Great B Movies

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Great B Movies

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Mon Sep 14, 2009 3:53 pm

Years ago, when I was a mere wisp of a phantasm of a film student, I read King of the Bs, the landmark anthology of writings on B movies. In it one of the authors at some point makes a statement to the effect that, the A movies were all white elephants, the truly great movies in Hollywood history are B movies.

Years have gone by and I have to say, I haven't seen these great B movies. I certainly agree with the distinction between white elephant art and termite art, a noir genre picture like Out of the Past is certainly a better movie than a studio prestige picture like Wilson, but Out of the Past isn't a B. Without getting lost in definitions of what precisely constitutes a B or not, at minimum we should be able to say that it would include either of these categories:

1) The output of a B studio such as Monogram, Grand National, or later AIP;
2) A second-tier production from a major studio (eg. Hitler's Children from RKO), clearly made on a smaller budget with minor stars.

To me it would exclude programmers, which is to say a 70-minute James Cagney movie from 1933, or a Frankenstein series sequel at Universal in 1942. These may not have been A's on a level with lavish MGM product, but they represent the general standard for regular product featuring the studio's leading stars at that time.

So my question is, what movies fitting these rough definitions could you really say rank among the better movies of the 1930s and 1940s? (It gets messier, obviously, once independent production takes off in the 50s.)
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Unread post by Einar the Lonely » Mon Sep 14, 2009 4:27 pm

Would you define Val Lewton movies as "B"?
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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Mon Sep 14, 2009 4:35 pm

Yes. To me they're pretty clearly a deliberate attempt to raise the level of B horror product. And the budgets were nowhere near, say, Kitty Foyle's.
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Unread post by silentfilm » Mon Sep 14, 2009 4:40 pm

So are Columbia non-Capra films of the 1930s considered B's? Mike Schlesinger has been finding some real gems to show at Cinecon.

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Re: Great B Movies

Unread post by Chris Snowden » Mon Sep 14, 2009 5:29 pm

Mike Gebert wrote:So my question is, what movies fitting these rough definitions could you really say rank among the better movies of the 1930s and 1940s? (It gets messier, obviously, once independent production takes off in the 50s.)
A lot of films that feel like Bs don't really qualify. Humphrey Bogart's Dark Legion (1937) feels like a B to me, but others will disagree. For that matter, Orson Welles' Journey Into Fear (1943) lacks the weightiness of his earlier RKOs, and the studio tossed it into release like it was a throwaway, but is it really a B? I guess not.

All of that aside, one clear-cut B that really shines in my opinion is The End of the Trail (1932), a Columbia western starring Tim McCoy and Wheeler Oakman, a surprisingly sensitive drama of Indians and cavalrymen. It's the best B western I've ever seen, and it has more meat on its bones than a lot of A pictures of the era.
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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Mon Sep 14, 2009 5:47 pm

I think it'd be a judgement call on something like Dark Legion. Bogart certainly wasn't in the top tier of Warners stars yet, and it has that thing of being more daring than the A pictures of the time. Likewise, what's the difference between an A and a B at Columbia then, apart from Capra?

That said, End of the Trail is the sort of thing I'm really looking for-- unknown modestly-produced movies of real quality from places you wouldn't expect them.
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Unread post by boblipton » Mon Sep 14, 2009 6:11 pm

I like the term they use down at the Film Forum, "Shaky A" for a B movie with a little more money and effort put into it..... it's from a book on the subject whose title I don't recall.

As for my favorite B movie, it is probably Richard Fleischer's THE NARROW MARGIN. Charlie McGraw was made for the Bs, just like Aldo Ray. But the movie itself is such a series of switches and excitement, from beginning to end.

But even more than the B movies, there were lots of natural B directors. I know everyone cite Ulmer, whose work never appealed to me. When he had a budget he was pompous and when he didn't he just went over the top. I'm thinking of directors like Joseph H. Lewis and, even more, Richard Thorpe. Give them a small budget and they're all over the place, trying to do something interesting. But they just didn't seem to know how to do anythng with anything more. It's a pity they hit the Peter Principle in action.

