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Bryan Foy and John Alton: An Unlikely Team

Producer and director Bryan Foy, 1930

To view the “Anthony Mann/John Alton Noir” theme on FilmStruck, click here.

Anthony Mann gained a reputation for creating lean, mean film noirs with the help of cinematographer extraordinaire John Alton. Mann’s stylish direction and memorable characters in film noir, as well as in Westerns and dramas make him a favorite among classic movie lovers. You can count the Streamliners among Mann-fans based on the many FilmStruck posts about the series “Anthony Mann/John Alton Noir,” including my own article from earlier this year.

While researching Alton and Mann for my previous post, as well as for my film noir course, I came across another name associated with several of these films. It is a name that goes unsung and one rarely associated with film noir: Bryan Foy. Foy produced some of the low-budget noirs by Mann and Alton, including T-Men (1947) and He Walked by Night (1948), which are currently streaming on FilmStruck. Foy’s experience at producing B-movies for most of his career made him an expert at getting the most out of small budgets and short running times.

Eddie Foy (back left) with his children, Eddie Foy Jr., Mary Foy, Madeline Foy, Bryan Foy, Irving Fo

Called “Brynie” by his associates, Foy was born in a trunk as they say. TCM viewers who have seen the Bob Hope movie The Seven Little Foys (1955) will recognize his name, at least his last name. The movie celebrated the career of Eddie Foy, Sr., a real-life vaudevillian who incorporated his children into his act after his wife died. Bryan, the eldest child, performed as part of The Seven Little Foys until he joined the Navy during WWI. Reading between the lines of Bryan’s scant bio information, I got the impression he did not like performing onstage. He did not return to the act after the war, though he did compose several original songs for his family. Shortly after appearing with the Foys onstage for a special event, he suffered a nervous breakdown.

In the early 1920s, Bryan Foy entered the film industry, getting his feet wet in the publicity department of William Fox’s studio. He formed a tiny production company and produced a series of shorts spoofing famous historical and literary figures under the series title Hysterical History. He moved to Warner Bros., where his background in vaudeville served him well. As Sam Warner contemplated and explored the use of sync-sound, Foy was hired to produce and direct vaudeville shorts for WB. After the success of The Jazz Singer (1927) revealed that the switch to sync sound was inevitable—and the sooner, the better—Foy was in the right place at the right time. He took a two-reel, silent gangster saga and turned it into a five-reel all-talking drama. Lights of New York (1928) is cited in the history books as the first all-talking film, though Foy’s name is rarely lauded, probably because the conversion from silent to sound did not result in a very good film. But, Lights of New York was a gold mine for WB. It cost only $21,000 to make and returned $75,000 during its first week in release in New York City.

Foy specialized in low-budget features at WB, and in 1936, Jack Warner doubled his salary and put him in charge of all B-movie production. His unit produced 29 movies in 1936 and 30 in 1937. His films represented over half of the studio’s annual releases and, thus, comprised the backbone of WB’s release schedule. The purpose of Foy’s unit was to keep WB’s facilities and personnel operating with no down time while supplying a steady flow of low-cost features.

Foy always hated the phrase “B-movie,” especially in later years when the term began to connote an inferior production. Most of his output was anything but inferior. His B-unit allowed the studio’s featured players, such as Glenda Farrell and Barton MacLane, a chance to star in films (like Torchy Blane series [1937-1939]). His movies were often directed by second-unit directors from A-movies, and the scripts were sometimes the work of A-writers. Some, including Alcatraz Island (1937), were considered good enough by Jack Warner and his right-hand producer, Hal Wallis, to receive a major promotion and to play in theaters on key dates.

Foy produced movies on 15- to 25-day schedules, with budgets ranging from $50,000 to $125,000. But, his reputation rested on his ability to cut corners. For example, he saved money on obtaining story rights by reworking the narratives from WB’s A-budget movies, recognizing that a change in location, a distinctive atmosphere and a different star could alter any story significantly. During the shooting phase, he suggested using inserts, such as newspaper headlines or letters, to advance the story, which saved the cost of acting out plot points in scenes. He also suggested using close-ups in dialog scenes to keep the visual focus away from the minimal sets.

