Saturday Breakfast Serial 025 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 15: Retribution

dtI know, I’ve been away for awhile and I kind of left you all hanging without posting the last chapter of Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. Well, better late than never, right? And, for those of you who may be just joining us, or who just want to catch up, here are the previous posts for this serial:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14. And here’s the grand finale:

So what’s next? I really haven’t decided. There are several serials we could do, or it may be time to retire this feature for awhile and move something else into the Saturday slot. What do you guys think? As always, let me know in the comments.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 024 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 14: Invisible Terror

dt14Okay, 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 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.

Ah, Universal. As a studio, they are perhaps best known in popular culture for their iconic early horror films. So much so that the phrase “Universal Monsters” is one that even those who aren’t film history aficionados will generally recognize as referring to the studio’s 1930s and 40s interpretations of characters such as Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf-man, etc., but the studio was built on much more than that, and one of those building blocks was their status as an early leader in the field of movie serials. As a matter of fact, Universal actually produced more serials than any of its competitors with an official total of 137, beginning with 1914’s Lucille Love, Girl of Mystery and ending with 1946’s The Mysterious Mr. M, and that number doesn’t include some of the earlier efforts made by those producers who would eventually become a part of the studio proper.

Lucille Love is actually a very interesting example of the lengths to which Universal would go both to produce and promote their films and serials.

ll1During the production of the 15 chapter serial more than 300 tribes people were brought to California from their native Society Islands (Tahiti, Bora Bora, etc.) and were housed on the Universal Studios Ranch. Also, a Chinese village was built at a cost of almost $5,000 and was then only used in the filming of two scenes.

Meanwhile the story of the film was being serialized throughout newspapers across the country, often accompanied by offers of a reward for information regarding the whereabouts of the missing titular adventuress.

Once the serial was released, it was often done so with much fanfare, including full-page color advertisements taken out in local newspapers, and individual theaters were also highly encouraged to arrange their own special promotions in order to draw more people in to see the series.

All of this publicity definitely proved worthwhile to the studio, which saw enormous ticket sales and profits from the series, as it not only had a hugely successful first run, but also was run a second time in many locals, and was even in some places re-run in a one or two chapter per day format for its second run, thus allowing the public to view the entire serial over a one or two week period, and extending the life of the serial far into 1915 and in some cases even 1916, something that was generally unheard of at the time when most serials were not considered to be main attractions, but simply something to encourage movie goers to return to the theater each week to take in the feature film.

So where would Universal go from there? Well, I guess that’s something to take a look at next time. Meanwhile, let’s see what’s in store for our master criminologist in the penultimate chapter of our own serial, shall we?

By the way, once again I should note that we’re nearing the end of this serial, and I’m looking at which one to feature next. I’m definitely open to any nominations or requests, so if you’ve got any suggestions, please let me know about them in the comments here or over on the DMM Facebook page.

Next up: wrapping up Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. with Chapter 15: Retribution, and more Universal serial history.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 023 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 12: Trial By Fire And Chapter 13: The Challenge

dt12Okay, 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 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.

Since we missed last week’s installment and I’m running kid of late this week, I think we’ll skip the look at serial history today and get straight to the serial with two episodes, but don’t worry, next week we’ll definitely start looking at the serials of Universal films.

In the meantime, here you go:

By the way, since we’re on Chapter 13 today, that means we’ve only two more chapters before we reach the end of Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc., so it’s time for me to start thinking about what serial to feature next, and I’m definitely open to any nominations or requests, so if you’ve got any suggestions, please let me know about them in the comments here or over on the DMM Facebook page.

Next up: Chapter 14: Invisible Terror.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 022 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 11: Seconds To Live

dt11Okay, 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 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

Last week we began looking a Columbia Pictures and their serial output which began with the 1937 Louis Weiss produced serial Jungle Menace. This week we’ll take a look at the later part of Columbia’s serial history.

One of the things Columbia was most famous for was its use of previously established heroes for its serials. Drawing from a number of sources, including comic strips and books, radio shows, pulp novels, books, and even television, Columbia produced serials with characters such as Superman, Batman, Terry and the Pirates, Hop Harrigan, Mandrake the Magician, The Phantom, Blackhawk, and even The Shadow. Though mostly aimed at the younger set, Columbia’s serial gained high praise, especially early on, with its 1938 effort, The Spider’s Web, being named the number one serial of the year by exhibitors.

col3During its later years, when its serial budget became more restricted, the studio turned more towards westerns which were cheaper to produce since they were less special-effects driven and required less in the way of elaborate set design. Another way that Columbia cut corners on their later serials was by using animation to produce their special effects instead of on-set explosions, etc.