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Re: Great B Movies

Unread post by azjazzman » Mon Sep 14, 2009 7:09 pm

Chris Snowden wrote:All of that aside, one clear-cut B that really shines in my opinion is The End of the Trail (1932), a Columbia western starring Tim McCoy and Wheeler Oakman, a surprisingly sensitive drama of Indians and cavalrymen. It's the best B western I've ever seen, and it has more meat on its bones than a lot of A pictures of the era.
Those Tim McCoy Columbias are real sleepers. At least the ones I've seen. Would love to see more.

I was going to list a McCoy Columbia for Bob, but I don't know the titles.

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Unread post by R Michael Pyle » Mon Sep 14, 2009 7:59 pm

As Harry Cohn admitted all throughout the 30's: Jack Holt paid the bills and made the money at Columbia. I'd love to see a string of Holt films available finally. Hardly one has passed the bar. Many of them are very fun to watch!

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Unread post by Ed Hulse » Mon Sep 14, 2009 8:32 pm

Now, here’s a topic I can really sink my teeth into. I’ve been assiduously screening, collecting, and researching B movies for close to 40 years now.

Many years ago I was asked to compile a list of notable Bs for somebody preparing to embark on a project that ultimately never came to fruition. His only request was that I omit B Westerns; he wanted samples of all other genres. I explained to him that the best Bs were melodramas, mysteries, horror films, and action/adventure films. Really good B comedies are fairly scarce because the most talented writers and directors of such fare were big-name, A-picture regulars. Ditto for musicals: the top songwriters and musical performers primarily worked in major-studio As.

My client wanted me to avoid, to as close an extent possible, relatively low-budget films that were originally marketed as “programmers” – i. e., pictures that could have played either half of a double bill depending on the situation. That ruled out quite a few, especially snappy pre-Code Warner seven-reelers and low-case Fox pictures like TRICK FOR TRICK. But I slipped a few of those in anyway. He also asked me to avoid listing multiple films from the same series. I could easily have included several more Chans, Motos, and Holmes.

Fortunately, I archived this list on a disc and dug it out when I came across this thread. It’s a pretty long list, but it’s also pretty comprehensive, IMHO. The titles are listed chronologically and alphabetically within year of release.

DRUMS OF JEOPARDY (1931 Tiffany). Warner Oland thriller.

DELUGE (1933 RKO). NYC wiped out by tidal waves.
LAUGHING AT LIFE (1933 Mascot). Victor McLaglen and all-star cast.
LUCKY DEVILS (1933 RKO). Bill Boyd, movie stuntmen at work.
MURDERS IN THE ZOO (1933 Paramount). Lionel Atwill, Randolph Scott.
THE SILK EXPRESS (1933 Warners). Neil Hamilton, murder on train.
THE SIN OF NORA MORAN (1933 Majestic). Arty Poverty Row meller.

BEGGARS IN ERMINE (1934 Monogram). Offbeat Lionel Atwill drama.
BLACK MOON (1934 Columbia). Jack Holt, Fay Wray, and voodoo.
JANE EYRE (1934 Mono). Not-bad Poverty Row version w/ Colin Clive.
THE LOUD SPEAKER (1934 Mono). Spoof of radio stars, cute and funny.
THE NINTH GUEST (1934 Columbia). Presages “Ten Little Indians.”

MEET NERO WOLFE (1935 Columbia). Edward Arnold as Wolfe.
MURDER ON A HONEYMOON (1935 RKO). Best “Miss Withers” mystery.
ONE FRIGHTENED NIGHT (1935 Mascot). Old-dark-house chills.
THE SPANISH CAPE MYSTERY (1935 Republic). Ellery Queen.
STORMY (1935 Universal). Charming boy-and-his-horse story.
WHISPERING SMITH SPEAKS (1935 Fox). George O’Brien, railroad.

CASE OF THE BLACK CAT (1936 Warners). Perry Mason mystery.
HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (1936 Para). Oodles of silent stars.
JAILBREAK (1936 Warners). Murder mystery inside prison.
THE LEATHERNECKS HAVE LANDED (1936 Rep). Action in China.
THE MAN WHO LIVED TWICE (1936 Columbia). Xlnt meller.
THE PREVIEW MURDER MYSTERY (1936 Para). Murder inside studio.

