This is perhaps the most off-topic post I’ve written for Cartoon Brew, but I hope you’ll indulge me. It’s regarding a neglected aspect of the Walt Disney Company that I’ve been curious about for years and haven’t read about anywhere else. It’s regarding the six live action feature films (at least, that’s how many my research has uncovered so far) released by Buena Vista in the late 50s – directed by no less than Sidney Lumet, Frank Borzage and Michael Curtiz, starring the likes of Henry Fonda, Alan Ladd and Lee Marvin.
Walt Disney took many gambles in the 1950s: with Disneyland, with True-Life adventures, with television, with CinemaScope… to name but a few. Perhaps his biggest, outside of Disneyland, was to control his own destiny in Hollywood by creating the Buena Vista Distibution Co.
It began in 1953. The hand-writing was on the wall, Disney was growing unhappy with his 18 year arrangement with distributor RKO. In protest, Buena Vista was created to market a single film (The Living Desert). Once established, plans were quickly made to expand Disney’s annual release slate with live action features and shorts, documentaries, comedies, dramas, westerns and fantasies – and to get out of the RKO deal as quickly as possible. After several additional British costume dramas (The Sword and The Rose, Rob Roy The Highland Rogue), 1955’s Music Land, a pastiche of segments culled from Make Mine Music and Melody Time, fulfilled Disney’s obligation to RKO — and was the company’s final RKO release.