HOLLYWOOD -- Before it quit making movies in the late 1950s, Republic Pictures concentrated on Westerns, starring such Western heroes as John Wayne, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Gabby Hayes.
With the growth of television, though, the studio fell on hard times. By 1959, when founder Herbert J. Yates relinquished control of the studio, the once-mighty Republic studio was essentially dead. For years, the company functioned as a distributor of the Republic film library, consisting of hundreds of films and its well-known serials, including "Captain America" and "Spy Smasher." In recent years, Republic has become an independent home video company and television production company, churning out such miniseries as "Son of the Morning Star" and "Separate but Equal."
Now, almost 35 years after the studio cranked out its last feature film, Republic is again making feature films. And the first out of the gate is a Western, albeit a contemporary, politically correct one.
Budgeted at roughly $6.5 million, "Rope of Sand," which will be released this spring, stars Scott Glenn as a Los Angeles homicide detective who joins with Navajo tribal police in the pursuit of a killer. Guiding the detective through the wilderness of southwestern Arizona are three Navajo trackers, who introduce him to the ways of the modern Navajo.
How come Republic is back in the saddle? "We're back in feature film production because we've developed as a production company," says Republic Chairman Russell Goldsmith. "Once we got on our feet in the other areas, there wasn't any reason why we couldn't start making features again."
Goldsmith insists that Republic does not just want to make Westerns, but he feels it was fitting that the company's first project in more than three decades is one. "We're a company that's close to the Western and we see it as an arena that, when done right, has a real appeal to the audience," he says. But, he adds, "the most important reason is that we thought it would make a good film."
While the film's director-screenwriter Joe Cardone agrees, he thinks there is always interest in good Westerns, especially now, something he chalks up to the country's current political climate. "When things gets bad economically and politically, everybody has a tendency to look back toward something good," he says. "In this country, which is founded on the Western motif, people like to look back at Westerns."