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 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 008 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 8: The Slave Collar

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (Previous Chapters: 1  2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Since today’s episode is largely devoted to catching up those who came in late, it seems like this might be a good time to take a break from our ongoing look at the history of serials in general, and focus instead upon The Crimson Ghost itself.

Republic Pictures was established in 1935 when the founder and president of the film processing laboratory Consolidated Film Industries, Herbert J. Yates, pressured six of the smaller “Poverty Row” movie companies which all owed him substantial amounts of money (the companies were Monogram Pictures, Mascot Pictures, Liberty Pictures, Majestic Pictures, Chesterfield Pictures and Invincible Pictures) to consolidate under his leadership and the Republic banner. Mascot Pictures had been making serials since the 1920s, and had establiished a name for itself doing so, so it seemed only natural that Republic would allow them to continue in that vein. Beginning with 1936’s Darkest Africa and concluding with King of the Carnival in 1955, a total of 66 serials were produced by Republic.

Production on The Crimson Ghost began on March 28, 1946, and concluded on April 24th. Obviously, these serials were designed to be quick shoots! The budget was set at $137,912, but it’s actual final cost was $161,174, marking it as Republic’s most expensive serial of the year.

the crimson-ghost-1946The Crimson Ghost was produced by Ronald Davidson, written by Albert DeMond, Basil Dickey, Jesse Duffy, and Sol Shor and was directed by Fred C. Brannon and William Witney.

Since the main mystery of the serial is the identity of the Crimson Ghost himself, the ghost was actually played onscreen not by one of the featured actors, but by stuntman Bud Geary. The studio also took the somewhat extra-ordinary step of using a number of different actors to supply the voice, but interestingly, they never used the voice of the actor who, when it came time for the villain’s final unmasking, was revealed to be the face of the ghost. (And no, I’m not going to reveal who that is here, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

The serial seems to have been a hit in its day, and went on to be condensed into a 100 minute TV film in 1966 (the original running time for the 12 chapters was a total of 187 minutes. It was also condensed into a six-episode television serial in the early 60s with each episode basically combining two of the serial’s episodes so they could run in a 30 minute time slot.

Okay, enough talking about it, let’s get on with this week’s episode:

Next time: Chapter 9 of The Crimson Ghost: “Blazing Fury” and more serial history.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 004 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 4: The Laughing Skull

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (Previous Chapters: 1  2, 3)

Last time we took a look at the earliest movie serial, 1912’s What Happened to Mary. This time, I’d like to spend a little time with what may be the longest serial. Or, it may not be, depending on your perspective.

From November 7, 1914 to February 24, 1917 the Kalem Company, a New York City based studio which was founded in 1907 by George Kleine, Samuel Long, and Frank J. Marion, released the 119 chapter movie series The Hazards of Helen.

The reason I say The Hazards of Helen may or nay not be the longest serial is that it depends on how you actually define a movie serial. It fits the description in the sense that each “chapter” lasted only 12 minutes, and they were released serially each Saturday. However, since there is no direct continuity between the different shorts (i.e., no cliffhangers – each short is self contained) and they can actually be watched singly or in any order, the argument has been made that it should be considered a film series as opposed to an actual serial.

220px-HazardsofHelen-NervesHowever you define it or decide to classify it, when you consider that the entire series is comprised of 119 shorts and totals out at almost 24 hours, it has to be considered quite an achievement.

The Hazards of Helen was based on a novel written by John Russell Corvell and a play by Denman Thompson. It was adapted for the screen by W. Scott Darling. The first 48 episodes were directed by J.P. McGowan and the rest were directed by James Davis.

Over the course of the series, the character of Helen was portrayed by four different actresses. The original Helen was actress Helen Holmes who played the character for the first 26 episodes, except for number 18 in which Anna Q. Nilsson replace Holmes due to illness. Episodes 27-49 starred Elsie McLeod and then Rose Wenger Gibson took over the role and starred until the end of the series.

The series appears to have been quite action packed, calling for Helen to do things such as leaping off the roof of a building, roaring around a sharp mountain curve behind the wheel of a speeding car, or jumping onto a moving train from a car or a galloping horse while chasing train robbers.

Unfortunately, it appears that most of the episodes have been lost to time, but some of them do survive and are available in various places, including YouTube and the Internet Archive.

Obviously, The Crimson Ghost doesn’t have anywhere near the number of chapters that The Hazards of Helen did, which is good for our purposes, or else we’d be waiting forever – or at least for over two years – to find out who’s behind that skull mask. Instead we’ve only got 12 chapters to watch before we go to something different, so what say we move on to chapter 4?

Next time: Chapter 5 of The Crimson Ghost: “Flaming Death”, and more movie serial  history. Be here!

Saturday Breakfast Serial 003 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 3: The Fatal Sacrifice

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (You can find Chapter One here and chapter two here. )

Last week I spent some time talking about movie serials and how they fit into the movie-going experience back in the day. Today, I want to begin a look back at the origins of the movie serial itself.

Though we usually think of the movie serial as a product of the 1930s and ’40s and that is certainly the time when their popularity was at its height, the format actually goes back much earlier than that, almost back to the very beginning of film itself, or at least to the early days of movie theaters being a regular part of peoples’ lives.

Indeed, the first true movie serial appeared in the year 1912, and was entitled What Happened To Mary.Interestingly, however, the idea for the serial began not as a film series, but as a magazine serial.

Serial stories in magazines were certainly nothing new at the time. As a matter of fact, not only were serials designed as such for magazines a regular part of these publications, but many classic novels were also initially published in serial format in magazines before being collected into book form.

