Magazine article American Cinematographer

Patriot Show Goes on - and On

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Patriot Show Goes on - and On

Article excerpt

At a gala world premiere the evening of March 31, 1957 the motion picture Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot began the longest-running theatrical engagement in the history of the movies. Almost 30 years later it is still the chief introduction to Colonial Williamsburg, a major history museum that interprets America as it was, just prior to the Revolution. More than 26 million visitors have seen Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot in the visitor center where it is shown continuously in two theaters 365 days a year. Measured by today's box office dollars, the film would have taken in more than $100 million, placing it easily among the 50 top grossing films of all time.

Probably few, if any, of the guests at the premiere gave a thought to the possibility that a legend was in the making. And legend it is, with accomplishments and "firsts" that qualify it for a place in the Guinness Book of Records. Among the dignitaries that March night was Bosley Crowther, film critic of The New York Times, who devoted much of his next day's review to the auditorium in which Patriot was shown. He wrote: "As one enters the semi-darkened interior an illusory purple light, suffusing the whole forward area, attracts and bemuses the eye. The tiers of chairs, indirectly lighted from beneath, are separated by wide spaces and lacquered steel barriers that mask the heads of viewers in the forward tiers. The illusion created is that of being under the dome of the sky at night."

Seeing Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot today, one is struck by the fact that it hasn't aged, that it's still a most impressive, wide-screen slice of history. There are no special effects, crowd scenes or swooping crane shots. It's essentially a 37-minute docu-drama about a young lawyerfarmer who succeeds his late father in The House of Burgesses, the lower of Virginia's general assembly which met at the pleasure of Colony's royal governor. John Fry, a fictionalized character, changes from supporter of the crown to ardent separatist by listening to the sometimes fiery orations of Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

The period covered is 1769 to 1776, culminating with the vote for independence from England to the start of the American Revolution. It was written by Emmet Lavery. The original treatment was by novelist, screen-writer and film critic James Agée. It was directed on location by George Seaton, bestknown for The Miracle on 34th Street, The Country Girl and Airport.

The idealistic lawmaker turned patriot is played by Jack Lord. According to Tom Partlow there's always a stir when audiences realize it's the same tough guy who brought |ustice to triumph each week in "Hawaii Five-0."

Other credits for Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot include: Haskell Boggs, ASC, director of photography; John P. Fulton, ASC, special photographic effects; Philip N. Mitchell and Fred Hynes, sound recording; Sam Comer and Frank R. McKelvy, set direction; Alma Macrorie, ACE, editing and Bernard Herrman, music. The entire production was under the supervision of William H. Wright.

seen today, Patriot not only fulfills the drama of Crowther's prose, but remains a pre-eminent big-screen experience, the ultimate expression of VistaVision, Paramount's elegant highdefinition answer to CmemaScope and other wide-screen processes. It looks better than ever, thanks to a more practical application of projection optics, that have taken the original VistaVision material and actually "opened" it up, revealing more frame information.

The story of Patriot actually begins in 1926 when the Rev. WAR. Goodwm, rector of Williamsburg's Bruton Parish Church, prevailed on John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to fund a restoration of Williamsburg (then consisting of 70 buildings in various stages of repair) that would become a testament to our historic and democratic roots. With the physical restoration came the need for an educational program to orient visitors and augment the guide service. …

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