Castle Films: Watching Hollywood Movies at Home Since 1937

Bad guys fear Tom Mix. Image: IMDb

This is Western movie star Tom Mix.

He made about 300 films during his movie career, from 1909 to 1935, and he often performed his own stunts (complete with injuries). Tom Mix is often credited with establishing the Western Movie Hero persona.

He was the Real Deal, by all accounts. He toured with wild west shows, he owned a ranch, and he owned a circus(!).

Also: He made a lot of moola. They say during his career he earned over $6M US (approx. $110M US today), but he spent it, too, thanks to a succession of marriages and costs associated with the aforementioned circus.

According to IMDb, he never regarded himself as a Great Actor. “Once when a director asked him to change expressions, he responded, ‘Which one do you want? One? two? or three?’.”¹

Yet, he was a true entertainer. “I try to make the pictures so that when a boy pays, say, 20 cents to see it, he will get 20 cents worth, not 10,” he said. “If I drop, you see, it would be like putting my hand in his pocket and stealing a dime.”²

Mix worked for three different studios, starting with the Selig Polyscope Company in 1909, but he moved to Fox Film Corporation in 1919 when Selig ran into money troubles. His last major studio was Universal, which he joined in 1932.

Image: IMDb

One of the films Mix made during his Universal years was the B Western, Terror Trail (1933). Mix plays a rancher pitted against a gang of horse thieves. Alas! Unbeknownst to him, the secret leaders of the gang are a prominent military officer and a local sheriff.

Mix was 53 years old when this film was released, but he’s every inch the Movie Star with his slicked-down hair and shiny cowboy gear, ordering Bad Guys around and showing everyone Who’s Boss. He jumps on horses, shoots a mean pistol, and lassos rustlers by the pair.

There’s no doubt Who’s In Charge around here.

Listen up!

We’re excited about Terror Trail because a few weeks ago, our favourite husband came home with this:

This is a 16mm film, courtesy of Castle Films, a company that – in the 1930s – began distributing Hollywood movies for at-home viewing.

In his book, Castle Films: A Hobbyist’s Guide, author and film historian Scott MacGillivray says Castle carried over 300 titles at any given time; he estimates the total collection was over 1,000 titles. (You can see samples here.)

The catalogue included films by Abbott & Costello, the Marx Brothers, and, of course, our pal Tom Mix. Other types of films were available, too, such as travelogues and highlights of sporting events.

“For 40 years, Castle Films were everywhere,” writes MacGillivray. “Every camera store offered them, and every mail-order house having anything to do with movies carried them.”³

Castle Films was the brainchild of Eugene Castle, who began working as a cameraman for Pathé News in 1917. He felt movies had an audience outside of theatres, and in the 1920s he began distributing educational films to schools and community groups.

In 1937, Castle started a direct mail business specializing in movies to watch at home. The early films were Very Condensed versions of theatrical releases; even so, by December of that year, Castle had a dozen titles in circulation.

After WWII, Universal (d.b.a. United World) bought into Castle Films and began releasing old Universal titles that would never again see the inside of a theatre. One of these titles was Terror Trail.

In 1977, Castle Films was re-tooled as Universal 8, but it folded in 1984 when home videos started Taking Over the market.

As for our pal Tom Mix, he died in a car accident in 1940. Although his wealth and Hollywood career were pretty well spent, we can still enjoy the movies that remain – and tip our hat to one of the first Big Western Stars.

Sources

¹IMDb. (Retrieved July 5, 2019.) Tom Mix: Biography.
²Ibid
³MacGillivray, Scott. (2004) Castle Films: A Hobbyist’s Guide. Lincoln, NE, USA: iUniverse Inc., p. xviii.

Terror Trail: starring Rom Mix, Naomi Judge, Arthur Rankin. Directed by Armand Schaefer. Written by Jack Cunningham. Universal Pictures, 1933, B&W, 58 mins.

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28 comments

  1. Somewhere among boxes of old accumulated ‘stuff’ are one or two Castle Films handed down to me from my parents many years ago. I remember watching them as a kid, but am not able to do so now due to not owning a working movie projector. I don’t like the thought of throwing them in the trash, but don’t know who would want them. Maybe I’ll just donate them to Goodwill and hope they find a ‘good home.’

    Liked by 2 people

      • It took some searching, but I found THREE 16 MM Castle films:

        No. 230, BANFF-LAKE LOUISE
        No. 834, W.C. Fields in CIRCUS SLICKER
        No. 835, Abbott & Costello in CHAMPS OF THE CHASE

        All three are in their original “HEADLINE EDITION” containers. 2.95 is written in pencil on No. 834, which I assume is the price ($2.95) my parents paid for it back in the late 1930s/early 1940s. They’re probably worth quite a bit more than that today, so I may reconsider donating them to Goodwill after I see what they’re selling for on e-Bay (thanks for the e-Bay ‘tip,’ by the way).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh wow! All three sound marvelous! I think your parents had good taste. It also sounds like Castle had a numbering system similar to Criterion’s spine numbers.

        It would be interesting to see what these might go for on eBay, if you decide to go that route.

        And, the Banff-Lake Louise film would be so interesting.

        Like

  2. I’m an off to the basement to whack the hubby and yell at him about not bringing me Tom Mix!

    Loved this article. So many movies, people who love them, and find ways to see them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That is so cool! I had no idea there was such a system out there for awhile. What a great husband to bring home such a treasure 🙂 (And it’s crazy to think of one person making over 300 films! And doing their own stunts the whole time!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, that Tom Mix must have been a real dynamo! When did he ever find time to sleep?

      I loved discovering Castle and their films. I hadn’t even heard of them until my husband found out about them. History – any area of history – has such interesting nooks & crannies to explore, no?

      Like

  4. I remember Castle Films well! I had a Super 8mm projector as a kid (and camera…I was a filmmaker!). I had condensed (like 12 minutes) Castle films of REVENGE OF THE CREATURE, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF-MAN, and DAWN PATROL. Good memories!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember reading some novel a long time ago where the main character kept referencing Tom Mix–I didn’t realize he was a real person! Wish I could remember what the book was. Was Tom Mix his real name?

    Liked by 2 people

      • I don’t know about a novel, but I remember a short story by Allen Dean Foster with Tom Mix going up against Satan himself. I think it appears in the collection “With Friends Like These…”
        I’m sort of embarrassed that I still haven’t gotten around to doing any Mix myself in the course of my project, but between Broncho Billy and William S. Hart, there’s a lot of early Westerns to cover.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yeah, you’ve covered a LOT of films, and I can only imagine how many early westerns there are. Thanks for the tip re: Allen Dean Foster. I’ve been checking out the nice reviews of “With Friends Like These” on Goodreads.

        Liked by 1 person

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