Logo in 1945
|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 to 1947, 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 to 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 to 1943, then the complex used by the defunct Grand National Pictures from 1943 to 1946, located at 7324 Santa Monica Blvd. This address is now an apartment complex.
PRC produced 179 feature films and almost never spent more than $100,000 on any of them; most of its films actually cost considerably less. Only Minstrel Man had enhanced production values because it showed such excellent progress during filming that its $80,000 budget was tripled.
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.
Few then-current stars worked for PRC: Bela Lugosi, Buster Crabbe, Bob Steele, Frances Langford, and Ralph Byrd. Budget constraints forced the studio to make do with featured players (Neil Hamilton, Eddie Dean, Lyle Talbot, Gladys George, Mary Carlisle, Noel Madison, Iris Adrian, Frank Albertson, Wallace Ford, Ralph Morgan, Henry Armetta, Chick Chandler); stars who were idle (Harry Langdon, Lee Tracy, Benny Fields, Mary Brian, Freddie Bartholomew, Patsy Kelly, El Brendel, Slim Summerville); or celebrities from other fields (burlesque queen Ann Corio, animal hunter Frank Buck, radio announcer Harry Von Zell, Miss America (of 1941) Rosemary LaPlanche).
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. 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."
Beginning in 1944, PRC grew in standing, with the company securing big-city exposure and critical praise for many of its features. Austrian director Edgar G. Ulmer 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. The Benny Fields musical Minstrel Man earned the studio its first Academy Award nominations (Ferde Grofé and Leo Erdody, for best musical score). The studio's westerns received a boost when singer Eddie Dean starred in the first cowboy series filmed in Cinecolor. The children's fantasy The Enchanted Forest, also in Cinecolor, was a surprise hit for the studio, and led to several major studios filming their own movies in the process.
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. Two new detective series were launched: Hugh Beaumont as Michael Shayne (six entries) and William Wright or Alan Curtis as Philo Vance (three entries), as well as a comedy series, Gas House Kids, an attempt to create its own version of The Bowery Boys (three entries).
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.