Thursday, November 15, 2018

Remembering RKO


In its heyday RKO (for Radio-Keith-Orpheum) was known as one of the Big Five movie studios of Hollywood's Golden Age. It was also known for its ability to produce well-crafted, sometimes artsy or offbeat features using a smaller budget than the other so-called major studios. Nonetheless, it was almost always in trouble, financially. 

Thus, RKO stopped producing feature films in 1953. In 1955 RKO became the first major studio to cave and sell off the exhibition rights of its library of titles to television. So, like plenty of baby boomers, I grew up watching many of those well-crafted black and white films on TV. It was then I first became a fan of legendary producer Val Lewton's scary films, although I doubt I knew his name then.

Eventually, I also became a devotee of RKO's stylish film noirs with their lean stories and moody chiaroscuro lighting. To this day, I still get a kick out of discovering a good one online that I've never seen. For me, watching one of those precious old films serves as something akin to time travel back to my salad days. Comfort movies. 

In the summer of 1982 I put together a six-week festival offering 12 RKO double features. The Biograph Theatre's Program No. 60 played out in Theatre No. 1, the larger of the two auditoriums. It was an unusual program in that all 24 of the feature films were from one company, RKO, which still operated as a distributor.

The 12 double features in this festival were: Top Hat (1935) and Damsel in Distress (1936); The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) and The Informer (1935); King Kong (1933) and Mighty Joe Young (1949); Suspicion (1941) and The Live By Night (1948); Sylvia Scarlett (1936) and Mister Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948); Murder My Sweet (1945) and Macao (1952); The Mexican Spitfire (1939) and Room Service (1938); Journey Into Fear (1942) and This Land Is Mine (1943); The Thing (1951) and Cat People (1942); The Boy With Green Hair (1948) and Woman on the Beach (1947); Citizen Kane (1941) and Fort Apache (1948); The Curse of the Cat People (1944) and The Body Snatcher (1945).

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