Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 20
November 15, 1956
Tender Box Office

Early on the chilly evening of 15 November 1956 outside of the Paramount Theater in New York City, thousands of fans screamed for their idol Elvis Presley. He wasn’t there for a concert, but for the premiere of his film debut, a Civil War melodrama called Love Me Tender (after Elvis’ hit song). While in hindsight it seems obvious that the King was an ideal candidate to transition from recording to film, the producers were not so certain at the time: the film’s original title was The Reno Brothers and Elvis was billed third, after Richard Egan and Debra Paget. But after Love Me Tender pulled in over a million dollars on its first weekend, and audiences could barely hear the film’s wooden dialogue over the screaming teens in the audience, Elvis became box office gold, going on to make 31 feature films in the next 15 years.


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Harold and Maude Dec. 20, 1971
Harold and Maude Opens

Hal Ashby's iconic black comedy Harold and Maude opened in theaters on December 20, 1971.

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December 20, 1979
Bob Fosse's All That Jazz

For denizens of the New York theater scene, Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical All that Jazz provided them the guessing game of the season. What scandals was Fosse going to spill in his expose musical? The film, which tells the story of a Broadway choreographer/director Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider), whose excesses in life and work bring him to the edge of a collapse, was clearly modeled on Fosse’s own life. Some actors (like Ann Reinking) play characters very similar to themselves; other figures (like ex-wife Gwen Verdon, producer Hal Prince, and others) are played by others; and other actors (like Jessica Lange) who were close to Fosse play oddly mythic figures. Fosse, who’d started choreographing for film in 1954, was soon pulled to New York to choreograph and eventually direct such musicals as Pippin, Chicago, and Sweet Charity. In 1969, he started making films as well, winning an Oscar in 1972 for Cabaret. A demanding taskmaster and infamous womanizer, the chain-smoking Fosse suffered a heart attack in 1975. It was during this period that Shirley Maclaine (according to her) suggested he create something about his brush with death. The resulting film is a breathtaking musical sleight of hand as Fosse’s alter ego Joe Gideon reveals his innermost fears and desires only to cover them in the next moment with all that jazz––surreal show stopping dance numbers and Felliniesque romps into his libido and unconscious. In 1987, life imitated art as Fosse died from a heart attack, just moments before his revival of Sweet Charity was to open at the National Theater.

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