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.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 015 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 3: Doom Patrol

dt3Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s Saturday Breakfast Serial Time! This week, it’s Chapter Three of Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (You can find Chapter One here and Chapter Two here.)

Last week, we looked at King of the Kongo, the first partially talking serial, which was produced by Mascot Pictures. Today I thought we’d begin a look at some of the different studios that produced serials during the so-called Golden Age with a look at Mascot itself.

Mascot was formed in 1927 by producer Nat Levine, who had already independently produced his own serial, The Silent Flyer, in 1926. At first the studio simply rented its working space and equipment, but by 1933 its serials had become so popular and profitable that they were able to rent, and subsequently purchase Sennet Studios after its founder, Mack Sennet went bankrupt.

Unfortunately, by 1935, Mascot (along with a number of other studios) was so in debt to their film developer, Consolidated Film Industries, that they were forced by that company’s owner, Herbert Yates, to consolidate with CFI, Monogram Pictures, Liberty Pictures, Chesterfield Pictures and Invincible Pictures to form Republic Pictures. At that point, Mascot was reduced to being the serial and B-Western arm of the company.

mas1Mascot was responsible for discovering a number of actors who went on to have extensive careers in film, including Smiley Burnett, Gene Autry, and John Wayne. The company was also responsible for popularizing the concept of the “singing cowboy”, which, while virtually unknown (except probably to film aficionados) today was once a very popular genre. They produced a number of quite well known and extremely popular serials, including The Shadow of the Eagle, The Hurricane Express, The Three Musketeers, The Lost Jungle, The Phantom Empire, The Adventures of Rex and Rinty, and The Fighting Marines.

Okay, let’s move on with the next chapter of Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc.

Next time: Chapter 4: Dead Man’s Trap, and more serial history.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 014 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 2: The Prisoner Vanishes

dt2Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s Saturday Breakfast Serial Time! This week, it’s Chapter Two of Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (You can find Chapter One here.)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the transition of serials from silent to sound, a transition which would begin to give the serials more of the look and feel of the ones that are more familiar to us today. In that post, I wrote about Tarzan the Mighty, one of the first serials to include partial sound, including the first recorded “Tarzan yell”. That was not however, actually the first serial to include partial sound, as that distinction actually goes to King of the Kongo which was produced by Mascot pictures in 1929 and released a few months prior to TtM.

Though the serial itself is not really considered all that interesting, it’s history (and its place in history) certainly makes it so. One of the first things you need to know about sound recording for film at the time is that as opposed to the sound actually being a part of the film itself, the sound accompaniment was actually recorded onto disks that were sent along with the film and had to be synced up and played alongside the film itself. This meant that in order for there to be sound with the movie, one not only had to have a copy of the film, but the disks also, and that is where the problem with King of the Kongo and a restoration of the entire film begins, because although a complete copy of the film itself is still known to exist, most of the accompanying disks have been lost or destroyed, meaning that we will probably never have a full restoration of this important piece of cinema history.

Of course, I have to use the word “probably” there, as one never knows what might be found in the future. As a matter of fact, it’s in a lot of ways a tribute to coincidence that we have as much of a restoration of the serial with its sound today as we do. I’m not going to go into the entire story of the restoration and preservation of what does exist here, but for those truly interested, at least part of the story (and some very interesting insight into the world of film collecting and preservation) can be found here.

kk1Here’s a list, thanks to Wikipedia, of what sound for this serial is known to survive, and its preservation status as of June of last year:

Chapter 1 (three reels) • Into the Unknown (no sound known to exist)
Chapter 2 (two reels) • Terrors of the Jungle (no sound)
Chapter 3 (two reels) • Temple of Beasts (no sound)
Chapter 4 (two reels) • Gorilla Warfare (sound disc for reel 2 survives)
Chapter 5 (two reels) • Danger in the Dark (full sound survives, restoration finished 2013)
Chapter 6 (two reels) • The Fight at Lions Pit (both discs survive) National Film Preservation Foundation project begins Fall 2014
Chapter 7 (two reels) • The Fatal Moment (sound disc for reel 2 survives)
Chapter 8 (two reels) • Sentenced to Death (sound disc for reel 2 survives)
Chapter 9 (two reels) • Desperate Choices (sound disc for reel 1 survives)
Chapter 10 (two reels) • Jungle Justice (National Film Preservation Foundation restoration project going on as of 6/14)

Here’s a short clip from chapter 5 of the serial with the sound restored:

One other thing that should be noted about King of the Kongo is that one of its stars, unlike many silent movie actors, went on to have a very successful career in talking pictures as well. That actor? None other than horror film legend Boris Karloff!

Okay, time to move on with our own ongoing serial, Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. After last week’s rather explosive ending, it’ll be interesting to see where our heroes have wound up!

Next time: Chapter 3: Doom Patrol, and a look at the studio that produced King of the Kongo, Mascot Pictures.