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Encyclopedia > B movies (Hollywood Golden Age)

This article is part of
the B movie
series.
B movies (Hollywood Golden Age)
B movies (Transition in the 1950s)
B movies (The exploitation boom)
B movies (1980s to the present)
Z movie

This is a history of the early decades of the B movie, from its roots in the silent era through Hollywood's Golden Age of the 1930s and 1940s. As the Hollywood studios made the transition to sound film in the late 1920s, many independent exhibitors began adopting a new programming format: the double feature. The popularity of the twin bill required the production of relatively short, inexpensive movies to occupy the bottom half of the program. The double feature was the predominant presentation model at American theaters throughout the Golden Age, and B movies comprised the majority of Hollywood production during the period. Image File history File links COS_02. ... The King of the Bs, Roger Corman, produced and directed The Raven (1963) for American International Pictures. ... This is a history of B movies in the 1960s and 1970s. ... This is a history of B movies from the 1980s to the present. ... Z-movie (or Grade-Z movie) is a term applied to films with an extremely low budget and a miserable quality. ... The King of the Bs, Roger Corman, produced and directed The Raven (1963) for American International Pictures. ... A silent film is a film which has no accompanying soundtrack. ... 1902 poster advertising Gaumonts sound films, depicting an optimistically vast auditorium A sound film is a motion picture with synchronized sound, or sound technologically coupled to image, as opposed to a silent film. ...

Contents

Roots of the B movie: 1910s–1920s

Columbia's silent That Certain Thing (1928), made for less than $20,000, ran about 69 minutes. The shine on its star, Viola Dana, had faded since her glory days at Metro-Goldwyn. The film's director was contracted for $1,000; its success earned him a $1,500 bonus. Soon, Frank Capra's association with Columbia would help vault the studio toward Hollywood's major leagues.
Columbia's silent That Certain Thing (1928), made for less than $20,000, ran about 69 minutes. The shine on its star, Viola Dana, had faded since her glory days at Metro-Goldwyn. The film's director was contracted for $1,000; its success earned him a $1,500 bonus. Soon, Frank Capra's association with Columbia would help vault the studio toward Hollywood's major leagues.[1]

It is not clear that the term B movie (or B film or B picture) was in general use before the 1930s; in terms of studio production, however, a similar concept was already well established. In 1916, Universal became the first Hollywood studio to establish different feature brands based on production cost: the small Jewel line of "prestige" productions, midrange Bluebird releases, and the low-budget Red Feather line of five-reelers—a measure of film length indicating a running time between fifty minutes and an hour. The following year, the Butterfly line, a grade between Red Feather and Bluebird, was introduced. During those two years, about half of Universal's output was in the Red Feather and Butterfly categories.[2] According to historian Thomas Schatz, "These low-grade westerns, melodramas, and action pictures...underwent a disciplined production and marketing process," in contrast to the often undisciplined Jewels.[3] While the down-market branding was soon eliminated, Universal continued to focus on low and modestly budgeted productions. In 1919, wealthy Paramount Pictures created its own distinct low-budget brand: the company's Realart films were made attractive to exhibitors with lower rental fees than movies from the studio's primary production line.[4] Indicating the breadth of the budgetary range at a single studio, in 1921, when the average cost of a Hollywood feature was around $60,000,[5] Universal spent approximately $34,000 on The Way Back, a five-reeler, and over $1 million on Foolish Wives, a top-of-the-line Super Jewel.[6] The production of inexpensive films like The Way Back allowed the studios to derive maximum value from facilities and contracted staff in between a studio's more important productions, while also breaking in new personnel.[7] Viola Dana, sometimes credited as Viola Flugrath, (born June 26, 1897 in Brooklyn, New York; died July 3, 1987 in Woodland Hills, California) was an American film actress who was successful during the era of silent movies. ... For alternate meanings of MGM, see MGM (disambiguation). ... This article is about the film director. ... This article is about the major American media conglomerate. ... Paramount Pictures Corporation is an American motion picture production and distribution company, based in Hollywood, California. ...


By 1927–28, at the end of the silent era, the production cost of an average feature from Hollywood's leading studios had soared, ranging from $190,000 at Fox to $275,000 at MGM.[8] These averages, again, reflected "specials" and "superspecials" that might cost as much as $1 million and films made quickly for around $50,000.[9] Some studios, like large Paramount and growing Warner Bros., depended on block booking and blind bidding practices, under which "independent ('unaffiliated') theater owners were forced to take large numbers of the studio's pictures sight unseen. Those studios could then parcel out second-rate product along with A-class features and star vehicles, which made both production and distribution operations more economical."[10] Studios in the minor leagues of the industry, such as Columbia Pictures and Film Booking Offices of America (FBO), focused on low-budget productions; most of their movies, with relatively short running times, targeted theaters that had to economize on rental and operating costs—particularly those in small towns and so-called neighborhood venues, or "nabes," in big cities. Even smaller outfits—the sort typical of Hollywood's so-called Poverty Row—made films whose production costs might run as low as $3,000, seeking a profit through whatever bookings they could pick up in the gaps left by the larger concerns.[11] A silent film is a film which has no accompanying soundtrack. ... 20th Century Fox logo Fox Plaza, the company headquarters. ... MGM logo Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or MGM, is a large media company, involved primarily in the production and distribution of cinema and television programs. ... Warner Bros. ... Block booking is a system of selling multiple films to a theater as a unit. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... Poster for The Cowboy Cop (1926), starring Tom Tyler, one of the best known of FBOs many Western stars. ... Poverty Row is a slang term used in Hollywood from the late silent period through the mid-fifties to refer to a variety of mostly short-lived small studios, many clustered in the area of Los Angeles, USA known as Gower Gulch, near the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower...


