Dialogue On Film Joseph E. Levine
This educational series is directed by James Powers.
Question: You have been involved with many so-called art films from Europe. What do you think made them work in this country?
Levine: For a long time they did not work. There were only a couple hundred theaters in the whole United States that would play an art film. It was films like PAISAN and OPEN CITY and THE BICYCLE THIEF that helped to break down the barriers and attract more of the American public to these quality pictures. As the years wore on, pictures like BOCCACCIO '70, MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE, DIVORCE - ITALIAN STYLE began to make some inroads in a limited way. It was not possible to exist as a producer or importer of art films alone. If I were to succeed, it became obvious to me that I would have to produce or import commercial films. That was the only means of survival.
Question: It was in the late fifties, though, that your career picked up speed, when you bought a not very important Italian film called HERCULES.
Levine: I not only picked up speed, but I picked up a great deal of money, which is kind of nice to have around. It was a very important film to me. Everybody hated it, except the public. This film was not released - as an exhibitor friend of mine said, "It was exploded!" It ws a great exploitation picture. The people who paid to see HERCULES were by no means disappointed. They liked the film. They saw what the ads said they would see, and they were pleased. What else can one ask for?
Question: It has been said that you spent $100,000 on the picture and a million to exploit it.
Levine: I spent $125,000 on the picture and $1,156,000 to launch it. That $1,156,000 had the same effect that $10 million would have today.
Question: What led you to acquire HERCULES?
Levine: I heard from the grapevine that someone in Rome had just finished a film called HERCULES. I was very intrigued by the title. I flew to Rome, saw the film, and bought it. It was not quite as simple as that, nothing ever is in Rome. I won't bore you with the details, except to add that I saw the film in the screening room of MGM. I thought it was terrible, but instinctively I felt the title and the whole concept of the picture would have a great chance in America. The picture was poorly dubbed. When Steve Reeves said, "I love you" in reel 2, it came out in reel 3. When the mast on the ship fell, the sound of it falling came out two minutes after the action. The Italians were not fussy about their dubbing and could not have cared less. However, we did cure the bad dubbing, and we dubbed Steve Reeves's voice and gave it a godlike quality. His own was rather squeaky and high.