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The "B" Movie Essentials

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The "B" Movie Essentials

Postby moira finnie » June 17th, 2012, 1:42 pm

Here's something I've thought about for some time. I know it is apples to oranges in many ways, but could you explain what you like (and dislike) about "B" movies in the studio period?

What makes a "B" movie good in the studio era, aside from a smaller budget?

Which of the major studios (MGM, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Columbia, RKO, Universal) do you think produced the best "B"s?

Which of the poverty row studios (Republic, Monogram, PRC, etc.) "B" movies do you think made the most interesting "B" flicks?

If there were Academy Awards for Best "B" Picture, which ones would you like to see honored and why?
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Re: The "B" Movie Essentials

Postby MikeBSG » June 17th, 2012, 8:58 pm

Gosh, this takes in a lot of territory.

I guess PRC would get my vote for the best B movies, largely because of Edgar G. Ulmer. "Bluebeard" (1945) is very impressive. It has a fine John Carradine performance, an interesting plot (a woman is used as a decoy by the police to get at a serial killer, and she begins to feel some attraction to him), and stunning visuals. (I would bet that the look of Sweeny Todd's barbershop in the recent Tim Burton film owes something to "Bluebeard.")

I'm mostly more familiar with horror films when it comes to B movies. When they work, such as "The Man They Could Not Hang" and "The Devil Commands," they move like greased lightning and have no wasted moments. When they don't work, such as "Before I Hang" and "The Man With Nine Lives," they are excruciating experiences as they recycle cliches that we have seen executed better elsewhere.

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Re: The "B" Movie Essentials

Postby Rita Hayworth » June 17th, 2012, 11:14 pm

MikeBSG said this:
Gosh, this takes in a lot of territory.


Moira, MikeBSG, and the rest of the Silver Screen Oasis ...

I watched a lot of B Movies in my lifetime and majority of them is from Republic Pictures and I going to try to share some of my thoughts on this subject in general. Like Mike said ... this is a lot of territory to cover and believe me their is a whole flock of movies to cover on.

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Re: The "B" Movie Essentials

Postby intothenitrate » June 18th, 2012, 3:46 am

Great Topic, Moira.

Would you say that a "favorite 'B' movie" is different than a "bad movie you love" (which are extolled so vigorously elsewhere)? I would say yes.

For me, the Val Lewton horror pictures from RKO are giants among B movies. I've been able to collect most if not all of them and I can watch them again and again and never tire of them.

I also recorded that Scorsese documentary that TCM aired a few years back on Lewton's body of work. There are some good insights into what there is about certain B movies that make them great.

A Japanese filmmaker interviewed in the documentary noted that when you're on a tight budget (and schedule), there's no time to over-think things, or do numerous takes. He said that that lends a certain intensity to the execution, forces the director to improvise and think on his feet. This, he says, give the films a certain freshness and energy. [That was wildly paraphrased].

Put another way, constraints can give birth to greater creativity.
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Re: The "B" Movie Essentials

Postby moira finnie » June 18th, 2012, 6:50 am

Mike and King, Thanks for replying. If this seems like too big a topic, please feel free to narrow it down using any criteria you would like.

Mike, it sounds as though your have hit on genres as key to the development of "B" movies. Would a successful "B" be one that expanded a genre ?

King, I am interested in any opinions you have regarding Republic's "B" movies.

intothenitrate wrote:Would you say that a "favorite 'B' movie" is different than a "bad movie you love" (which are extolled so vigorously elsewhere)? I would say yes.

I agree, ITN. Some great "B" movies emerged from the period, while strangely, "Bad Movies You Love" often seem to encompass films that had "A" budgets with great production values and all the other ingredients for success, but went down in flames despite everything (funny, how often that "everything" almost always starts with a script that needed lots more work).

I love the quote Japanese filmmaker's comments about the intensity bred by circumstances. I remember reading in one of director Edward Dmytryk's books that he felt today's filmmakers have everything available to them to make fine films, but they are not constrained by time, budgets, or the Production Code, leading them to make banal movies. The effects achieved in lower budgeted movies were so often prompted by a lack of time and money that imagination kicked in for some filmmakers.
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Re: The "B" Movie Essentials

Postby MissGoddess » June 18th, 2012, 8:25 am

I'm not as familiar as most with what movies came from which studios, but my first inclination was to name Columbia because of the series pictures that I enjoy so much, such as "The Whistler", "The Crime Doctor", et al. Then intothenitrate reminded me of Lewton's classy work at RKO, which is just wonderful, so evocative, even poetic. I agree, necessity is the mother of invention. Just as people often become finer through tribulation, artists often produce their best work under relatively constrictive circumstances, as many of the "B" film pioneers knew.