With the widespread arrival of sound film in American theaters in 1929, many independent exhibitors began dropping the then-dominant presentation model, which involved live acts and a broad variety of shorts before a single featured film.[12] A new programming scheme developed that would soon become standard practice: a newsreel, a short and/or a serial, and a cartoon, followed by a double feature. The second feature, which actually screened before the main event, cost the exhibitor less per minute than the equivalent running time in shorts. The majors' comprehensive booking policy, which would become known as the run-zone-clearance system, inadvertently pushed independent theaters toward adopting the double-feature format. As described by historian Thomas Schatz, the system "sent a picture, after playing in the lucrative first-run arena, through the 16,000 'subsequent-run' movie houses; 'clearance' refers to the amount of time between runs, and 'zone' refers to the specific areas in which a film played. Typically, a top feature would play in its second run in smaller downtown theaters [many major-affiliated] and then move steadily outward from the urban centers to the suburbs, then to smaller cities and towns, and finally to rural communities, playing in ever smaller (and less profitable) venues and taking upwards of six months to complete its run."[13] The "clearance" policy prevented independent exhibitors' timely access to top-quality films as a matter of course; the second feature allowed them to promote quantity instead.[14] The bottom-billed movie also gave the program "balance"—the practice of pairing different sorts of features suggested to potential customers that they could count on something of interest no matter what specifically was on the bill. As the president of one Poverty Row company would later put it, "Not everybody likes to eat cake. Some people like bread, and even a certain number of people like stale bread rather than fresh bread."[15] The low-budget picture of the 1920s naturally transformed into the second feature, the B movie, of the 1930s and 1940s—the most reliable bread of Hollywood's Golden Age. 1902 poster advertising Gaumonts sound films, depicting an optimistically vast auditorium A sound film is a motion picture with synchronized sound, or sound technologically coupled to image, as opposed to a silent film. ... Early American actor William Garwood starred in numerous short films, many of which were only 20 minutes in length Short subject is a format description originally coined in the North American film industry in the early period of cinema. ... A newsreel is a documentary film that is regularly released in a public presentation place containing filmed news stories. ... DVD front cover for The Adventures of Captain Marvel, one of the most celebrated serials for both Republic Pictures and of the sound era in general. ... An animated cartoon is a short, hand-drawn (or made with computers to look similar to something hand-drawn) film for the cinema, television or computer screen, featuring some kind of story or plot (even if it is a very short one). ...


Rise of the double feature: 1930s

The major studios, at first resistant to the B feature, soon adapted. All ultimately established "B units" to provide films for the expanding second-feature market. Block booking increasingly became standard practice: in order to get access to a studio's attractive A pictures, many theaters were obliged to rent the company's entire output for a season. With the B films rented at a flat fee (rather than the box office percentage basis of A films), rates could be set that essentially guaranteed the profitability of every B movie. Blind bidding, which grew in parallel with block booking, meant that the majors didn't have to worry over much about the quality of their B's—even when booking in less than seasonal blocks, exhibitors had to buy most pictures sight unseen. The five largest studios—MGM, Paramount, Fox, Warner Bros., and RKO (descendant of FBO)—had the additional advantage of being part of companies that also owned sizable theater chains, further securing the bottom line. The studio system was a means of film production and distribution dominant in Hollywood from the early 1920s through the early 1950s. ... MGM logo Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or MGM, is a large media company, involved primarily in the production and distribution of cinema and television programs. ... Paramount Pictures Corporation is an American motion picture production and distribution company, based in Hollywood, California. ... 20th Century Fox logo Fox Plaza, the company headquarters. ... Warner Bros. ... RKO could stand for: RKO Pictures The R.K.O. - finishing manoever (and initials) of WWE professional wrestler Randy Orton. ...

It was from small Mascot Pictures, but Ladies Crave Excitement (1935) still packed "Bursting Action, Deep Drama...And Up To Date Romance" into its 73 minutes. Supervising editor Joseph H. Lewis would soon become a prolific director of B Westerns. His later film noirs, including the independently produced Gun Crazy (1949), would become renowned.
It was from small Mascot Pictures, but Ladies Crave Excitement (1935) still packed "Bursting Action, Deep Drama...And Up To Date Romance" into its 73 minutes. Supervising editor Joseph H. Lewis would soon become a prolific director of B Westerns. His later film noirs, including the independently produced Gun Crazy (1949), would become renowned.

Poverty Row studios, from modest outfits like Mascot Pictures and Sono Art–World Wide on down to shoestring operations, made exclusively B movies, serials, and other shorts; they also distributed totally independent productions and imported films. These studios were in no position to directly block book; instead, they mostly sold regional distribution exclusivity to "states rights" distributors, who would in turn peddle blocks of films to exhibitors, typically six or more movies featuring the same star (a relative status on Poverty Row).[16] Two studios in the middle—the "major-minors" Universal and Columbia, moving up in rank—had production lines roughly similar to the top Poverty Row concerns, if somewhat better endowed in general, and with a few up-market productions each year as well. They had few or no theaters, but they did have major-league-level distribution exchanges.[17] Film editing is the connecting of one or more shots to form a sequence, and the subsequent connecting of sequences to form an entire movie. ... Joseph H. Lewis (April 6, 1907–August 30, 2000), a B-movie director with a sense of style, always strove for excellence, no matter how cheap the film. ... Gun Crazy (originally released as Deadly is the Female) is a 1949 film noir film about a couple (Laurie and Bart) who go on a cross-country robbery-shooting spree, that is considered the forerunner to the film Bonnie and Clyde. ... This article is about the major American media conglomerate. ...


