Wednesday, June 15, 2005


The announcement of a Val Lewton set reminds me that of all the studios of Hollywood's studio system era, RKO may be the one whose output has held up the best over the years. That's not to say that their clunkers and potboilers hold up any better than anybody else's, just that their good movies really hold up and have a lasting impact on the public and on other filmmakers. King Kong, the Astaire and Rogers movies, Stage Door, Bringing Up Baby, Citizen Kane, the Lewton pictures, Notorious, The Devil and Daniel Webster are all RKO pictures with a lasting power beyoind their era or their genres. And the current interest in Film Noir has made RKO's reputation go even higher, because the overwhelming majority of the best films noir came from the postwar RKO, when it had not much money to throw around but plenty of imaginative cameramen (notably Nick Musuraca) and a willingness to tolerate incredibly bleak stories that most of the other studios wouldn't touch.

Of course, then Howard Hughes bought RKO and ruined it. But it was a heck of a studio until then, and for some reason I can't put my finger on, their best movies somehow seem to date less than the best movies of other studios. And there seem to be a lot of directors who did better work for RKO than they did for any other studio (William Dieterle and Robert Wise to name two).

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