Producers Releasing Corporation

Last updated
Producers Releasing Corporation
Industry Film studio
PredecessorProducers Distributing Corporation
Founded1939
Defunct1946
FateFolded
Successor Eagle-Lion Films (1950)
United Artists (1955)
Headquarters Poverty Row
Key people
Sigmund Neufeld
Sam Newfield
Owner Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
(MGM Holdings)
(Amazon)
Parent United Artists Corporation
(MGM Holdings)
(Amazon)

Producers Releasing Corporation was the smallest and least prestigious of the Hollywood film studios of the 1940s. It was considered a prime example of what was called "Poverty Row": a low-rent stretch of Gower Street in Hollywood where shoestring film producers based their operations. However, PRC was more substantial than the usual independent company that made only a few low-budget movies and then disappeared. PRC was an actual Hollywood studio -- albeit the smallest -- with its own production facilities and distribution network, and it even accepted imports from the UK. PRC lasted from 1939 to 1947, churning out low-budget B movies for the lower half of a double bill or the upper half of a neighborhood theater showing second-run films. The studio was originally located at 1440 N. Gower St. (on the lot that eventually became part of Columbia Pictures) from 1936 to 1943. PRC then occupied the former Grand National Pictures physical plant at 7324 Santa Monica Blvd. [1] , from 1943 to 1946. This address is now an apartment complex.[ citation needed ]

Contents

PRC produced 179 feature films [2] and almost never spent more than $100,000 on any of them; most of its films actually cost considerably less. Only the 1944 musical Minstrel Man had enhanced production values; it showed such excellent progress during filming that its planned $80,000 budget was nearly tripled. [3]

History

The company evolved from the earlier Producers Distributing Corporation (PDC) begun in 1939 by exhibitor Ben Judell ( Benjamin Nathaniel Judell; 1890–1974), who had hired producer Sigmund Neufeld and his brother, director Sam Newfield, to make the studio's films. After the collapse of PDC, Judell became an independent producer and the company was reorganized as Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) under former Pathé executive O. Henry Briggs. Briggs was succeeded in January 1941 by George R. Batcheller, Jr., [4] son of former Chesterfield Pictures president George R. Batcheller. The studio relied on Sam Newfield to direct most of its early features; Newfield actually adopted two other names ("Peter Stewart" and "Sherman Scott") to create the illusion that PRC had an entire staff of directors. [5]

Most of PRC's movies made were within the genres of other studios of the 1940s, but at a much lower budget, and each generally took a week or less to shoot. They included westerns, action melodramas, and horror movies.

PRC president Batcheller followed the Chesterfield business model that had served his father successfully during the Depression years. Chesterfield had catered to small-town owners of neighborhood theaters, who couldn't afford the big studios' first-run movies. Chesterfield product was made on low budgets with actors who had been dropped from the rosters of larger studios, but still had name value. A few then-current stars worked for PRC (Bela Lugosi, Buster Crabbe, Bob Steele, Frances Langford, Ralph Byrd, Edward Everett Horton) but generally the company couldn't afford star salaries and had to make do with less expensive "name" talent. PRC cast its starring roles with featured players (J. Edward Bromberg, George Zucco, Neil Hamilton, Lyle Talbot, Gladys George, Mary Carlisle, Noel Madison, Douglas Fowley, Iris Adrian, Patsy Kelly, Virginia Vale, Frank Albertson, Wallace Ford, Ralph Morgan, Henry Armetta, Chick Chandler, Pauline Moore, Bruce Bennett, John Carradine, Frank Jenks, Eddie Dean); stars who were idle (Harry Langdon, Lee Tracy, Anna May Wong, Mary Brian, Glenda Farrell, Freddie Bartholomew, Fifi D'Orsay, El Brendel, Slim Summerville, Armida); or celebrities from other fields (burlesque queen Ann Corio, Broadway headliner Benny Fields, animal hunter Frank Buck, radio announcer Harry Von Zell, radio comedian Bert Gordon, Miss America (of 1941) Rosemary LaPlanche).

Some of PRC's hits were The Devil Bat with Bela Lugosi and a sequel, Devil Bat's Daughter ; Misbehaving Husbands with silent-comedy star Harry Langdon; and Jungle Man and Nabonga , Buster Crabbe jungle thrillers with Julie London in the latter.

