C&C RKO 16mm Prints

Editor's note... this article is a compilation of posts from the FCLS List Server. These posts should be read in their entirety and are posted not as legal advice, but rather, as educational material demonstrating the complexity of the "rights" issue. When in doubt, a smart exhibitor will always seek the advice of counsel.

 

(ED: First is from Don)

Why do C&C 16mm prints of RKO titles have soft focus?  My Swingtime print is
soft focus and my friends RKO print is very sharp.  I have noticed this on
other titles as well.  Has anyone else noticed this?

                                Cincinnati Film Collector




(From a member)

Here's some information on C&C.  Around 1956 Hughes sold RKO and the
first thing the buyers did was sell the library to broadcast TV. 
Individual stations could buy an entire package of 16mm prints and
had license to play them for the life of the the print. This was the
first major studio package of films made available to broadcast TV and
buyers broadcast the package under a format called "MovieTime USA".
Till then, TV broadcast PD stuff, Republic Westerns and a handfull of
titles that independant producers had sold, such as Roach's Topper,
One Million BC or Edward Small's. Corsican Bros, Man In The Iron Mask
etc. Once a station had purchased the C&C RKO MovieTime USA package they ran these
prints "ad nauseum" and the handfull of popular titles, like King
Kong or Citizen Kane were popping up at 3:00 AM most every night of
the week. (I digress, back to your question)  This was the days of
early B&W TV and tele-cine film chains could not handle normal
contrast prints....  the video of the day demanded low contrast
prints in order to have a video picture which showed detail in the
shadows. The RKO prints were printed on low density film stock from
source material that had the original RKO logos removed and titles
were edited to remove RKO from the Header, in their place "C&C Films,
Inc." or "MovieTime USA" was put in. These prints are considered originals in spite of
their low contrast and appearance of soft focus. Actually I don't
think the focus is soft, rather the nature of low contrast is such
that the focus gets compromised and appears soft. These C&C prints
are nice to have, but chances are you have a dupe of a C&C print. The
original C&C prints, widely distributed to TV station libraries
across the country became the source material for an army of basement
dupers whose quality control varied from horrible to pretty good. I
have several original C&C's and they show and sound great... it's the
dupe C&C's that you have to watch out for... If anyone has any
further info on C&C prints, I would love to hear it.  



(ED: From David)

I know a little more about this since I worked for RKO for 4 years in the
l980's. The people who bought RKO from Hughes were General Tire and Rubber,
who owned several televsion stations around the country.  One was KHJ in Los
Angeles, another was WOR in New York City. In the early 50's, they used to
broadcast a play at the same time every night of the week.  They actually
broadcast it live each time, so the actors performed it live several nights
in a row.  As you say, a few almost A pictures and a lot of B's and C's had
already been sold to television but the major studios were holding out and
had an agreement among themselves not to sell. However, there was a package
of films which became available from the Bank of America. These were pictures
 which Bof A had finanaced. When they didn't make back their costs, Bof A
repossessed them. It included a number of films which had been released by
RKO (like MIRACLE OF THE BELLS and MAGIC TOWN ) as well as other recent
titles with major stars. General Tire bought the package to show as a summer
replacement for their plays and when they drew much higher ratings, General
tire became more anxious than ever to get major films.

Hughes was desperate to sell RKO as it was losing a lot of money under his
management. General Tire bought it and merged with it, forming RKO General.
They started the "Million Dollar Movie" running the same film every night and
four times on weekends(the first title to run was KINGKONG, followed by the
Astaire-Rogers films. )For those cities where they didn't own stations, they
sold the rights outright to C and C Cola with the stipulation that the RKO
trademark would not be seen - therefore C and C had to make new logos for
each film. All this happened rather quickly so before l6mm prints were
available, 35mm prints from the exchanges were used for the broadcasts.  The
prints were made by the Guffanti Lab
 in New York City . (I head the some cheap lab in Mexico was also used at one
point but when I asked Mr. Guffanti about it in the mid-80's he denied it and
said the negatives never left their care.)  Once the RKO backlog started
airing, the other studios lost little time in selling their films too. RKO
General bought packages of Warner and Columbia films for "The Million Dollar
Movie." 

I could go on and on about CandC going out of business and the rights being
sold in the bankruptcy auction and all the problems that caused but that is a
story for another day.
David Chierichetti

(ED: More from David)

Due to popular demand, I shall continue the saga of Cand C and RKO. 

Cand C Cola started running the films (with plenty of CandC commercials) in
the markets whee RKO General didn't own a station. 

It wasn't too long before Cand C went bankrupt and all of its
assets(including the RKO library were put up for auction. I forget now who
bought them first for the US but eventually they came to be owned by United
Artists, who also owned the l929-48 Warner Brothers films (but no UA releases
from that period!)  The rights for the rest of the world went to  a company
located in Paris and known as Atlantic Arts. What these companies actually
owned, however, was not the whole film (which is to say including the remake
rights) but just the right to show the existing film in their particular
terrirory. RKO still owned the remake rights.  Since  RKO was usually a poor
company, historically it had been most agreeable when other companies were
interested in buying something for a remake ; therefore many important RKO
films of the 30's and 40's were not part of the package at all. For example,
MGM had puchased CIMARRON, ROBERTA, RIO RITA, HIT THE DECK and THE AGE OF
INNOCENCE   and when they did, RKO included  all rights  to the original film
and even sent MGM the negative and any prints they had around. MGM was the
only company (other than Disney) that decided as early as the l960's to make
safety copy negatifves of all its films, even the ones they had acquired for
remake. In the early 70's when I was working at the Los Angeles County Museum
of Art preparing a tribute for Irene Dunne, we called up MGM and asked if
they had CINMARRON and ROBERTA and sure enough  they did. You can imagine our
delight at screening ROBERTA which up until  then had been considered a 'lost
film."  When we asked about the l936 SHOW BOAT, they admitted they had the
nitrate negative from Universal but hadn't copied it and couldn't understand
why anybody would want to show that old black and white film when they could
see the wonderful color 1951 version.  Checking further they discovered that
the first reel was badly decomposing  so we said if they'd make us a print, 
we'd pay for it. They did and  and all this made them decide to make a fine
grain master while they still could. Nowdays the first reel looks a little
wierd but at least it still exists!  But I digress...

Being very star-poor in the  40's, RKO had traded the rights to THE AINMAL
KINGDOM and OF HUMAN BONDAGE to Warners in exchange for a picture each from
John Garfield and Joan Leslie. The camera negative to ANIMAL KINGDOM turned
up at Warners , found by Ron Haver when he was looking for material to
restore the l954 STAR IS BORN.  David Selznick demanded the rights to TOPAZE
and the Katharine Hepburn  LITTLE WOMEN (plus a lot of money) for Ingrid
Bergman in BELLS OF ST. MARY'S  .  When Selznick abandoned his l946 LITTLE
WOMEN after shooting half of it,  he sold all the rights including the l933
version to MGM .  Fox decided it wanted to remake LOVE AFFAIR  just as the
CandC deal was going through so they had to negotiate with Cand C as well as
RKO in order to settle that one.  RKO also made a deal with Allied Artists
agreeing to not show the 1939 HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME  for 2 years after the
1957 one came out. From then on, the foreign rights to RKO Pictures became so
convoluted that  whenever anything was sold for a remake the rights to the
original film stayed with RKO and/or all of its assigns.

One of my jobs at RKO was to go through the story files and look for
unproduced properties which might be filmed now.  Needless to say I found
some very inteesting ideas. . There was a proposed dramatic vehicle for
Astaire and Rogers  circa 1935called PARK AVENUE (it would have followed
ROBERTA and also costarred Irene Dunne and Ethel Waters. )  Apparently Dunne
didn't like it or her agent was demanding too much for a new deal. Also  a
vehicle for Dunne and Maurice Chevalier called COTE D'AZUR. In l943 the
studio had planned an elaborate Technicolor musical for Ginger Rogers called
THE GIBSON GIRL which was called off at the very last minute. Reading the
script I could see why but was amazed to see that it was revived in the
l950's as a project for Jane Russell!  Quite a lot of work was done to
prepare something called NIGHT BOAT for Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy
in l944, but it was abandoned when Charles Koerner, the studio chief died
suddenly. Most of the unproduced scripts were real dogs, not suprisingly.

The RKO lot had been virtually shut down for over a year  when General Tire
bought the studio.  RkO General hired William Dozier to come in and get
things going in terms of new productions.  The first to start shooting was
THE FIRST TRAVELLING SALESLADY with Ginger Rogers . Most of the others were
medium budget remakes of earlier RKO films such as TOM, DICK AND HARRY,  FIVE
CAME BACK,  and BACHELOR MOTHER or TV PLAYS  such as THE YOUNG STRANGER and
THE UNHOLY WIFE.  When they didn't make the kind of money RKO General wanted
the heads of the company in New York decided to pull the  plug rather
suddenly. At the time, THE GIRL MOST LIKELY was shooting on the lot and
ESCAPADE IN JAPAN was shooting in Japan.  Planned remakes of LOVE AFFAIR  and
STAGE DOOR  to star Doris Day and be produced by her husband Martin Melcher
were shelved.  At this point, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz bought the studio
for their Desilu Productions but they didn't get any rights in any of the
existing films. (And I've actually been told  by a Joan Davis fan  that
Lucy's motivation in this was to keep Joan Davis' RKO pictures from being
shown on TV!) 

There were some pictures that RKO couldn't include in the CandC package
because at the time of the deal  they didn't own them outright. They were
mostly l950's releases as well as WITHOUT RESERVATIONS.  After the rights
issues were cleared up, these plus the l956-57 releases were put together
into a new package called The Gold Key Package and offered to stations.

 After a year, RKO moved off the lot and into a former radio broadcasting
studio on Vermont Ave (which is where I worked.)  Around 1959 a low-budget
picture starring Miriam Hopkins at Ma Barker was started there but abandoned
because Hopkins was dead drunk all the time. RKO still owned the US
theatrical ights to the films and leased TOP HAT, SWING TIME, CITIZEN KANE 
and MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS to JANUS in the late 60's.  A small distributor
named AJay in New York made  some of the others available to grind houses ( I
saw THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME at the Globe theatre in Downtown LA in the late
60's.)  All of the camera negatives for the black and white pictures plus a
fine grain master of each were stored in Bonded Warehouse  in New Jersey so
that Guffanti could make new prints as needed. The negatives to the color
films were in Los Angeles, near to Technicolor.  RKO, UA and Atlantic Arts
frequently had disagreements about who should be paying for the  storage. In
l969 it was decided to give the negatives (but not the fine grain masters) to
the Library of Congress.  They made fine grains on everything but not for
commercial use .

When Ted Turner acquired MGM-UA, the us Television rights for RKO Pictures
for the most of the country  were part of the deal.  They showed some of them
on Turner's superstation, which was technically based in St,. Louis but
actually reached viewers all over the country, including the cities were RKO
General had stations and reserved the rights. RKO said you can't do that and
threatened suit.  After I left in l986, however, RKO General spun off RKO
Pictures and sold it to a gentleman in New Jersey who then sold the
distribution rights RKO still held (theaters and the 5 cities) to Turner so
there would be no more of these problems. This is the best possible thing
that could have happened because the Turner people then undertook a massive
restoration of the whole library  making new negatives and fine grains on
everything.  Even when they had good materials they have tried to get better.
For example, MGM had copied a lavender master on ROBERTA  and it didn't look
bad but there were problems with the track and the first few feet of picture
were missing from one of the reels. I happened to know that Ginger Rogers had
35mm copies of some of her films which she gave to a University in Texas who
in turn gave them to the Library of Congress.  I told the Turner people they
should check them out and they brought out the print of ROBERTA  which Rogers
had hardly ever run and rerecorded it and replaced the missing footage.

As for the Million Dollar Movie, it is long gone. In the later years, they
showed a different film every night. Before they got into the "Tara Theme", 
they used the title music from IVANHOE  for many years.  For their special
"Theatre Nine" presentations on Sunday nights, they used the theme from THE
HIGH AND THE MIGHTY.  I wasn't allowed to watch TV on school nights but in
the summer we watched Million Dollar Movie constantly.  Every year for July 4
 week they had YANKEE DOODLE DANDY and we knew it by heart. I was so amazed
to see the whole film in a revival house and realize how much had been cut
out by channel 9. My grandmother loved Liberace and saw nothing unusual with
watching SINCERELY YOURS  every night. My brother and I started reciting the
vapid dialogue along with it and she got so mad she sent us to our room.  But
grandma was a case. When another  station had a Bette Davis festival and ran
THE LETTER and THE LITTLE FOXES one right after the other,  grandma decided
she'd tell Bette a thing or two. "All that woman does is kill people and
murder people! " she fumed. "And she left that nice Herbert Marshall tiwce!"

Well, I think I have said everything I know on these many subjects but if you
have any questions...

David Chierichetti