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Jesse Coffey

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RKO Home Video-graphy · 1:49am Feb 27th, 2019

In 1927, Warner Bros.' release of THE JAZZ SINGER prompted a migration across the industry to sound film. At one point, the Radio Corporation of America was shopping around for studios willing to accept a new system for what came to be defined as the "talking picture": the RCA Photophone. Actually, it was developed by General Electric, who had invested in RCA but was forced to spin it off as a separate company following the stock market crash. The other studios were already alined with the ERPI process from Western Electric. So, GE bought a stake in a small studio called the Film Booking Offices of America. FBO's owner, Joseph P. Kennedy, was the father of America's 35th president, John F. Kennedy. He had recently bought Keith-Albee-Orpheum, a chain of vaudeville audiences that had been struggling to transition itself to film. Both were later sold to RCA.

On October 23, 1928, Radio-Keith-Orpheum, RKO for short, was born. It was the first studio to have never made a silent film, and its first three films, SYNCOPATION, STREET GIRL and RIO RITA, were all hits at the box office. In 1931, David O. Selznick, a freshman of the Hollywood scene, became the head of production at RKO, leading to many well-received hits, including the original, and continously iconic, KING KONG. From 1933 to 1940, the company was put into receivership. In 1933, when Selznick had an argument with Merlin Aylesworth, who had just been appointed the head of RKO, Selznick quit and moved to MGM. Two years later, he founded Selznick International Pictures, which made two winners and three nominees of the Academy Award for Best Picture. In the 1930s, RKO made well-known musicals with the dancing team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, along with many films starring Cary Grant. Along with Columbia, RKO laid the foundtation for the screwball comedy; their most famous contribution to the genre, BRINGING UP BABY, flopped when it came out in 1938, but has grown to be one of Hollywood's most influential comedies. In 1937, it signed a deal to release films and cartoons from Walt Disney, a move that proved fruitful when SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS became the highest-grossing film for the period up until GONE WITH THE WIND was released. In 1940, Samuel Goldwyn began releasing his films through RKO after a successful 15-year run at United Artists.

As the smallest of the Big Five Hollywood studios, RKO never had a dedicated stable of contracted actors, writers and directors. But film historian James Naremore says that because RKO was "rich in artists and special-effects technicians[,] its most distinctive pictures contained a strong element of fantasy—not so much the fantasy of horror, which during the thirties was the province of Universal, but the fantasy of the marvelous and adventurous." Whilst CITIZEN KANE (1941) was THE prime example of an "auteur's film", historian Robert Carringer notes that RKO was the only studio that could logically release a film of its nature. RKO's decentralized nature gave Orson Welles a legendary contract. The distinct visual look of the picture, often considered the greatest ever to have been made, was created by the studio's sophisticated production facilities; in particular, RKO had an optical printer far more advanced than those at other studios. The sophisticated special effects are particularly displayed in the various horror films from producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur. At the time, they were B-movies. Today, they are hailed as being some of the best films made in the 1940s. As a cost-saving measure, RKO made far more B films than the other Hollywood majors, resulting in limited creative boundaries, but allowing RKO to turn in a much bigger profit than their higher-budgeted content.

RKO, as with the entire film industry, had its most successful year yet in 1946. By that time, the end of World War II had caused a change of belief and confidence. This scrutinized the way in which the major studios conducted business. In May 1948, RKO came under the ownership of an eccentric aviator and occasional filmmaker whose name was Howard Hughes. He shut down production for six months, in order to weed out suspected Communists (Hughes was really into Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy). After production resumed, Hughes became notable for interfering with even the most minor matters concerning production. This particularly occurred when he tried to get his favorite actresses to appear in movies for RKO. To be fair, it did have a modicum of critically-acclaimed films during the period. The films starring, and directed by, Ida Lupino were highly regarded, Hughes introduced Asian cinema to American filmgoers with Akira Kurosawa's RASHOMON, and Sid Rogell and Sam Bischoff kept making hit movies for RKO. But Hughes' management style irritated Rogell and Bischoff so much that they eventually bailed on him after last than two years, with Bischoff being the studio's final production chief under Hughes. And most of the time, Hughes' films at RKO, which were often steamy in tone, failed to recoup their expenses. The only smash hits RKO had during the period were merely distributed by the studio: Samuel Goldwyn's HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN and Walt Disney's animated classic PETER PAN. Things got particularly messy in 1956, when Hughes unleashed his $6 million pet project, THE CONQUEROR, Despite becoming one of the top-grossing films released that year, it failed to make back the bloated budget and remains considered one of Hollywood's worst. Chief criticisms are the script, the casting—namely, of John Wayne as Genghis Khan—and the large amount of blame the picture has taken for likely causing many of its cast members, including Wayne, to be diagnosed with, and eventually die from, cancer.

