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55 years! Well I never…!

We look back over the 55-year history of Film Review, Britain's longest-running movie magazine

Back in 1950, the year when Ingrid Bergman married Roberto Rossellini, The Bicycle Thief received an honorary Academy Award, and William H Macy was brought into the world, a brand new type of film magazine started appearing across the UK. That magazine was ABC Film Review, a promotional publication for the ABC cinema circuit, which over the intervening 55 years has transformed itself into the independent and wide-ranging publication that Film Review is today.

After a three-issue trial run during 1950, ABC Film Review became a fully-fledged monthly in January 1951, costing the princely sum of sixpence (2½ pence in today’s money) – about half the price of a cinema ticket. Sold in the foyers of the ABC (Associated British Cinema) chain, it dealt solely with the films shown in their 400-plus cinemas, and would soon spawn many imitators from rival cinema networks. Not that it didn’t have other competition to worry about already, such as Picturegoer and Pictureshow, both of which fell by the wayside during the ’60s, and Photoplay which endured into the ’70s before it too faded away. Films and Filming, another competing concern, actually merged with Film Review at a later date.

Unsurprisingly florid in its praise of its sponsored output, ABC Film Review provided moviegoers with lavish reviews, articles and interviews as well as colour cover pages showing the stars of the day. This excerpt from a Guys and Dolls review by Philip Bradford in the January 1957 edition gives a flavour of the friendly fervour that pervaded within: ‘Pardon me if I do handstands over one of the swellest movies it is my good fortune to ever clap eyes on.’

And indeed, it was a good time for movies, so not all of the praise was over-the-top. With TVs still not the norm, and cinema screenings weighing in at up to three hours in length, providing news and a supporting feature to accompany the film, patrons got a lot out of their movie experience. At its inception ABC Film Review was 24 pages long and came in a smaller format designed for easy reading during these lengthy sittings, and its accessible and enthusiastic coverage soon proved popular with the public.

Swallowing its pride, the Rank cinema chain eventually agreed to distribute the magazine as well, causing the ABC title to be dropped, and allowing Film Review to cover the whole gamut of UK releases for the first time. Whereas ABC had dealt mainly with MGM, Warner Bros and Elstree productions, Rank had a monopoly on releases by Fox, Paramount, Universal, Columbia, United Artists and Pinewood.

Thanks to the increasingly threatening rise of the TV, the studios were working overtime to entertain audiences and pack the cinemas. Several innovations would be pushed as a solution to cinema’s woes, including 3D films, featuring those natty two-tone glasses, and the grandeur of CinemaScope. A string of gloriously flamboyant productions followed, and Film Review was there to cover them all.

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