Jump to content
 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...

Best and worst Hollywood film studio?


TopBilled
 Share

Recommended Posts

  • 1 year later...

Sometimes I feel RKO is my favorite studio, and not necessarily because of Fred & Ginger or CITIZEN KANE. I like the period where David Selznick was producing for them in the early/mid 30s; I like the Val Lewton projects; and I think Dore Schary did some excellent work there in the mid-to-late 40s-- what guts he had to produce CROSSFIRE and THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR. 

 

The 50s were awful during Howard Hughes' time in charge, though some pictures at the end, when Hughes left and RKO was trying to make a comeback were not too bad. 

 

Also, I have been developing a new-found appreciation for MGM-- especially its product made during the late 30s to the early 50s. Usual gloss aside, the studio truly did have some of the best producers, directors, and technicians around. Even when a script is mediocre or the performers are still trying to get it right, the finished product seems to hold up, presenting an overall quality entertainment. 

 

The American arm of the Rank Organisation, Eagle-Lion, gets high marks from me. According to an entry on wikipedia, it became one of the most highly respected poverty row studios, turning out B movies designed to accompany the more prestigious British releases. 

 

***

I think my least favorite studio is Warner Brothers. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sometimes I feel RKO is my favorite studio, and not necessarily because of Fred & Ginger or CITIZEN KANE. I like the period where David Selznick was producing for them in the early/mid 30s; I like the Val Lewton projects; and I think Dore Schary did some excellent work there in the mid-to-late 40s-- what guts he had to produce CROSSFIRE and THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR. 

 

The 50s were awful during Howard Hughes' time in charge, though some pictures at the end, when Hughes left and RKO was trying to make a comeback were not too bad. 

 

Also, I have been developing a new-found appreciation for MGM-- especially its product made during the late 30s to the early 50s. Usual gloss aside, the studio truly did have some of the best producers, directors, and technicians around. Even when a script is mediocre or the performers are still trying to get it right, the finished product seems to hold up, presenting an overall quality entertainment. 

 

The American arm of the Rank Organisation, Eagle-Lion, gets high marks from me. According to an entry on wikipedia, it became one of the most highly respected poverty row studios, turning out B movies designed to accompany the more prestigious British releases. 

 

***

I think my least favorite studio is Warner Brothers. 

 

Hard for me to say what my favorite least favorite studio is for the entire studio-era,  but I would list Warner Brothers as my favorite studio especially prior to the 50s,  with RKO second.    Least favorite would be MGM.   While I enjoy many MGM movies I like the grit and reality of WB more so then the glamor and fakeness of so many MGM movies.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hard for me to say what my favorite least favorite studio is for the entire studio-era,  but I would list Warner Brothers as my favorite studio especially prior to the 50s,  with RKO second.    Least favorite would be MGM.   While I enjoy many MGM movies I like the grit and reality of WB more so then the glamor and fakeness of so many MGM movies.

I would say the reason I don't like Warners so much is because the grit and 'reality' is too obvious and not half as realistic as it tries to pass itself off as being. The stories seem quite repetitive, with most of the plots obvious variations, if not remakes of earlier WB films-- they made THE MALTESE FALCON three times in a ten year period.  There are only so many ways you can see Bogart, Garfield or Cagney play a hood, great as they may be. And there are only so many ways you can see Pat O'Brien play a cop or priest, too. After they lost Busby Berkeley to MGM, their musicals went downhill fast. 

 

I am not saying I don't enjoy some Warner Brothers films but compared to output from other studios at the time, I think many of them lack originality. 

