Okay, gang, it’s Saturday again, and time for another installment of Saturday Breakfast Serial and our ongoing chapter play, Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. And, for those of you who may be just joining us, here are the previous posts for this serial: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
Last time we actually looked at film serial history, I wrote about Mascot Pictures, which was responsible for, among other things, the first partially sound serial, King of the Kongo. At the time, I noted that Mascot and a number of other Poverty Row studios were eventually merged into the formation of Republic Pictures, so I thought we’d pick up there today, with a look at Republic itself.
It sounds a little harsh to say it, but the formation of Republic Pictures was basically the result of extortion on the part of the studio’s head, Herbert J. Yates.
You see, in 1935, Yates was the president of the film processing company Consolidated Film Industries. Consolidated was the place where various studios would take their negatives and have prints made from them for distribution to theaters. Of course, this being the height of the Great Depression, many of these studios found themselves in debt to Consolidated with outstanding bills that they could not afford to pay. That was when Yates, who had always wanted to run his own studio decided to seize the opportunity and he gave six of these studios, Mascot, Monogram Pictures, Liberty Pictures, Majestic Pictures, Chesterfield Pictures and Invincible Pictures a choice: either merge together under his leadership, or he would foreclose on them by demanding payment on their outstanding debt. The studios really had no choice but to accede to his demands, and thus Republic Pictures was born.
Here’s a quick rundown of the various studios that composed Republic, and what they brought to the table, courtesy of Wikipedia:
- The largest of Republic’s components was Monogram Pictures, run by producers Trem Carr and W. Ray Johnston, which specialized in “B” films and operated a nationwide distribution system. (Monogram was revived in 1937.)
- The most technically advanced of the studios that now comprised Republic was Nat Levine’s Mascot Pictures Corporation, which had been making serials almost exclusively since the mid-1920s and had a first-class production facility, the former Mack Sennett-Keystone lot in Studio City. Mascot also had just discovered Gene Autry and signed him to a contract as a singing cowboy star.
- Larry Darmour’s Majestic Pictures had developed a following, with big-name stars and rented sets giving his humble productions a polished look.
- Republic took its original “Liberty Bell” logo from M. H. Hoffman’s Liberty Pictures (not to be confused with Frank Capra’s short-lived Liberty Films that produced his It’s a Wonderful Life, ironically now owned by Republic).
- Chesterfield Pictures and Invincible Pictures, two sister companies under the same ownership, were skilled in producing low-budget melodramas and mysteries.
Thus, as Wikipedia goes on to note, acquiring and integrating these six companies allowed Republic to begin life with an experienced production staff, a company of veteran B-film supporting players and at least one very promising star, a complete distribution system and a functioning and modern studio. In exchange for merging, the principals were promised independence in their productions under the Republic aegis, and higher budgets with which to improve the quality of the films.
Okay, I think we’ll stop there for today, and next week we’ll look at some of the movies that Republic put out, and the circumstances that led to its eventual downfall. For now, though, let’s move on with the next chapter of Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc.
Next time: Chapter 7: Sea Racketeers, and more movie serial history.