Saturday Breakfast Serial 017 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 6: Beseiged

dt6Okay, 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.

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  • 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.

Classic Television Thursday #024 – Password (1964)

pw1Is Password still on the air? Possibly in syndication or on the Game Show Network? I don’t know. But even if it’s not now, I suspect at some point it will be revived in some form or fashion. After all, the premise is simple, and sooner or later some TV exec will decide it’s a brand worth recycling.

Anyway, I’m not going to spend a lot of time introducing this episode. Like I said, even if you’ve never seen an episode, you’ve either seen something familiar, or will pretty immediately pick up on the premise. This particular episode first aired on May 7, 1964, and features not only Lucille Ball, but her then-husband Gary Morton and her two children, Desi Arnaz Jr, who was 11 at the time, and Lucie Arnaz, who was 12.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quickie Review: The Boys From Brazil (1978)

bfb1The Boys From Brazil is an odd movie in that it brings together a number of topics that seem to have been in the air at the time of its development. The film is a hybrid of science fiction, conspiracy, and spy movie, all brought together under an umbrella of neo-Nazism. It depicts the efforts of infamous Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck), who has survived World War II and is still living into the seventies to, through the use of a secret cabal of war criminals and a combination of cloning and nurture to create a new Hitler and restoke the fires of the Third Reich. This plan is stumbled upon by amateur Nazi hunter Barry Kohler (portrayed by Steve Guttenberg) who is subsequently discovered and killed, but not before he can pass on the information he has discovered to Ezra Lieberman (Lawrence Olivier) who is a more experienced and famous Nazi hunter. Though Lieberman is at first skeptical and tries to dissuade Kohler from pursuing the leads he has found any further, the killing of the younger man, and a tape of a clandestine meeting that Kohler sent to him just before his death finally convince him to follow up, leading him into a web of intrigue and a final fatal conflict with Mengele himself.

Based on the novel of the same name written by Ira Levin, and directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, The Boys from Brazil received three Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Actor for Lawrence Olivier. It’s a tight little bit of entertainment, which ends on a suitably ambiguous note that seems well fitting with many other similar films of the time. The plot, along with the Nazi’s scheme is a bit outrageous, but it is, in a way, that very outrageousness that adds at least a shimmer of realism to the film, and especially to the characterization of Olivier’s Lieberman who has to overcome his own skepticism before he can take any kind of action.

bfb2All in all, I found the film to be very entertaining, and well worth viewing, though I do think that, as is perhaps inevitable for films from this era, many younger audience members today might complain that it is rather slow-going, as, though it is punctuated through by a number of scenes of violence as the conspirators try to recreate the conditions of Hitler’s upbringing (since his father, Alois, died unexpectedly when Adolf was 13 years old, part of Mengele’s plan involves the killing of the clones’ fathers now that those children have reached the same age), it still spends a lot more time on the plot and intrigue than on the action which comes in short bursts. Nonetheless, for those willing to take the time to watch it unfold, I think you will be quite satisfied.

“The Peak of Fear” – Here’s The New Trailer For Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak

cp1Ever since it was announced, I’ve said that Guillermo del Toro would be my fantasy director for the upcoming Dr. Strange movie because I think he is the person most likely to be able to bring the other-worldliness necessary to really depict the Sorcerer Supreme’s adventures.

Obviously, this isn’t that, but this trailer does highlight exactly why I feel that way. In Crimson Peak, del Toro turns his hand to Gothic horror in a way that seems to really bring together something like the best of classic gothic Hammer-style films along with the possibilities that come with the new age of digital technology to create a true sense of creepiness and foreboding, embracing real terror and still giving today’s audiences the type of jump-scare horror that they seem to desire.

In other words, wow do I like this trailer, and I’m really looking forward to seeing this film once it actually hits theaters.

And yes, I know that Scott Derrickson is actually slated to direct Dr. Strange, and I’m hoping that he has the vision to pull it off, but to do that, he’s really going to have to escape what seems to be his comfort zone. Let’s hope he’s up to the challenge.

