The papers in the Film Finances Archive reveal the key role that the company played in the post-war development of independent picture-making around the world. Its involvement in the making of The African Queen (1951) was of huge symbolic importance because the film marked the successful comeback of distributor United Artists after many years in the doldrums – the famous brainchild of Chaplin, Griffith, Pickford and Fairbanks supporting independent producers once again, at just the time when Hollywood film-makers were beginning to break away from the old studio system.
Through most of the 1940s John Huston had worked as a contract writer and director for Warner Bros, but in 1947 he and Sam Spiegel set up independent production company Horizon Pictures. The African Queen was the film that put Horizon on the map, but it also showed the way to other independent producers. In a co-production deal with British company Romulus, Horizon met the ‘above-the-line’ costs of story, stars and director, while Romulus paid for the actual production costs of making the film on location in Africa and then at Shepperton Studios. The lynchpin of the arrangement was the completion guarantee from Film Finances which secured a loan to Horizon from Chicago bank Walter Heller & Co.
Generous quotas, subsidies and tax incentives attracted many independent producers to Europe after the war. A favourite destination was Italy, which Film Finances’ founder Bobby Garrett knew well. Indeed, the very idea for the world’s first specialised completion guarantee company arose out of the difficulties Garrett had faced in securing the funding for The Shadow of the Eagle, a costume drama which was filmed in Venice only a few months before the founding of Film Finances in February 1950.
In the picture below Garrett can be seen with his chin on his hand second on the left by the lifeboat in the background. Next to him stands his co-producer, Anthony Havelock-Allan, who had made his name producing the David Lean films In Which We Serve, Great Expectations and Brief Encounter. As they look on, American director Sidney Salkow (centre) discusses the next shot with German-born cinematographer Erwin Hillier.
During the early years of Film Finances, Bobby Garrett continued to produce films with Anthony Havelock-Allan. After Shadow of the Eagle, their company, Constellation Films, embarked on another Anglo-Italian co-production, Never Take No for an Answer (1951). Based on Paul Gallico’s short story, ‘The Small Miracle’, it was about an orphan boy who takes his sick donkey to Rome to receive a blessing from the Pope. Helping out with production advice on both Shadow of the Eagle and Never Take No for an Answer was Prince Alessandro Tasca di Cutò, a Sicilian aristocrat who was cousin of Giovanni di Lampedusa, author of The Leopard. The picture below shows him (on the left) with Anthony Havelock-Allan during the making of Never Take No for an Answer.
‘My dear Sandro,’ Garrett wrote to Tasca in February 1952, ‘There seems to be a recrudescence here of interest in location work in Italy and/or co-operation with Italian financial interests, and we are being approached to give Guarantees of Completion in respect of certain of these. Unfortunately in the past a great many English pictures made on location in Italy have exceeded their schedules and often their budgets.’ Outlining what he considered to be the main issues, Garrett went on to invite Tasca to become Film Finances’ consultant in Italy. To give an idea of the kind of advice that Film Finances required, he enclosed two examples of the exhaustive production reports that Film Finances’ consultant in England, John Croydon, wrote on British productions. Impressed, Tasca did not hesitate to take up the offer. In the picture below, he can be seen with Humphrey Bogart, John Huston and Peter Lorre on the set of Beat the Devil (1953).
In 1959, Film Finances, in conjunction with Italian financial interests, set up in Rome the completion guarantor Società Finanziaria Garanzie e Controlli. Tasca, who became the technical director of the new company, can be seen below on the set of the first picture that it guaranteed, The Revenge of Hercules. If the film showed little concern to give a faithful account of the Greek myth, it didn’t much matter because the selling-point was the universal appeal of the He-Man. In the United States, the film was released by American International Pictures as Goliath and the Dragon.
SFGC guaranteed not only the popular Sword and Sandal epics and Spaghetti Westerns, but also some of the great classics of 1960s Italian cinema, including Antonioni’s Deserto Rosso and Pasolini’s Gospel According to Saint Matthew. In the latter, Tasca can be seen in the role of Pontius Pilate.
During the 1960s, Film Finances went on to establish representation in France, Germany and Spain. It then played a major role in the development of the Canadian film industry during the 1970s, and the Australian industry during the early 1980s, opening offices in both countries. Very soon afterwards, Film Finances arrived in Hollywood. The protection against the unforeseen that the company’s guarantee offered must have have seemed all the more desirable in a town that was still learning the lessons of the budget excesses of Heaven’s Gate. When in 1982 Film Finances took out a full-page advert in Variety to congratulate Francis Coppola on making The Outsiders ‘on schedule and on budget’, it served as the perfect calling card.