DAUGHTER OF SHANGHAI (1937 Para). Anna May Wong meller.
FIGHT FOR YOUR LADY (1937 RKO). Wacky comedy.
A GIRL WITH IDEAS (1937 Universal). Snappy newspaper comedy.
PAID TO DANCE (1937 Columbia). White slavers, early Rita Hayworth.
THANK YOU, MR. MOTO (1937 Fox). Second and best of series.
WALKING ON AIR (1937 RKO). Gene Raymond, Ann Sothern.
THE WESTLAND CASE (1937 Universal). Well-plotted mystery/comedy.

AFFAIRS OF ANNABEL (1937 RKO). Lucille Ball’s 1st starring comedy.
DANGER ON THE AIR (1938 Universal). Murder in radio studio.
KING OF ALCATRAZ (1938 Para). Zippy Robert Florey melodrama.
LADY IN THE MORGUE (1938 Universal). Whodunit w/ zany moments.
A MAN TO REMEMBER (1938 RKO). Garson Kanin-Dalton Trumbo drama.
THE SAINT IN NEW YORK (1938 RKO). First in series, close to book.
STORM OVER BENGAL (1938 Rep). B-grade BENGAL LANCER clone.

CHARLIE CHAN IN TREASURE ISLAND (1939 Fox). Best in series.
FIVE CAME BACK (1939 RKO). Plane downed in jungle, suspenseful.
MYSTERY PLANE (1939 Monogram). 1st and best Tailspin Tommy.
SECRET SERVICE OF THE AIR (1939 Warners). 1st and best in series.
TELL NO TALES (1939 MGM). Melvyn Douglas in hard-hitting drama.

THE BISCUIT EATER (1940 Para). A boy and his dog, very moving.
THE STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (1940 RKO). Eerie proto-noir.
UP IN THE AIR (1940 Mono). Best Darro-Moreland comedy-mystery.

BLONDIE GOES LATIN (1941 Col). Comedy w/ music, best in series?
BUY ME THAT TOWN (1941 Para). Gangster comedy, Lloyd Nolan.
CONFESSIONS OF BOSTON BLACKIE (1941 Col). Best in series.
THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK (1941 Col). Peter Lorre chiller.
HORROR ISLAND (1941 Uni). Haunted castle, murders. Lots of fun.
KING OF THE ZOMBIES (1941 Mono). Mantan runs away with film.
MAN-MADE MONSTER (1941 Uni). Early Lon Chaney Jr. starrer.
SPOOKS RUN WILD (1941 Mono). Bela Lugosi vs. East Side Kids.

AFFAIRS OF JIMMY VALENTINE (1942 Rep). Uneven, noir touches.
CAT PEOPLE (1942 RKO). First of great Val Lewton horror films.
THE CORPSE VANISHES (1942 Mono). Pulpish horror w/ Lugosi.
EYES IN THE NIGHT (1942 MGM). Edward Arnold as blind detective.
HITLER’S CHILDREN (1942 RKO). Tim Holt, dir. Ed. Dmytryk.
KID GLOVE KILLER (1942 MGM). Tense, early police procedural.
PRIVATE BUCKAROO (1942 Uni). Breezy musical loaded with hits.
STREET OF CHANCE (1942 Para). Maybe the best B of all, early noir.

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943 RKO). Stylish Val Lewton horror.
THE LEOPARD MAN (1943 RKO). Lewton adaptation of Woolrich novel.
NEARLY 18 (1943 Mono). Gale Storm, predates MAJOR & THE MINOR.
WHISPERING FOOTSTEPS (1943 Rep). Suspenseful low-key thriller.

MARK OF THE WHISTLER (1944 Col). Likely best in the series, Dix.
MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1944 Col). Joseph H. Lewis suspenser.
NINE GIRLS (1944 Col). Zippy comedy-mystery w/ lotsa pulchritude.
THE SCARLET CLAW (1944 Uni). Best Sherlock Holmes w/ Basil.
STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944 Rep). Early Anthony Mann meller.
WHEN STRANGERS MARRY (1944 Mono). Also a candidate for best B.
WHEN THE LIGHTS GO ON AGAIN (1944 PRC). Good homefront drama.

