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Posts Tagged ‘Screen Guild Productions

OK, finally got enough requests to convince VCI release these two on DVD!

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During the 1940’s – early 1950s before television killed “B” movies, army comedies, musicals (MGM or Monogram…didn’t matter,) themes about Tinsel town, and of course westerns, were guaranteed hits in small town and rural America.

 

Producer/distributor/exhibitor, Robert L. Lippert, decided to combine the genres for sure-fire hits.  He did, and they were.

 

“G.I. JANE”, is a musical-comedy taking place at an army camp starring Jean Porter (sorry, not Demi Moore,) Tom Neal (Hollywood’s real-life bad-boy), Iris Adrian, Jimmie Dodd (“Jimmie” from the “Mickey Mouse Club,) and Jeanne Mahoney, with direction by B-movie stalwart Reginald LeBorg.

 

At a remote Army training camp in the desert, our boys in uniform want to do more than wave at the WAC’s, and a new recruit bets them $500 he can make this happen. A stern female lieutenant makes things tough but eventually it’s Mission Accomplished, the barracks filled with beauties and ballads.

 

“I Love Girls,” “Line-up and Sign-up in the Army Corps,” and “Nervous in the Service,” are a sampling of the musical numbers.

 

“GRAND CANYON,” a comedy with two songs (“Love Time in Grand Canyon” and “Serenade to a Mule”!) about Hollywood producers filming a western, staring Richard Arlen, Mary Beth Hughes, Reed Hadley, James Millican, Olin Howlin, Grady Sutton, and Joyce Compton, with Paul Landres in the director’s seat.

 

There’s grand fun, grand feudin’ and grand fightin’ in this spoof on low-budget Hollywood moviemaking. Assigned by Robert L. Lippert (who appears as himself in a pre-title sequence) to make a Western on indoor sets, Reed Hadley farcically tries and fails, and finally convinces the front office to allow him to shoot on “location.”  Rural audiences howled when an Arizona cowboy showed them Hollywood types a thing or two about acting, and ends up with the starring role!

 

Here’s where the filmflimflam comes in:

 

The advertising claims the movie was filmed at the Grand Canyon, and a prologue to the movie even thanks the Department of the Interior for its cooperation.   Sure, the exteriors are, but the scenes with actors, most of the movie, are filmed on sets, against process shots, or in a familiar location spot near L.A.…but who’d go see a movie called “Bronson Canyon?”   There are a couple of scenes with “actors” filmed on location, but are in reality stand-ins, shot in such a way that the audience couldn’t tell.

 

The fight scene featured in “Mike’s” dream was taken from “The Return of Wildfire,” another Arlen/Lippert film. Arlen’s opponent in the fight is Reed Hadley, his “director” in “Grand Canyon.”*

 

Viewed today, these movies are fun to watch, but remember they were made for the Princess Theatre in Meredosia, Illinois, not the Radio City Music Hall.

 

*Thank you Bob Dickson for this tidbit.

 

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Before Roger Corman there was Robert L. Lippert

Producer/Exhibitor Robert L. Lippert’s low-budget productions are sometimes called Grade “C.”  Personally, I’ve never seen one below “B-,” and in fairness, he did put out some “B+,” “nervous A,” and who can call “The Fly” (1957) anything but an “A”?

Lippert felt there was an unmet demand for “B” product for his circuit of theatres, so in 1945 he and John L. Jones formed a production company, Action Pictures, and distribution company, Screen Guild Productions.   The first and sole release for 1945 was “Wildfire – The Story of a Horse,” in Cinecolor, starring Bob Steele.  Regular releases followed, and in 1949 Screen Guild became “Lippert Pictures,” and in the final count, cranked out over 125 low budget movies, and released many more acquisitions and reissues.  He produced many more films for release by 20th Century-Fox…more about the Fox deal later…

 

The early Lippert productions were unremarkable B movies (okay, there may have been some C’s), with a few notable exceptions.  Things changed in 1949 when he rolled the dice and took a chance on a feisty independent newspaper reporter by the name of Samuel Fuller. Lippert gave Fuller, who had no movie experience, virtual free-reign, and his name above the title, to create a film about Jesse James’ assassin, Bob Ford.   It was released as “I Shot Jesse James” (1949), and became a critical and box office success, and today it is considered a classic, notable, among other things, for its extensive use of close ups.  Soon after, Fuller directed his second film, “The Baron of Arizona” (1950), a true story about a swindler who seized much of Arizona by forging Spanish land grants.  Vincent Price played the “Baron,” and many years later claimed it was one of his very favorite roles.  Truly, the Lippert/Fuller magna opus was the classic Korean War drama, “The Steel Helmet” (1951), which garnered first-run dates at prestigious theatres.  The three Fuller films are out on DVD from the Criterion Collection.

Lippert’s cause célèbre was to produce films as cheaply as possible, and still offer at least some entertainment value, particularly for the more unsophisticated movie patrons. No Lippert movies were allowed to go over budget.  Not negotiable…even for Fuller.  Despite the puny budgets, minor classics resulted, including “Little Big Horn” (1951) and “The Tall Texan” (1953), both starring Lloyd Bridges. 