However, in 1912 the editor of The Ladies World magazine, Charles Dwyer had a new idea: why not, in conjunction with the publication of their latest serial What Happened to Mary, produce a series of short films which could be run in theaters each month, dramatizing the story as it would appear in the magazine? Thus, they could reach two different audiences, and hopefully draw readers to the magazine that might not otherwise pick it up. Yep, What Happened to Mary was not only the first movie serial, it’s a great early example of what we now call “cross-platform marketing”.

whtmThus Dwyer approached Horace G Plimpton,, then manager of Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope Company, who quickly agreed to participate in the project. Dwyer then wrote a screenplay for each installment, and Charles Brabin was selected to direct the twelve segments, each of which ran approximately 10-12 minutes, and both the magazine serial and the first chapter of the movie serial, entitled “The Escape from Bondage” made their debut in June of 1912. The serial starred Mary Fuller as Mary, Marc McDermott as Lieutenant Straker, Charles Ogle as Richard Craig, Mary’s Uncle, and Herbert Yost as Henry, Craig’s Son.

In addition to the movie tie-in, a contest was also run with the serial offering a $100 prize to the person who could, in 300 words or less, come closest to correctly guessing the events of the next chapter. The contest was won by Lucy Proctor of Armstrong, California  who guessed that Mary would be rescued by a young man in his car.

Of course, that’s not what happens to save Duncan Richards, the hero of our currently-ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost, from walking into The Death Ray, but I think it’s about time we find out what does, don’t you? Okay, then, without further ado, here’s chapter 3.

Next time: Chapter 4 of The Crimson Ghost: “The Laughing Skull”, and more movie serial  history. Be here!

Saturday Breakfast Serial 002 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 2: Thunderbolt

cg1Welcome back! Yep, it’s Saturday morning, which means it’s time for the next chapter of The Crimson Ghost. (You can find Chapter One here.)

But before we get to that, let’s talk about movie serials in general. For most people, the term “movie serial”, if they have even heard the term, brings to mind the kind of short film we’re making our way through now, especially those of the 30s, 40s, and early 50s, and for good reason. This was the era when these generally 12-15 chapter stories were at their height, and were a regular part of the movie-going experience.

Again, this is something that tends to surprise many people, especially today, when the idea of going to a movie is basically a case of sitting through a bunch of commercials, then a series of anywhere from 15-20 minutes worth of trailers, then the feature film, then heading out the door so that the theater can get things cleaned up for the next batch of people to come in. In other words, It’s all about turnover. Sure, you spend the time watching the commercials and trailers, things that actually help to pay for the movie, but mostly it’s about getting as many showings as you can crammed into the day on the theory that more showings equals more butts in seats, equals higher profits.

Now we can debate this theory, and it’s certainly not one that I completely agree with, but that’s not really the point here. Instead, I’m just wanting to point out how different the movie-going experience is now than it was when serials were at their height.

Back then, instead of trying to cram five or more showings of a movie onto each screen every day and then running a movie to auditoriums that may not even have more than two or three people in them, theater owners (and the studios) for the most part believed that it was better to have maybe only two or three showings per day of a movie – generally a lower-priced matinee in the afternoon and then an evening showing for people who had to work during the day – and run them in theaters filled with as many people as possible.

cg2In conjunction with this, and in order to draw in as many people as possible, (and, honestly, also to keep those patrons in the theater as long as possible so that the captive audience was more likely to hit the concession stand while they were there – yes, even then it was as much about selling the food and making money that they didn’t have to hand back to the studio as it is now) theaters tried to make “going to the movie” a full afternoon or evening’s entertainment.

In order to do this, a trip to the theater might include a line-up of a cartoon (yes, this is where many of the classic cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny and the other characters we remember from our childhood television days came from – they were originally created for the silver screen), a chapter of a serial, a short feature (often some sort of nature film or other documentary, or maybe a comedy short featuring The Three Stooges or other characters – yep, again, this is where those shorts came from), a newsreel, and then the feature. Or, quite often even a Double Feature, depending upon the length of the movies in question. (Yes, this is where the term B-movie comes from, as you would have both an A-feature and a B-feature.)

So that’s how the movie serial fit into the movie going experience at the time, and that seems like a good place to stop for today and get to what you came for – the next chapter of The Crimson Ghost:

Next time: Chapter 3: The Fatal Sacrifice, and more on the history of the movie serial . Be here!

Saturday Breakfast Serial 001 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 1

cg1First off, an apology for those who might have come here this morning looking for another Saturday Morning Cartoon installment, but the truth is, while I would have loved to continue the feature, it was simply too hard, due to copyright concerns, to find really good examples of a lot of the shows that I had hoped to feature, so instead I’ve decided to change things up a bit and shift focus to those great movie serials of the past. Just as in the theater, each week I’ll give you a new chapter of an ongoing serial, and along with it, some commentary either on movie serials in general, or on the one we’re watching at the time.

Today we’re going to begin one of the more famous and well-respected of the Republic serials, The Crimson Ghost. This 12 chapter serial was first released in 1946, but it’s also seen a number of different versions released over subsequent years. It was cut down and re-edited for broadcast as a television series in the 1950s. There’s a 100 minute TV film version which was released in 1966. It was even released yet again in a color version during the height of the colorization fad of the 1990s.

Okay, that’s enough from me for this morning I think, so I’ll just get out of the way and let the punches start flying.

Next time: Chapter 2: Thunderbolt! Plus more info on the history of movie serials. See you then!