By the 1950s, unfortunately these budget cuts had severely affected the quality of the studio’s serial output, and like its competitors, by that point Columbia had turned to reusing a lot of footage from previous serials for it’s effect and cliffhanger sequences, even bringing cast members from those older serials back to the studio to provide at least a bit of continuity between the current effort and the previously shot footage.

Despite all of this, Columbia did manage to outlast its competitors, Republic and Universal, with its last serial being 1956’s Blazing the Overland Trail.

Ok, time to get on with this week’s chapter of  Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. Here’s chapter 11, Seconds To Live:

Next time: Chapter 12: Trial By Fire, and we’ll shift our focus again and take a look at the serial output of Universal Pictures.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 021 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 10: Flaming Peril

dt10Okay, 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 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

Last week we finished up our look at the serial film history of Republic Pictures, focusing on some of the features that distinguished their serials from those of their rivals. Today we’re going to begin a look at one of those competitors: Columbia Pictures.

Columbia Pictures actually began its life as CBC Film Sales corporation in 1918, and was named after its founders, brothers Harry and Jack Cohn, and Joe Brandt. In 1924, Brandt sold his stake in the company to Harry Cohn, and the brothers renamed the studio Columbia Pictures Corporation, partly in an attempt to shake off CBC’s reputation as a truly low-budget studio.

jm1Because they couldn’t afford at the time to produce their own serials, the first serial to appear under the Columbia Pictures logo was Jungle Menace, which was actually produced by Louis Weiss in 1937. The Weiss brothers, Louis, Adolph, and Max had actually begun independently producing low budget movies in 1920, under a variety of names such as Superior Talking Films, Stage and Screen Productions, Artcraft Productions, Exploitation Pictures, Consolidated Pictures, and International Pictures Corporation.

Jungle Menace was created in the wake of the success of Republic Pictures’s 1936 serial Darkest Africa, which had starred real-life animal trainer Clyde Beatty. For their serial, Columbia hired animal collector Frank “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” Buck. The serial was set in the fictional land of Seemang in Asia, and Buck played the role of Frank Hardy, a soldier of fortune who intervenes in and investigates attempts to run a rubber plantation owner and his daughter off their land. Here’s a description of the filming of one of the scenes of Jungle Menace from the autobiography of director Harry L Fraser:

The snake was in no hurry. Slowly he slithered across the girl’s body, while she screamed and struggled. He turned, looking for a spot to slip under her to make his first wrap. I motioned to the reptile crew to get ready, and a split-second later gave them the signal to move in. But now, the maddened snake fought them and did its best to coil around one of the men. Before that happened, however, I had cut, and we had a good cliff-hanger with our terror-stricken heroine to close the episode.

Here’s how the resolution of that particular cliffhanger played out in the actual serial:

Jungle Menace turned out to be such a success for Columbia that they were immediately considered rightful competitors in the serial field with the other major players, Republic and Universal.

Ok, time to get on with this week’s chapter of  Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. Here’s chapter 10, Flaming Peril:

Next time: Chapter 11: Seconds To Live, and we’ll take a look at more Columbia Pictures serials.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 020 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 9: Beheaded

dt9Okay, 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 5, 6, 7, 8.

Last week we finished up our look at the history of Republic Pictures, at least as far as the serial era went, but, just as the feature length films of the studio era had distinguishing features and styles that differentiated them from those coming from their rivals, the same was true with the serials that they produced, so  I thought it might be interesting this week to take a look at just what made a Republic serial stand out from those coming from other studios.

Since one of the foundations of Republic was Mascot Pictures, a studio already devoted to the making of serials, it should probably come as no surprise that the serial division was considered one of the major parts of the studio’s inner workings, and therefore generally received more funding and respect than was true of its rivals. This respect for the division translated very well to the screen, especially in terms of the special effects that were used, not just during the cliffhanger scenes, but throughout the episodes. When you see an explosion or a flooded tunnel or whatever in a Republic serial, the effects work just seems that touch more realistic, and therefore more threatening. This larger special effects budget also was brought to bear on some of the more fantastical effects, such as the flying scenes featured in their superhero serials.

dt8Republic was also the first studio to really choreograph the fights within its serial. Instead of the director simply telling the actor “Okay, you two go at it for a couple of minutes”, Republic serials would bring in stuntmen who knew more about what they were doing and how to plan out and better stage a fight sequence. These guys also were not afraid to use the other material on the set to either throw at each other or hit each other with, which again brought a greater sense of realism to their serials and heightened the action.

The extra money that Republic was willing to spend upon its serials was not only seen on the screen, however, but was also a factor in the plotting and writing of their serials, where they had a full team of writers – sometimes as many as seven people – working on the scripts.

There’s also one other feature that an eagle-eyed viewer might note that makes a Republic Serial easily identifiable and distinguishable from those of its competitors: the presence of either (or both) a Packard limousine or a Ford Woodie station wagon which constantly and consistently appeared in their serials. Why? Because by consistently using these cars, it made it easier for Republic to integrate and reuse already shot footage – especially in chase scenes.

