As the company that put out Val Lewton’s psychological horror productions, Merian Cooper and Ernest Shoedsack’s giant ape pictures, and Disney’s greatest run of animated fantasies, RKO Radio Pictures certainly has a reputation for producing major genre pictures from the 1930s through the fifties. The studio’s genre output should be enough to inspire a book’s worth of quality history and criticism, but that’s not really what we get in Michael R. Pitts’s RKO Radio Pictures Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy Films, 1929-1956. The author includes a wealth of movies he admits are neither horror, science fiction, nor fantasy. For example, he tosses in a ghost-free western called The Black Ghost because Lon Chaney, Jr., is its star, and Chaney was in a lot of other movies that actually were horror pictures (I guess if RKO produced Of Mice and Men that would be in here too). Even worse, he fills the majority of his 382 pages with really, really thorough synopses of these films. I’m not sure for whom Pitts intended this stuff. Anyone who has already seen one of these pictures does not need to read its synopsis. Anyone who hasn’t wouldn’t want to for fear of having the whole plot spoiled. Each entry also includes complete cast and crew specs, a bit of history, some blurbs from vintage movie reviews, and a smidgen of Pitts’s own cursory critique, but anyone who writes about the Amos ‘n’ Andy movie Check and Double Check without dealing at all with its treatment of race and use of blackface clearly isn’t thinking very deeply about film, culture, or history. Considering that he dismisses those who’ve kept the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” TV show off the air since the sixties as the “political correctness crowd,” he’s probably a guy who’s better off keeping his thoughts to himself anyway.
Get RKO Radio Pictures Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy Films, 1929-1956on Amazon.com here: