I once knew a lady who was a super-keen Frank Sinatra fan. She claimed to have collected most of his records and to have seen all his feature films except "The Man with the Golden Arm" (which she hated) at least twice.
It seemed that her fortune was made and all her dreams about to come true when she was selected as a contestant on a celebrity quiz. She was doing fine too until, at the $1,000 point, she was asked: "In addition to his guest appearance in The Road to Hong Kong, Frank made another British movie in which he played the title role. Could you name the movie and Frank’s female co-star?"
She failed to answer this question at all. As she admitted to me later, "I didn’t know that Frank had ever made any British movies. I was thunder-struck. I’d seen The Naked Runner when it came out, but I assumed it was a Hollywood film, like all the rest. And besides, it was a trick question. He threw me when he said Frank played the title role."
It seems that many of us have seen and enjoyed British movies without ever being aware of that fact. I remember when Blind Terror was released at the Radio City Music Hall (it played a capacity 4 weeks season under the title See No Evil back in 1971), no-one but no-one complained at the boxoffice, demanding their money back.
And as for Bridge on the River Kwai, here was a movie that was seen and acclaimed by just about everyone and went on to become the number one attraction at U.S. and Canadian cinemas for 1958. Yet I never heard a single person complain that he or she had been duped into seeing a British film.
Even a rather ordinary programmer, Happy Go Lovely (1951), enjoyed a moderately successful season in the U.S.A, thanks entirely to the boxoffice appeal of Vera-Ellen, David Niven and Cesar Romero. No-one felt cheated because the film was British.
And I still remember the huge crowds besieging New York’s Mayfair during the premiere run of Land of the Pharaohs in 1955.
Almost as big an event was the simultaneous opening of Night of the Generals at the Capitol and Cinema I in 1967. Admittedly, boxoffice pressure did ease slightly after the New York critics savaged the film, but not one of the reviewers found any fault in the fact that it was a British production. Rather they blamed American producer Sam Spiegel for the movie’s many shortcomings.
Never one to hide facts under a bushel, Walt Disney made no bones about his 1953 movie, Rob Roy, being a British production. Yet there is no evidence that boxoffice takings in America went down as a result of Disney’s forthrightness.
The well-known saw that Americans will not support British movies is a myth. It’s certainly true that Americans often say they don’t like British movies, but their actions generally speak louder than their words -- as my book, America's Best, Britain's Finest amply demonstrates.