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FS2: British Cinema: Hammer Productions Part 1: A Case Study Read the information on Hammer Productions from "The Cinema Book" ed. Cook & Bernink and answer the questions to build up a studio case study. Introduction: Hammer Productions:

Hammer Productions Limited was first registered as a film company in 1934, but soon after disappeared for almost a decade: In the wake of a short-lived exhibition quota imposed by protectionist postwar legislation (the Dalton Duty, 1947-8), Hammer's controlling company, Exclusive Films was 'encouraged by the ARC cinema circuit to supply low-budget supporting features [and] this was the impetus for reforming Hammer' (Evles, 1973, p. 22). Very rapidly it became companv policy to produce films \>'hich could 'capitalise on subjects and characters lh~l "'ere pre-sold to the public either througn raJlu ~n...i tel.:vision or \'ia myth and legend' (Pirie, 1973, p. 26). Adaptations of recent BBC radio programmes proved a particularly reliable and profitable source and a cycle of low-budget B-feature quota

quickies was launched, featuring such familiar radio characters as Dick Barton. PC 9 and The Man in Black. Between 1948 and 1950 Hammer moved its production base several times from one large country house to another. The decision to use country houses rather than studios was determined by cost factors, and it proved to be one of the company's most important policy decisions, for it gave the films a distinctive style and put them in the ideal position to recreate historical/mythical subjects. In 1951 Hammer finally settled at Bray in Berkshire, in a large building which housed the company until 1968. Also in 1951 Hammer negotiated an agreement with an independent American producer, Robert Lipperr, which guaranteed a 20th Century-Fox release for their product in

return, among other things. for Hammer's agreement to emplov American stars in leading roles to ease their films into the US market. For almost four years Hammer produced B-films starring American actors such as Zachary Scott, Paul Henreid and Cesar Romero. with the result that American studios began to see the benefits of lo\>,-budget British production of supporting features. But when the Americans withdrew from this arrangement aroul .. 1954, Hammer, like the rest of the British film industry found themselves in a critical position: An industry observer might very well written Hammer off Bray Studios lay miserably empty for twelve mmths apart from a series of fca路 lureltes and one particularly drear)" 'B' feature "If the 1954 film,S had failed or had had only a routine SUCcess it is not impossible that the whole course of British film hislory might have been very different. (Pirie, 1973, p, 27) h~ve

1. After its first demise, what became Hammer's company production policy? 2. Hammer's country house base was a financial decision. Why did it become one of the company's most important policy decisions? 3.0utline Hammer's agreement with Robert Lippert at 20 th Century


The 1950s

Characteristically, Hammer negotiated this crisis by changing their production policy as the structure of the industry and the expectations of the audiences changed. In the mid- I950s there were a number of such changes for the company to exploit. At the beginning of the decade there existed three main cinema circuits in Britain Odeon, Gaumont-British and ABe. Rank owned both Odeon and Gaumont-British and had an agreement with Ealing. ABC, who already had a Iongstanding agreement with Hammer, may have decided that a degree of differentiation from Rank's Ealing comedy 'family audiences' policy was worth attempting (see Ealing studios, p. 83). Since the relaxa tion of British film censorship and the introduction of the X-certificate in 1951, Rank had only very rarely exhibited 'adultsonly' films. Indeed, only one X was screened in Rank cinemas in 1956, and only fourteen in the entire decade. ABC, on the other hand, showed more than fifty Xs in the 1950s, many of which came from Hammer. The mid-1950s also saw an expansion in the black-and-white television industry, with each new TV licence 'costing' approximately 100 cinema attendances a year (Limbacher, n.d., p. IS). Hammer's decision to exploit colour and X-certificate material at this point set them on the road to success. The house at Bray provided the perfect location for the period of intensive production and expansion that foUowed. At Bray, Hammer became

a production company utterly unlike anything that the British cinema had previously known. There is a very slight echo of Ealing in the structure that emerged, but perhaps the most obvious analogy is with one of the small Hollywood studios of the 1930s and 40s like Republic or Monogram; for almost overnight Hammer became a highly efficient factory for a vast series of exploitation pictures made on tight budgets with a repertory company of actors and a small, sometimes overexposed series of locations surrounding their tiny Buckinghamshire estate. IPirie. 1973, p. 42)

