Wednesday 21 October 2015

Green Dolphin Street 1947

Won the Academy award for best visual effects in 1948.

Along with a model sailing cutter and the ports it visits this film has an earthquake sequence with a miniature New Zealand Kauri forest used as a  process background collapsing on the hapless natives as well as a miniature river tidal wave engulfing a miniature timber barge caused by the collapse of  a miniature rocky cliff.

It is all very convincingly photographed, by ever reliable MGM team, supervised by A. Arnold Gillespie with miniatures by Donald Jahraus and matte paintings by Warren Newcombe.

The Green Dolphin sailing vessel was built at 1/6 scale.

The distant cliff miniature built to 1/24 scale was around 40 feet high and mounted on coil springs which allowed the set to be shaken from side to side. The water tumbling down the cliff was in fact dry gypsum powder. It was fed onto a treadmill from 3 hidden hoppers to send it over the side.  As it fell, creating a realistic scale mist catching the sunlight, real water was timed to release into the miniature ravine at the base of the cliff completing the illusion. Steam was also released to make the impact mist rising up from the fall. The foreground ravine and foliage were built at 1/12 scale.

The tree trunks were modeled on California redwoods rather than the New Zealand Kauris they were intended to represent. The foliage used Virginia cypress and juniper. The tables they were mounted on were shaken from side to side by rams.

Some shots of the tidal wave in the miniature river scene were used as process backgrounds for the live action. Several thousand gallons of water was released from under the process screen and directed up and over the actors, timed to the match the arrival of the miniature wave projected on the background making a seamless effect.

There are a few photographs in the Wizard of MGM book showing other miniature sequences shot that do not appear in the movie, at least they don't in the DVD version I have. One of them was a sequence of the Green Dolphin wrecked on rocks and another shows a miniature H.M.S. Orion ship built to 1/8 scale. That model can be seen in the background at the end of a street but looks to be part of a matte painting.

 Source: The wizard of MGM, Memoirs of A.Arnold Gillespie published by Bear Manor Media.

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