In the model that would be standard during the Golden Age, the industry's top product, its A films, would premiere at a select number of first-run houses in major cities, virtually all of them owned by the five largest studios, the so-called Big Five. Across North America, there were approximately 450 first-run houses, divided among the majors; a movie that headlined its first week on 100 screens was having a grand opening. Double features, though sometimes employed, were never the rule at these prestigious venues. As described by historian Edward Jay Epstein, "During these first runs, films got their reviews, garnered publicity, and generated the word of mouth that served as the principal form of advertising."[18] Then it was off to the nabes and the hinterland, the subsequent-run market where the double feature prevailed. At the larger local venues controlled by the majors, movies might turn over on a weekly basis. At the thousands of small theaters that belonged to independent chains or were individually owned, programs often changed two or three time a week, sometimes even faster. To keep up with the constant demand for new B product, the low end of Poverty Row turned out a stream of micro-budget movies rarely much more than sixty minutes long; these were known as "quickies" for their tight production schedules—a week's shooting was about average, just four days was not unheard of.[19] As historian Brain Taves describes, "Many of the poorest theaters, such as the 'grind houses' in the larger cities, screened a continuous program emphasizing action with no specific schedule, sometimes offering six quickies for a nickel in all-night show that changed daily."[20] Many small theaters never saw a big-studio A film, getting their movies from the states rights concerns that handled almost exclusively Poverty Row product. Millions of Americans went to their local theaters as a matter of course: for an A picture, along with the trailers, or screen previews, that had presaged its arrival, "[t]he new film's title on the marquee and the listings for it in the local newspaper constituted all the advertising most movies got."[21] Aside from at the theater itself, B films might not be advertised at all. Movie trailers are film advertisements for films that will be exhibited in the future at a cinema, on whose screen they are shown; they are commonly known as previews of coming attractions. ...


The introduction of sound had driven costs higher. In 1930, the beginning of the Golden Age's first full decade, the average U.S. feature film cost $375,000 to produce.[22] A broad range of Hollywood motion pictures occupied the B-movie category: The leading studios made not only clear-cut A and B films, but also movies classifiable as "programmers" (also "in-betweeners" or "intermediates"). These were films that "straddle[d] the A-B boundary," in Taves's description. During the era of the double feature, "[d]epending on the prestige of the theater and the other material on the double bill, a programmer could show up at the top or bottom of the marquee."[23] On Poverty Row, many B's were made on budgets that would have barely covered petty cash on a major's A film, with costs at the bottom of the industry running as low as $5,000.[24] By the middle of the 1930s, the double feature was the dominant exhibition model across the country, and the majors responded. In 1935, B-movie production at Warner Bros. was raised from 12 to 50 percent of the studio's total output. The unit was headed by Bryan Foy, known as the "Keeper of the B's."[25] At Fox, which also shifted half of its production line into B territory, Sol Wurtzel was similarly in charge of more than twenty movies a year during the late 1930s. Loew's, the parent company of MGM, announced in 1935 that it would run double features at all of its subsequent-run theaters. A low-cost production unit was established at the studio under Lucien Hubbard, "although the term B movie was strictly taboo at Metro."[26] Columbia, which primarily served the B-movie market, expanded annual production from thirty pictures to more than forty.[27]


A number of the top Poverty Row firms were consolidating: Sono Art joined with another company to create Monogram Pictures early in the decade. In 1935, Monogram, Mascot, and several smaller studios merged to form Republic Pictures. After little more than a year, the heads of Monogram pulled out and revived their company. Into the 1950s, Republic and Monogram released films that tended to be roughly on par with the low end of the majors' output. Less sturdy Poverty Row concerns—with a penchant for grand sobriquets like Conquest, Empire, Imperial, and Peerless—continued to churn out dirt-cheap quickies.[28] As the majors increased their B-level production and Republic and Monogram began to dominate Poverty Row, many of these smaller outfits folded by 1937.[29] Joel Finler has analyzed the average length of feature film releases from the various Hollywood studios in 1938, which indicates the degree to which each emphasized the production of B films (United Artists directly produced no features, focusing instead on the distribution of prestigious films made by independent outfits):[30] This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ... Republic Pictures Corporation (aka Republic Entertainment) is an independent film, television, and video distribution company that was originally a movie production-distribution corporation with studio facilities, best known for its specialization in quality B pictures, westerns and movie serials. ... The current United Artists logo (a variant was used during the 1980s). ...

The Big Five majors


MGM—87.9 minutes


Paramount—76.4 minutes


20th Century-Fox—75.3 minutes 20th Century Fox logo Fox Plaza, the company headquarters. ...


Warner Bros.—75.0 minutes


RKO—74.1 minutes

The Little Three majors


United Artists—87.6 minutes


Columbia—66.4 minutes


Universal—66.4 minutes

Poverty Row (top three of many)


Grand National[31]—63.6 minutes


Republic—63.1 minutes


Monogram—60.0 minutes

Taves estimates that half of the films produced by the eight majors in the 1930s were B movies. Calculating in the three hundred or so films made annually by the many Poverty Row firms, approximately 75 percent of Hollywood movies from the decade, more than four thousand pictures, are classifiable as B's.[32] Outside of the highly standardized realm of the series picture, studio executives saw developmental opportunities in their B lines of production. In 1937, RKO production chief Sam Briskin described his company's B films as "a testing ground for new names, and experiments in story and treatment."[33]


Cowboys and dogs

Stony Brooke (Wayne), Tucson Smith (Corrigan), and Lullaby Joslin (Terhune) didn't get much time in harness. Republic Pictures' Pals of the Saddle (1938) lasts just 55 minutes, perfectly average for a Three Mesquiteers adventure.
Stony Brooke (Wayne), Tucson Smith (Corrigan), and Lullaby Joslin (Terhune) didn't get much time in harness. Republic Pictures' Pals of the Saddle (1938) lasts just 55 minutes, perfectly average for a Three Mesquiteers adventure.