I look forward to reading about more selections by others.
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Re: The "B" Movie Essentials

Postby RedRiver » June 18th, 2012, 10:53 am

I'll come back to this topic after I've had time to think. (I have a thinking problem!) But the Lewton chillers are as good an example as any. DETOUR is the ultimate cheap crime drama. There are some adorable fantasies like THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN and THE INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN. Do we count the Willam Castle thrillers? They're small in scale, and feature second tier stars. But if Joan Crawford shows up, with or without the ax, can you call it B Level?

I usually think in terms of budget and grandiosity. With a lesser known cast, MALTESE FALCON would qualify. So might the Universal horror classics. But these projects were probably better financed than say, THE NARROW MARGIN or THE HITCH-HIKER.

Like another poster, I don't keep up with studios. I recognize the black and white, urban look of 1930's Warner Brothers. When I see that, I know I'm going to like the movie. Are these B Movies? Well...they're contained and intimate. There are no vast landscapes. But it is Warner Brothers. I'm not sure where to file this one!

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Re: The "B" Movie Essentials

Postby ChiO » June 18th, 2012, 11:52 am

They're small in scale, and feature second tier stars. But if Joan Crawford shows up, with or without the ax, can you call it B Level?

RR raises an important point: What is a "B" movie? It seems to have come to mean a lesser movie in terms of production values and quality (whatever that means). The traditional meaning, however, is a movie made for the purpose of being the second feature on a double-bill. Yes, usually with a smaller budget and, therefore, fewer of the stereotypical production values (but not always) and fewer major stars (but not necessarily without any major stars -- after all, the studio needed to get its money's worth by keeping its contract stars working). Following the traditional definition (my preference) can often be difficult because of trying to find out whether a movie was "A" or "B" (of course, some are obviously "B" -- 65 minutes long with a singing cowboy? I'd go with "B"), and the other definition is full of loaded assumptions. Who would guess today that TOUCH OF EVIL was a "B" movie (traditional meaning) with THE FEMALE ANIMAL as the "A" feature?

When in doubt, go with a Poverty Row studio ("B"s were their reason for being), and when in doubt about which Poverty Row studio, go with PRC (and its short-lived successor, Eagle-Lion). It may have released one "A" movie in its life. As MikeBSG aptly notes, Ulmer was there. I'd rather watch his PRC movies than any "A" feature from MGM of that era that comes to mind. Ditto for Anthony Mann. Of the non-Poverty Row studios, Columbia is hard to beat (it is one of the few -- the only? -- to go from Poverty Row to near-major status...thanks largely to Frank Capra).

A Japanese filmmaker interviewed in the documentary noted that when you're on a tight budget (and schedule), there's no time to over-think things, or do numerous takes. He said that that lends a certain intensity to the execution, forces the director to improvise and think on his feet. This, he says, give the films a certain freshness and energy. [That was wildly paraphrased].

Put another way, constraints can give birth to greater creativity.

That's true -- but I think there is a corollary: With a smaller budget, the studio was probably less concerned about the product, likely having a greater focus on the "A" movie that it had sunk money into and, therefore, less likely to interfere. So, not only might a tight budget, etc. force freshness and energy (assuming a director of some merit), the smaller budget might unintentionally allow for freshness and energy.
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Re: The "B" Movie Essentials

Postby RedRiver » June 18th, 2012, 1:03 pm

"The B Feature." I'd forgotten about that label.

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Re: The "B" Movie Essentials

Postby Rita Hayworth » June 18th, 2012, 1:25 pm

Republic Pictures B Movies and Serials ...

Image

66 Movies and 1 Television Series - See text in Blue ...
Notable Actors and Actresses in Bold.

From 1978 (The Year I graduated out of high school) to 1982 (my last year of college) ... I watched pretty much all these movies in BOLD except the one in RED because it is a lost film.

I watched them on Campus and my local television stations that carries a lot of these movies from 1968 to 1984.