This set-up combined with a continuity of personnel at all levels throughout the company enabled Hammer to produce a distinctive and professional product at low cost. Anthony Hinds, a producer and prolific

screenwriter at Hammer, has summarised the studio's aesthetic/economic polic\' with the slogan 'Put the money on the screen' (quoted in l.irtlr Shop!,,' o{ H"m>r5 n,>. 4. p. 40). Certainly. in the 1960s. when Hammer's budgets averaged around £120,000 per film, £15,000 or even £20,000 would be spent on sets and decor. with additional amounts spent on lighting. Technicolor and occasionally widescreens. Scripts, on the other hand, were much less expensive, deriving as they did almost entirely from radio, television, theatre, published works, myth, legend and, of course, other films. Hammer's move into the horror cycle for which they became famous was by no means simple, though it was certainly facilitated both by the economic and industrial conditions just described, and by the social climate of Britain in the 1950s (Pirie, 1980). The decision was helped by the peculiar attributes of the company's set-up at Bray:

.:he studio was a partial anachronism, out of time and out of place, All the other small self-contained British studios run by production companies were in the process of dosing down or seUing out to television ... But in a way, it was the very old fashioned nature of the production set-up at Bray which made it so ideal as a focal point for Hammer's recreation of its own horrific version of nineteenth-century Europe. Bray could present the past because it was the past. (Pirie, 1980, p.l3)

4.What 2 areas did Hammer decide to exploit in the mid 1950s as a response to their next crisis?

5. How did this address current shifts in the film industry climate?

6. What were the main features of Hammer Productions at Bray Studios and what did it become?

More U.S Finance

And, paradoxically, American financial interests in the British film industry also contributed to the success of Hammer's choice of the British Gothic novel tradition as a source of inspiration. Pirie has described how

By the 19505 production in Hollywood had become so costly that Britain became a viable filmmaking centre for low-cost production. One of the advan路 tages for American producers was that they could in this way spend some of the money earned from distribution in Britain which the Anglo-American Agreement of 1948 prohibited them from converting from pounds into dol路 lars, .. (Pirie, 1980, p. 4)

According to this agreement, American companies could only take an annual amount of 拢.li million out of Britain. There were, however. ways round this prohibition, co-production of films or co-ownership of facilities among them. It was, for instance. the loan capital of the National Film Finance Corporation which paid for the production of The Curse of Frankensrein (1957) but the film was distributed by Warner Bros. Similarly, the Eady Levy, which returned a proportion of box-office takings to the production companies of the respective best-

grossing British films. was so slack in defin. ing nationality that :~merican subsidiaries Or partnerships could easily profit from it. The 'Britishness' of fi:m' set in the \'ictorian period and featuring a decadent aristocraC\' made Hammer an attractive investment fo; American companies and allowed the American film industry to secure an econ. omic foothold in Britain. For a while Hammer profited enormously from this kind of arrangement, but the bubble Was to burst when the Americans eventually Pulled out, leaving the British film industry in a great many difficulties (see British SOCial realism 1959-63, p. 88). But perhaps the most influential factor was the company's ability to capitalise on the situation when their luck broke with the success of ~ Quatermass Xperimenr. In 1954, like Ealing ten years before, Hammer were being forced to experiment to find a ne..... product and a new market. One 1954 production Was the studio's first film in Technicolor, Men of Sherwood Forest. Another film, much mOre successful, was an experiment with a new genre - horror: The Quarermass Xperirnenr (1955) combined the then unfamiliar terri. tory of horror with the science fiction elements which Hammer had already explored in films like Spaceways (1953). Moreover, the eccentric spelling of the Word 'experiment' in the title capitalised upon the film's X-certificate while also functioning as ready路 made publicity. Furthermore, it was an adaptation of an already very sucCtSSful B~C serial, first broadcast in July and August of 1953.

'The film opened at the LondoD Pavilion on Friday 26 August 1955 with Hammer's fortunes at their lowest ebb and immediately began breaking box ofliet records both here and subsequmtly in America' (Pirie, 19i3, p. 28).

H ()

R. R. () R.

7. How did American financial interest in the British Film Industry contribute to Hammer's success?

8, In '1954 Hammer faced yet another crisis, similar to that of Ealing 10 years before. How did they respond?

Bye Bye B-Movies After the unexpected success of Tht Quarermass Xperiment, Hammer commissioned another science fiction script as well as a Quatermass sequel. Pirie points to the relationship between the themes that Hammer (and in due course many otb~ film companies) began to approach in 1956, and the political events in the country during those crucial twelve months (Pirie. 1973, p_ 31). On the very day that the gmtest British anxiety movie of all, QualU1/llUl Il (1957), followed X - The Unknown (19;6) into production at Bray, a headline in Tht Times read 'Giant H-Bomb Dropped~ Both films received X-certificates in Britain and were distributed as adult entertainment once again the title X - The Unknown simul· taneously exploited and re-emphasised Ul certificate. In the same year, 1956, the Production Code of the Motion PietWt Association of America was revised wd relaxed, which widened the market for Hammer's product in the United Sutes. Nevertheless, for Hammer to survive the demise of the double bill it was necessarYt\lI the studio to shake off their B-feature rtpuution and explore entirely new generic II'mues in order to succeed in the American muUt. Hammer was thus encouraged to rontinue employing American actors in leading roles: Dean Jagger as the Professor in X- Tht Unknown, for example, and Brian Donl~ as Quatermass.

Pirie argues in A Heritage of Horror that it is asy to underestimate the aesthetic and

teonomic risk Hammer were taking in 1956 when the decision was made to elevate horror to a privileged role in their production hkrarchy. 'By the time Quatermass Il 6nished filming in July 1956 Hammer had IIlOlt or less finalised plans for a complete change in their output No less than ten projects were abandoned in 1956' and in !bar place 'Hammer embarked on their most significant and ambitious venrure so ~, Tht Curse of Frankenstein which went UUo production at Bray on 19 November' W· . me, 1973, p. 38), and enjoyed enormous Ulternational success.

'Draeula went into production at Bray lbout a year after the shooting of The Curse ofFrankmsrein, in November 1957 ... While the frankenstein film had been made on behatf of Warners, the new Dracula was ~nsored by UnIversal, the same American studio which had fathered the whole horror movie tradition in Hollywood during the 1930s with Karloff and Lugosi . The final seaJ Was set on Hammer's new status in the lun-Uller of 1958 when Dracula began to regISter its enormous success all over the world. Universal announced at this point that they ....ould turn over to Hammer the remake rights of their entire library of horror l1loVies' (Pirie, 1973, p. 43).

Sir J . H ames Carreras, then head 01 . al1l111er, has explained the '!\1dio', initial Inler~", , . 'n t.le horror I(enre \rather thJ.n In k~fi . • ha )a. the result of a realisation that there . d never been a FrankenSlein or a Dracula ~'lal1lcolOur.. Colour certainlY. differentiated lller s remakes from Universal's monochrome horror films, but this in itself was not enough. At this time, Universal's copyright expressly forbade imitatioll of the make-up and the neck bolts of the earlier Frankensrein, and for similar reasons on Dracula (1957) (retitled HOrTorof Dracula in the US to avoid confusion with the original) Hammer's sets were designed so as to be as unlike those in the American version as possible. It has been estimated that between them Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein grossed more than $4 million. That two such inexpensive films could be such a gigantic success was due in part to the interest of the American ma~ket. It also meant that sequels, spin-offs and so on were bound to follow. Eventually, having received the rights to remake Universal's e~tire horror library, and finally released from the copyright problems that had plagued the productions of Dracula and Frankensrein, Hammer embarked on a series of adaptations of Universal's 19305 tales of the supernatural. The proven success of previous entries in the series prompted Rank to reconsider its virtual embargo on Hammer horror films, and The Mummy (1959) was released in Britain not by ABC but by Rank's Odeon circuit. The Mummy reunited Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee for the first time since Dracula and proved a considerable success.

9. What does Pirie's study of Hammer reveal about its production in 1956? IO,How did Hammer make the transfer from B movie production to A movie production after the demise of the double bill?


