Obituary: Samuel Bronston

Samuel Bronston, film producer: born Romania 1909; married (two sons, three daughters; marriage dissolved); died Sacramento, California 12 January 1994.

FOR A BRIEF period in the early Sixties, Samuel Bronston created a film-making empire in Spain where he produced some of the most expansive and spectacular historical epics in film history. He was to establish Spain as a film colony, notably for epics and westerns, but his own company collapsed after a series of ambitious failures.

Born in Bessarabia, Romania, in 1909, he was educated at the Sorbonne before starting work as a salesman for MGM in France. Moving to the United States at the outbreak of the Second World War, he became a production executive at Columbia where he made one film, City Without Men (1943), a listless melodrama starring Linda Darnell as one of a group of wives boarding at a hotel near the prison where their menfolk are serving sentences, before forming his own independent company and making Jack London (1943), a highly fictionalised account of the life of the author and adventurer. Though Susan Hayward was a vibrant heroine, Michael O'Shea was a colourless hero and the script incorporated some heavy anti-Japanese propaganda to aid the war effort.

It was in 1959, with the studio system collapsing and the cost of movie-making in Hollywood becoming increasingly prohibitive, that Bronston set up a base in Madrid and arranged to produce epics for release by Hollywood companies for a share of the profits. His first venture, John Paul Jones (1959), suffered from a bland leading player (Robert Stack, as the man who founded the US Navy) and, like most of Bronston's subsequent films, over-length and a rambling narrative which dissipated the impact of some effective battle-scenes and a brief appearance by Bette Davis as Catherine the Great. The King of Kings (1961), directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Jeffrey Hunter, was more successful and the biggest money-maker of the year for MGM, its distributor.

Bronston had by now been encouraged to build an enormous studio complex near Madrid, establishing Spain as a prime centre for international film production, and produced his best-known epic, El Cid (1961), which had the same mixture of positive and negative qualities that distinguished most of his films - breathtaking spectacles, meticulous research (he spent nearly dollars 200,000 on medieval art objects and jewellery), superb photography and splendid battle-scenes (the stuntman Yakima Canutt staged the siege of Valencia with literally half of the Spanish army), but all this dulled by lethargic pacing and banal dialogue ('I shall wear deepest black,' announces Sophia Loren as a Spanish noblewoman).

55 Days At Peking (1963), an account of the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, also had stunning battle- scenes staged by Canutt and directed by Andrew Marton, but Nicholas Ray (who confessed he took on the project purely for money) directed the rest ponderously and the film lost a fortune. The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) had a Roman forum set said to be the largest ever built, but Anthony Mann, the director, later stated that he could do little with such a 'defeatist' tale, while one of its stars, Christopher Plummer, later complimented co-actors James Mason and Alec Guinness on 'the way they could take that truly appalling dialogue and make it sound acceptable'. The lavish production lost dollars 18m and was followed by another failure, Circus World (1964), starring John Wayne, after which Bronston, who had been borrowing heavily, had to suspend all film activity.

He became involved in court battles that lasted for years, but resurfaced briefly in 1978 to distribute The Mysterious House of Dr C, a mixture of dance, animation and live action based on the ballet Coppelia.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor