When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand
Let’s Play Studio Roulette —

During the holidays, I rented two out-of-print VHS tapes of flawed-but-favorite films:  Sam Wood’s HOLD YOUR MAN and the gothic mystery, THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS, with Humphrey Bogart as a killer and Barbara Stanwyck as his next victim.

HOLD YOUR MAN is pure pre-Code MGM:  Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in a comedy-drama scripted by Anita Loos and lensed by Harlow’s then-husband, Harold Rosson.  Yet the videotape was released by Warner Brothers home video.

THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS, as with 99% of Bogart’s output, was a Warner Brothers’ production.  Yet the home video company that distributed it was MGM/UA.

So, how did an MGM movie get distributed by Warner Brothers, and a Warners film released as part of the MGM library?

Well, it’s a complicated story but I’ll try to make it interesting.

OK, let’s enter the Way-Back Machine…

It’s 1972.  I’m a student and I’m projecting a print of THE MALTESE FALCON for other students.  The movie, a classic work of Warner Brothers talent, was delivered to the school from the offices of United Artists, and when I screened it, a 1970s UA logo came on before the historically-accurate Warners shield dipped up from black.  Afterwards, I asked a fellow projectionist, Joe, about the UA connection, who told me UA had bought the rights to the Warners library.

Jump forward a decade.

In the 1980s, MGM merged with United Artists to become MGM/UA.  So now there are 3 film libraries held by the same company:  MGM/UA retains the libraries of MGM, UA and UA’s library of Warners films.

That’s why the out-of-print Warners/Bogart VHS tape has the MGM lion logo on its shell.

Enter Ted Turner.  Turner purchases the MGM/UA library (remember, that’s three movie studios’ output during the classic Hollywood era).  Meanwhile, Warner Communications and Warner Entertainment is still producing new work but doesn’t have access to its library of former releases.

Into the 1990s:  Time, Inc. merges with Warner Communications to become TimeWarner, which by the end of the 1990s has also absorbed Ted Turner’s empire, including the MGM/UA/Warners film libraries.

That’s why the out-of-print MGM movie on VHS has the Warner Brothers shield on its shell.

And just to bring you up to date, here’s what’s happened since Turner was absorbed by TimeWarner.

Last days of 2000:  George W. Bush isn’t elected yet gets the job of President.  His appointee for the job of FCC chairman is Michael Powell.  Not Michael Powell, the British film director who did THE RED SHOES, but Michael Powell, the son of Colin Powell.  Colin Powell is a major stockholder in AOL, and among his son’s first official acts as FCC Chairman is to approve the AOL/TimeWarner merger, which makes AOL stock spike and generates mega-million dollars for his dad.  But, to shift from Washington politics to corporate politics, as the New York Times pointed out a couple of years after the AOL/TimeWarner merger, the number of classic movie titles available on DVD lags far behind those that were available on VHS, reason being that Ted Turner (being a movie lover and his own boss) could give the green light to releasing just about any movie from the 3 libraries because he figured there was probably a niche market for just about any classic movie.  While, now that he’s out of the picture, the bean-counters in suits who now decide what gets released will only let a sure-fire profit-maker from the libraries be pressed onto DVD.

And that (to bring this narrative full-circle), is why I went out and rented some out-of-print VHS tapes over the holidays.

Doug / PoMoJoan

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2 Comments to “Let’s Play Studio Roulette —”

  1. KB says:

    Thank you for shining light on the undetermined issue of bringing favorite classics to the new age! I would also like to know where you found a copy of ‘Hold Your Man’ to rent, believe me, I have searched numerous rental places and it’s been nowhere!
    Once again, Thank You :)

  2. Doug says:

    I rented the VHS tape from Vulcan Video in Austin, Texas: http://www.vulcanvideo.com They’ve got a very impressive library!

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