|Industry Film studio|
Headquarters Poverty Row
Parent organization MGM Holdings
|Predecessor Producers Distributing Corporation|
Successor Eagle-Lion Films (1950) United Artists (1955)
Key people Sigmund Neufeld Sam Newfield
Films produced Detour, The Devil Bat, Strange Illusion, The Brute Man, Hitler's Madman
Producers Releasing Corporation was one of the less prestigious Hollywood film studios that made up what became known as Poverty Row, and lasted from 1939–47. PRC, as it was commonly known, made 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 Street (on the lot that eventually became Columbia Pictures) from 1936–43, then the complex used by the defunct Grand National Films Inc. 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, who had hired producer Sigmund Neufeld and his brother, director Sam Newfield, to make its films. After the collapse of PDC the brothers established PRC. Most of the movies made imitated 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, 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.
Another 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 noirs 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 PRC's Minstrel Man in 1944.
The Enchanted Forest was a surprise hit for the studio that was photographed in Cinecolor. The unexpected success of the film 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, 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. would reissue the library of PRC films until 1955, when it was bought by United Artists.
As early as 1950 the American CBS Television network was screening PRC films on television. Many PRC films are now in the public domain and appear on budget DVDs.