 

I enjoy the MGM signature glamour and gloss but it's not the reason I like the studio's films. I just feel the formulas are better in the respective genres, and the set design is always top-notch, even in the B films. Recently, TCM aired a bunch of Monogram B pictures, and it made me appreciate how ornate and handsomely drawn the sets are in the MGM films. I watched the pre-war Nazi drama ESCAPE, and Norma Shearer's home in what is mostly a routine programmer was absolutely gorgeous.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Warner Brothers is probably my favorite as it employed most of my favorite stars: Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson... I also love their films: gangster, adventure, film noir, Bette Davis' "weepies," they made a lot of great films.  Warner Brothers is probably my favorite studio for the 1930s and 1940s.  

 

I also love Columbia, because they had a lot more of my favorite stars: Cary Grant, William Holden, Rosalind Russell, Rita Hayworth, Jean Arthur... They produced many of my favorites: It Happened One Night, The Awful Truth, Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, You Were Never Lovelier, Cover Girl, Gilda, The Lady From Shanghai and Born Yesterday, just to name a few.  Columbia, like Warner Brothers, seemed like they took risks with their films as opposed to playing it safe like MGM did.   

 

While MGM bragged that they had more stars than heaven, I've found that there are only a handful of stars and films of theirs that I enjoy.  I know that Louis B. Mayer was all about wholesome family entertainment and while I'm not against that concept (as I do own my share of goody two shoes movies), I've found that many of the MGM films are saccharine in a bad way.  I liked MGM's precodes with the combo of Clark Gable and Jean Harlow.  I also like The Thin Man series with Myrna Loy and William Powell and the other eight films the duo made together.  Aside from those films, I like MGM more for the musicals they produced during the 40s and 50s.  I really enjoy the films made by the likes of Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Ann Miller and Frank Sinatra.  MGM also had a whole gaggle of America's Sweethearts that I don't care for like June Allyson, Kathryn Grayson and Esther Williams. 

 

I think I prefer Warner Brothers slightly over MGM just because I like the types of films produced by Warners better.  Unless it's a Gene Kelly musical (for example) or 'Thin Man' film, MGM films are typically a little too much for me. 

 

In the 40s, I would have also enjoyed Fox, solely because of their output of film noir.  Every one of their film noirs that I've seen, I enjoyed. 

 

My least favorite studio would probably be Universal, only because I'm not a big fan of horror movies and it seems that they primarily focused on those, with the occasional different genre of film like My Man Godfrey in 1936.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I like Paramount and RKO.  A lot of actors started at those studios and then went later to MGM, I presume for more money, but some of their most interesting work was at those earlier studios, in my opinion, e.g. I prefer the Astaire-Rogers musicals at RKO more than the ones at MGM.  I also like the Marx Bros. Paramount movies more than their MGM ones.  Paramount was quite daring in the pre-code days.  MGM did have more gloss and their production values were first rate, especially those costume/historical dramas.  Warners may have some recycled plots with their gritty dramas, but they were still very entertaining.  One of my favorite directors, James Whale, worked at Universal and I enjoy Universal's horror films as well as the Val Lewton era at RKO. 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

For my purposes, I would put Columbia Pictures up with RKO.  That is due to my taste in slapstick, screwball, and other comedy/drama more than anything else.  Columbia had all the big Capra films.

 

MGM was in a league of its own, doing drama, musicals, documentaries, and to a lesser extent comedies.

 

First National/Warner Bros had its own combination of gangster/prison drama/mystery in place of comedy and musicals. 

 

I am painting that with a wide brush though, as there was usually some overlap.  But I am more into slapstick comedy/musical comedy/drama than action/drama.  For some strange reason I have almost every car chase movie from the 70s(action/comedy?).  I also get into Sci-Fi, mysteries, and other philosophical types of movies.  So at the end of the day I see at least a little bit from every studio.

 

P.S. Worst studio?  AIP.  Sort of a low-end WB or Universal in different ways.  They did turn out a bunch of beach movies, oddly enough.  And Vincent Price did a few gems with them, including Master Of The World and The Comedy Of Terrors.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My favorite is a tie.

