Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tonight's TCM viewing

I don't think I've seen Rasputin and the Empress before. (Actually, it aired late one evening when TCM had the month of movies on the Soviet Union, and I couldn't stay up for it.) The subject matter of the movie is obvious, and the film is famous for being the only one to feature all three of the Barrymores. John Barrymore died in 1942, and Ethel wouldn't make another movie until 1944.

Not having seen it, I can't really recommend it. Instead, the thing that I find interesting is that it's one of those prestige films from MGM that doesn't show up very often on TCM. Now, TCM doesn't really have a library of movies it can play any longer. Ted Turner obtained what's often referred to as the "Turner library" back when he bought MGM for the purposes of obtaining the broadcast rights to all those movies. That library ended up with the MGM films, the RKO movies, and the Warner Bros. movies that were made before the TV days. (I don't quite get the details, but as I understand it Warner Bros. was like Paramount in that when TV came along, the broadcast rights to pre-TV movies were treated differently from the rights to more recent movies, although WB didn't actually sell off all the rights to another studio the way Paramount did with Universal.) That library was the bulk of what TCM showed back when it first came on the air in 1994, and remains so to this day, although TCM no longer owns the library, it having been subsumed with Time Warner or whatever the corporate parent is now called after 84378174385 corporate restructurings and mergers.

The upshot is that just because something was made at MGM doesn't mean TCM can automatically air it. The most notable example would be all the animated shorts from MGM (Tom and Jerry and the earlier stuff) and Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies shorts from Warner Bros. Many years back, TCM used to run Cartoon Alley which showed these shorts, but some corporate bigwig apparently decided more money could be made off the animated shorts by packaging them in other ways, and now they're not on TCM. (Not that the Cartoon Network or its siblings, run many of them any longer.) But there are also feature films that don't seem to show up on TCM very often even though you'd think TCM would have fairly easy access to them. With the B movies, it's easy enough to understand why. But there are more prominent movies such as Rasputin and the Empress or the recently aired All this and Heaven Too which seem to show up rather less than other movies with Lionel Barrymore or Bette Davis. I wish I knew the reason.

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