B Movies


The rationing of raw materials during World War II led to an overall cutback in film production. The majors reduced their output of B movies to concentrate on fewer and better A productions, a trend that continued after the war. The Supreme Court's Paramount Decision in 1948 led to further cutbacks and consolidation. With every movie expected to stand on its own merits with bookers and buyers, there was little impulse on the part of exhibitors to book movies that were obvious cheapies.

In 1946 Monogram formed Allied Artists to produce higher-budget pictures, while it continued to churn out B movies. The corporate name was officially changed to Allied Artists in 1953, and the company signed high-profile directors such as Billy Wilder (1906–2002) and John Huston (1906–1987) to make more expensive films. PRC was bought out by Eagle-Lion, a British distribution company, in 1947. Eagle-Lion made a series of taut B-level thrillers that were a cut above PRC's earlier productions, including Anthony Mann's T-Men (1947) and Raw Deal (1948) and the noirish fantasy Repeat Performance (1947). In 1950 Eagle-Lion merged with Film Classics, only to be absorbed by United Artists the next year. At Republic, Yates experimented with A productions, but faced steadily declining profits throughout the 1950s—in no small measure because of his efforts to prop up the acting career of his wife, Vera Hruba Ralston (1921–2003). Republic closed shop in 1959.

The spirit of B movie production lived on in two realms. The first was the series of teen-oriented exploitation pictures made by newcomers like American International Pictures (AIP). They were quick, cheap, and made on budgets of less than $100,000. AIP packaged the films as double bills ( Sorority Girl teamed with Motorcycle Gang , both 1957; She Gods of Shark Reef paired with Night of the Blood Beast , both 1958), for product-hungry neighborhood theaters and drive-ins around the country.

It was, however, the growing television industry that subsumed much of B movie production in the early 1950s. Like their radio counterparts, the young television networks concentrated on live shows. Filmed programs were used as a last resort, but some of their advantages became obvious fairly quickly. "Telefilms" could be rerun ad nauseam, and it was far easier to stage action sequences in a filmed program than with a live show. Several B western stalwarts made the successful, and profitable, transition to television. William Boyd (1895–1972), who was savvy enough to buy the rights to his old Hopalong Cassidy movies and the Hoppy character, brought them to television, and made new episodes as well. Roy Rogers starred in The Roy Rogers Show from 1951 to 1957 to the delight of a new generation of fans. Others who had made a living in Bs made the move to the new medium. For instance, Roland D. Reed (1894–1972), who edited and directed B movies for Chesterfield-Invincible, formed Roland Reed Productions in 1950 to produce TV commercials. The firm soon began producing programs as well, making a number of successful early telefilm series such as My Little Margie and Rocky Jones, Space Ranger . Jack Chertok (1906–1995), who produced Bs such as Eyes in the Night (1942) at MGM, went on to produce several significant early telefilm series, including The Lone Ranger , Private Secretary , and Sky King .

B movie production techniques were the natural model for television film production. In Hollywood TV Christopher Anderson notes that the creation of a television production division at Warner Bros. "required the studio to resurrect its dormant tradition of B-movie production and retool to operate on budgets barely adequate even on Poverty Row" (Anderson, p. 172). This meant tight budgets, restricted production schedules, the recycling of stories and scripts, and pilfering the studio library for stock shots.

If B filmmakers and production techniques saw new life with the advent of television, the B movie did as well. The film libraries of Poverty Row companies were some of the first to turn up on early television, allowing TV stations to pad their programming day, in much the same way that Bs had padded out double bills for exhibitors for twenty years. A new generation was exposed to the simple pleasures, and occasional artistry, of B movies through the video medium. Today Bs continue to fill out the hours on cable television networks devoted to classic movies, westerns, and mysteries, as well as the shelves of video and DVD stores.

SEE ALSO Cult Films ; Distribution ; Exhibition ; Studio System

Anderson, Christopher. Hollywood TV: The Studio System in the Fifties . Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.

Dixon, Wheeler, ed. Producers Releasing Corporation: A Comprehensive Filmography and History . Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1986.

Gomery, Douglas. The Hollywood Studio System . New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986.

Martin, Len D. The Republic Pictures Checklist: Features, Serials, Cartoons, Short Subjects and Training Films of Republic Pictures Corporation, 1935–1959 . Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1998.

McCarthy, Todd, and Charles Flynn, eds. Kings of the Bs: Working within the Hollywood System . New York: Dutton, 1975.

Miller, Don. B Movies: An Informal Survey of the American Low-Budget Film, 1933–1945 . New York: Curtis, 1973.

——. Hollywood Corral . New York: Popular Library, 1976.

Okuda, Ted. The Monogram Checklist: The Films of Monogram Pictures Corporation, 1931–1952 . Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1987.

Pitts, Michael R. Poverty Row Studios, 1929–1940: An Illustrated History of 53 Independent Film Companies with a Filmography for Each . Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1997.

Siegel, Joel E. Val Lewton: The Reality of Terror . New York: Viking Press, 1973.

Taves, Brian. "The B Film: Hollywood's Other Half." In Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930–1939 , edited by Tino Balio, 323–350. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Telotte, J. P. Dreams of Darkness: Fantasy and the Films of Val Lewton . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985.

Weaver, Tom. Poverty Row Horrors: Monogram, PRC and Republic Horror Films of the Forties . Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1993.

Eric Schaefer

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