I LOVE A MYSTERY (1945 Col). Clever radio-show adaptation.

DETOUR (1946 PRC). Overrated, but still great.
SO DARK THE NIGHT (1946 Col). Joseph H. Lewis, nourish mystery.

HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948 Eagle-Lion). Dir. Al Werker, Anthony Mann.

FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949 RKO). Police procedural, Richard Fleischer.
GUN CRAZY (1949 United Artists). Joe Lewis again, a standout.

THE NARROW MARGIN (1952 RKO). The last truly great B picture.

THE HITCH-HIKER (1953 RKO). Ida Lupino-directed suspense in desert.

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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Mon Sep 14, 2009 9:40 pm

I hoped Ed would post in this thread (even to tear me a new one). I think your comments on which genres worked for the B's and which didn't (and why) are particularly informative.

I found it fairly easy to think of good (if not quite great) 40s B thrillers (and pretty much everything I thought of is on Ed's list except Decoy, a Monogram noir recently put out on DVD). A lot of these are great gritty little crime pictures-- Follow Me Quietly is a fascinating police procedural thing, He Walked By Night a sort of American M, Street of Chance a fine Cornell Woolrich adaptation (isn't Nightmare, that Cinecon just showed, from the same story?) That to me is the real high point of the B's in the studio era, highlighted by pictures like the superb Narrow Margin (with my uncle Gordon as the kid! No, not really, no relation).

I saw a number of the 30s ones Ed lists when William K. Everson came to Chicago a few times, and although some of them are excellent (I especially like King of Alcatraz) I'd have a tougher time saying the 30s seem a strong decade for B's. Except for the western genre, maybe, it's hard to think of something that the B's had to themselves as they had the gritty realist crime genre in the 40s and the monster and sci-fi genres (and the youth audience) in the 50s and 60s. So they were often imitating bigger budget movies, or at least working the same territory, and while a movie like The Sin of Nora Moran may seem pretty good and gutsy, it's not necessarily gutsier and definitely not better than a dozen Warner pre-codes of the same general time period. Still, they can be a lot of fun-- I loved Mascot's One Frightened Night when Cinesation showed it a few years back-- I'm just not sure at that point, they're doing anything all that different (as, say, AIP was clearly aiming for something different from the majors in the 50s and 60s, or even Eagle-Lion was a decade earlier with deliberately arty-looking noirs).
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Unread post by Einar the Lonely » Mon Sep 14, 2009 9:43 pm

Thanks Ed, that's an impressive and intrigueing list! :)

There is a bunch of B's I love but would not really call "truely great": Ulmer's BLUEBEARD, WHITE ZOMBIE, THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, Lorre's FACE BEHIND THE MASK, 1942's RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, Mann's THE GREAT FLAMMARION feat. Erich von Stroheim, Robert Wise's THE SET-UP, THE BRUTE MAN starring Rondo Hatton.

In my book "truely great" would only qualify for a few: all Val Lewton horror movies especially the two CAT PEOPLE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and SEVENTH VICTIM, Edgar Ulmer's RUTHLESS and of course DETOUR, GUN CRAZY, Abraham Polonsky's FORCE OF EVIL.
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Unread post by Einar the Lonely » Mon Sep 14, 2009 9:48 pm

HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD sounds extremely interesting...

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Unread post by Charles » Tue Sep 15, 2009 1:32 am

May I put forth THE MASK OF DIIJON, the noirish thriller about a down-at-the-heels magician, improbably played by Erich von Stroheim? I watched this after reading about it in some coffee table type book about the Bs; it was inordinately pleasurable, even considering my love of von Stroheim as an actor.

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Unread post by Michael O'Regan » Tue Sep 15, 2009 2:44 am

I reckon the Karloff "mad doctor" films for Columbia would qualify - let me throw in THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG as one of my favourites.

