erik lundegaard

Sunday August 08, 2021

First National


The opening to a 1933 Edward G. Robinson movie. It's Warners but not Warners.

I've long wondered about the First National logos I've seen in pre-code Warner Bros. movies, but I didn't know the backstory until I read these passages from Alan K. Rode's bio on Michael Curtiz:

Warner Bros. assumed a majority interest in First National—one of the major Hollywood movie studios—complete with a sixty-two-acre site in Burbank that became the Warner production and corporate hub, along with a surplus of First National contracted talent and infrastructure. The acting talent absorbed by Warner Bros. included Richard Barthelmess, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Loretta Young. Inherited personnel working behind the camera were the director Mervyn LeRoy and cinematographers Lee Garmes, Ernest Haller, and Sol Polito.

In November 1929 Harry Warner bought out the remaining one-third of First National stock from a cash-strapped William Fox. The bold acquisition stunned the other Hollywood studio heads, particularly Adolph Zukor at Paramount, who had alternately wooed and fought with First National. One competitor admitted, “It would have made more sense if First National had bought Warner Brothers.”

If Warners was the new kid on the block, First National had been around the block. It was founded in 1917 and distributed Charlie Chaplin's “The Kid” among many others. Per this list, early on, it was more distributor than producer, but began regularly doing both in the latter half of the 1920s. After the buyout, Warners kept the First National name around for tax purposes and seemed to divvy up talent by studio name. Most early Cagneys are Warner Bros., for example, while most early Edward G. Robinsons are First National. As near as I can tell, the first Cagney First National flick was “G-Men” in 1935, his 21st picture.

The same link to First National pictures lists the last one in 1936 (“Earthworm Tractors,” starring Joe E. Brown), though its main Wiki page says Warners films and posters “bore the combined trademark and copyright credits in the opening and closing sequences” until 1958. Initially, I was like “Really?” This is opening logo to “Yankee Doodle Dandy”:

It's now the classic shield and Jack L. Warner rules. And no First National anywhere. But then a few title cards later, sure, we get this:


Not very prominent. Less important newspaper stories are often called “Below the fold” stories. This is below the Foy.

Posted at 12:30 PM on Sunday August 08, 2021 in category Movies  
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Twitter: @ErikLundegaard