during a phone conversation with an old friend who is an eminent film scholar
and professor I asked, “Have you heard that Tahiti
Honey is streaming for free online?” and he said “What? How can I see it?”
Such is the excitement among connoisseurs of the arcane and obscure upon
learning that the Paramount Vault YouTube channel is offering a random
selection of titles from its vast Republic Pictures library. These are pristine,
uncut versions of B-movie titles from the 1940s and ‘50s. Are they any good?
That’s all in the eye of the beholder (read: no, not really) but they are rare.
that Paramount is also offering Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 and John Cassavetes’ Love
Streams, as well as highlight clips from scores of films like Airplane!, Forrest Gump, and Footloose. Most of those titles have
always been accessible. Not so for the Republic archive.
I wish there
were some rhyme or reason for the selection but it appears to be random, based
on titles that have been restored. Among the offerings: the aforementioned Tahiti Honey (1943), a threadbare
musical starring Dennis O’Keefe and the winsome Simone Simon (whose French
accent magically disappears whenever she sings—thanks to an unnamed dubber), Rosie the Riveter (1944) with Jane
Frazee, Frank Albertson, Vera Vague (Barbara Jo Allen), and Carl “Alfalfa”
Switzer, and Remember Pearl Harbor (1942)
with Don “Red” Barry. Barry also appears in one of the handful of Westerns on the
channel (The Man from the Rio Grande,
1943), with fellow contractee Allan Lane headlining Trail of Kit Carson (1945).
Republic’s specialties was servicing small-town theaters in America’s heartland
by featuring what used to be called hillbilly performers like Roy Acuff in O, My Darling, Clementine (1943). Mary
Lee headlines Barnyard Follies
(1940), which features Rufe Davis, Alfalfa Switzer, Dorothy Harrison, Queen of
Dairyland and “Radio’s Popular Entertainers ‘Pappy’ Cheshire, The Cackle Sisters,
Jim Jeffries, The Kidoodlers, Ralph Bowman, Isabel Randolph as ‘Mrs. Uppington.’
One of the
oddities of the Republic catalog is that it includes a number of British
productions that studio chief Herbert J. Yates acquired for U.S. distribution,
like Laugh it Off (1940) with popular
English comedy star Tommy Trinder and others that he co-financed like Track the Man Down (1955) with Kent
Taylor and Petula Clark.
And there are
condensations of some latter-day Republic serials like Cyclotrode X, a feature-length version of The Crimson Ghost (1946) and Satan’s
Satellites, derived from Zombies of
the Stratosphere (1952).
Last but not
least, you’ll see unexpected titles that found their way into the collection,
like Norman Krasna’s The Devil and Miss
Jones (1941) with Jean Arthur and Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).
If I had my
druthers, I’d love to see Paramount release some vintage Republic serials in
their entirety. (Olive Films, which has dug deep into this archive, has only
released some later, lesser examples like The
Invisible Monster and Flying Disc Man
from Mars on DVD and Blu-ray.)
owns the old NTA short subject library, which is chockfull of fascinating
material, and a nifty behind-the-scenes series called Meet the Stars, which features rare footage of Orson Welles, Gene
Autry, and Roy Rogers, among others. There’s also one feature I’ve always been
curious about: Sons of Adventure
(1948), “the story of movie stunt men,” which was directed by the great Yakima
that the folks at Paramount continue digging, and invite their audience to
suggest titles they’d like to see. I’ve done my part.
this is as good a place as any to remind you that Don Miller’s unique and
exhaustive book “B” Movies is back in
print, thanks to Amazon Kindle. If you purchase it as an e-book you can
word-search any of the hundreds of titles he describes; if you buy the
print-on-demand softcover there is no index, sorry to say, but it still makes
great reading and is an indispensable guide to the world of Bs.