Nothing lasts forever, and in 1940, Foy’s B-unit was phased out at Warner Bros. Foy worked at other studios, including Eagle-Lion Films, a British production company that released English films in the States. The studio also produced original B-movies in Hollywood. In 1947, Foy was placed in charge of the B-unit, but as it worked out, it became more lucrative for him to work as an independent producer for Eagle-Lion. The studio’s strategy to release A-budget British films and make their own B-movies was not wholly successful, though the studio experienced some financial reward with their film noirs. Of the fourteen films produced in 1947-1948, ten were in release by 1949, and five had earned a tidy profit, including three of the films streaming on FilmStruck: T-Men, He Walked by Night and Raw Deal (1948). Foy produced the first two.

Though Anthony Mann and John Alton are often discussed as a team, no one has connected Foy and Alton. Yet, Foy’s cost cutting approach and Alton’s stripped-down artistry work hand in glove on B-noirs. In addition to He Walked by Night and T-Men, Alton served as cinematographer for Foy on Canon City (1948) and Hollow Triumph (1948). Foy’s strategy of saving money by minimizing set design works well with Alton’s legendary high-contrast lighting in which deep, black shadows obliterate set detail. Alton illuminated scenes with the fewest lights possible, sometimes using only a single light source. Also, the cinematographer worked quickly, often setting up the lights himself. This annoyed the crew and the union when he was the cinematographer on MGM’s big-budget An American in Paris (1950), but it suited low-budget productions with short shooting schedules. I don’t know if Foy appreciated Alton’s talents and style in addition to his cost-saving practices, but, given the producer’s reputation at WB and the pride he expressed in his work, I would like to think so.

The Eagle-Lion venture did not last long, because the company lost money on their A-budget movies. Foy returned to WB in the 1950s, producing the 3-D horror classic House of Wax (1953). His last film as a producer was P.T. 109 (1963), significant for its connection to U.S. history, if not cinema history. Foy had an incredible career—from early sound to B-movies to film noir to 3-D. Not bad for a kid from vaudeville.

Susan Doll

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Cap Gets Tactical in Sideshow Collectibles’ New Captain America Premium Format Figure

Sideshow recently unveiled an all-new take on one of pop culture’s most beloved heroes, Captain America. This new Premium Format™ Figure depicts an updated, tactical interpretation of the star-spangled soldier, while retaining many of the iconic costume design elements that make him such a stand-out character in comics.

Marvel.com spoke to Sideshow Art Director David Igo and digital designer and sculptor Daniel Bel to learn a little more about this impressive new statue, and about bringing the iconic Avenger to life…

Marvel.com: Tell us a little more about how you chose the team for the Captain America Premium Format™ Figure, and a little about each of the people involved.

David Igo: It’s totally awesome figuring out who’s the best fit for each project. There are a lot of unique factors that go into the team building, and no one project is the same as any other, really…

Assembling the team isn’t solely my decision. There are a lot of other people involved as we build the project, but I do work closely with the design and the sculpt teams to figure out who’s going to work on what project. For CaptatMartin Canale & Guillermo Barbiero, had translated that material into a rough 3D pose study to make it more heroic and Captain America feeling. From there, we had enough reference material to convey to Daniel an idea of what we had in mind, and how to go about the project – and off he went!

Throughout the sculpting process, we make sure the sculptors are supported with the right Project Manager and Art Director, and that duo will make sure the sculptor has every everything they need. It’s a real collaborative effort, designed to support the sculptor every step of the way, and let them do what they do best.

Marvel.com: Daniel, were you excited to explore a new version of Captain America? How does the process of designing this character begin?

Daniel Bel: Yes, totally. There are already many classic versions of Captain America on the market, so the idea of creating a new, modern comic book-inspired interpretation really caught my attention.

It was a huge challenge for the whole team to design this character from scratch, and it was very gratifying to have the chance to put my own style into every part of this piece. As with any other project, the team gets together to brainstorm ideas. Then, with all the opinions on the table, we begin to narrow down the scope to make decisions on the details that work best for the piece.

In order to achieve the best representation possible, we always do a deep exploration of the story and the main features of the character. Collectors love those details!

Marvel.com: This piece in particular is very interesting because, although it’s incredibly dynamic with lots of movement, it also has a very classical feel. The pose in particular is almost like a Greek statue. Was that a deliberate aim going in to this project?

Daniel Bel: Of course! We all love classic sculptures and this kind of pose in particular is named “contrapposto”, a pose very commonly used by the Greeks and Romans in their pieces to convey the feeling of movement and dynamism. It’s also very helpful to break the symmetry of the body too. In this post-battle scene of Captain America versus the Ultron sentries, he looks victorious and heroic, so I think we managed to get all that we wanted in just one pose.