 

I love Paramount, for two reasons: 1) its comedy tradition from Harold Lloyd through the Marx Brothers and the Max Fleischer cartoons to Hope & Crosby and even Martin & Lewis (counting Jerry solo that's about 40 years), and 2) its continental Lubitsch touch ambiance, inspiring Lubitsch himself to say, perhaps not totally in jest, "I've been to Paris France and I've been to Paris Paramount. Paris Paramount is better."

 

I also love the vitality and gritty street humor of '30s Warners, especially the precodes. Thrown in the looney tunes at Termite Terrace. Not everyone loved Warners however. When somebody told George Raft it must be great to go to the Warners lot and have all that fun every day, Raft replied, "It's like working at San Quentin".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Worst studio?  AIP.  Sort of a low-end WB or Universal in different ways.  They did turn out a bunch of beach movies, oddly enough.  And Vincent Price did a few gems with them, including Master Of The World and The Comedy Of Terrors.

I almost mentioned American International but I haven't seen enough AIP films to be a fair judge. What I have seen, I did not particularly like (barely a step above television production and sometimes worse than classic TV from the same era).

 

A few people mentioned Columbia. I'm on the fence there. Without Capra (whose schmaltzy product is somewhat overrated) or George Stevens (truly the most talented director who ever worked at Columbia), what do you have? Lots of B movie product that is slightly a cut above the B movies made at Republic or Allied Artists.

 

Many household names worked at Columbia when their careers slumped (usually when they had been dropped by the studios that made them famous), or if they were freelancing between stage products because they needed to make a mortgage payment. But more often than not, the Columbia films we saw with Chester Morris, Warner Baxter, Humphrey Bogart, James Stewart or Rosalind Russell were not up to the level or quality of the work these people had done earlier in their careers at greater studios.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Without getting into too much detail, my instinctive choices would be Warner Brothers (best) and MGM (worst), mainly for the type of genre they were primarily noted for in their heyday.  Warners' pre-codes, gangster movies, and other "ripped from today's headlines" films (I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, The Public Enemy, Safe in Hell) have an appealing immediacy to me, whereas a bunch of society people singing and dancing around in various monkey suits and costumes don't.  Obviously there are exceptions in both directions, but those studios got their reputations for good reasons.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I almost mentioned American International but I haven't seen enough AIP films to be a fair judge. What I have seen, I did not particularly like (barely a step above television production and sometimes worse than classic TV from the same era).

 

A few people mentioned Columbia. I'm on the fence there. Without Capra (whose schmaltzy product is somewhat overrated) or George Stevens (truly the most talented director who ever worked at Columbia), what do you have? Lots of B movie product that is slightly a cut above the B movies made at Republic or Allied Artists.

 

Many household names worked at Columbia when their careers slumped (usually when they had been dropped by the studios that made them famous), or if they were freelancing between stage products because they needed to make a mortgage payment. But more often than not, the Columbia films we saw with Chester Morris, Warner Baxter, Humphrey Bogart, James Stewart or Rosalind Russell were not up to the level or quality of the work these people had done earlier in their careers at greater studios.

Yes, and I would reiterate that a lot of it probably just comes down to personal preference.  For me, I like movies that have a small to medium size feel to them.  I do enjoy B movies here and there, but the ones I am thinking of here would be comedies, dramas and others that are a step above B-movie status, and with some familiar and not-so-familiar actors.  To balance that out, I see that you mentioned that you like David O. Selznick and Dore Shary fims, which were often A-list large-scale movies.  So as I parse some titles, it looks like it might have something to do with differences in scope, scale, resources used in production.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Over the years I came to regard all of them as extentions of each other.

 

There wasn't, to my eyes, much difference in the LOOKS of their movies, except of course, for the casts as each studio had their own "stable" of "stars"( I'm sure the actors and actresses at each studio really appreciated the term "stable" being used!)

