Producers Releasing Corporation
|Predecessor||Producers Distributing Corporation|
|Successor||Eagle-Lion Films (1950)|
United Artists (1955)
|Parent||United Artists Corporation|
Producers Releasing Corporation was one of the less prestigious of the Hollywood film studios. It was considered a prime example of what was called "Poverty Row", a term originally applied to a stretch of Gower Street in Hollywood known for being the headquarters of a plethora of low-budget production companies, mainly because the rents were cheap. Many of these companies would make only a few low-budget "B" pictures, then disappear; others, like PRC and Monogram, lasted for a longer period of time and some even had their own studio facilities (though most only rented studio space on larger studios' lots). PRC lasted from 1939-47, churning out low-budget B-movies for the lower half of a double bill or the upper half of a neighborhood cinema showing second-run films. The company was substantial enough to not only produce but distribute its own product and some imports from the UK, and operated its own studio facility, first at 1440 N. Gower St. (on the lot that eventually became Columbia Pictures) from 1936–43, then the complex used by the defunct Grand National Pictures from 1943-46, located at 7324 Santa Monica Blvd. This address is now an apartment complex.
PRC produced 179 feature films and never spent over $100,000 on any of them. Most of its films actually cost considerably less than that.
The company evolved from the earlier Producers Distributing Corporation begun in 1939 by exhibitor Ben Judell (né 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 the brothers established PRC. Most of the 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 or action melodramas, plus a number of horror movies. In 1943 Robert R. Young, a railroad magnate who also owned the American Pathé film processing laboratory, acquired the studio.
PRC had very few star names on its payroll and mainly had to make do with either character actors (Neil Hamilton, Eddie Dean, Lyle Talbot, Gladys George, Frank Albertson, Wallace Ford, Ralph Morgan), stars who were idle (Lee Tracy, Freddie Bartholomew, Patsy Kelly, Benny Fields) or celebrities from other fields (burlesque queen Ann Corio, animal hunter Frank Buck and singer Frances Langford). However, the company acquired the services of Buster Crabbe following the expiration of his contract with Paramount Pictures. PRC gave former Miss America (of 1941) Rosemary LaPlanche the lead in two horror films, Strangler of the Swamp and Devil Bat's Daughter, and used comedian El Brendel in a pair of comedies.
Typical PRC efforts include 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, jungle thrillers with Buster Crabbe and Julie London in the latter. Much like other studios of the time, PRC released a wide variety of westerns, including 17 films in the Lone Rider series, a Billy the Kid film series and The Frontier Marshals, similar to Republic Pictures' and Monogram Pictures' cowboy trio series. In 1946 PRC produced Gas House Kids, an attempt to create its own version of The East Side Kids. It was followed by two sequels. Mystery series were provided by three Philo Vance films. 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 flag-waving 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."
Austrian director Edgar G. Ulmer began working for the studio in 1942 and directed three films noir classics there: Bluebeard (1944), Strange Illusion (1945) and Detour (1945). All three—especially Detour—have acquired reputations as artistic achievements. The PRC production Hitler's Madman, directed by Douglas Sirk, was picked up by MGM for distribution, and one of PRC's music composers, Leo Erdody, was nominated for an Academy Award for his musical score for tbe studio's Minstrel Man in 1944.
PRC was purchased by Pathe Industries, though the only noticeable change was of the name of the company's production arm to PRC Pictures Inc. The company otherwise continued to flourish within its own element until after World War II, with two series—the Michael Shayne detective series with Hugh Beaumont (six entries) and Eddie Dean with a series of singing cowboy westerns in Cinecolor, the first western series to be filmed in color.
The distribution arm of the company was disbanded with the formation of Eagle-Lion Films Inc. in 1946; the production arm (and with it the entire company) followed suit shortly thereafter in 1947. PRC's final production was James Flood's The Big Fix (1947).
Madison Pictures Inc. released PRC's product for both television showing and cinema re-releases until 1955. Madison was formed in late December 1945 and, headed by Armand Schenck, a former supervisor of PRC's branch operations and previously an executive with Commonwealth Film Corporation and later Pathé Laboratories, a subsidiary of Pathé Industries. Madison was bought by United Artists.
- Variety, August 10, 1945
- p.8 Rhodes, Gary Edgar G. Ulmer: Detour on Poverty Row Rowman & Littlefield, 30/12/2009
- p.16 Balio, Tino United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1987
- 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.
- p. 305 Miller, Don. B Movies. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988
- p.114 Fernett, Gene Hollywood's Poverty Row 1930-1950 Coral Reef Publications, 1973
- "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.
- "Producers Releasing Corporation Early Television Rights". dukefilmography.com. Archived from the original on 29 June 2017. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
- p. 162 Dick, Bernard F. Engulfed: The Death of Paramount Pictures and the Birth of Corporate Hollywood University Press of Kentucky, 2001
- Dixon, Wheeler W. Producers Releasing Corporation: A Comprehensive Filmography and History. McFarland, 1987.
- Miller, Don. B Movies. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988. ISBN 0345347102.