The Western was by far the predominant B genre in both the 1930s and, to a somewhat lesser degree, the 1940s; for most of the Golden Age, Westerns of every stripe accounted for 25 to 30 percent of all Hollywood feature production.[34] Film historian Jon Tuska has argued that "the 'B' product of the Thirties—the Universal films with [Tom] Mix, [Ken] Maynard, and [Buck] Jones, the Columbia features with Buck Jones and Tim McCoy, the RKO George O'Brien series, the Republic Westerns with John Wayne and the Three Mesquiteers...achieved a uniquely American perfection of the well-made story."[35] At the far end of the industry, Poverty Row's Ajax put out oaters starring Harry Carey, then in his fifties. The Weiss outfit had the Range Rider series, the American Rough Rider series, and the Morton of the Mounted "northwest action thrillers" that gave top billing to Dynamite, the Wonder Horse and Captain, the King of Dogs.[36] One notable low-budget oater of the era, produced totally outside of the studio system, made money off an outrageous concept: a Western with an all-midget cast, The Terror of Tiny Town (1938) was such a success in its independent bookings that Columbia picked it up for distribution.[37] John Wayne (May 26, 1907 – June 11, 1979), born Marion Robert Morrison[1] and later changed to Marion Michael Morrison, popularly known as the Duke, was an iconic, Academy Award winning, American film actor whose career began in silent movies in the 1920s. ... Republic Pictures Corporation (aka Republic Entertainment) is an independent film, television, and video distribution company that was originally a movie production-distribution corporation with studio facilities, best known for its specialization in quality B pictures, westerns and movie serials. ... Thomas Edwin Mix (born Thomas Hezikiah Mix) (January 6, 1880 – October 12, 1940) was an American film actor and the star of many early Western movies. ... Ken Maynard Ken Maynard (July 21, 1895 – March 23, 1973) was an American motion picture stuntman and actor. ... Buck Jones (born Charles Gebhart, December 4, 1889, Vincennes, Indiana; d. ... Tim McCoy (born April 10, 1891 - died January 29, 1978 ) was an American actor. ... George OBrien, right, with actor Johnny Weissmuller. ... John Wayne (May 26, 1907 – June 11, 1979), born Marion Robert Morrison[1] and later changed to Marion Michael Morrison, popularly known as the Duke, was an iconic, Academy Award winning, American film actor whose career began in silent movies in the 1920s. ... Harry Carey (January 16, 1878–September 21, 1947) was an American actor and one of silent films earliest superstars. ... The Terror of Tiny Town is a 1938 film starring Billy Curtis. ...


Series of various genres were particularly popular during the first decade of sound film. At just one major studio, Fox, B series included "Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto, Sherlock Holmes, Michael Shayne, the Cisco Kid, George O'Brien Westerns [before his move to RKO], the Gambini sports films, the Roving Reporters, the Camera Daredevils, the Big Town Girls, the hotel for women, the Jones Family, the Jane Withers children's films, Jeeves, [and] the Ritz Brothers."[38] These feature-length series films are not to be confused with the short, cliffhanger-structured serials that sometimes appeared on the same program. As with serials, however, many series were specifically intended to interest young people—some of the theaters that twin-billed part-time might run a "balanced" or entirely youth-oriented double feature as a matinee and then a single film for a more mature audience at night. In the words of a contemporary Gallup industry report, afternoon moviegoers, "composed largely of housewives and children, want quantity for their money while the evening crowds want 'something good and not too much of it.'"[39] Series films are often unquestioningly consigned to the B-movie category, but even here there is ambiguity: 1938 titlecard Number One Sons with the seat of his pants on fire (in the film) Charlie Chan is a fictional Chinese-Hawaiian detective created by Earl Derr Biggers, reportedly in part under inspiration from the career of Chang Apana. ... Mr. ... A portrait of Sherlock Holmes from the Strand Magazine, 1891 Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who first appeared in publication in 1887. ... The Cisco Kid is a fictional Mexican cowboy character created by author O. Henry in his short story The Caballeros Way published in 1907 in the short story collection Heart of the West. ... Jane Withers (born April 12, 1926) is an American actress. ... Jeeves, here portrayed by Stephen Fry in ITVs Jeeves and Wooster series, is P.G. Wodehouses most famous character. ... The Ritz Brothers were a comedy team who appeared in 1930s films, and as live performers from 1925 to the late 1960s. ... For other uses, see Cliffhanger (disambiguation). ... George Horace Gallup (November 18, 1901 – July 26, 1984), American statistician, invented the Gallup poll, a successful statistical method of survey sampling for measuring public opinion. ...

