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The Battle for the Bs: 1950s Hollywood and the Rebirth of Low-Budget Cinema

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Battle for the Bs
    Book Description:

    The emergence of the double-bill in the 1930s created a divide between A-pictures and B-pictures as theaters typically screened packages featuring one of each. With the former considered more prestigious because of their larger budgets and more popular actors, the lower-budgeted Bs served largely as a support mechanism to A-films of the major studios-most of which also owned the theater chains in which movies were shown. When a 1948 U.S. Supreme Court antitrust ruling severed ownership of theaters from the studios, the B-movie soon became a different entity in the wake of profound changes to the corporate organization and production methods of the major Hollywood studios.InThe Battle for the Bs, Blair Davis analyzes how B-films were produced, distributed, and exhibited in the 1950s and demonstrates the possibilities that existed for low-budget filmmaking at a time when many in Hollywood had abandoned the Bs. Made by newly formed independent companies, 1950s B-movies took advantage of changing demographic patterns to fashion innovative marketing approaches. They established such genre cycles as science fiction and teen-oriented films (thinkDestination MoonandI Was a Teenage Werewolf) well before the major studios and also contributed to the emergence of the movement now known as underground cinema. Although frequently proving to be multimillion-dollar box-office draws by the end of the decade, the Bs existed in opposition to the cinematic mainstream in the 1950s and created a legacy that was passed on to independent filmmakers in the decades to come.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5324-5
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. The Bs Take Flight: An Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    B-movies are frequently labeled as simply being “bad” films, both historically within the film industry and by many modern critics and fans. What this overlooks is how vital B-films have been overall to cinema, particularly from a business perspective. Despite often being ridiculed or dismissed as inconsequential trash, Bs were important commercial entities, not only in how they allowed the major Hollywood studios to solidify their control over the marketplace in the 1930s and 1940s as the double bill emerged, but also in how they allowed 1950s independent filmmakers to change the very way in which low-budget filmmaking was understood....

  5. 1 Hollywood in Transition: The Business of 1950s Filmmaking
    (pp. 19-42)

    The 1950s B-movie became something that stood apart from its predecessors—not a mere continuation of what came before, but an entity with its own unique role in the history of cinema. While stemming from the production, distribution, and exhibition patterns of the B-movies of previous decades, in the wake of industry-wide change 1950s Bs established innovative ways of making films and getting them before audiences. With the end of block booking, B-movies were no longer necessarily subject to flat-rate rentals, and by the end of the decade many B-films would command the same percentage-based distribution deals in first-run markets...

  6. 2 The Battle Begins: Hollywood Reacts, Poverty Row Collapses
    (pp. 43-66)

    At stake in the battle for the Bs in the 1950s was the very survival of B-filmmaking itself. Although many low-budget films established new trends throughout the decade, several Hollywood studios quickly abandoned the B-movie in the decade’s early years, while a few others were (tentatively) dedicated to its ongoing viability. At the same time, Poverty Row studios such as Producers Releasing Corporation, Republic, and Monogram underwent substantial changes as the industrial role of the B-movie continued to evolve throughout the decade. The battle would significantly affect all three of these studios, with two of them going out of business...

  7. 3 The Rebirth of the B-Movie in the 1950s
    (pp. 67-102)

    The rise of the new independent studios seeking to compete with Allied Artists and its Poverty Row peers became crucial to the survival of many exhibitors as a product shortage loomed. The 1950s was a period of changing exhibition patterns, as the film industry reacted to transitional forces. Smaller theaters, particularly those in rural areas or in neighborhoods and towns outside of major urban centers, were most affected by these changes. In turn, just as the operations of these theaters had consequences for the exhibition of B-films, the production of low-budget cinema was similarly affected by the prevailing volatility of...

  8. 4 Attack of the Independent: American International Pictures and the B-Movie
    (pp. 103-130)

    Of all of the new independent companies to emerge in the 1950s, none was more successful than American International Pictures, largely because it proved the most skilled in reaching the increasingly important teenage audience. Its mid-decade debut signified that a distinct era of B-movie filmmaking was fully under way: if the films of Lippert Pictures Inc. and its competitors at the beginning of the decade could be seen as similar in any way to their Poverty Row predecessors, AIP’s entrance signaled a definite shift in the B-movie marketplace. AIP was conspicuously different in many regards from both the major studios...

  9. 5 Small Screen, Smaller Pictures: New Perspectives on 1950s Television and B-Movies
    (pp. 131-163)

    While companies such as American International Pictures allowed B-movies to thrive at the box office in the 1950s, the Bs also had a substantial presence on television in this decade, and, even though scholars often cite television’s growing popularity as a primary cause for the demise of such Poverty Row studios as Republic and PRC/Eagle-Lion, B-filmmaking simultaneously influenced certain patterns within the television industry. B-movies played a unique and at times integral role in the development of the television medium in the 1950s, yet few detailed accounts of this interplay exist despite the wealth of scholarly literature comparing the two...

  10. 6 Big B, Little b: A Case Study of Three Films
    (pp. 164-200)

    In teaching students about B-movies, I typically begin by asking them to define the term, in order to determine their preconceptions. More often than not, there is a general consensus that B-equals-bad, to the point that when I screen such critically celebratedfilms as Detour(1945) andCat People(1942) in the term’s early weeks many students are often surprised at how much they genuinely enjoy them—even to the point of questioning whether such films can really be called B-movies given such enjoyment. If B-movies have therefore become a misunderstood cinematic entity, where does such perplexity ultimately come from?...

  11. 7 Notes from the Underground: The Legacy of the 1950s B-Movie
    (pp. 201-216)

    One of the fundamental principles of filmmaking is that of risk, with gambling metaphors proving common when film producers and analysts describe the industry. Perhaps more than any other category of films, the 1950s B-movie exemplifies this risk, given that it was an extremely marginalized entity during a highly transitional period. With films of the 1930s and 1940s ensconced in the block-booking policies of the classical Hollywood studio system, B-movies in these decades were not subject to the same level of uncertainty as were the Bs of the 1950s. Whereas most studio-system-era B-movies were essentially guaranteed distribution and a minimum...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 217-248)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 249-260)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 261-262)