1 Darkest Africa 1936 Jungle B. Reeves Eason and Joseph Kane Clyde Beatty
2 Undersea Kingdom 1936 Science fiction B. Reeves Eason and Joseph Kane Ray Corrigan
3 The Vigilantes Are Coming 1936 Western Ray Taylor and Mack V. Wright Robert Livingston and Kay Hughes
4 Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island 1936 Maritime Ray Taylor and Mack V. Wright Ray Mala
5 Dick Tracy 1937 Crime Alan James Ralph Byrd
6 The Painted Stallion 1937 Western Alan James Ray Corrigan
7 S.O.S. Coast Guard 1937 Maritime, Science fiction Alan James Bela Lugosi and Ralph Byrd
8 Zorro Rides Again 1937 Western William Witney John Carroll
9 The Lone Ranger 1938 Western William Witney and John English Lee Powell
10 The Fighting Devil Dogs 1938 Science fiction William Witney and John English Lee Powell and Herman Brix
11 Dick Tracy Returns 1938 Crime William Witney and John English Ralph Byrd
12 Hawk of the Wilderness 1938 Jungle William Witney and John English Herman Brix and Ray Mala
13 The Lone Ranger Rides Again 1939 Western William Witney and John English Robert Livingston
14 Daredevils of the Red Circle 1939 William Witney and John English Charles Quigley, Herman Brix and David Sharpe
15 Dick Tracy's G-Men 1939 Crime William Witney and John English Ralph Byrd
16 Zorro's Fighting Legion 1939 Western William Witney and John English Reed Hadley
17 Drums of Fu Manchu 1940 Yellow peril William Witney and John English Henry Brandon
18 Adventures of Red Ryder 1940 Western William Witney and John English Don "Red" Barry
19 King of the Royal Mounted 1940 Northern William Witney and John English Allan Lane
20 Mysterious Doctor Satan 1940 Superhero William Witney and John English Eduardo Ciannelli and Robert Wilcox Originally intended as a Superman serial. First original Superhero film.
21 Adventures of Captain Marvel 1941 Superhero William Witney and John English Tom Tyler Based on the Fawcett Comics character "Captain Marvel"; First ever Superhero film based on a comic.
Note: I have the DVD of this Movie.
22 Jungle Girl 1941 Jungle William Witney and John English Frances Gifford
23 King of the Texas Rangers 1941 Western William Witney and John English
Note: Slingin' Sammy Baugh, Famous Football Player
24 Dick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc. 1941 Crime William Witney and John English Ralph Byrd
25 Spy Smasher 1942 Spy, War William Witney Kane Richmond
26 Perils of Nyoka 1942 15 Jungle William Witney Kay Aldridge and Clayton Moore
Note: My Personal Favorite Here ...
27 King of the Mounties 1942 Northern William Witney Allan Lane
28 G-Men vs The Black Dragon 1943 Spy, War William Witney Rod Cameron
29 Daredevils of the West 1943 Western John English Allan Lane Lost film
30 Secret Service in Darkest Africa 1943 Jungle Spencer Gordon Bennet Rod Cameron
31 The Masked Marvel 1943 Superhero Spencer Gordon Bennet David Bacon
Note: Both in Serial and Full Length Movie ... My all time favorite!
32 Captain America 1944 Superhero Elmer Clifton and John English Dick Purcell
33 The Tiger Woman 1944 Jungle Spencer Gordon Bennet Linda Stirling
34 Haunted Harbor 1944 Maritime Spencer Gordon Bennet Kane Richmond and Kay Aldridge
35 Zorro's Black Whip 1944 Western, Superhero Spencer Gordon Bennet Linda Stirling
36 Manhunt of Mystery Island 1945 Pirate, Science fiction Spencer Gordon Bennet Linda Stirling
37 Federal Operator 1945 Crime Spencer Gordon Bennet, Yakima Canutt & Wallace Grissell Marten Lamont
38 The Purple Monster Strikes 1945 Science fiction Spencer Gordon Bennet and Fred C. Brannon Dennis Moore and Linda Stirling
Note: One of the most popular movie around College Campuses across the Nation.
39 The Phantom Rider 1946 Western Spencer Gordon Bennet and Fred C. Brannon Robert Kent and Peggy Stewart
40 King of the Forest Rangers 1946 Western Spencer Gordon Bennet and Fred C. Brannon
41 Daughter of Don Q 1946 Crime Spencer Gordon Bennet and Fred C. Brannon
Note: Kirk Alyn, Movie Serial 1st Superman.
42 The Crimson Ghost 1946 Science fiction William Witney and Fred C. Brannon Clayton Moore and Linda Stirling
43 Son of Zorro 1947 Western, Superhero Spencer Gordon Bennet and Fred C. Brannon
44 Jesse James Rides Again 1947 Western Fred C. Brannon Clayton Moore and Linda Stirling
45 The Black Widow 1947 Science fiction Spencer Gordon Bennet and Fred C. Brannon
46 G-Men Never Forget 1948 Crime Fred C. Brannon Clayton Moore
47 Dangers of the Canadian Mounted 1948 Northern Fred C. Brannon
48 Adventures of Frank and Jesse James 1948 Western Fred C. Brannon Clayton Moore
49 Federal Agents vs. Underworld, Inc 1949 Crime Fred C. Brannon Kirk Alyn
50 Ghost of Zorro 1949 12 Western, Superhero Fred C. Brannon Clayton Moore
51 King of the Rocket Men 1949 Science fiction Fred C. Brannon
Note: Tristram Coffin, A regular supporting actor on the Adventures of Superman, Starring George Reeves.
52 The James Brothers of Missouri 1949 Western Fred C. Brannon Keith Richards
53 Radar Patrol vs Spy King 1949 Spy Fred C. Brannon Kirk Alyn
54 The Invisible Monster 1950 Science fiction Fred C. Brannon Richard Webb
Note: This was done very cleverly ... surprisingly special effects.
55 Desperadoes of the West 1950 Western Fred C. Brannon Tom Keene
56 Flying Disc Man from Mars 1950 Science fiction Fred C. Brannon Walter Reed
57 Don Daredevil Rides Again 1951 Western Fred C. Brannon
Note: Ken Curtis, Television's Gunsmoke ... earlier roles
58 Government Agents vs. Phantom Legion 1951 Spy Fred C. Brannon Walter Reed
59 Radar Men from the Moon 1952 Science fiction Fred C. Brannon George D. Wallace and Clayton Moore
60 Zombies of the Stratosphere 1952 Science fiction Fred C. Brannon Judd Holdren and
Note: Star Trek Leonard Nimoy co-starred. Very Well Made and Science Fiction Classic.
61 Jungle Drums of Africa 1953 Jungle Fred C. Brannon
Note1: Clayton Moore ... Television's Lone Ranger starred with ...
Note2: Phyllis Coates ... Superman's Lois Lane in this movie. She was the female lead.
Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe 1953 Science fiction Harry Keller, Fred C. Brannon and Franklin Adreon Judd Holdren, Aline Towne and Richard Crane A syndicated TV series of self-contained (no cliffhangers) episodes relying mostly on footage re-cycled from the three earlier (1949–1952) "Rocket Man" theatrical chapterplays. For contractual reasons, it was initially given a brief theatrical release as a feature before going to TV in 12 episodes.
Note: I've see Commando Cody ... Fantastic!
62 Canadian Mounties vs. Atomic Invaders 1953 Northern, Spy Franklin Adreon Bill Henry
63 Trader Tom of the China Seas 1954 Maritime Franklin Adreon Harry Lauter and Aline Towne
64 Man with the Steel Whip 1954 Western Franklin Adreon Dick Simmons
65 Panther Girl of the Kongo 1955 Jungle, Science fiction Franklin Adreon Phyllis Coates
66 King of the Carnival 1955 Crime, Spy Franklin Adreon Harry Lauter