 

Besides the casts, the only other discernavble differences were, well, little intangible things.  Like, I mentione before, over the tenure of my membership here, that WARNER BROTHERS had the distinction of not showing off too much in the FOLEY sound area, as most of the vehicles and GUNS, regarless of a "snub-nosed" .38, or .45 automatic, or even an M-1 rifle ALL sounded the same!

 

But, I actually never really thought about it much.  I never did judge movies based on which studio put it out.  The only time I made the distinction was back in the early VIDEO TAPING days, and the plethora of weasles( like me!) who'd rent videos of movies in order to copy them.  And, I noticed that for the longest time, COLUMBIA and PARAMOUNT studio VHS releases for rental kept from using the MACRO VISION ANTI-COPYING method to printing movies on VHS tape. and their transfers(copies) usually wound up looking and sounding better than most OTHER studio VHS rental releases.  Even BEFORE  the advent of MACRO VISION.

 

Oh, and TOP, I think where American International made it's biggest impact was their willingness to make movies that tackled subject matter that the "status" studios mostly avoided.  Things like "Wild Angels" and "Hell's Angels On Wheels" and other "Teensploitation" flicks that showed "unseemly" characters being "glorified", like HIPPIES, BIKERS and other considered "low-lifes".  Some of their movies back in the late '60's and early '70's helped keep some actor's careers going, and helped launch a few to boot!  Working for AI certainy didn't do JACK NICHOLSON any harm!

 

 

Sepiatone

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Without getting into too much detail, my instinctive choices would be Warner Brothers (best) and MGM (worst), mainly for the type of genre they were primarily noted for in their heyday.  Warners' pre-codes, gangster movies, and other "ripped from today's headlines" films (I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, The Public Enemy, Safe in Hell) have an appealing immediacy to me, whereas a bunch of society people singing and dancing around in various monkey suits and costumes don't.  Obviously there are exceptions in both directions, but those studios got their reputations for good reasons.

I think you may be over-simplifying the differences between Warners and MGM. Incidentally, MGM did make its share of crime dramas (as well as some classic film noir). We have had thread discussions about ACT OF VIOLENCE, starring Van Heflin and Robert Ryan as well as BORDER INCIDENT, with Ricardo Montalban and George Murphy, plus MYSTERY STREET (again with Montalban).

 

Also, in pictures like NORA PRENTISS, Warners is combining genres, having Ann Sheridan as a nightclub singer who performs several musical numbers before the film's end. 

 

Suggesting that stories ripped from the headlines denote more realism may be misleading, because those stories are told in such a way that the drama is heightened and often deviates from the actual facts. The man whose life was the basis for I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG was not pardoned until the early 1940s, almost ten years after Warners' production. I like the film and am not knocking it, but it contains a lot of fictional elements.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, and I would reiterate that a lot of it probably just comes down to personal preference.  For me, I like movies that have a small to medium size feel to them.  I do enjoy B movies here and there, but the ones I am thinking of here would be comedies, dramas and others that are a step above B-movie status, and with some familiar and not-so-familiar actors.  To balance that out, I see that you mentioned that you like David O. Selznick and Dore Shary fims, which were often A-list large-scale movies.  So as I parse some titles, it looks like it might have something to do with differences in scope, scale, resources used in production.

That's true. As I said earlier, using the MGM B films as an example, I think even smaller or moderately budgeted films can still contain resources that make them stand out to critics and audiences. The B film units at MGM were able to recycle costumes and portions of sets left over from the A-list large-scale productions. Probably how it was at other top tier studios, too.

 

Also, MGM had some very good character actors signed to long-term contracts who bounced back and forth between the As and Bs. Skilled players like Spring Byington, Donald Meek and Connie Gilchrist helped make the smaller films seem a bit better, more polished. In fact, I would go so far as to say MGM's B films were almost like the A films coming out of Columbia and lesser poverty row studios that occasionally tried (their version of) prestige filmmaking.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's true. As I said earlier, using the MGM B films as an example, I think even smaller or moderately budgeted films can still contain resources that make them stand out to critics and audiences. The B film units at MGM were able to recycle costumes and portions of sets left over from the A-list large-scale productions. Probably how it was at other top tier studios, too.

