Astor Pictures was a motion picture distribution service in operation from 1933 to 1963, founded by Robert M. Savini (29 August 1886 – 29 April 1956). The company specialised in re-releases of films and independently produced films, and produced some of their own product in the 1950s.
|Fate||Went out of business|
|Predecessor||Grand National Films Inc. |
|Headquarters||New York City|
|Robert M. Savini (1886–1956)|
During its first decade, Astor, located at 130 West 46th Street in New York City, primarily invested in other companies' films to acquire capital, and became parent company to Savini's first business, Atlantic Pictures, a film distribution exchange system located throughout the Southern United States. In 1939, Savini acquired the rights to other companies' motion pictures for profitable national re-release and put these out under the Astor name and logo. Among the first titles were revised sound versions of "Wings" and "Tumbleweeds" which Astor prepared, along with the complete library of Educational Pictures short subjects, Poverty Row westerns of the 1930s, and a number of Grand National Pictures' non-western product.
Subsequently, Astor began limited production of a variety of b-films, including a few race films, and co-financing other films produced by other hands, including some British B-mysteries, along with continued select reissues. The company focussed on distribution to rural, small-town and neighborhood theatres, not setting its sights too high, and thereby remained solvent throughout the War years. A Billboard magazine article of 8 Jun 1946 stated Astor had 26 branch offices in the United States. In the 1950s, Astor created a subsidiary, Atlantic Television Corporation, for syndication of much of its earlier product, while continuing to engage in making new pictures, such as Cat-Women of the Moon, and picking up others for distribution, such as Robot Monster.
In the late 1950s, however, Astor's fortunes began to fail, along with those of other companies such as Republic Pictures and RKO Radio Pictures. Astor attempted to survive by distributing art films, such as La Dolce Vita and Peeping Tom but could not overcome the financial realities of the American motion picture industry at that time, nor its reputation for only marketing lesser fare. By 1963, Astor was out of business.
Types of Astor releases
- Acquired the non-Western film library of the defunct Grand National Pictures films after their liquidation for cinema re-release.
- Acquired the re-release rights of many films originally released by United Artists and RKO Radio Pictures.
- Acquired the re-release rights of Educational Pictures short subjects such as Shirley Temple's Baby Burlesks.
- In addition to showing many of Bing Crosby's short subjects made for Educational Pictures, put four of them together and released it as a feature called The Road to Hollywood to compete with Paramount Pictures's Road to series. Astor also packaged three 1930s RKO Pictures Betty Grable shorts as Hollywood Bound (1947).
- Re-released William S. Hart's Tumbleweeds (1925) in 1939 with music and sound effects and Hart speaking a famous prologue, in his only sound appearance on film - "Oh, the thrill of it all!"
- Distributed many race films but only produced one, Louis Jordan's Beware! (1946).
- Obtained the rights to many of Sam Katzman's Monogram East Side Kids pictures for re-release at the same time Monogram Pictures was releasing Bowery Boys films
- Distributed Sunset Carson's post Republic Pictures Westerns.
- Distributed many of the early Hammer Films in the US by an arrangement with Hammer's parent company Exclusive Films.
- Released many low-budget science fiction films, such as Cat-Women of the Moon and its remake, Missile to the Moon, in the 1950s.
- Started a subsidiary, Atlantic Television, to distribute films to television in the late 1940s.
- Operated a subsidiary, Comedy House, which released cut-down versions of Bing Crosby and other Educational Pictures comedy shorts for 16mm home movie use.
Art House releases
After Savini's death, Astor and Atlantic Television were acquired by George F. Foley, Jr. and Franklin Bruder, who released European films in the USA. It is probably here the Astor name is best remembered, for in three years they brought several cinematic classics to theaters in the early 1960s. Astor's biggest success was undoubtedly Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960), which was a huge box-office hit for the company, and allowed it to continue to release foreign films such as Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960), François Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player (1960), Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Orson Welles' The Trial (1962). However, despite its success with such important films, Astor went bankrupt in 1963.
- Balio, Tino Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise 1930–1939 University of California Press 1996
- McGilligan, Patrick Oscar Micheaux The Great and Only: The Life of America's First Black Filmmaker Harper 2007
- "The Astounding B Monster | Cult". Bmonster.com. Retrieved 2016-10-30.
- Heffenan, Kevin Ghouls, Gimmicks and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business 1953–1968 Duke University Press 2004