David Igo: I couldn’t have said it any better! The pose was also an homage to the heroic stature of our very first Captain America Premium Format™ Figure that we did YEARS ago… We were trying to recapture that same “Ultimate Hero” feel, but with a unique pose and story to the piece, as well as a more modern twist to his look.

Marvel.com: What was the decision process regarding the evolution of Cap’s armor? It’s very modern and tactical, with lots of layers and different materials, but there are also lots of nods to the classic costume.

Daniel Bel: This was the most difficult part of the whole process, because we know collectors love the classic version of the suit. Taking that into account, we decided to re-design the suit while paying homage to the classic design, but giving it a much more tactical and modern look.

We used a variety of textures and shadings to give the feeling that he is very well-protected and the same time still agile. We tried to convey the look of very strong materials, like high density carbon fiber for the shoulder pads, helmet, gloves, and the upper torso. Then, to give him freedom of movement, we chose more flexible materials such as kevlar fabrics for the abdomen, arms, and pants.

We then designed some semi-rigid components for the boots, knee pads, and elbows pads. There are lots of little details, and if you take a closer look you can see that his shield has a magnetic device that allows him to throw and catch it with more precision.

David Igo: To add to what Daniel said, we also thought to ourselves, “Captain America is not indestructible- he’s still human, even though he is SUPER human…”

His classic suit might have worked great fighting in World War II, or against other villains and superhuman threats, but with technology evolving, weapons getting more powerful, unstoppable robots, space aliens, gods, etc… even Cap might need additional protection so he can go into battle and hold up against those kinds of foes in hand-to-hand combat.

I mean, if I had a friend like Tony Stark, I’d probably hit him up for an upgrade every once in a while! Ha ha ha!

Marvel.com: Can you tell us more about the design choices? Anything you’d like to call out or draw attention to?

Daniel Bel: I would like to highlight his face. One of the main questions from the team was what kind of facial expression we wanted. This is a very important thing, because in a statue everything is connected, and the wrong expression may not flow with the body, posture, gesture, and so on.

So instead of doing a shouting or a grimacing expression, we decided to play with the position of his eyes and with his lips to suggest a stern look and aggressive attitude, and get the feeling across that he is ready to keep fighting.

Marvel.com: The Exclusive edition for this particular figure is a swap-out hand holding an Ultron Sentry head. Tell us more about the genesis of this idea…

Daniel Bel: We decided to go for an Ultron Sentry head because they are one of the most well-known enemies of the Avengers, and of course they fit perfectly with Black Widow too, which, with a similar background scene, is the perfect companion to be displayed next to Cap.

David Igo: Honestly, sometimes the most difficult part of the design process for me is figuring out the base. You don’t want it to be too big, or too small, and you still want enough context to tell a story without distracting from the figure itself. So when we added the Ultron Sentry to the base, we just knew that Cap holding a torn-off head in his hand would be super awesome and could tie the whole thing together.

Marvel.com: The Captain America Premium Format™ Figure was also unveiled shortly after a new Black Widow Figure. Are they part of the same series?

David Igo: We always want to make sure our statues are strong standalone pieces first and foremost. But, if we have other pieces planned that could work as a “set” or a “series”, making those gel together is a great bonus. Cap and Black Widow look fantastic together, but they also look awesome as standalone statues.

Marvel.com: There’s also a Premium Art Print depicting the two characters together. What can you say about that?

David Igo: Ian MacDonald and Alex Pascenko are both amazing designers and print artists who have worked for Sideshow for years. They both worked with us on the early designs of the two statues, and they totally nailed the art print for us too!

Naturally, pieces evolve from the initial 2D design to a 3D design and final 3D sculpt, then a final painted prototype, so even though Ian and Alex helped design the statues, we waited until both statues were fully completed before starting on the print.

Ian and Alex worked together to make a single illustration of the two characters, with some additional context – the Helicarrier, the Quinjet, and some added effects that are hard to make work in 3D… Smoke, fiery embers. So basically, we were able to expand on the story of the 3D statues for collectors, and that’s always really rewarding to do.

It’s a great complimentary element for a collection that features one or both of the statues, as well as a great piece of art in its own right!

The limited Sideshow Exclusive Edition of the Captain America Premium Format™ Figure is priced at $585 and is currently on pre-order at http://sideshow.com/capt