 

Also, MGM had some very good character actors signed to long-term contracts who bounced back and forth between the As and Bs. Skilled players like Spring Byington, Donald Meek and Connie Gilchrist helped make the smaller films seem a bit better, more polished. In fact, I would go so far as to say MGM's B films were almost like the A films coming out of Columbia and lesser poverty row studios that occasionally tried (their version of) prestige filmmaking.

Yes, and I do tend to blur MGM's B-movies with the regular offerings of other studios.  IMO, they sometimes overdid their B-moves with their vast resources, and other times they got it just right.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

TOP, I think where American International made it's biggest impact was their willingness to make movies that tackled subject matter that the "status" studios mostly avoided.  Things like "Wild Angels" and "Hell's Angels On Wheels" and other "Teensploitation" flicks that showed "unseemly" characters being "glorified", like HIPPIES, BIKERS and other considered "low-lifes".  Some of their movies back in the late '60's and early '70's helped keep some actor's careers going, and helped launch a few to boot!  Working for AI certainy didn't do JACK NICHOLSON any harm!

 

 

Sepiatone

I agree with that assessment of AIP. They were finding a market that wasn't catered to by major studios. And they made a fortune exploiting teen issues and marginalized cultures.

 

One AIP film I like, which is never shown on TCM, is the one where Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine play hippie-ish biker bank robbers, in the vein of Bonnie and Clyde. You have to see it to believe it. It's quite fun. Called BUNNY O'HARE.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There is definitely something lacking in MGM's film noirs. I'm not quite sure exactly what it is, because I do like Mystery Street. It's just not as good as a Warners or RKO. It's almost like they had some extra black and white film, didn't know what to do with it, and decided to shoot something other than their normal fodder.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There is definitely something lacking in MGM's film noirs. I'm not quite sure exactly what it is, because I do like Mystery Street. It's just not as good as a Warners or RKO. It's almost like they had some extra black and white film, didn't know what to do with it, and decided to shoot something other than their normal fodder.

My theory is that the MGM noir entries were made with the production code very much in mind. They depict criminal elements but they are moral stories that were meant to lead to tidy happy endings. There is always an underlying sense of hope, or that some sort of understanding can be reached about the human condition. And the glossy visuals dress up aspects of the story that might otherwise seem too horrific. 

 

The noir output at RKO was a lot more subversive, with a bleaker outlook. The Warners crime films that came earlier presented violent stories where people were evil, quite evil, and killed and were killed for the sake of killing. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I almost mentioned American International but I haven't seen enough AIP films to be a fair judge. What I have seen, I did not particularly like (barely a step above television production and sometimes worse than classic TV from the same era).

 

A few people mentioned Columbia. I'm on the fence there. Without Capra (whose schmaltzy product is somewhat overrated) or George Stevens (truly the most talented director who ever worked at Columbia), what do you have? Lots of B movie product that is slightly a cut above the B movies made at Republic or Allied Artists.

 

Many household names worked at Columbia when their careers slumped (usually when they had been dropped by the studios that made them famous), or if they were freelancing between stage products because they needed to make a mortgage payment. But more often than not, the Columbia films we saw with Chester Morris, Warner Baxter, Humphrey Bogart, James Stewart or Rosalind Russell were notPp up to the level or quality of the work these people had done earlier in their careers at greater studios.

Well, Bogart made what is arguably his best noir at Columbia (although you get no argument from me), IN A LONELY PLACE. He also made another very good noir there, DEAD RECKONING. And towards the end of his career.he did the superb THE CAINE MUTINY.

 

Rosalind Russell.did some.of.her best.comedies at.Columbia,.including .HIS GIRL FRIDAY,, NO TIME FOR COMEDY, THIS THING CALLED LOVE, and MY SISTER EILEEN, all during the early years of her top stardom. Later, she did a very good film there, PICNIC.