 

Robert L. Lippert, Jr. told me a story about filming of the climactic ending of “The Steel Helmet,” where a Korean temple is to be destroyed, and it almost didn’t come to be…  Fuller had shot all but the ending, and production was about to go into overtime. Lippert came on the set and literally pulled the power switch to shut down production.  Fortunately, after he left the set, Fuller turned the power on and filmed the finale. 

 

In 1950, Lippert gave himself a challenge…produce a series of six Jimmy “Shamrock” Ellison-Russell “Lucky” Hayden westerns, all at the same time, using the same casts, sets, crew, and so on.  In one movie an actor may play a bad guy and a bartender in another.  A camera was be set up in the saloon, for example, and the saloon scenes for each movie would be shot sequentially, with actors rushing about changing costumes between each roll of the camera.  It must have been a nightmare for the script girl!  Robert L. Lippert, Jr. told me it was his father’s proudest achievement!  VCI released this series as a set under the “Big Iron Collection” banner.   

 

There was also a distinctive film noir series filmed in Great Britain starting in 1953 when Lippert formed a production alliance with his British distributor, Exclusive Films, soon known as Hammer Film Productions.  Under the arrangement, Lippert would provide an American “star,” on the way down, but who still had some name value, plus cash to pay for part of the production.  Exclusive/Hammer and Lippert divided up the distribution territories.  The result was a series of good thrillers, supported by solid English casts, and many directed by Terence Fisher, in his pre-horror film days.  The Lippert-Hammers are all available as part of the “Hammer Noir” collections released by VCI Entertainment.

 

Lippert, like Roger Corman after him, was able to gather together producers, directors, screenwriters, composers, and, of course, actors, willing to work on tight schedules for minimal pay.  There were stars who had lost their major studio contracts (Paulette Goddard, George Raft) or who had problems with the House on Un-American Activities (Lloyd Bridges, Lee J. Cobb).   Even Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicolson had roles in later Lippert productions.

Lippert was a master marketer.  When producer George Pal set out to mount a big budget Technicolor production of “Destination Moon” (1950), based on the science-fiction book by Robert A. Heinlein, Lippert saw an opportunity.  He capitalized on Pal’s media campaign by throwing together his own low (of course) budget “moon” picture, “Rocketship X-M” (1950).  It beat Pal’s movie into the theatres, stealing a good deal of the Technicolor epic’s thunder.   I’m told Mr. Pal was not amused.

 

Trouble, and opportunities, lay ahead for Lippert.  To be continued…

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Please bear with me while I get over my passion for compiling lists!

I’ve spent weeks putting together a filmography pictures produced by various companies controlled by Robert L. Lippert.  So far there are over 300 (!) productions spanning a 20 year period commencing in 1945. It’s been interesting, fun, and definitely time-consuming!  My goal is to make this information definitive…not an easy task given many of the movies were made anonymously.   Look for it soon.  In the meantime I offer you the lists below.

Lippert Pictures: Unrealized Or Retitled Projects

During 1947-49, Lippert Pictures, and its predecessor, Screen Guild Productions, announced titles to trade publications become available in the “next season,” implying they were in production, or close to it, or “in preparation,” which was another way of saying little, if anything had been prepared other than the main title.

During my interviews with producers Maury Dexter and Robert L. Lippert, Jr., I was told by both that Lippert, Sr., almost always came up with a title before commissioning the screenplay, but did occasionally change his mind, ending up releasing the picture under another title.  For example, the announced title, “The Ghost of Jesse James,” could have been changed to “The Return of Jesse James,” which actually was released.  At this point we’ll never know which titles were abandoned, or actually released under other titles.

I’ve always wondering what a Lippert production of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, much less directed by Samuel Fuller, in CineColor, or a Wizard of Oz sequel would have looked like had Lippert Pictures actually produced them!

Titles announced as being available “next season”

20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA – Project sold to Walt Disney

ABILENE KID, THE

ALGIER’S AMBUSH – George Raft

ALOHA

BLACK TULIP

COME OUT FIGHTING

CORNY RHYTHM

CROSS-CURRENTS

DEAD END CANYON

DEAD RINGER

DESERT QUEEN

FOR DISHONOR

FORT DEFIANCE

GHOST OF JESSE JAMES

GREAT JEWEL ROBBERY, THE

ISLE OF ZORDA

KING OF THE SAFECRACKERS

MADAM SHERIFF

MONTANABADLANDS

MUSTANG FURY

PARK ROW *

PILLAR MOUNTAIN

SON OF SHEP

STRATOCRUISER

WOMAN WITH A GUN – Paulette Goddard

* Samuel Fuller eventually produced in 1951 for U.A. release

Titles announced as being “In Preparation”

CABOOSE

FIREBUG AGENT

HIGHWAY WESTWARD

REDSKIN RENEGADES

STREAMLINER LIMITED

Titles unrealized

BANDOLEER

CALIBRE .45

DALTON’S LAST RAID, THE

DAREDEVILS OF THE HIGHWAY

I WAS KING OF THE SAFECRACKERS

OUTLAW HIDEOUT

RADIO PATROL

STRANGER IN THE HOUSE

SUNSET RIM

TALES OF CAPT. KIDD

ABILENE KID, THE

WESTERN BARN DANCE

WESTERN FURY

WIZARD OF OZ, THE – Series

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