Grand National Films, Inc.
IndustryFilm studio
SuccessorAstor Pictures
HeadquartersLos Angeles, California, United States
Key people
Edward L. Alperson

Grand National Films, Inc (or Grand National Pictures, Grand National Productions and Grand National Film Distributing Co.) was an American independent motion picture production-distribution company in operation from 1936 to 1939.[1] The company had no relation to the British Grand National Pictures (although the British firm used the American company's logo).

History and releases

Edward L. Alperson, a film exchange manager, founded Grand National in 1936 on the basis of First Division Pictures, of which he was on the board of directors. What United Artists was to major independent producers, Harry F. Thomas's First Division was to low-budget producers: a convenient releasing outlet for individual pictures, and successful within its own market. Its feature-length releases, usually produced by Mayfair Pictures, Willis Kent, or Bernard B. Ray, were split between westerns, mysteries, "problem" melodramas, and action fare. First Division was also the original distributor of The March of Time, short-subject documentaries that were well received during their first year of production (1935); RKO took over the series after four installments.

In April 1936, Alperson took over First Division's film exchanges, existing product line, and contracts,[2]. As First Division had become synonymous with low-budget productions, Alperson renamed the company Grand National Film Distributing Company, aiming to release content similar to the majors' "program pictures," just like fellow upstart Republic Pictures. By the summer, he had begun development of a California-based production entity, Grand National Productions, at the Educational Pictures studios, to create future product. By October, he had his first original films ready for release. Alperson dreamed up the studio's logo, a futuristic clock tower, with an idea to advertise "it's time to see a Grand National release."[3]

Producer Edward Finney, releasing through Grand National, gave the new company its first star attraction: singing cowboy Tex Ritter. The studio went on to produce other Westerns that featured singing cowboy Tex Fletcher and then singing cowgirl Dorothy Page. Apart from westerns, its most consistent talent may have been comedy director Charles Lamont. Producer George Hirliman made a few features in a two-color process that he labeled "Hirlicolor", similar to Cinecolor. Hirliman also produced a four-film series starring his wife Eleanor Hunt and Conrad Nagel as federal agents Reynolds and O'Connor. Silent-era star Rod LaRocque appeared on a number of mystery films as the popular fiction and radio character The Shadow.

The studio had an overseas distribution agreement with Associated British Pictures Corporation[4] and bought the rights to one British Boris Karloff film.

In 1937, Grand National succeeded in signing James Cagney, after he had a falling out with his home studio, Warner Bros. After making Great Guy for Grand National, Cagney was offered a gangster story, Angels with Dirty Faces, which Grand National had acquired. Cagney was worried about being typecast as a gangster, as he had been at Warner Bros., and opted instead for a musical satire on Hollywood called Something to Sing About, directed by Victor Schertzinger. The Cagney name was a huge coup for Grand National, and the company invested much more money than usual in its Cagney films, expecting a boxoffice bonanza. Despite Cagney's presence, however, neither picture turned a profit. The Cagney films were simply too expensive for the intended market: Grand National's customer base consisted of small, neighborhood movie theaters accustomed to paying cheap rentals for low-budget films. Thus, Grand National was unable to recoup its investment, a key factor in the company's imminent collapse.[3] The Angels with Dirty Faces property went to Warner Bros., as did Cagney himself.

In 1938, film executive Earle W. Hammons, president of Educational, joined forces with Grand National in an effort to expand both companies.[5] The attempt was unsuccessful, however, and Grand National entered into liquidation in 1939. Its completed but unreleased films were sold to Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures, and RKO Radio Pictures. The Grand National film library was split among reissue distributors, chiefly Screencraft Pictures and Astor Pictures. The Grand National physical plant was acquired by Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC).

Partial filmography

Main article: List of Grand National Pictures films

Grand National released a total of 100 films in its three-year run. Many of its titles have lapsed into the public domain and are legally accessible online.


  1. ^ Fernett, Gene Hollywood's Poverty row 1930-1950 Coral Reef Publications 1973
  2. ^ "First Division".
  3. ^ a b p.41 Fernett, Gene L. Hollywood's Poverty Row 1930-1950 1973 Coral Reef Publications
  4. ^ "Edward L. Alperson Obituary" Variety 9 July 1969
  5. ^ Motion Picture Herald, "Ample Supply of Financing in Sight: Hammons," Mar. 25, 1939, p. 34.