During World War II, PRC made several war films such as Corregidor , They Raid By Night , A Yank in Libya , a pair of films set in China — Bombs over Burma and Lady from Chungking , both starring Anna May Wong — and a patriotic musical, The Yanks Are Coming .

A notable film for the studio was Baby Face Morgan , a tongue-in-cheek gangster epic with Mary Carlisle, Robert Armstrong and Richard Cromwell, directed by German emigre Arthur Dreifuss. According to B Movies by Don Miller, "Most of the remainder of the 1942 PRC product dealt with gangsters, crime or whodunit puzzles, reliable standbys of the indie companies catering to action and grind theater houses. Baby Face Morgan played it for laughs, with Cromwell as a rube posing as a tough racketeer. Armstrong, [co-star] Chick Chandler and Carlisle lent strong support, and while it never scaled any heights it was a passable spoof of the genre." [6]

Growth and recognition

In 1943, Robert R. Young, a railroad magnate who also owned American Pathé's film processing laboratory, [7] acquired the studio, and the films generally became more substantial. PRC grew in standing, with the company securing big-city exposure and critical praise for many of its features. The Benny Fields musical Minstrel Man was a watershed event: it was the first elaborately mounted PRC picture, and the first to receive Academy Award nominations (Ferde Grofé and Leo Erdody for best musical score, and Harry Revel and Paul Francis Webster for best original song). Theater chains that formerly would not play PRC pictures were now showing Minstrel Man first-run across America, opening the door for PRC to book more of its features into first-run situations. The children's fantasy The Enchanted Forest , filmed in Cinecolor, was a surprise hit for the studio, and led to several major studios filming their own movies in the process. [8]

Austrian director Edgar G. Ulmer directed three films noir classics for PRC: Bluebeard (1944), Strange Illusion (1945), and Detour (1945). All three — especially Detour — have acquired reputations as artistic achievements.

PRC was purchased by Pathé Industries, and the films were now labeled "The New PRC Pictures." The company continued to flourish within its own element until after World War II. Two new detective series were launched: Hugh Beaumont as Michael Shayne (five entries) and William Wright or Alan Curtis as Philo Vance (three entries), as well as a comedy series, The Gas House Kids , an attempt to create its own version of The Bowery Boys (three entries).

PRC also engaged in transactions with other studios. Its 1944 exploitation film Hitler's Madman (1944), directed by Douglas Sirk, was topical enough to be picked up by MGM for distribution. The 1946 thriller The Brute Man had been filmed by Universal but two factors clouded its release: its star, acromegaly victim Rondo Hatton, had just died; and Universal was then undergoing a corporate shakeup and discontinuing all B-picture production. [9] Universal, preferring not to publicize a deceased star and no longer bothering with low-budget films, sold The Brute Man to PRC.

Since PRC's inception, the studio had always produced inexpensive westerns, and there was a definite market for them. Among PRC's westerns were the Lone Rider series starring operatic and Broadway star turned singing cowboy George Houston; a Billy the Kid film series with the lead alternating between Buster Crabbe and Bob Steele; and The Frontier Marshals, similar to Republic Pictures' and Monogram Pictures' cowboy trio series. [10] Buster Crabbe was PRC's leading western star until he quit in 1945, alarmed by the budgets sinking to new lows. He was succeeded by singing cowboy Eddie Dean in the first B-western series filmed in Cinecolor. Dean was sometimes co-starred with Lash LaRue, who went on to his own starring series. The PRC westerns were so popular that they actually outlasted the studio, which was absorbed by Eagle-Lion. Although the studio's feature films would now bear the Eagle-Lion trademark, the low-budget westerns continued to be marketed with the PRC logo into 1948.

Eagle-Lion took over the distribution arm of the company in 1946; the production arm (and with it the entire company) followed suit shortly thereafter. PRC's final release was The Gas House Kids in Hollywood on August 23, 1947.

