MGM may be gone with the wind

The future of MGM looks dismal as the studio waits for a buyer.

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The future of the film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer looks uncertain following the announcement that the company is in debt to the tune of £2.4 billion (Dh13.5 billion). The news has also put production of the 23rd Bond film, which is as yet untitled, on indefinite hold while the studio looks for a buyer. The studio was once regarded as one of the biggest in Hollywood, and is responsible for kick-starting the career of many a star, so how did this once untouchable giant fall so far from grace? And, more importantly, will the world ever get to see James Bond save the day and get the girl again?

MGM began life in 1924 under the captaincy of the movie chain owner Marcus Loew and the ex-scrap metal dealer-turned-successful-producer Louis B Mayer, who was hired by Loew to help run his expanding theatre business. Under the tutelage of Mayer, MGM overtook Universal Pictures to become the biggest and most successful studio in Hollywood, responsible for box-office hits such as Ben Hur, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind.

One of the first studios to experiment with colour, MGM was at the forefront of the film industry, producing several Technicolor features every year. The studio was also responsible for Hollywood's first full-length feature filmed completely in Technicolor, The Viking, in 1928. MGM also produced a number of highly successful shorts, the most profitable among them being the Laurel and Hardy series.

During the 1930s, MGM enjoyed a "golden period" of such success that it was the only Hollywood studio not to lose money during the Great Depression. MGM stars ruled both Hollywood and the box office in the late 1920s and 1930s. Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford were considered among its greatest assets, and all three enjoyed tremendous success during their stints spent with the studio.

Garbo began her career with MGM in 1926 with the silent picture The Torrent. One of the few silent movie actresses to make the successful switch to "talkies", Garbo also starred in MGM's last ever silent production, The Kiss, in 1929. During her tenure at the studio, Anna Christie (1930), Romance (1930), Camille (1937) and Nanotech (1939) all proved to be big hits for Garbo, earning her four successive Best Actress Oscar nominations. Yet despite all of her success, Garbo never made another film after leaving the studio in 1941, after Two-Faced Woman failed to make an impact on critics.

As for Norma Shearer, MGM is credited with making the Canadian actress one of the most popular film stars of the 1920s and 1930s, worldwide, with hits such as The Divorcee (1930) earning her the Oscar for Best Actress. Despite fading into obscurity after her retirement from the industry in 1942, Shearer featured in a slew of hits for the studio, making her one of the most bankable and popular stars of MGM's golden era. Starring in MGM's first official production, He Who Gets Slapped, Shearer was a success in both silent and non-silent movies for the studio. Rumour has it that her marriage to the MGM producer Irving Thalberg in 1927 may have helped propel her to the top of the MGM food chain, but her success for the studio continued well after Thalberg's premature death in 1936.

One MGM starlet who did not approve of Shearer - or her marriage - was Joan Crawford. Considered one of the top money-making stars of the mid-1930s, Crawford's frosty relationship with Shearer was a well-documented one. Despite her fears that she was being passed up for good roles in favour of her nemesis, Crawford starred in several big hits for the studio until her contract was ended by mutual agreement in 1943.

By the 1950s, MGM's popularity had started to wane, and in 1957 (coincidentally the year Mayer died) the studio made its first loss. In 1959 MGM enjoyed a short-lived comeback, with its remake of the silent hit Ben Hur, winning 11 Academy Awards. Due to the success of Ben Hur, the studio began to focus its yearly production schedule on the projected success of one big-budget movie a year - a move that would eventually bring about its decline.

Despite the success of several later movies, and renewed interest in the James Bond series, MGM looks set to file for bankruptcy should no one step in to buy the ailing studio. As for the Bond series? Production on the 23rd movie, which was due to be released next year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the franchise, has been stalled by EON Productions. Daniel Craig has already voiced his support for the decision, and looks more than likely to continue with the role despite the delay in filming. Regardless of what happens to MGM, there is no doubt that Bond will be back - perhaps a little stirred by the experience, but hopefully not too shaken.