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Unread post by boblipton » Tue Sep 15, 2009 6:04 am

Ed, that's a great list, even though I disagree with some of your examples, naturally. I think GUN CRAZY is a great idea, but a real stiff except for a few minutes. Still, you look at it and recognize that it's BONNIE AND CLYDE.

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Unread post by Ed Hulse » Tue Sep 15, 2009 8:15 am

Responding to other points raised in this thread....

I can't bring myself to consider MOST DANGEROUS GAME a B picture. Yes, it was shot in three weeks; yes, it's only 63 minutes long; yes, the cast lacks high-wattage marquee names. But A-picture talents worked on it and the negative cost was well over $200,000, making it a pricey proposition at a time when Poverty Row producers like Denver Dixon could (and did) produce five-reel Westerns for $5000 or less. WHITE ZOMBIE was made cheaply and quickly, but it had a major albeit newly minted star in Lugosi and, being initially distributed by United Artists, played in more and better theaters than a Poverty Row B horror film like Majestic's VAMPIRE BAT.

Although my own tastes run more to Thirties Bs more than those of the Forties, there's no denying that the later pictures, as a rule, are more noteworthy. One possible explanation for this is that many Thirties Bs were helmed by silent-era directors whose careers were in decline and to whom cheap pictures simply amounted to a paycheck during tough times: William Beaudine, William Nigh, Lambert Hillyer, George B. Seitz, Christy Cabanne, Elmer Clifton, Bob Hill, George Melford, etc. Many of the best Forties Bs were directed by somewhat younger men on the way up. Some came out of the cutting room, some had been assistant directors -- but they aspired to bigger and better pictures and therefore worked hard to make their Bs distinctive in the interest of attracting the attention of front-office types. Among these directors were Joseph H. Lewis, Jacques Tourneur, Robert Wise, Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher, Richard Fleischer, Leigh Jason, Stuart Heisler, Henry Levin, etc. And, of course, some prominent B directors straddled both decades, including Lewis, Edgar Ulmer, Robert Florey, and Spencer Bennet. Again, this is just a theory -- and one which doesn't take into account the fact that, in many cases, the director's viewpoint didn't count for as much as his ability to bring in the picture on time and on or under budget.

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Unread post by Harlett O'Dowd » Tue Sep 15, 2009 8:28 am

Ed Hulse wrote:Responding to other points raised in this thread....

I can't bring myself to consider MOST DANGEROUS GAME a B picture. Yes, it was shot in three weeks; yes, it's only 63 minutes long; yes, the cast lacks high-wattage marquee names. But A-picture talents worked on it and the negative cost was well over $200,000, making it a pricey proposition at a time when Poverty Row producers like Denver Dixon could (and did) produce five-reel Westerns for $5000 or less. WHITE ZOMBIE was made cheaply and quickly, but it had a major albeit newly minted star in Lugosi and, being initially distributed by United Artists, played in more and better theaters than a Poverty Row B horror film like Majestic's VAMPIRE BAT.
I think the last is what really distinguishes what's a B and what's a quick/cheap programmer - where it played and if it started out on the bottom half of a double bill.

If nothing else, looking at the distribution history allows us to see what the *studios* thought of these film.

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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Tue Sep 15, 2009 8:44 am

That's a really good point, about who was directing the Bs when.

The 40s B filmmakers were a little more like independent filmmakers later on-- they were younger, they were influenced by earlier movements in film (obviously the look of the whole Mann-John Alton cycle owes a lot to Citizen Kane making castles out of shadows, and it's not a stretch to see the gritty crime dramas of the late 40s as having absorbed a little Italian neorealism as well as the documentary influence that spawned things like The House on 92nd Street).

Obviously they were working much more within ideas of commercial genres than 60s filmmakers, Joseph H. Lewis is not Cassavetes (thankfully, mostly), but they were often young men of ambition (notably Mann and Dmytryk) and it's easier to see them having something of a movement of their own, in the footsteps of Welles and Lewton, than the 30s B filmmakers did-- and to see the results in the little touches that lift a genre picture above the average.