The 1960s and 70s

Another Rank release, The Brides of Dracula (1960), was Hammer's response to Christopher Lee's unwillingness to be typecast as Dracula. a role which he had played in 1957 but was not to repeat until 1965. Thus, according to Pirie, Hammer were forced into the position of having to find some way of making a Dracula movie without Dracula. The absence of Count Dracula encouraged Hammer to compensate by adding ingredients to the fonnula: the brides themselves, for instance, provided an increased sexual component. However. even before 1960 Hammer were obviously aware of the need to vary the fonnula of the vampire myth. Once an audience has grasped the basic elements of the vampire hunters' artillery - stake, crucifix, strong daylight. communion host - the plot could all too easily subside into a succession of shopping lists. So Hammer carefully elaborated the paraphernalia and in doing so were able to persuade the audiences of the late 1950s that this time evil might just triumph (see The horror film, p. 194). In 1968, Hammer received the Queen's Award for industry for having brought in £1.5 million from America over three successive years. However, 1968 was probably the last year in which Hammer could be certain of obtaining American distribution for its films. The Devil Rides Out (1967) was in fact advertised under the name of Dennis Wheatley upon whose novel it was based - rather than that of Hammer Productions. By this time . American finance had more or less abandoned the British film industry to its fate.

Hammer, who were still in an extremely good box·office position. found it at once necessary to fix up deals with British. as opposed to American companies, in order to secure regular finance. Distribution in America was still guaranteed, but in return the British companies who were themselves in trouble began to insist that Hammer use their own studio space rather than Bray, to make the films. Consequently, after much delib· eration. Hammer were forced to sell Bray to a property company in 1968. (Pirie, 1973, pp. 47-8)

the absence of Peter Cushing with other boxoffice attractions such a.:. ~iolence and sexuality. H:unma were uncertain as to the future of the horror genre. At the end of th, 1960s the company vacillated between EMI-Elstree and Rank-Pinewood. the exhibition circuits ABC and Odeon. and between straightforward horror and self-parody. With a chanj!e of management at Hammer in the early 1970s and encouragement from Warners. Hammer decided to brinj! the Dracula story up to date with films such as Dracula AD 1972 and The

Satanic Rites of Dracula. The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) reunited Cushing and Lee,

Having finally been forced by 1969 into vacating Bray. some of the company's confidence in the horror genre was lost with the studio. Taste the Blood ofDracula ( 1969) was advertised with the tongue· in-cheek slogan 'Drink A Pint of Blood A Day' and its deviation from fonnula requirements proved unpopular at the box office. Once again Hammer tried hard to differentiate their product from television: the film opens with Roy Kinnear, a familiar TV comedian, being confronted with the horrific Technicolor Count Dracula, an opening which illustrated the complicated rituals Hammer utilised to reinvest their Count Dracula character with life at the start of each film in the series. This was the fourth Hammer Dracula film and, at the end of the third, the Count had fallen hundreds of yards from the battlements of his own castle to be impaled on a sharp cross. The resurrection of the Count from absolute death to life is one of the key ingredients of the series. Indeed. one film. Dracula Prince of Darkness (1965) took almost half its length to effect the Count's reappearance. Following the financial failure of Taste the Blood ofDracula, which had compensated for

injected a number of controversial contem· porary issues - such as property speculation and political corruption - and included a characteristic Hammer scene. with Van Helsing being interviewed by a television reporter. All these elements were unable to generate an audience in the UK large enough to convince American distributors that the film was worth releasing in the US. In the same year American and British audiences were watching The Exorcist, beside which Dracula was all too ordinary. Once the American horror and sci-fi cycles were under way in the mid-1970s, films like The Omen ( 1976) and Star Wars (1977) were being produced in the same studios and with the same facilities that Hammer had employed. Meanwhile, Hammer returned to the source of their original success - the television spin-off. In 1972/73, for instance, Hammer released

Mutiny on the Buses, That's Your Funeral. Love Thy Neighbourand Nearest and Dearest. None of these ever appeared on the American circuits. Since the late 19705, Hammer's horror film production has virtually ceased, confining itself mainly to television series.

It.How did Hammer respond to Christopher Lee's reluctance to be typecast as Dracula and what added advantage, or new studio feature did this provide for the studio? 12.What other changes did Hammer make to prolong its life as a film production studio? 13.Produce a basic diagram (a time line/time chart or flow diagram) to outline the crisis/response history of Hammer Productions.


ESSAY QUESTIONS; Using Hammer Productions as your starting point, examine the changes and challenges undertaken by British Cinema production in Hammer's 40 year life span. (Remember to use case studies in your response). Examine the use of the Studio System in Britain. (Use your own case studies in your response). Examine the systems of film production used in the UK. (Remember to use case studies in your answer).

Hammer Productions Part1- Case Study  

1. Afteritsfirstdemise,whatbecameHammer'scompanyproduction HammerProductions: Introduction: policy? Anindustryobservermightverywell h~ve wri...

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