AVCO Embassy Pictures
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Joseph E. Levine Presents
As with many studios and distribution companies from the grindhouse era, AVCO Embassy Pictures shares several transitions throughout its history. The company was originally founded in the early 1940s by Joseph E. Levine (1905-1987) as Embassy Pictures Corporation*. No films of note are credited to Embassy through the 1940s. In his book, Lost Illusions: History of the American Cinema, Vol. 9, David Cook states that Embassy, "began life in 1956, when Joseph E. Levine's Embassy Pictures released a recut, 'Americanized' version of a Japanese monster film originally called Gohira (Toho 1954). Retitled Godzilla, the film became an enormous hit, not least owing to Levine's relentlessly energetic exploitation." Levine quickly turned to the Italian made peplum (sword-and-sandal) film The Loves of Hercules (1958) (Dir. Pietro Francisci). Levine re-released an english-dubbed version of the film as Hercules Unchained (1959) with a push from Warner Brothers for 600 theaters in the US. According to Cook, the film's success launched the career Steve Reeves (a US body builder turned actor) and brought international flare a long line of sword-and-sandal films throughout the 1960s. With these two films, Levine's formula was set: buy foreign films on the cheap and release them with the backing of massive ad campaigns including national TV spots.
Levine continued to work with the Italian film industry throughout the 1960s offering financing and distribution for a wide range of films including romantic comedies, spy spoofs, and more exploitative fare. From a production aspect, Embassy wasn't nearly as active. One of Levine's biggest early successes came with The Carpetbaggers (1964) a potboiler loosely based on the life of Howard Hughes. With Embassy's distribution channels active, the company would release a slew of sword-and-sandal epics throughout the 1960s. The company re-released Ingmar Bergman's The Devil's Wanton (1949) and Night is My Future (1948) in 1962 and 1963 respectively. Some of Embassy's foreign releases are considered avant garde today including Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963) as well as Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt (1963). Levine even managed to take part in the rise of the Mondo film after Jacopetti's and Prosperi's wildly successful Mondo Cane (1962); Embassy distributed the directorial team's second installment, Women of the World, in 1963. Embassy was not without schlock. In 1966, it would pick up two drive-in classics--Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter and Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. Despite these bad westerns, the company would also score big with a number of spaghetti westerns including Duccio Tessari's The Ballad of Death Valley (1965) and Sergio Corbucci's Hellbenders (1967). On the Horror/Sci Fi front, Embassy picked up two films from Amicus--The Terrornauts and They Came from Beyond Space--both released in 1967.
Levine's formula garnered him ample success throughout the decade. In 1964, he produced back-to-back winners with The Carpetbaggers and Zulu. By 1966, he was credited with producing possibly the worst film ever. The Oscar (1966) featured the film debut of singer Tony Bennett and was torn apart by critics. By the following year, Levine was back on top with possibly the high point of his entire filmography (at least financially). The Graduate (1967) was produced for an estimated $3 million and grossed $50 million on its first release. It was this same year that Embassy Pictures was merged with AVCO, leaving Levine at the helm.
- The Embassy Pictures Corporation logo at top right was not used prior to 1961. All films were preceded by "A Joseph E. Levine Presentation."