Accent On Sex Sells Bombers B-52 (1957)
Another jump through hoops for Warner sales. How to promote an air preparedness boost where Natalie Wood stars? Trouble was her never going near a plane in Bombers B-52. Schizo structure has the star barred from narrative as next-billed Karl Malden takes the sky in massive birds loaned by the Army on usual condition that WB laud the Force. Bombers B-52 was encore for studio/service hand-hold, previous year's Toward The Unknown with test pilot Bill Holden doing credit to the branch. Defense themes were robust so long as each unveiled a still faster jet to reassure that ours was still a bigger stick than Soviets wielded. Bombers B-52 spent meanly beyond take-off/landings the Army enabled gratis, negative cost at $1.4 million holding WB's flight below altitude of Strategic Air Command, a Paramount salute with bigger names (James Stewart, June Allyson), and lots more polish. But maybe it's unfair to compare, SAC available now on glorious Blu-Ray, while Bombers B-52 glides as DVD minus High-Def.
Key art of Natalie Wood in a tight dress and torrid embrace of Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. would garland planes drawn erect toward the sky. The fact she's barely seen in such costume, let alone panting in Zimbalist's arms, was beside point of merchandising Bombers B-52 by however means profitable. The fix had been in for Natalie Wood vehicles so far, misleading ads for The Burning Hills rousing complaint from exhibs who'd complain of luridity (first-ever use of a non-existent word I've just invented), and The Girl He Left Behind didn't play much fairer re honest promos. Wood was still a teen (born 1938), so movies tread cautious as ads made up difference. Result was audiences feeling the cheat. So long as they came in knowing Karl Malden would dominate Bombers B-52, all was OK, but greater number of tickets sold were to fans for Natalie Wood, and they surely balked at so little of her on display.
Safest harbor for young players was putting them among seasoned talent as confidence built up before the camera. It was policy applied to James Dean, then Tab Hunter, and now Natalie Wood. To come were Connie Stevens, Troy Donahue, a whole menagerie. These were hula hoop equivalent to Bogart, Davis, Flynn of a last generation, so no wonder Mom and Dad felt movies and their stars had gone to dogs. These were perishables a cynical Warners was peddling, most of staff old-timers who'd been around when stars glowed brighter and product was better. Money more ill-got from television, and getting away with so much less spent, led WB to conviction that features could be palmed off as cheaply. Again, Bombers B-52 beside Strategic Air Command is a lesson in margarine vs. butter, the patron risking his/her money's worth each time they entered theatre doors. The Warner shield was looking more and more like a barn door. Customers had to be choosier than ever, unless they were kids who'd not mind being duped --- but did they? TV was catching up in a quality race, and free besides. It would be tougher to ingrain a moviegoing habit with stuff