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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine