Monday, December 12, 2016

From Avco to Dino: Intro and Early Success

This is going to be my biggest deep dive into a studio to date as not only will we be covering the output of Avco/Embassy Pictures, but the ensuing purchase of the company by none other than Dino DeLaurentiis and the brief, sort of crappy yet memorable history of his DEG Productions with some detours here and there because I want to give as full a picture as I can of how consistent and interesting this company's output was. It's actually pretty awesome how much longevity this one independent studio had. I also wanted to look at Dino DeLaurentiis in a little more detail and the two topics flow into each other rather nicely. Buckle up, folks. It's gonna be a long ride.*

*In lieu of this, the amount of films given actual proper reviews (as in more than a few sentences regarding plot and overall quality) will be rather low as the output is such that it would take me forever to finish this project.

It began with producer Joseph E. Levine who made a name for himself with huge, lavish productions mixed with smaller projects that ran the gamut from classy to trashy. Sort of an American Dino DeLaurentiis if you will, fittingly enough. Or Roger Corman if he wasn't cheap.

Levine founded Embassy in 1942, primarily as a means to distribute foreign films but eventually, he began producing original material as well. Some of the films he brought stateside were classics such as Fellini's 8 1/2 as well as our two features for today but we will get to that in a bit.

The ensuing years would see partnerships with various studios; critically acclaimed classics, a few bombs here and there, several changes in ownership and an overall willingness to get behind whatever the hell they were making, more or less. Unlike Orion, Embassy didn't have that weird snooty attitude towards their successes which they tended to embrace openly regardless of the genre or subject matter. They also managed to parlay their success into TV distribution and home video which probably let them exist far past the point where they would have without. We can get to all that in time, though. For now, we got movies to look at.

We begin with the film that made Godzilla into a household name stateside, the American version of the original film. Distributed by Embassy on the East Coast (Transworld put it out in the other half of the country), this version cuts out all the political stuff from the original along with some other stuff totaling 16 minutes and replaces it with footage of Raymond Burr as a journalist caught up in the devastation. Burr's character serves as narrator and he is cut into the original film pretty well, all things considered. The focus ends up being more on the monster stuff (the f/x work is pretty good and considering the time it was made and the budget they had, bordering on brilliant), and while the dramatic, more somber mood of the original is compromised, the end result is still a pretty decent film.

The film's massive success made Godzilla popular in the US and paved the way for a franchise that still roars to this very day.
This brings us to the second big success for Embassy, another import. This time, the first Italian Hercules movie starring American muscle man Steve Reeves. This one made quite the lasting impression as it combines the traditional Hercules myth (the man and his labors) along with the search for the Golden Fleece. While Godzilla made the titular creature popular stateside, Hercules did the same for its title character and practically invented an entire sub genre (the Italian sword and sandal picture, or peplum).

The film itself is a colorful, entertaining adventure with decent action scenes, a thin plot and no shortage of amusing moments (there is a very good reason MST3K did so many of these films during the Comedy Central years). Reeves makes for a good Hercules (even with the dubbed English accent) and Sylvia Koscina is quite easy on the eyes as his love interest. Overall, it's an enjoyable romp, as were most of the Hercules films Italy put out.

The success of this film and its sequel made Levine and Warner Brothers (the main distributor) a tidy profit which would, in turn, lead to more success for Embassy.

Coming soon: A Hint of Class, A Hint of Trash

About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.