And with that, I think it’s time to get on with Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. Here’s chapter 9.

Next time: Chapter 10: Flaming Peril, and we’ll shift our focus from Republic Pictures to one of its main rivals, Columbia .

Saturday Breakfast Serial 019 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 8: Train Of Doom

dt8Okay, 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, 6, 7.

It’s time, I think, to wrap up our look at the history of the prolific serial producer Republic Pictures.

As is typical for a number of the smaller studios, the downfall of Republic can largely be attributed to one word: television. However, one of the things that differentiates them from some of those studios is that Republic actually at first attempted to embrace the new medium, seeing its potential, and in 1951 created a subsidiary arm, Hollywood Television Service which was tasked with repackaging and selling screening rights to its vintage westerns and action thrillers. HTS also took many of these films, especially the westerns, and edited them to fit in a one-hour television slot. At the same time, Hollywood Television Service also produced television shows filmed in the same style as Republic’s serials, such as The Adventures of Fu Manchu (1956).

rp3During this time, Republic also paired with MCA to produce new movies and television shows, a move which allowed them to stay afloat financially for another few years, though by the mid 50s the writing was definitely on the wall. In 1957, the studio’s output dwindled to a mere 18 features, and the next year Republic’s founder and president, Herbert J. Yates informed the company’s stockholders that feature film production was ending, and the company’s distribution offices closed the following year. Finally, in 1959, Victor M. Carter, a Los Angeles businessman and turn-around specialist, acquired controlling interest in Republic, becoming its president. Carter did manage to keep Republic around, mostly by building it into a diversified business which included plastics and appliances in addition to its film and studio rentals and Consolidated Film Industries, and he renamed the resulting  company Republic Corporations. Not long after, Republic began leasing its backlot to other firms, including CBS in 1963, and in 1967 Republic’s studio was purchased outright by CBS.

Today the studio lot is known as CBS Studio Center.

Okay, time to move on. Here’s the next chapter of our ongoing serial, Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc.

Next time: Chapter 9: Beheaded, and more serial history.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 018 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 7: Sea Racketeers

dt7Okay, 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, 6.

Last week I wrote about the creation of Republic Pictures, and how it was actually formed from the consolidation of six “poverty row” studios (Mascot, Monogram, Liberty, Majestic, Chesterfield, and Invincible) under the leadership of the president of Consolidated Film Industries, Herbert J. Yates. This week, I thought we’d take a look at some of the output of the studio when it was at its height.

Obviously, one of the major types of output for Republic was movie serials. That is why we’re talking about them in the first place. Republic’s first official serial was 1936’s Darkest Africa, a 15 chapter jungle serial which was ostensibly a follow-up to Mascot’s The Lost Jungle which had premiered the previous year. That same year, Republic also released three other serials, Undersea Kingdom, The Vigilantes Are Coming, and Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island. Relevant to the serial we’re watching now, the next year, 1937, saw the release of Dick Tracy, the first of Republic’s four serials to feature the character. Republic continued releasing serials, until 1955, with that year’s King of the Carnival, their 66th official serial, being the last.

rp2Serials, however, were far from the only output of the studio. They were also extremely well known for their Westerns. At its height, Republic was home to such great Western stars as John Wayne, Gene Autry, Rex Allen and Roy Rogers. As a matter of fact, one of Republic’s first feature film releases was Westward Ho, which debuted on August 19, 1935, and starred John Wayne. Other Republic westerns through the years included titles such as Tumbling Tumbleweeds, The Oregon Trail, Red River Valley, Oklahoma Renegades, Melody Ranch, Rio Grande, and many, many others.

Republic also made a number of other B-pictures in various genres, along with a number of higher budgeted films such as The Quiet Man (one of my all-time personal favorites, even though it does kind of fall into that “guilty pleasure” category nowadays), Sands of Iwo Jima, and Johnny Guitar. As a matter of fact, at one point, as Wikipedia notes, Yates organized Republic’s output into four types of films: “Jubilee”, usually a western shot in seven days for about $50,000; “Anniversary”, filmed in 14 to 15 days for $175,000 to $200,000; “Deluxe”, major productions made with a budget of around $500,000; and “Premiere”, which were usually made by top-rank directors who did not usually work for Republic, such as John Ford, Fritz Lang and Frank Borzage, and which could have a budget of $1,000,000 or more. Some of these “Deluxe” films were from independent production companies that were picked up for release by Republic.

Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever, and that includes Republic Pictures, so next time around we’ll take a look at the downfall of the studio. In the meantime, here’s the next chapter of our ongoing serial, Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc.

Next time: Chapter 8: Train of Doom, and the end of the Republic.

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.

rp2

  • 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.

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.