 

And James Stewart had one of the highlights of his early career.at.Columbia, YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU. Two decades.later, he did the classics, BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE and ANATOMY OF A MURDER there. Among his best.

 

Warner Baxter did a very good Capra comedy at the height of his career at.Columbia, BROADWAY BILL, and probably had his last very good movie role at.Columbia, ADAM HAD FOUR SONS.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, Bogart made what is arguably his best noir at Columbia (although you get no argument from me), IN A LONELY PLACE. He also made another very good noir there, DEAD RECKONING. And towards the end of his career.he did the superb THE CAINE MUTINY.

 

Rosalind Russell.did some.of.her best.comedies at.Columbia,.including .HIS GIRL FRIDAY,, NO TIME FOR COMEDY, THIS THING CALLED LOVE, and MY SISTER EILEEN, all during the early years of her top stardom. Later, she did a very good film there, PICNIC.

 

And James Stewart had one of the highlights of his early career.at.Columbia, YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU. Two decades.later, he did the classics, BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE and ANATOMY OF A MURDER there. Among his best.

 

Warner Baxter did a very good Capra comedy at the height of his career at.Columbia, BROADWAY BILL, and probably had his last very good movie role at.Columbia, ADAM HAD FOUR SONS.

Two of the Stewart films you mentioned were produced after Cohn died, and Columbia had long since shed its poverty row roots by that point. 

 

With the possible exception of HIS GIRL FRIDAY (which was a remake) and PICNIC (where she was not a lead) I don't think the Russell films at Columbia hold up to the projects she had at MGM. Her supporting role in THE WOMEN is a much classier affair than the starring comedy roles she had on reduced budgets at Columbia in the 40s. And she never had a role at Columbia like she did  in THE CITADEL. She was slumming a bit at Columbia, just like Loretta Young was slumming at Columbia when she left Fox. These were moderately budgeted programmers, usually comedies, that kept their careers going.

 

Baxter's best roles were at Fox. He was slumming at Columbia in the 40s, stuck in a cheaply produced series of CRIME DOCTOR flicks. After that, his movie career was pretty much toast. Like I said, many of these people went to Columbia on the way down because it was slightly better than Republic and Monogram/Allied Artists, or independent projects thru United Artists that would have been extremely low-budgeted.

 

Bogart was the exception here as you pointed out. But that happened because he broke his multi-year, multi-million dollar contract at Warners for the chance to start his own production company at Columbia (Santana) which gave him more control over scripts and costars. His first big hit there, on a loan-out during his WB days, was SAHARA. 

 

But for every Bogart, there are dozens of stars who went to Columbia because they had to, not because they wanted to. Clark Gable certainly did not want to make IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT there-- it was punishment, after he tangled with Mayer. And Gable never made another film at Columbia, not even years later when his contract ended at MGM. He went to Fox and Paramount instead.

 

Also, your comments point out several successful Columbia films. But for that small handful, there are thousands of cheap programmers and B films that are mostly forgotten today that stars made on the way up or down.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think you may be over-simplifying the differences between Warners and MGM. Incidentally, MGM did make its share of crime dramas (as well as some classic film noir). We have had thread discussions about ACT OF VIOLENCE, starring Van Heflin and Robert Ryan as well as BORDER INCIDENT, with Ricardo Montalban and George Murphy, plus MYSTERY STREET (again with Montalban).

 

Well, I said that "obviously there are exceptions in both directions", but until I get some sort of a master list of every movie that every studio ever made, separated by genre, I'm going to have to go with my gut instinct that Warners was generally more prone to show the underside of life, while MGM was much more likely to give us lots of people in fancy costumes and top hats.  If I had that master list and a few days to study it, I might be able to come up with a more nuanced answer.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

© 2022 Turner Classic Movies Inc. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Settings
×
×
  • Create New...