Film historian Betty Lasky described Hughes' tenure as a "systematic seven-year rape." Two people who can attest to that are Walt Disney and Samuel Goldwyn. Disney, following a dispute with RKO over the distribution of a series of nature documentaries he was making under the TRUE-LIFE ADVENTURES banner, formed the Buena Vista Distribution Company in late 1953. Goldwyn, meanwhile, decided to make his film version of GUYS AND DOLLS at MGM (he, as a sidenote, being the Goldwyn in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).

RKO sold off its theatres in 1953 (this was required by the United States vs. Paramount Pictures, Inc. decision) and closed its famous ranch in Encino, while its lot in Culver City was sold to Desilu Productions, the company run by Desi Arnaz and his wife, Lucille Ball (whose career began at RKO). In 1955, Hughes sold RKO to the General Tire and Rubber Company for $25 million. General Tire, which had viewed the studio's library as useful programming material for its TV stations, reorganized the unit as RKO General two years later; it handed the task of distributing RKO films to other stations to Marian B, Inc. and United Artists. RKO's final films, all of them released through other studios, came out around this time. Columbia, which replaced RKO among the Big Five during the 1950s, released RKO's final film, VERBOTEN!, in 1959. In 1981, RKO Pictures was revived, this time as a company that made films for other studios to release. Case in point: the revived company made its first film, 1981's CARBON COPY, for Avco Embassy, and made the 1987 films HOT PURSUIT and HAMBURGER HILL for Paramount.

From 1965 to 1987, RKO General was involved in the longest licensing dispute in the history of the Federal Communications Commission. RKO General was accused of engaging in practices which the FCC perceived as fraudulent, and among them was forcing prospective vendors to buy advertising on its television and radio stations in order to keep them contractually obligated to the company. This corporation eventually sold its few remaining assets, the trademarks and remake rights to many classic RKO films, to new owners, who operate the small independent company RKO Pictures, L.L.C. In the U.S. and Canada, the glut of the RKO library was licensed to Ted Turner. Disney owns the rights to films it had originally released through RKO, and, via ABC Motion Pictures, the rights of NOTORIOUS, which had the involvement of David O. Selznick's Vanguard Films. Warner Bros. has North American claims to Samuel Goldwyn's RKO material, with international distribution of it handled by Miramax. Some of RKO's other productions are in the public domain. Howard Hughes bought two RKO films he liked: Jet Pilot and The Conqueror. Two further RKO films, THE BELLS OF ST, MARY'S and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, are owned by Viacom via Melange Pictures, L.L.C., the current holding company for films in the vast Republic Pictures library.

RKO's own involvement in the home video market was brief. It had four series for videos. Unsurprisingly. the longest-run of these was the RKO 2000 series, which was devoted to classic films from the RKO Radio Pictures lineup, some of which had already been issued by other companies prior to the formation of RKO Home Video. Making things even more complicated for the home video collector, the tapes of them from those other companies were in print throughout RKO Home Video's existence. There was also an RKO 1000 series, which had fewer titles, and RKO 3000 and RKO 4000 series, which each had three titles apiece. RKO Home Video had underperformed throughout its existence, chiefly owed to the fact that most of the studios the revised RKO was releasing new movies from had their own video arms, and those arms tended to issue tapes of the new RKO productions. This left a catalogue that was comprised primarily of classic RKO films and some special interest product. RKO Home Video eventually shut down on December 10, 1987, when Ted Turner acquired North American distribution rights to the massive RKO library. He formed Turner Home Entertainment as a vehicle for reprints of cassettes previously issued on the RKO label. In the process, he repurposed the stock numbers in RKO's 2000 series for his own releases.

RKO's releases were white with black printing. They had a segmented white-lined rectangle with the 1929 thunderbolt symbol in between the words "RKO HOME VIDEO." Occasionally, the thunderbolt on the label was in full color. Below the logo was a display of the film's title, stars, stock number, running time, and color/black and white indicator. Photo credit: eBay.

RKO 1000 Broadway Shows series

RKO 1001 - Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music on Broadway (1983)
RKO 1002 - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1982)
RKO 1003
RKO 1004 - I Do! I Do! (1982)
RKO 1005
RKO 1006 - Footlight Frenzy (1984)
RKO 1007 - Fred Astaire, Vol. 1: Puttin' on His Top Hat (1980)
RKO 1008 - Fred Astaire, Vol. 2: Change Partners & Dance (1980)
RKO 1009 - Bobby Vinton: Live at the Sands Hotel (1982)
RKO 1010
RKO 1011
RKO 1012
RKO 1013 - The Gin Game (1980)
RKO 1014 - Hughie (1981)
RKO 1015
RKO 1016 - Hepburn & Tracy (1984)
RKO 1017 - Madame in Manhattan (1980)
RKO 1018 - Blackstone: Live From Seattle (1979)
RKO 1019
RKO 1020
RKO 1021
RKO 1022 - Henry Fonda: The Man and His Movies (1982)