[T]he most profitable B pictures functioned much like the comic strips in the daily newspapers, showing the continuing adventures of Roy Rogers [Republic], Boston Blackie [Columbia], the Bowery Boys [Warner Bros./Universal], Blondie and Dagwood [Columbia], Charlie Chan [Fox/Monogram], and so on. Even a major studio like MGM [the industry leader from 1931 through 1941] was equipped with a so-called B unit that specialized in these serial [sic] productions. At MGM, however, the Andy Hardy, Dr. Kildaire [sic], and Thin Man films were made with major stars and with what some organizations would have considered A budgets.[40] Dale Evans & Roy Rogers Leonard Franklin Slye (November 5, 1911 – July 6, 1998), who became famous as Roy Rogers, was a singer and cowboy actor. ... Boston Blackie was a character introduced by Jack Boyle who was featured in a series of mystery films during the silent movie era and in the 1940s. ... The Dead End Kids were five young actors and one ex-plumbers assistant, from New York who appeared in Sidney Kingsleys play Dead End in 1935 on Broadway. ... Blondie is a 1938 movie directed by Frank Strayer, based on the comic strip of the same name. ... Andy Hardy was a fictional character played by Mickey Rooney in an extremely successful MGM film series from 1937 to 1947. ... Dr. James Kildare was the primary character in a series of American theatrical films in the late 1930s and early 1940s, an early 1950s radio series, and a 1960s television series of the same name. ... The Thin Man was the first of six comic detective films starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, a hard-drinking and flirtatious married couple who banter wittily as they easily solve crimes. ...

For some series, of course, even a major studio's B budget was far out of reach: Poverty Row's Consolidated Pictures, backed by Weiss, featured Tarzan, the Police Dog in a series with the proud name of Melodramatic Dog Features.[41]


B's from major to minor: 1940s

An exploitation-style pitch from Monogram for Wife Wanted (1946). Director Phil Karlson would go on to direct several exceptionally tough noirs in the next decade. Lead and producer Kay Francis had been a major star in the 1930s. This was her last movie.
An exploitation-style pitch from Monogram for Wife Wanted (1946). Director Phil Karlson would go on to direct several exceptionally tough noirs in the next decade. Lead and producer Kay Francis had been a major star in the 1930s. This was her last movie.

By 1940, the average production cost of an American feature was $400,000, a negligible increase over ten years.[42] A number of small Hollywood companies had folded around the turn of the decade, including the ambitious Grand National, but a new firm, Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC), emerged as third in the Poverty Row hierarchy behind Republic and Monogram. The double feature, never universal, was still the prevailing exhibition model: in 1941, 50 percent of theaters were double-billing exclusively, with additional numbers screening under the policy part-time.[43] In the early 1940s, legal pressure forced the studios to replace seasonal block booking with packages generally limited to five pictures (MGM carried on with blocks of twelve for a while). Restrictions were also placed on the majors' ability to enforce blind bidding.[44] These were crucial factors in the progressive shift by most of the Big Five over to A-film production, making the smaller studios even more important as B-movie suppliers. In 1944, for instance, MGM, Paramount, Fox, and Warners released a total of 95 features: 14 had B-level budgets of $200,000 or less; 11 were budgeted between $200,000 and $500,000, a range encompassing programmers as well as straight B movies on the lower end; and 70 were A budgeted at $0.5 million or more.[45] Genre pictures made at very low cost remained the backbone of Poverty Row, with even Republic's and Monogram's budgets rarely climbing over $200,000. According to scholar James Naremore, between 1945 and 1950, "the average B western from Republic Pictures was made for about $50,000."[46] Among the established studios, Monogram was exploring fresh territory with what were being called "exploitation pictures." Variety defined these as "films with some timely or currently controversial subject which can be exploited, capitalized on in publicity or advertising."[47] Many smaller Poverty Row firms were folding because there simply wasn't enough money to go around: the eight majors, with their proprietary distribution exchanges, were now "taking in around 95 percent of all domestic (U.S. and Canada) rental receipts."[48] The wartime shortage of film stock was another contributing factor.[49] Exploitation films is a loosely defined term to describe a genre of films that typically sacrifice the traditional notions of artistic merit for a more sensationalistic display, often featuring excessive sex, violence, and gore. ... This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ... Phil Karlson (July 2, 1908 - December 12, 1985) was a Chicago-born film director known for his no-nonsense film noir films. ... Kay Francis (13 January 1905 - 26 August 1968) was an American actress who, after a brief beginning on Broadway in the 1920s, moved to film and achieved her greatest success between 1930 and 1936. ... PRCs logo 1945 One of the larger Hollywood production conglomerates of Poverty Row of the late 30s-mid 40s (along with Republic Pictures and Monogram Pictures and smaller outfits) PRC, as it was commonly known, intentionally made mostly small-budget B-movies. ... Exploitation films is a loosely defined term to describe a genre of films that typically sacrifice the traditional notions of artistic merit for a more sensationalistic display, often featuring excessive sex, violence, and gore. ... Variety (linguistics) is a concept that includes for instance dialects, standard language and jargon. ...


