A stable base: Edgar G. Ulmer at PRC (Part 1)

At first blush, the pairing of filmmaker Edgar G. Ulmer with Hollywood B-movie studio Producers Releasing Corp. made for an odd combination when they came together in the early 1940s.

There was Ulmer (1904-1972), Czech-born and trained at the famde German studio UFA prior to coming to America in the early 1930s. He was an artistically-minded triple threat as a writer, producer and director also proficient in set design and construction who valued his independence as much as his desire to demonstrate his particular talent; he later claimed turning down an offer from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer boss Louis B. Mayer was something of a professional highlight for him. As Ulmer put it, "I did not want to get ground up in the Hollywood hash machine."*

PRC, as the company was more commonly known, was on the bottom rung of indy moviemakers specializing in second features for the nation's theaters, behind rivals Monogram and Republic, reviled for the ragtag look of its movies and the prod…

A stable base: Edgar G. Ulmer at PRC (Part 2)

As Edgar G. Ulmer settled in with steady work at Producers Releasing Corp. in 1943, the studio was purchased by railroad man Robert R. Young, who also owned the American version of Pathe Laboratories. Seemingly little changed at PRC with the switch in ownership, the third since the company's founding as it continued to fill the need of small-town and neighborhood theaters across the country.

But in doing so, PRC also looked to shake the reputation it had earned for issuing quickies devoid of any production niceties. Its product fit the bottom half of the double feature bill efficiently if not attractively, and ever attentive to the comments from exhibitors and theater owners, began to look at improvement by cutting back on the number of pictures in production and using the savings to offer audiences something better than what became expected from PRC. "With a heavy backlog of 80 pictures backed up in the exchanges, PRC would be able ... to concentrate on better quality produc…

Review: New volume spotlights 'forgotten' star

THE MAGNIFICENT HEEL: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF RICARDO CORTEZ, by Dan Van Neste. Albany, Ga.: Bear Media Manor, 2017, 584 pages. $40 (hardcover), $30 (paperback).

Meticulously researched and entertainingly written, THE MAGNIFICENT HEEL: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF RICARDO CORTEZ sheds light on one of the forgotten stars of the silent film period and early talkie era who made a successful transition to character roles and even directing for a brief time. Author Dan Van Neste reveals how Ricardo Cortez (1900-1977) was a busy if under-appreciated leading man who shook off his initial screen identification as a Latin lover in the Rudolph Valentino mode to become a smooth villain in numerous crime films of the 1930s. THE MAGNIFICENT HEEL truly does justice to an actor whose screen persona stood apart from other stars and supporting players in his and Hollywood's heyday.

"Personally, Cortez was an enigma, a complex, insecure, self-conscious, extremely cautious, very private human being, the…

What is the ultimate George Sanders movie?

The screen persona that made George Sanders (1906-1972) one of the unique presences of Hollywood not only during its heyday in the 1930s and '40s but well through the '60s is usually tied to the word "cad," even to including it in the title of his autobiography MEMOIRS OF A PROFESSIONAL CAD (1960). A somewhat outdated term today given that most people have a coarser turn of phrase for the characters he played, Sanders specialized in playing suave yet ruthless individuals who thought nothing of using seduction, fraud and knife-in-the-back tactics to get ahead.

The movies, and later on, television shows in which he appeared as an urbane villain or anti-hero usually had him paying for his crimes, given the moral standards of the time. But the ease at which he brought such characters to life appears to have been inspired by and carried over from his personal life, in which he could be alternately charming, witty and thoughtful, then insulting and repulsive because he used…

Roger Moore: More than just a Bond

Simply put, there was more of an actor in Sir Roger Moore, who died May 23, 2017, at 89, than required for the roles with which he became attached. He occasionally won an opportunity to prove that he had a range beyond portraying secret agent James Bond in seven motion pictures and the modern-day Robin Hood named Simon Templar, otherwise known as The Saint, in 118 episodes of a beloved TV series of the 1960s. One wishes he had more such opportunities arise during his interesting lifetime.

True, the action-adventure image Moore ably filled both on the large and small screen fit in with the relaxed, witty man of the world he most often played. From unlikely American western lead in his younger days to distinguished United Kingdom noblemen, Moore brought charm with authority, in addition to likeability to roles he essayed that didn't seem to warrant the effort. He may always be thought of as Bond, Ian Fleming's iconic espionage warrior with a license to kill, and that's inesca…

Lost and found: 'The Story of Molly X'

Recently billed on some streaming sources as a "lost" crime film of the post-World War II era, THE STORY OF MOLLY X (1949) offers an intriguing title for a pretty routine thriller from Universal-International at a time when the studio entered a vogue with noir-themed productions, although they weren't being called "noir" right then. According to some critics, the film and others of its stripe deserved to be hidden away. Found "dreary" by historian Clive Hirschhorn* except for lead player June Havoc's enactment of the title role, THE STORY OF MOLLY X does have its compensations in using a semi-documentary tone to tell its story and the determination of its supporting cast of relatively fresh performers to put the film over with audiences.

Written and directed by Crane Wilbur, the 82-minute feature produced by U-I veteran Aaron Rosenberg opens with Molly, narrating her story and not providing a last name, telling us of a turning point in her life in …