RKO 2000 Film Classics series

RKO 2001 - Every Girl Should Be Married (1948)
RKO 2002
RKO 2003
RKO 2004 - The Mad Miss Manton (1938)
RKO 2005 - In Name Only (1939)
RKO 2006
RKO 2007
RKO 2008 - The Affairs of Annabel (1938)/Pop Always Pays (1940)
RKO 2009 - The Little Minister (1934)
RKO 2010
RKO 2011 - Hunt The Man Down (1951)/Smashing The Rackets (1938)
RKO 2012 - Step Lively (1944)
RKO 2013 - A Girl, A Guy, and a Gob (1941)
RKO 2014 - Lucky Partners (1940)
RKO 2015
RKO 2016
RKO 2017
RKO 2018
RKO 2019
RKO 2020
RKO 2021
RKO 2022
RKO 2023 - This Land Is Mine (1943)
RKO 2024
RKO 2025
RKO 2026
RKO 2027 - Christopher Strong (1933)
RKO 2028 - Anne of Green Gables (1934)
RKO 2029
RKO 2030
RKO 2031
RKO 2032
RKO 2033 - Seven Miles from Alcatraz (1943)/Flight from Glory (1937)
RKO 2034 - Morning Glory (1933)
RKO 2035 - Mexican Spitfire (1940)/Smartest Girl in Town (1936)
RKO 2036 - Swing Time (1936)
RKO 2037 - Shall We Dance? (1937)
RKO 2038
RKO 2039 - The Big Trees (1952)
RKO 2040
RKO 2041
RKO 2042 - The Saint Takes Over (1940)/The Saint's Vacation (1941)
RKO 2043
RKO 2044
RKO 2045 - A Damsel in Distress (1937)
RKO 2046 - The Sky's the Limit (1943)
RKO 2047 - Cornered (1945)
RKO 2048 - Johnny Angel (1945)
RKO 2049 - Journey Into Fear (1943)
RKO 2050 - The Big Sky (1952)
RKO 2051 - Station West (1948)
RKO 2052 - Badman's Territory (1946)
RKO 2053 - Citizen Kane (1941)
RKO 2054 - King Kong (1933)
RKO 2055 - Gunga Din (1939)
RKO 2056 - Return of the Bad Men (1948)
RKO 2057
RKO 2058 - The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1939)
RKO 2059 - Bombardier (1943)
RKO 2060 - Till the End of Time (1946)
RKO 2061 - The Master Race (1944)
RKO 2062 - Behind the Rising Sun (1943)
RKO 2063
RKO 2064 - Action in Arabia (1944)
RKO 2065 - She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)
RKO 2066
RKO 2067
RKO 2068 - Fort Apache (1948)
RKO 2069 - The Thing (1951)
RKO 2070 - Top Hat (1935)
RKO 2071 - I Remember Mama (1948)
RKO 2072
RKO 2073 - The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
RKO 2074 - Suspicion (1941)
RKO 2075 - Flying Leathernecks (1951)
RKO 2076 - Too Many Girls (1940)
RKO 2077 - You Can't Fool Your Wife (1940)
RKO 2078 - The Toast of New York (1937)
RKO 2079 - The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947)
RKO 2080
RKO 2081 - Back to Bataan (1945)
RKO 2082 - Allegheny Uprising (1939)
RKO 2083 - The Seventh Victim (1943)
RKO 2084 - The Curse of the Cat People (1944)
RKO 2085 - Cat People (1942)
RKO 2086 - The Body Snatcher (1945)
RKO 2087 - ‎Sinbad the Sailor (1947)
RKO 2088 - Room Service (1938)
RKO 2089 - Annie Oakley (1935)
RKO 2090 - Tycoon (1947)
RKO 2091 - Deadline at Dawn (1946)
RKO 2092 - The Big Street (1942)
RKO 2093 - Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940)
RKO 2094 - The Three Musketeers (1935)
RKO 2095 - Blackbeard The Pirate (1952)

RKO 3000 History series

RKO 3001 - Hitler: A Career (1977)
RKO 3002 - Judy Garland In Concert, Vol. 1 (1964)
RKO 3003 - Judy Garland In Concert, Vol. 2 (1964)

RKO 4000 Culture series

RKO 4001 - Cyrano de Bergerac (1984)
RKO 4002 - Tartuffe, or The Impostor (1983)
RKO 4003 - Moliere (1984)

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Comments ( 3 )

Have you ever watched Turner Movie Classics channel or TMC? They have all the classic films you want and also with the TMC Backlot, you can Skype chat with host Ben Mackewitz. They have Noir films, among other stuff.

You are thinking of Turner Classic Movies, or TCM. And yes, I do watch that from time to time. TCM airs a lot of the movies that are listed on this page.

Also . . . *Mankiewicz.


Yeah, Ben Mankiewicz is one of the prime time hosts of Turner Classic Movies channel (TCM).

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