THE LATE 1940s WITNESSED THE ADVENT of a number of key developments in the US film industry. In 1945, World War Two came to an end, the MPPDA became the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), Eric Johnstone replaced Will Hays as its president, and another industry organisation, the Motion Picture Export Association (MPEA), in essence a merger between the MPAA and the overseas arm of the Office of War Information, was ‘created to facilitate trade’ in a ‘postwar global marketplace’. 2 Thus as domestic attendances and profits surged, so too did profits from the unrestricted release of US films in previously occupied or enemy countries in Europe and elsewhere abroad. In October 1946,

the Motion Picture Herald reported that the ‘lid’ on the foreign market had been ‘pried open’ and that the MPEA seemed to be fending off protectionism overseas. At year’s end, the studios reported that their overseas income of $125 million was virtually identical to their overall net profits – a situation that many in the industry considered ideal, with the domestic market on a break-even basis and overseas income amounting essentially to pure profit. 3

The traffic at this point was nearly all one way. However in 1946 Britain’s J. Arthur Rank, who had established links with Universal and United Artists in the 1930s and the early 1940s respectively, and who was determined to build what Variety called a ‘worldwide film empire’, went on to orchestrate a merger between Universal and International Pictures and the setting up of a production and distribution company called Eagle-Lion to handle the distribution of his company’s film in the US. 4 The first of these films was Brief Encounter, which was released through a new Universal subsidiary called Prestige Pictures and which opened at the Little Carnegie Playhouse on 25 August 1946. Six months earlier, on 25 February, an Italian film entitled Open City in the US opened at the World Theatre. Directed by Roberto Rossellini and released in Italy as Roma, città aperta in 1945, Open City was distributed in the US by Arthur Mayer and Joseph Burstyn. 5 The Little Carnegie and the World Theatre were Manhattan art houses. Rank was reportedly unhappy that Brief Encounter was released in this market and in this way, but it performed reasonably well and went on to profit from subsequent showings in ordinary commercial theatres. A number of Rank’s subsequent medium-range productions, among them I Know Where I’m Going! and Great Expectations (both 1947), followed suit. 6 Meanwhile, the success of Open City was unprecedented. It ran for nearly two years at the World; it was subsequently released in a number of mainstream cinemas as well as in other art houses; and it reportedly grossed $5 million (a record for a foreign film). 7 Voted Best Foreign Language Film in 1946 by the New York Film Critics Circle, it demonstrated not only that there was a market for art-house films but that at least some of them possessed wider commercial appeal.