Legacy

Madison Pictures Inc. released PRC's product for both television showings and theatrical re-releases until 1955. Madison, formed in late December 1945, was headed by Armand Schenck, a former supervisor of PRC's branch operations [11] and previously an executive with Commonwealth Film Corporation and later Pathé Laboratories, a subsidiary of Pathé Industries. Madison was bought by United Artists. [12]

As early as 1950, the CBS Television network was screening PRC films on television for the bargain-basement price of $1,750 per title. [13] Many PRC films are now in the public domain and appear on budget DVDs. Eighty-one films from the PRC library were acquired by National Telefilm Associates; they are currently owned by TV syndicator and video dealer Films Around The World, Inc. Strange Holiday , originally released by PRC, is now owned by Paramount Pictures.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Republic Pictures</span> American movie and serial production company

Republic Pictures Corporation was an American motion picture production-distribution corporation in operation from 1935 to 1967, that was based in Los Angeles. It had studio facilities in Studio City and a movie ranch in Encino. It was best known for specializing in Westerns, serials, and B films emphasizing mystery and action. Republic was also notable for developing the careers of John Wayne, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers. It was also responsible for the financing and distribution of a few A films directed by John Ford during the 1940s and early 1950s and one Shakespeare film, Macbeth (1948), directed by Orson Welles. Under Herbert J. Yates, Republic was considered a mini-major film studio.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Monogram Pictures</span> American film studio

Monogram Pictures Corporation is an American film studio that produced mostly low-budget films between 1931 and 1953, when the firm completed a transition to the name Allied Artists Pictures Corporation. Monogram was among the smaller studios in the golden age of Hollywood, generally referred to collectively as Poverty Row. Lacking the financial resources to deliver the lavish sets, production values, and star power of the larger studios, Monogram sought to attract its audiences with the promise of action and adventure.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eagle-Lion Films</span> British-American film production company

Eagle-Lion Films was a British-American film production company owned by J. Arthur Rank intended to distribute British productions in the United States.

Poverty Row is a slang term used to refer to Hollywood films produced from the 1920s to the 1950s by small B movie studios. Although many of them were based on today's Gower Street in Hollywood, the term did not necessarily refer to any specific physical location, but was rather a figurative catch-all for low-budget films produced by these lower-tier studios.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Al St. John</span> American film actor (1892–1963)

Al St. John was an early American motion-picture comedian. He was a nephew of silent film star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, with whom he often performed on screen. St. John was employed by Mack Sennett and also worked with many other leading players such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Mabel Normand. His film career successfully transitioned from the silent era into sound, and by the late 1930s and 1940s he was working predominantly in Westerns, often portraying the scruffy comedy-relief character "Fuzzy Q. Jones". Among his notable performances in that role are in the "Billy the Kid" series of films released by the Producers Releasing Corporation from 1940 to 1946 and in that company's "Lone Rider" series from 1941 to 1943.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">B movies (Hollywood Golden Age)</span> Film genre

The B movie, whose roots trace to the silent film era, was a significant contributor to Hollywood's Golden Age of the 1930s and 1940s. As the Hollywood studios made the transition to sound film in the late 1920s, many independent exhibitors began adopting a new programming format: the double feature. The popularity of the twin bill required the production of relatively short, inexpensive movies to occupy the bottom half of the program. The double feature was the predominant presentation model at American theaters throughout the Golden Age, and B movies constituted the majority of Hollywood production during the period.

<i>Oath of Vengeance</i> 1944 film

Oath of Vengeance is a 1944 American Western film directed by Sam Newfield. Shot at Corriganville Movie Ranch, the film was released by Producers Releasing Corporation as one of the studio's Billy the Kid film series.

<i>Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion</i>

Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion is an American half-hour black-and-white television series about the French Foreign Legion starring Buster Crabbe in the title role. Crabbe's real-life son Cullen Crabbe played the Legion mascot, with cowboy sidekick Fuzzy Knight playing himself as Legion comedy relief. The series premiered on NBC on 13 February 1955 and ended its first run with the 65th episode shown on 7 December 1957. It was shown for many years in syndication on American television under the title Foreign Legionnaire.

Grand National Films, Inc was an American Poverty Row motion picture production-distribution company in operation from 1936 to 1939. The company had no relation to the British Grand National Pictures.

<i>Wild Horse Phantom</i> 1944 film by Sam Newfield

Wild Horse Phantom is a 1944 American Producers Releasing Corporation Western film of the "Billy the Kid" series directed by Sam Newfield.

<i>Fugitive of the Plains</i> 1943 film by Sam Newfield

Fugitive of the Plains is a 1943 American Producers Releasing Corporation Western film of the "Billy the Kid" series directed by Sam Newfield. In April 1947 PRC re-released the film as a "streamlined" (edited) "Bronco Buckaroo" version re titled Raiders of Red Rock.