Referencing the work of historian Lea Jacobs, Naremore describes how the line between A and B movies was "ambiguous and never dependent on money alone."[50] Films shot on B-level budgets were occasionally marketed as A pictures or emerged as sleeper hits: One of 1943's biggest films was Hitler's Children, an 82-minute-long RKO thriller made for a fraction over $200,000. It earned more than $3 million in rentals, industry language for a distributor's share of gross box office receipts.[51] The violent Dillinger (1945), made for a reported $35,000, earned Monogram more than $1 million for the first time.[52] A pictures, particularly in the realm of film noir, sometimes echoed visual styles generally associated with cheaper films. Between November 1941 and November 1943, Dore Schary ran what was effectively a "B-plus" unit at MGM.[53] Programmers, with their flexible exhibition role, were ambiguous by definition, leading in certain cases to historical confusion. Ronald Reagan, frequently identified as a "B-movie star," in fact often had leading parts not only in programmers but also run-of-the-mill A movies that were B's only in the sense of perceived aesthetic quality. As late as 1948, the double feature remained a popular exhibition mode—it was the standard screening policy at 25 percent of theaters and used part-time at an additional 36 percent.[54] The leading Poverty Row firms began to broaden their scope: In 1947, Monogram established a subsidiary, Allied Artists, as a development and distribution channel for relatively expensive films, mostly from independent producers. Around the same time, Republic launched a similar effort under the "Premiere" rubric.[55] In 1947 as well, PRC was subsumed by Eagle-Lion, a British company seeking entry to the American market. Warners' former Keeper of the B's, Brian Foy, was installed as production chief.[56] A sleeper hit (often simply called a sleeper) refers to a film, book, album, TV show, or video game that gains unexpected success or recognition. ... The term box office can refer to either: A place where tickets are sold to the public for admission to a venue The amount of business a particular production, such as a movie or theatre show, does. ... Dillinger is a 1945 gangster film telling the story of John Dillinger. ... This still from The Big Combo (1955) demonstrates the visual style of film noir at its most extreme. ... Dore Schary (born August 31, 1905 in Newark, New Jersey, United States - died July 7, 1980 in New York City) was a stage and motion picture personality. ... Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) was the 40th President of the United States (1981–1989) and the 33rd Governor of California (1967–1975). ... Eagle Lion Films was a British film company that merged with PRC Pictures in the 1940s. ...


Sinners and saints

In the 1940s, RKO—the weakest of the Big Five throughout its history—stood out among the industry's largest companies for its focus on B pictures. From a latter-day perspective, the most famous of the major studios' Golden Age B units is Val Lewton's horror unit at RKO. Lewton produced such moody, mysterious films as Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), and The Body Snatcher (1945), directed by Jacques Tourneur, Robert Wise, and others who would become renowned only later in their careers or entirely in retrospect. The movie now widely described as the first classic film noir—Stranger on the Third Floor (1940), a 64-minute B—was produced at RKO, which would release many additional melodramatic thrillers in a similarly stylish vein during the decade. The other major studios also turned out a considerable number of movies now identified as noir during the 1940s. Though many of the best-known film noirs were well-financed productions—the majority of Warner Bros. noirs, for instance, were produced at the studio's A level—most 1940s pictures in the mode were either of the ambiguous programmer type or destined straight for the bottom of the bill. In the decades since, these cheap entertainments, generally dismissed at the time, have become some of the most treasured products of Hollywood's Golden Age among aficionados.[57] Val Lewton Vladimir Ivan Leventon was born on May 7, 1904, in what is now Yalta, Ukraine. ... This article is about the 1942 film; Cat People is also the name of a 1982 film. ... I Walked with a Zombie is a 1943 horror film directed by Jacques Tourneur. ... The Body Snatcher (also known as Robert Louis Stevensons The Body Snatcher) is a 1945 horror directed by Robert Wise based on the short story The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson. ... Jacques Tourneur, born November 12, 1904 – died December 19, 1977, was a French film director. ... // Headline text Director Robert Wise Robert Wise (September 10, 1914 – September 14, 2005) was an Academy Award-winning American film producer and director. ... Stranger on the Third Floor is a 1940 film noir. ...

Raw Deal, a 1948 film noir, was put out by Poverty Row's Eagle-Lion firm. Such movies were routinely marketed as pure sensationalism, but many noirs were also works of great visual beauty. Directed by Anthony Mann and shot by John Alton, Raw Deal "is resplendent with velvety blacks, mists, netting, and other expressive accessories of poetic noir decor and lighting."
Raw Deal, a 1948 film noir, was put out by Poverty Row's Eagle-Lion firm. Such movies were routinely marketed as pure sensationalism, but many noirs were also works of great visual beauty. Directed by Anthony Mann and shot by John Alton, Raw Deal "is resplendent with velvety blacks, mists, netting, and other expressive accessories of poetic noir decor and lighting."[58]

