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The 1930's saw a steady rise and fall of independent production
companies, such as Puritan
Pictures, Supreme Pictures, Syndicate
Pictures & Grand National, to randomly pick a few. By 1940,
this fluctuation was pretty much over, as most of the smaller outfits were
gone & established b-movie companies
[Republic history - click here]
& second generation Monogram were pretty
much keeping the market in supply ... & in came small PRC, to fill the
void the many small companies that went belly up by the late 1930's had
The story of PRC itself is a curious one, as it had already ended
before it actually begun ... but one thing after another: In 1939, Ben
Judell has formed PDC (Producers
primarily as a distribution outfit for his Producers Pictures
Corporation, & he hired brothers Sigmund Neufeld & Sam
Newfield, by then established professionals, to do pictures for him as
producer & director, respectively.
The first film produced by Producers Pictures
Corporation and distributed by PDC
was probably their most interesting one, Hitler
- Beast of Berlin (1939), an early piece of anti-Nazi-propaganda
back in a time when most film-studios, especially the majors, shyed away
from this sensible subject or ignored current politics altogether. Not
that Hitler - Beast
of Berlin was a great film, but it was a bold and impressive start
for the young studio. However, PDC never came into
full swing due to financial difficulties right from the start, & after
only 7 films was facing bankrupcy.
The company was then renamed Producers Releasing Corporation, or short PRC,
& Harry Rathner was appointed new president ... but he could do little
to keep the company from going bust, & in 1940, it was absorbed by Pathe
& that should have been the end of it, right ?
Only it wasn't.
For some reason Pathe
kept the PRC brandname, appointed
O.Henry Briggs new president (who was in 1944 succeeded by Leon Fromkess, former
treasurer of Monogram), kept Sigmund Neufeld as producer & Sam Newfield
as the company's most prolific director & put out B-movies pretty much a dime a
PRC's main product was, as with many B-movie outfits of the time, of
course Western, & many cowboy stars in the twilight of their career
found a safe haven in PRC, at least for a while, as there were Tim McCoy,
Tex Ritter & Bob Steele, to name but a few. PRC also had their own singing cowboy Eddie
Dean, who played in a string of CineColor Westerns for the studio, as well
as not one but 2 cowboy trios, the Frontier Marshals &
Rangers, as well as a host of Western series that all used the
same sidekick, Fuzzy
Al St.John, the
Lone Rider-series (starring George Houston & later Bob
Livingston), the Billy
the Kid-series (starring Bob Steele [Bob
Steele bio - click here] & later Buster Crabbe
[Buster Crabbe bio - click
here]), the Billy
Carson-series (starring Buster Crabbe) & the Lash
La Rue-series (starring Al La Rue - a series which was picked
up by Western Adventures after the demise of PRC) [Lash
La Rue bio - click here].
Besides Westerns, PRC made an amusing string of usually
underbudgeted jungle dramas (e.g. Blonde
Savage, Jungle Man,
Pongo, ...), often with Crash Corrigan playing the ape [Crash
Corrigan bio - click here],
quite some crime dramas & film noirs (e.g. The Lady Confesses,
Apology for Murder, Anthony Mann's early Railroaded !, Detour, Strange
Illusion & Bluebeard by Edgar G Ulmer, ...) as well as some rather
mediocre comedies (e.g. Machine
Gun Mama, House
of Errors starring Harold Lloyd, ...), but the other genre
(besides Westerns) PRC might be best remembered for is possibly
During its brief existence, PRC put out quite a few memorable
horror films, some memorable because they are so crappy, but some are
overlooked classics. The most famous is probably
Devil Bat, in which Bela Lugosi (in his only role for the studio) [Bela
Lugosi bio - click here]
does what he does best: look sinister & threaten the entire cast.
However his performance is pretty good & the film is sufficiently
creepy. The film proved to be quite successful, & since PRC was
a rather cheap studio, pretty much all of it was recycled in later films.
A sequel, called Devil
Bat's Daughter, reused some of the footage of the film, the actual
bat prop made its way into Wild
Horse Phantom, a Billy
Carson-Western, & the plot was remade as The
Flying Serpent with George Zucco [George
Zucco bio - click here] in the Bela Lugosi-role.
Other PRC-horrors include Black
Raven, an Old Dark house thriller starring George Zucco, Fog
Island, again with George Zucco plus Lionel Atwill [Lionel
Atwill bio - click here], Dead Men Walk with (you
guessed it) George Zucco as vampire, & in Mad
Monster Zucco is a mad scientist who experiments on Glenn Strange.
PRC's best horror film though might be Strangler
of the Swamp by German immigrant Frank Wisbar, who (semi-)remade
his German melodram Fährmann Maria as a creepy ghost story that
uses its limited sets to full advantage & creates an atmosphere with the simplest of means (like fogmachines,
low key lighting or deliberately keeping the face of
the film's ghost creature in the dark), & which at least in my view is
a undeservedly overlooked horror classic of the 1940's.
Of special interest in PRC's filmography might also be an American
World War II propaganda effort from 1943, Hitler's Madman, the first
American film by German director Douglas Sirk (who in Germany made a name
of himself as Detlef Sierck), who later became renowned especially for his
melodramas. Legend has it that big MGM
was so impressed by the film which stars John Carradine as a Nazi [John
Carradine-bio - click here] that it picked the film up for
distribution, granting it a much wider exposure than PRC
could have offered.
Deals like this of course worked both ways, as Jean Yarbrough's The
Brute Man from 1946 shows [Jean
Yarbrough-bio - click here]: The film was produced by Universal
and starred Rondo Hatton, a man suffering from acromegaly - a rare
disease causing uncontrollable growth in head, hands and feet - who has
real life in-house monster actor. But sadly enough, Rondo Hatton died
before the film was released, and all of a sudden Universal
felt ashamed to release the film, but instead of just scrap it they
decided to still make a little money out of it and offered the film to
little PRC for distribution - who gladly accepted ...
PRC's history as production house however was over way too soon,
in 1948, when the company was absorbed by J.Arthur Rank's Eagle
Lion & ceased to exist (incidently roughly when the era of the
classic b-movie came to an end as well). What remains though is a plethora of
b-movies, many just bad, some boring, some precursors to the classic B's
of the 1950's, & some veritable gems.
To this day, many jokingly refer to PRC as standing for Pretty
Rotten Crap, which is a tad unfair in my view. True, many films of the
studio were shot in about 6 days time, were cheaper than they should have been &
have a bit of a
conveyor belt look, & PRC did never have any aspirations to produce
anything better than a B, but that doesn't prevent many of the films from being good
entertainment, often lots funnier (if sometimes for the wrong reasons)
than comparable product from bigger studios of the same period.