The Billy the Kid series of 42 Western films was produced between 1940 and 1946, and released by Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">RKO Pictures</span> American film production and distribution company

RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., commonly called RKO Pictures or simply RKO, was an American film production and distribution company that was one of the "Big Five" major film studios of Hollywood's Golden Age. The business was formed after the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) theater chain and Joseph P. Kennedy's Film Booking Offices of America (FBO) studio were brought together under the control of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in October 1928. RCA chief David Sarnoff engineered the merger to create a market for the company's sound-on-film technology, RCA Photophone. By the mid-1940s, the studio was under the control of investor Floyd Odlum.

Edward Francis Finney (1903–1983) was an American film producer and director. He is best known as the man who introduced cowboy singer Tex Ritter to the moviegoing public.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chesterfield Pictures</span> Defunct film production company

Chesterfield Motion Pictures Corporation, generally shortened to Chesterfield Pictures, was an American film production company of the 1920s and 1930s. The company head was George R. Batcheller, and the company worked in tandem with its sister studio, Invincible, which was led by Maury Cohen. The production company never owned its own studio and so rented space at other studios, primarily Universal Pictures and RKO.

Maury Cohen, also known as Maury M. Cohen, was an American film producer most active during the 1930s. He owned one of the Poverty Row studios, Invincible films, which specialized in making low-budget feature films. After leaving film in the early 1940s, Cohen founded and ran the historic dance club in Los Angeles, the Hollywood Palladium.

<i>Gentlemen with Guns</i> 1946 film directed by Sam Newfield

Gentlemen with Guns is a 1946 American Western film directed by Sam Newfield and written by Fred Myton. The film stars Buster Crabbe, Al St. John, Patricia Knox, Steve Darrell, George Chesebro, Karl Hackett, Budd Buster and Frank Ellis. The film was released on March 27, 1946, by Producers Releasing Corporation.

Prairie Rustlers is a 1945 American Western film directed by Sam Newfield and written by Fred Myton. The film stars Buster Crabbe, Al St. John, Evelyn Finley, Karl Hackett, I. Stanford Jolley and Bud Osborne. The film was released on November 7, 1945, by Producers Releasing Corporation.

Billy the Kid Outlawed is a 1940 American Western film directed by Sam Newfield and written by Oliver Drake. It stars Bob Steele as gunfighter "Billy the Kid", Al St. John as his sidekick "Fuzzy" Jones and Carleton Young as Jeff Travis, with Louise Currie and John Merton. The film was released on July 20, 1940, by Producers Releasing Corporation.

<i>Billy the Kids Smoking Guns</i> 1942 film by Sam Newfield

Billy the Kid's Smoking Guns is a 1942 American Western film directed by Sam Newfield and written by Milton Raison and George Wallace Sayre. The film stars Buster Crabbe, Al St. John, Dave O'Brien, John Merton, Milton Kibbee and Ted Adams. The film was released on May 1, 1942, by Producers Releasing Corporation.

References

  1. Variety, August 10, 1945.
  2. Gary Rhodes, Edgar G. Ulmer: Detour on Poverty Row, Rowman & Littlefield, 2009, p. 8.
  3. Variety, "PRC's 'Minstrel Man' Reaching Epic Stage," Mar. 1, 1944, p. 9.
  4. Film Daily, June 19, 1941, p. 8.
  5. Don Miller, B Movies. New York: Curtis Books, 1973.
  6. Don Miller, B Movies. New York: Curtis Books, 1973.
  7. Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company that Changed the Film Industry, Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1987, p. 16.
  8. Gene Fernett, Hollywood's Poverty Row 1930-1950 Coral Reef Publications, 1973, p. 114.
  9. Scott MacGillivray and Jan MacGillivray, Gloria Jean: A Little Bit of Heaven, iUniverse, Bloomington, IN, 2005, p. 203. ISBN 978-0-595-67454-1.
  10. Anderson, Chuck. "PRC's Frontier Marshals with Bill 'Cowboy Rambler' Boyd, Art Davis, and Lee Powell". www.b-westerns.com. Archived from the original on 14 September 2017. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  11. "Motion Picture Daily (Jan-Mar 1942)". New York [Motion picture daily, inc.] 1 January 1942. Archived from the original on 18 March 2017. Retrieved 24 April 2018 via Internet Archive.
  12. "Producers Releasing Corporation Early Television Rights". dukefilmography.com. Archived from the original on 29 June 2017. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  13. Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn, Kings of the Bs, E. P. Dutton, 1975. ISBN 978-0525140900.