In one sample year, 1947, RKO under production chief Dore Schary shot fifteen A-level features at an average cost of $1 million and twenty Bs averaging $215,000.[59] In addition to several noir programmers and full-flight A pictures, the studio put out two straight B noirs: Desperate, directed by Anthony Mann, and The Devil Thumbs a Ride, directed by Felix Feist. Ten straight B noirs that year came from Poverty Row's big three: Republic (Blackmail and The Pretender), Monogram (Fall Guy, The Guilty, High Tide, and Violence), and PRC/Eagle-Lion (Bury Me Dead, Lighthouse, Whispering City, and Railroaded, another work of Mann). One came from tiny Screen Guild (Shoot to Kill). Three majors beside RKO also contributed: Columbia (Blind Spot and Framed), Paramount (Fear in the Night), and 20th Century-Fox (Backlash and The Brasher Doubloon). Adding programmers to that list of eighteen would bring it to around thirty. Still, most of the majors' low-budget production during the decade was of the sort now largely ignored. RKO's representative output included the Mexican Spitfire and Lum and Abner comedy series, thrillers featuring the Saint and the Falcon, Westerns starring Tim Holt, and Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller. Jean Hersholt played Dr. Christian in six films between 1939 and 1941. The Courageous Dr. Christian (1940) was a standard entry in the franchise: "In the course of an hour or so of screen time, the saintly physician managed to cure an epidemic of spinal meningitis, demonstrate benevolence towards the disenfranchised, set an example for wayward youth, and calm the passions of an amorous old maid."[60] Raw Deal is a 1948 film noir directed by Anthony Mann and cinematography by John Alton. ... This still from The Big Combo (1955) demonstrates the visual style of film noir at its most extreme. ... Eagle Lion Films was a British film company that merged with PRC Pictures in the 1940s. ... Anthony Mann (June 30, 1906 - April 29, 1967), was an American actor and film director. ... Cinematography [Greek: kine (movement) and graphos (writing)], is the discipline of making lighting and camera choices when recording photographic images for the cinema. ... Johann Altmann (October 5, 1901 – June 2, 1996), photographed some of the most famous films noir of the classic period. ... Desperate is a 1947 suspense film directed by Anthony Mann. ... Anthony Mann (June 30, 1906 - April 29, 1967), was an American actor and film director. ... Railroaded is a black-and-white 1947 film noir directed by Anthony Mann. ... Framed is a black-and-white film noir starring Glenn Ford. ... Fear in the Night (1947) is a low budget black and white film noir directed by Maxwell Shane and starring Paul Kelly and DeForest Kelley (in his film debut). ... The Brasher Doubloon is a 1947 black-and-white film based on the novel The High Window by Raymond Chandler. ... Lupe Vélez (July 18, 1908 – December 13, 1944) was a Mexican actress. ... Lum and Abner was an American radio comedy which was on the air as a first-run network program from 1932 to 1954. ... An artists conception of Simon Templar as seen on the cover of a 1983 omnibus edition collecting several early Saint books. ... The character of Gay Stanhope Falcon, also known simply as The Falcon, was created in 1940 by Michael Arlen in his short story, Gay Falcon, as a sort of freelance adventurer and troubleshooter, definitely on the hardboiled side, a man who makes his living keeping his mouth shut and engaging... Tim Holt (February 5, 1919 – February 15, 1973) was an American film actor. ... James H. Pierce and Joan Burroughs Pierce starred in the 1932-34 Tarzan radio series 1964 Edition of Tarzan of the Apes Tarzan, a fictional character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, first appeared in the 1912 novel Tarzan of the Apes, and then in twenty-three sequels. ... Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan in Tarzan and His Mate. ... Jean Hersholt (July 12, 1886 - June 2, 1956) was an Danish actor. ...


Down in Poverty Row, low budgets led to less palliative fare. Republic aspired to major-league respectability while making lots of cheap and modestly budgeted Westerns, but there wasn't much from the bigger studios that compared with Monogram "exploitation pictures" like juvenile delinquency exposé Where Are Your Children? (1943) and the prison film Women in Bondage (1943).[61] In 1947, PRC's The Devil on Wheels brought together teenagers, hot rods, and death. The little studio had its own house auteur: with his own crew and relatively free rein, director Edgar G. Ulmer was known as "the Capra of PRC."[62] Described by critic and historian David Thomson as "one of the most fascinating talents in the worldwide labyrinth of sub-B pictures," Ulmer made films of every generic stripe.[63] His Girls in Chains was released in May 1943, six months before Women in Bondage; by the end of the year, Ulmer had also made the teen-themed musical Jive Junction as well as Isle of Forgotten Sins, a South Seas adventure set around a brothel. Juvenile delinquency refers to criminal acts performed by juveniles. ... Expose may mean: exposure, such as to weather or radiation, or in photography an exposé, in investigative journalism Exposé, in Mac OS X the dance music band Exposé Exposés debut album Exposé This is a disambiguation page — a navigational aid which lists pages that might otherwise share the same... For the Transformers character, see Hot Rod (Transformers). ... The term auteur (French for author) is used to describe film directors (or, more rarely, producers or writers) who are considered to have a distinctive, recognizable vision, because they (a) repeatedly return to the same subject matter, (b) habitually address a particular psychological or moral theme, (c) employ a recurring... Edgar G. Ulmer - Wikipedia /**/ @import /w/skins-1. ...


Notes

  1. ^ Hirschhorn (1999), pp. 9–10, 17.
  2. ^ Hirschhorn (1983), pp. 13, 20–27.
  3. ^ Schatz (1998), p. 22.
  4. ^ Eames (1985), p. 13.
  5. ^ Finler (1988), p. 36.
  6. ^ Koszarski (1994), pp. 112, 113, 115; Schatz (1998), 22–25.
  7. ^ See, e.g., Balio (1995), p. 29; Koszarski (1994), p. 72.
  8. ^ Finler (1988), p. 36.
  9. ^ Balio (1995), p. 29.
  10. ^ Schatz (1998), p. 39. See also p. 74; Koszarski (1994), pp. 71–72.
  11. ^ See, e.g., Taves (1995), p. 320.
  12. ^ See Koszarski (1994), pp. 34–56.
  13. ^ Schatz (1999), p. 16.
  14. ^ Balio (1995), p. 29. See also Schatz (1999), p. 324, for specific applications of "clearance."
  15. ^ Steve Broidy, president of Monogram/Allied Artists, quoted in Schatz (1999), p. 75.
  16. ^ Taves (1995), pp. 326–327.
  17. ^ See, e.g., Balio (1995), pp. 103–104.
  18. ^ Epstein (2005), p. 6. See also Schatz (1999), pp. 16–17.
  19. ^ Taves (1995), p. 325.
  20. ^ Taves (1995), p. 326.
  21. ^ Epstein (2005), p. 4.
  22. ^ Finler (1988), p. 36.
  23. ^ Taves (1995), p. 317. Taves (like this article) adopts the usage of "programmer" argued for by author Don Miller in his 1973 study B Movies (New York: Ballantine). As Taves notes, "the term programmer was used in a variety of different ways by reviewers" of the 1930s (p. 431, n. 8). Some present-day critics employ the Miller–Taves usage; others refer to any B movie from the Golden Age as a "programmer" or "program picture."
  24. ^ Taves (1995), p. 325.
  25. ^ Balio (1995), p. 102.
  26. ^ Schatz (1998), pp. 170–171.
  27. ^ Balio (1995), p. 103.
  28. ^ See Taves (1995), pp. 321–329.
  29. ^ Taves (1995), p. 321.
  30. ^ Adapted from Finler (1988), pp. 21–22.
  31. ^ In operation from 1936 to 1940, Grand National was something like the United Artists of Poverty Row. Most of the films it released were the work of independent producers; in its peak year, 1937, Grand National did produce approximately twenty pictures of its own. See also Taves (1995), p. 323.
  32. ^ Taves (1995), p. 313.
  33. ^ Quoted in Lasky (1989), p. 142.
  34. ^ Nachbar (1974), p. 2.
  35. ^ Tuska (1974), p. 37.
  36. ^ Taves (1995), p. 327–328.
  37. ^ Taves (1995), p. 316.
  38. ^ Taves (1995), p. 318.
  39. ^ Quoted in Schatz (1999), p. 75.
  40. ^ Naremore (1998), p. 141. For more on the finances and industrial position of the Andy Hardy movies, see Schatz (1998), pp. 256–261.
  41. ^ Taves (1995), p. 328.
  42. ^ Finler (1988), p. 36.
  43. ^ Schatz (1999), p. 73.
  44. ^ Schatz (1999), pp. 19–21, 45, 72, 160–163. See also Taves (1995), pp. 314–315.
  45. ^ Analysis based on Schatz (1999), p. 173, table 6.3.
  46. ^ Naremore (1998), p. 140.
  47. ^ Quoted in Schatz (1999), p. 175.
  48. ^ Schatz (1999), p. 16.
  49. ^ Buhle and Wagner (2003), p. 154.
  50. ^ Naremore (1998), p. 141.
  51. ^ Jewell (1982), 181; Lasky (1989), 184–185.
  52. ^ Cost: Per screenwriter Philip Yordan, commentary track on Warner Home Video DVD of film. Earnings: Schatz (1999), p. 175.
  53. ^ Schatz (1998), pp. 367–370.
  54. ^ Schatz (1999), p. 78.
  55. ^ Schatz (1999), pp. 340–341.
  56. ^ Schatz (1999), p. 295; Naremore (1998), p. 142; PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation) essay by Mike Haberfelner, August 2005; part of the (re)Search my Trash website. Retrieved 12/30/06.
  57. ^ See, e.g., Dave Kehr, "Critic's Choice: New DVD's," New York Times, August 22, 2006; Dave Kehr, "Critic's Choice: New DVD's," New York Times, June 7, 2005; Robert Sklar, "Film Noir Lite: When Actions Have No Consequences," New York Times, "Week in Review," June 2, 2002.
  58. ^ Robert Smith, "Mann in the Dark," quoted in Ottoson (1981), p. 145.
  59. ^ Schatz (1998), pp. 442–443.
  60. ^ Jewell (1982), p. 147.
  61. ^ Schatz (1999), p. 175.
  62. ^ Naremore (1998), p. 144.
  63. ^ Thomson (1994), p. 764.

Philip Yordan (April 1, 1914 - March 24, 2003) was a popular and talented screenwriter of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. ...

Sources

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  • Buhle, Paul, and David Wagner (2003). Hide in Plain Sight: The Hollywood Blacklistees in Film and Television, 1950-2002 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan). ISBN 1-4039-6144-1
  • Eames, John Douglas (1985). The Paramount Story (New York: Crown). ISBN 0-517-55348-1
  • Epstein, Edward Jay (2005). The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood (New York: Random House). ISBN 1-4000-6353-1
  • Finler, Joel W. (1988). The Hollywood Story (New York: Crown). ISBN 0-517-56576-5
  • Hirschhorn, Clive (1983). The Universal Story (London: Crown). ISBN 0-517-55001-6
  • Hirschhorn, Clive (1999). The Columbia Story (London: Hamlyn). ISBN 0-600-59836-5
  • Jewell, Richard B., with Vernon Harbin (1982). The RKO Story (New York: Arlington House/Crown). ISBN 0-517-54656-6
  • Koszarski, Richard (1994 [1990]). An Evening's Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Feature Picture, 1915–1928 (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press). ISBN 0-520-08535-3
  • Lasky, Betty (1989). RKO: The Biggest Little Major of Them All (Santa Monica, Calif.: Roundtable). ISBN 0-915677-41-5
  • McCarthy, Todd, and Charles Flynn, eds. (1975). Kings of the Bs: Working Within the Hollywood System—An Anthology of Film History and Criticism (New York: E.P. Dutton). ISBN 0-525-47378-5
  • Nachbar, Jack, ed. (1974). Focus on the Western (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall). ISBN 0-13-950626-8
  • Naremore, James (1998). More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press). ISBN 0-520-21294-0
  • Ottoson, Robert (1981). A Reference Guide to the American Film Noir: 1940–1958 (Metuchen, N.J., and London: Scarecrow Press). ISBN 0-8108-1363-7
  • Schatz, Thomas (1998 [1989]). The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era (London: Faber and Faber). ISBN 0-571-19596-2
  • Schatz, Thomas (1999 [1997]). Boom and Bust: American Cinema in the 1940s (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press). ISBN 0-520-22130-3
  • Taves, Brian (1995 [1993]). "The B Film: Hollywood's Other Half," in Balio, Grand Design, 313–350.
  • Thomson, David (1994). A Biographical Dictionary of Film, 3d ed. (New York: Knopf). ISBN 0-679-75564-0
  • Tuska, Jon (1974). "The American Western Cinema: 1903–Present," in Nachbar, Focus on the Western, 25–43.

 
 

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