Following Horror – Here’s The First Trailer For It Follows (2014)

it1Of course, it’s impossible to know from just the trailer how effective a horror movie is going to be, and for the most part, while I love the genre, I’ve found myself disappointed by what has been attempting to pass itself off as horror for quite a while. Still, there have been those movies, such as last year’s The Babadook that have fulfilled their promise and combined just the right amount of plot, atmosphere, thought, and scares to prove themselves to be highly effective. For whatever reason, this trailer for It Follows makes me think that it, too, may have that same touch. It certainly seems to have gotten good reviews out of its premier at Cannes last year. Let’s just say I’m hopeful.

What do you think?

Quickie Review – First Man Into Space (1959)

fmis1Consider this a follow-up to yesterday’s QR of The Atomic Submarine.

Obviously, someone at Criterion decided it was time to give sci-fi flicks from 1959 a little love, since this was spine #365 and TAS was #366. Actually, these were released both separately, and as part of a four disk box set under the heading of “Monsters and Madmen”, which also included the 1958 and 1959 Boris Karloff features The Haunted Strangler and Corridors of Blood. As I noted in the previous review, not exactly the kind of titles that immediately come to mind when one thinks of the collection, but in reality they are a good indication of the series’ diversity and why I enjoy exploring it so much.

Anyway, on to First Man into Space. Actually I am starting to see perhaps why these movies were the ones chosen for the collection. They may not be the most famous examples of sci-fi movies from the time period, but in a lot of ways they are perfect distillations of the things that I love about those films.

The premise is simple. Lieutenant Dan Prescott is a test pilot for the military who, though being the best there is at his job is also a risk taker who is known for taking too many chances with the experimental rocket planes he is given charge of. This is shown early in the movie when he takes the Y-12 roket he is piloting far beyond its guidelines and ignores commands to turn it around when he should. Then, upon landing, instead of heading straight for a military debriefing as he should, he rushes straight to his girlfriend’s house to spend time with her.

Even so, because he really is the best man for the job, and over the objections of his brother, Commander Charles “Chuck” Prescott, who is also one of his superiors, when it comes time for the military to test its next experimental rocket, the Y-13, Dan is selected to pilot it also. This time, the rocket is so powerful that he seizes the opportunity  to climb as high as he can and reaches an altitude of 250 miles, thus qualifying him as the first man to reach outer space, something he has dreamed of all his life. Unfortunately, this also causes him to pass through a mysterious cloud which seems to be composed of some type of meteoric dust and cosmic radiation which… well, I think I’ll stop there, rather than spoil the fun for those who might want to see the flick for themselves.

fmis2Again, this is far from a perfect movie, and it certainly can’t compete with some of the much higher-budgeted movies of it’s time, but it makes the most of what it has. Actually, while watching it, I was reminded of some of the best episodes of the television series The Outer Limits, which often dealt with similar premises, and often focused on many of the same themes that this movie does. It also does this with just the right amount of not taking itself too seriously and simply reveling in being pure B-movie entertainment, as evidenced by the (unintentionally?) punny newspaper headline seen at the left.

In the end, I suppose, it once again comes down to whether you are a fan of 50s horror and sci-fi movies. If you are, then I highly recommend it. And even if you’re not, and are just looking for a good little don’t-expect-too-much-from-it way to pass a couple of hours on say the kind of cold and snowy afternoon or evening like we’ve been having here in Nashville for the past week or so, this is not a bad way to do it.

Here’s the trailer:

 

Saturday Breakfast Serial 016 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 4: Dead Man’s Trap And Chapter 5: Murder At Sea

dt3Hey folks! Sorry about missing last week’s post, but to make it up to you, I’m gonna get out of the way quickly this morning and let you get right into both Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 of our ongoing serial, Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. And, for those of you who may be just joining us, here are the previous posts for this serial: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3.

Also, just for good measure, I’ll note that you can find the first post of our previous serial, The Crimson Ghost, here.

Enjoy!

Next time: Chapter 6: Besieged, and we’ll also get back to more of our ongoing look at the history of movie serials.