(Yes, I know von Sternberg made Crime and Punishment at Grand National, and Ulmer and Florey came out of art cinema to some degree, though I think you rarely see the fact in Florey's work.)

A couple more I really like, not on Ed's list:

Among the Living (Heisler)
Fly By Night (Siodmak)
Dr. Broadway (Mann)

All shown by Everson way back when...
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Unread post by Ray Faiola » Tue Sep 15, 2009 10:07 am

The A and B classifications are usually determined by which unit produced them at a studio.

THE NARROW MARGIN was produced by Stanley Rubin as a one-shot production. It was not produced by one of the RKO B units. In fact, the last of RKO's B units, the Herman Schlom unit, was closing down around the same time MARGIN was released.

At Warners, the B unit was supervised by Bryan Foy and later William P. Jacobs. BLACK LEGION was anything but a B feature. The Dick Foran westerns were B features. THE HIDDEN HAND was a B feature.

I don't think Metro even had a "B" unit. They had several series being produced with lower budgets but still with star performers. MGM's prestige short subjects almost took the place of a bonafide B unit.
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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Tue Sep 15, 2009 10:27 am

Isn't the line from Barton Fink where the studio chief shouts "We do not make B pictures! That is a vicious lie!" or something like that, taken from an actual quote of Louis B. Mayer's?

I think of something like The Last Gangster as being an MGM idea of a B-- it's a small scale drama, small cast of characters, rather modest and slightly Sunday schoolish message (though it's kind of a sweet picture)... but at the same time, visually at least as lavish as a Warners A, and with pretty major stars (Edward G. Robinson and a rising young Jimmy Stewart). Kind of B spirit, but definitely above B budget.

I guess if you define series (other than The Thin Man) as being sort of B-ish, then Tarzan might count. But it seems like MGM's business model, built on providing top class product for the big downtown houses including its sibling Loew's chain, didn't need Bs, so they didn't make them.
At Warners, the B unit was supervised by Bryan Foy and later William P. Jacobs. BLACK LEGION was anything but a B feature. The Dick Foran westerns were B features. THE HIDDEN HAND was a B feature.
So maybe it makes more sense to see Warners at that point like this:

A's-- Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, Paul Muni, etc.; big budgets, 90-100 minute running times
Programmers-- shorter, less costly vehicles for second-tier stars like Bogart or Raft, in the spirit of the same kind of 70 minute programmers people like Cagney were making in the early 30s
B's-- Genuine B westerns and things like... Sh! The Octopus!
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Unread post by myrnaloyisdope » Tue Sep 15, 2009 11:48 am

Would some of Fritz Lang's 40's and 50's output would qualify as B movies? He made quite a few outside of the major studios and although he had some modest hits, he never really got the chance to make another prestige picture like Fury, where he had the full support of the studio system.

As for B-movies not listed, well I'm partial to the 1932 Vanity Fair with Myrna Loy as Becky Sharp. It's not a great film, but it was really cool to see Myrna play a dramatic lead and do a fine job of it. I certainly liked it more than 1935's Becky Sharp (and I'm a huge Mamoulian and Hopkins fan).

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Unread post by Ed Hulse » Tue Sep 15, 2009 11:59 am

Ray Faiola wrote:The A and B classifications are usually determined by which unit produced them at a studio.

THE NARROW MARGIN was produced by Stanley Rubin as a one-shot production. It was not produced by one of the RKO B units. In fact, the last of RKO's B units, the Herman Schlom unit, was closing down around the same time MARGIN was released.
Are you suggesting that NARROW MARGIN wasn't a B picture because it wasn't produced by Herman Schlom? Because it sure fits every other criteria for B classification, including having played as the bottom half of a double bill.

