henry Levin, who directed 1960’s “Where the Boys Are”, directed the live action segments. Music was provided by the team of Bob Merrill, who had previously written both popular music and Broadway musicals, and Leigh Harline, a veteran of Disney movie scores including Pinocchio.
The story was actually several separate stories, woven together by the Grimm brothers’ real-life story. This historical account was of course embellished and changed to fit the needs of a movie. The brothers are shown as an elder business-oriented brother and his younger, dream-focused brother. They are commissioned to write a biography of a Prussian Duke but collect fables while working on the project. A love interest intervenes for the younger Jacob. Several mishaps befall them as they try to balance writing stories and publishing more serious works. In the end, they become famous for the fairy tales and the movie closes with the words, “And they lived happily ever after.”
The movie tells three of those fairy tales, “The Dancing Princess”, “The Singing Bone”, and The Cobbler and the Elves”. These are some of the lesser-known of the Grimm stories, and were chosen for the movie for that reason, as several of the best known had already been given movie treatments. As with the Grimms’ life story, the fairy tales were also modified from how they were told in the original Grimm books. In the original tale of "The Dancing Princess", it tells of 12 daughters who dance their shoes to shreds at night in an underground castle. The film changes this to just one princess who dances at night in a gypsy camp in the woods. In "The Cobbler and the Elves" there are only two dwarfs who perform the cobbling work for the shoemaker. They are described as naked and they disappear forever after they are given clothing as a thank you for their work. In the film, there are five elves (fully clothed) who were carved by the cobbler. They do all their work on just one night before Christmas Eve and are then given to five orphans as Christmas gifts. And in "The Singing Bone", the original version tells of two brothers who fight a wild boar. One kills the boar but is then killed by his brother in a fit of greed and vanity. A "singing bone" from among the bones of the dead brother gives away the crime and the murderer is sewn into a sack and drowned as punishment. But in the film, the tale becomes that of a knight and his servant who fight a dragon. After the dragon is slain by the servant, the knight kills the servant to hide his own cowardice. The singing bone still gives away the crime, but the murdered servant springs back to life from it and the knight must serve his former servant for evermore.
The movie began its showing to the public on July 14, 1962 at the Cooper Cinerama Theatre in Denver, Colorado. This theatre was the first of several movie houses newly constructed especially to show Cinerama features and had just opened in 1961. It included a deeply curved Cinerama screen, seats with foot rests and without legs, and a fountain and fireplace in the foyer. The second Cooper Cinerama Theatre opened in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area in August 1962, and the third opened in Omaha, Nebraska in December. They also both opened with "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" as their first film. Two other Cinerama films opened during 1962, “How the West Was Won” and "The Best of Cinerama". The first was another regular story feature film, with a big name Hollywood cast. Parts were filmed earlier in the year near Lone Pine, California, which we saw on Day 35 of our US-6 roadtrip. The second film was a compilation of the highlights of all 5 previous Cinerama travelogues.
There is only one surviving theater with a permanent Cinerama screen, the Martin Cinerama in Seattle, Washington, which we saw last year when visiting the remains of the 1962 World’s Fair. It also opened showing "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm", but in 1963. The film was also shown in regular theatres, but since it had not been shot in that format, the "lines" between the three strips of film used in Cinerama were visible onscreen. The movie was a box office success worldwide and actually did better in Europe, likely because it had a closer cultural connection there. The times seemed bright for Cinerama, but this film and its late 1962 following feature, “How the West Was Won”, were the last two new regular theatrical release films shot in the format. The company was sold to the Pacific Theatres chain next year and the cost of producing new movies in this format was too high for them to continue. So, beginning with 1963’s “It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”, the Cinerama films for theaters were shot with a single camera, usually in 70mm Ultra Panavision.
Buying this book caused me to become curious about other movie tie-in merchandise, as I’m accustomed to seeing it everywhere today. Surprisingly by today’s standards, there was very little spin-off merchandise. I found no toys, food promotions, kitschy home products, etc. I did find a set of three puzzles by the Edu-Cards company, showing scenes from the movie: “The Dragon Fight”, “The Dancing Princess”, and “Wild Ride Through the Black Forest”. Perhaps there are others in the series. I also found a coloring book, a comic book, and both a 45rpm single of the main theme song and a soundtrack album of the movie score. Both of these were recorded by David Rose and orchestra, recently of “The Stripper” fame. The book that I bought may have been part of a boxed set that included the record album, the book, and some movie still photos. Other than these items, it appears that the movie posters, 8x10 still photos, and lobby cards used in theatres are the only artifacts from the film.
Unfortunately for any of you who want to see the movie, this is the only film originally shot in Cinerama to remain unrestored and therefore unavailable to see complete in a digital format. The original high quality elements for the film are damaged and incomplete, and scattered among various international archives. It has been released on both VHS and LaserDisc, but both versions have some omissions and poor quality elements. It has also been shown on the Turner Movie Classics Network, but also not fully restored. But enjoy listening to the main theme below, and I’ll see you back at Roadtrip-'62 ™ next time for our next roadtrip.
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2019, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne, except as noted.
All other content Copyright © 2019, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne.