The end of the great serial's
Images for the great Bs
Rare posters from the great Bs
Classic Film Pages
Images and original articles on Hollywood and the great Classic films
Black Hollywood from just after WWI to the late 1940s
A tribute to great Edward G. Robinson
For the lovely Barbara Stanwyck
The classic definition of a eloquent genre
Brief summaries of the most significant of the maestros films
Good information on the chief B studio
Great page on one of my favorites
Information on some of the great serials
The B movie was a direct response by Hollywood to the falling cinema audiences of the early Depression years. Where previously audiences had paid to see a single feature supplemented with shorts and cartoons, they were now treated with two features, one of which was a low-budget supporting film, the B.
In October of 1935 two of the big New York theater chains, RKO and Loew’s (the holding company for MGM), adopted the double feature in all of their principal theaters. This was a crucial moment in the development of the B film industry. Within a year 75% of all theaters in America were featuring double bills.
All the major studios had their own B units, headed by men who knew every aspect of the low-budget film business. Of course Bs from the major studios reflected their particular house style. Warner’s recycled their G-men series. Paramount offered their typical fast-paced comedies and melodramas. Of course the giant, MGM dressed up their Bs that would have passed for A’s elsewhere.
The early 1930s witnessed a rapid growth of “poverty row” independent studios. Most were absorbed by their marginally bigger rivals. Surviving was Monogram, Mascot, and Consolidated, citadels of the independent Bs. They too were eventually taken over when Herbert Yates expanded Republic Pictures.
The Bs provided useful proving grounds for aspiring young directors. William Wyler, a graduate of low-budget silent Westerns was making cornball comedies at Universal. George Stevens, Edward Dmytryk, Fred Zinnemann, and two of the great Film Noir directors; Jacques Tourneur and Jules Dassin honed their craft in the B units.
Young hopefuls were put through their paces in the B factories. We find Richard Denning and Dennis Morgan in King of Alcatraz (1938); Glenn Ford and Richard Conte in Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence (1939); Susan Hayward in Sis Hopkins (1941); and Jane Wyman in Crime by Night (1944).
The Bs could also provide a relatively dignified rest home for stars whose careers were on the decline. Warner Baxter ended his days with Columbia’s Crime Doctor series; Richard Arlen found a regular berth in the Pine-Thomas actioners of the 40s and early 50s; Richard Dix found the Whistler films.
In 1948 the historic judgment delivered by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas ruled that by owning their own theaters, the major studios were in violation of anti-trust laws, dooming the Bs. By 1953 movie attendance was again on the decline. It remained for television though to deliver the coup de grâce, providing a constant stream of 30 minute Westerns and thrillers which effectively undercut the appeal of the second feature.