Castle Films (known as Universal 8 from 1977) was a home video distributor founded in California by former newsreel cameraman Eugene W. Castle (1897–1960) in 1924. The company originally produced business and advertising films. By 1931 it had moved its principal office to New York City. In 1937, Castle branched out into 8 mm and 16 mm home movies, buying newsreel footage and old theatrical films for home use. Castle's first home movie was a newsreel of the Hindenburg explosion. That same year, Castle launched his "News Parade" series, a year-in-review newsreel; travelogues followed in 1938. Castle also released sports films, animal adventures, and "old time" movies.
The films were sold at camera shops, in department stores, and by mail order catalog. Castle Films were extensively advertised in national magazines.
Castle obtained home-movie rights to cartoons from several animation studios, including Terrytoons (1938), Ub Iwerks (1941), and Walter Lantz Productions (1947). During World War II it produced numerous documentary and training films for the U.S. armed services. In the late 1940s and early 50's, Castle released a series of 16mm "Music Albums" assembled from the Soundies musical shorts, combining three 3-minute items into each nine-minute subject.
In 1947, United World Films, Inc., the non-theatrical division of Universal Pictures, purchased a majority stake in Castle Films. Castle subsequently became a Universal subsidiary, drawing upon the studio's library of vintage films (with Abbott and Costello, W. C. Fields, Boris Karloff, James Stewart, etc.). The merger with Universal also brought to Castle the Walter Lantz cartoons with Woody Woodpecker, Andy Panda, Oswald Rabbit and Chilly Willy. When Universal was purchased by MCA Inc. in 1962, Castle also gained access to the pre-1950 Paramount Pictures sound feature films owned by MCA's TV division, releasing sequences from Cecil B. DeMille's spectaculars, the Marx Brothers comedies and others. In the 1950s, Castle released a highly successful series of Hopalong Cassidy excerpts, licensed from the series' star William Boyd. Newsreels edited from NASA footage of U.S. space flights were best sellers in the 60's. Castle Films changed its name to Universal 8 in 1977, but the era of home video brought an end to Universal's home-movie enterprise in 1984, with Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (founded in 1980) serving as the division's de facto successor.
The largest U.S. competitor of Castle Films was Official Films.
- Thomas M. Pryor, "Newsreels for the Home", The New York Times, July 4, 1937, p. 100
- Theodore Strauss, "Of One Man's Castle", The New York Times, April 4, 1943, p. X3.
- "United World, Inc., Buys Castle Films", The New York Times, January 2, 1947, p. 22. Eugene Castle became vice president of United World, but resigned in 1949. "Business Notes", The New York Times, December 13, 1949, p. 55.
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