From the mid Thirties until his death in 1942, Larry Darmour supplied Columbia with B pictures and serials he made autonomously. He had his own crew and technicians, and even sourced music cues from Lee Zahler rather than rely on the Columbia music library. Would you suggest that his Jack Holt pictures and the Ellery Queen mysteries aren't Bs just because they were produced outside Irving Briskin's sphere of influence? (For those who don't know, Briskin was Bryan Foy's counterpart at Columbia. Producers who made Bs "in house" under his supervision included Jack Fier, Colbert Clark, Ralph Cohn, and William Berke, to name just a few.)
I don't think Metro even had a "B" unit. They had several series being produced with lower budgets but still with star performers. MGM's prestige short subjects almost took the place of a bonafide B unit.
During the mid and late Thirties Metro relied on Lucien Hubbard to provide the bonafide B pictures -- things like EXCLUSIVE STORY, THE LONGEST NIGHT, WOMEN ARE TROUBLE, SHADOW OF DOUBT, SOCIETY DOCTOR, MURDER IN THE FLEET, SINNER TAKE ALL, and MAN OF THE PEOPLE, to name a few off the top of my head. He launched the Nick Carter series with Walter Pidgeon in 1939 before moving to Fox.

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Unread post by Frederica » Tue Sep 15, 2009 12:03 pm

Ed Hulse wrote: MEET NERO WOLFE (1935 Columbia). Edward Arnold as Wolfe.

HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (1936 Para). Oodles of silent stars.

THE SAINT IN NEW YORK (1938 RKO). First in series, close to book.
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Unread post by azjazzman » Tue Sep 15, 2009 12:10 pm

Harlett O'Dowd wrote:I think the last is what really distinguishes what's a B and what's a quick/cheap programmer - where it played and if it started out on the bottom half of a double bill.

If nothing else, looking at the distribution history allows us to see what the *studios* thought of these film.
Were double bills common during the 1930's? I thought that was something that came in during the 1940s.

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Unread post by Harlett O'Dowd » Tue Sep 15, 2009 12:22 pm

azjazzman wrote:
Harlett O'Dowd wrote:I think the last is what really distinguishes what's a B and what's a quick/cheap programmer - where it played and if it started out on the bottom half of a double bill.

If nothing else, looking at the distribution history allows us to see what the *studios* thought of these film.
Were double bills common during the 1930's? I thought that was something that came in during the 1940s.
I've seen some in the 30s. If was more common to have a stage show as one half of the bill in the 30s, but some theatres ran two features. Wasn't the Dracula/Frankenstein pairing from the late 30s?

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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Tue Sep 15, 2009 12:37 pm

The Saint in New York was on TCM recently. It's interesting because he basically is a kind of hitman (and Louis Hayward plays him a bit psychopathically). Is it good? Maybe... but it's interesting for sure.
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Unread post by Michael O'Regan » Tue Sep 15, 2009 12:50 pm

KING OF THE B's - who was the author and is it still available?

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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Tue Sep 15, 2009 12:57 pm

Long since out of print, and Amazon's listing seems suspcious (I suspect they screwed up the ISBN with a children's book's). Editors are Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn, many authors involved.
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Unread post by Jack Theakston » Tue Sep 15, 2009 1:01 pm

Doubles went back to the teens in order to fulfill block booking contracts. Conversely, states rights exchanges often offered deals for doubles if you booked through them.

When the trust was busted in '48, many theaters went to a double format because they were no longer forced to book shorts (hence the end of the shorts departments at many studios in the '50s and '60s). The business model was still the same though, which is why there's about a ten to fifteen year period before the old model collapsed and the new business model came in.

There's also a big difference between 'A' and 'B' units at a studio and an 'A' or 'B' picture. And what many people today might consider 'B' pictures are actually 'A' pictures through and through. I had this argument with a friend of mine about THE FLY-- it was made by a 'B' unit (ie. Kurt Neumann and Bob Lippert), but is an 'A' picture all the way. It was pushed by the studio as one of the biggies that year, it played top bill (to the true 'B', SPACE MASTER X-7 in "RegalScope"), it was shot and advertised as CinemaScope, and came with the obligatory stereo sound and color. In short, a lot of money was sunk into the picture, and it was given to a 'B' unit because it was a time when Science Fiction got no respect, and Fox didn't want to be known for making "weirdies."

Try as I might, my point did not get across to him. And like him, many today think of 'B' movies as any sort of programmers or genre films, even though many of these pictures played an 'A' billing at many theaters across the country.
Last edited by Jack Theakston on Tue Sep 15, 2009 1:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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