I admit I was a television junkie back in those days and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them because they were all exciting and very entertaining to me.

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Re: The "B" Movie Essentials

Postby intothenitrate » June 18th, 2012, 5:51 pm

ChiO wrote:That's true -- but I think there is a corollary: With a smaller budget, the studio was probably less concerned about the product, likely having a greater focus on the "A" movie that it had sunk money into and, therefore, less likely to interfere. So, not only might a tight budget, etc. force freshness and energy (assuming a director of some merit), the smaller budget might unintentionally allow for freshness and energy.


More than a few of us get a big kick out of Wellman's pre-code output at Warner. I'm not sure where those films were on the budgetary continuum, but he definitely took major issue with executives tampering with his work. He said himself in an interview that he usually didn't do more than two takes before moving on to the next setup. If an actor insisted on doing another take, he would pretend to shoot it, but not expose any film. When his films were cut, there was ridiculously little extra footage laying around.

So freshness and energy, in Wellman's case (during that period), came from constraints he imposed with his own working method...to your point.
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Re: The "B" Movie Essentials

Postby kingrat » June 19th, 2012, 6:10 pm

Nitrate, I was also curious about whether the 70-minute William Wellman and Mervyn LeRoy films at Warner Brothers should be considered B pictures. They managed to pack a lot of story and moviemaking into less than 75 minutes.

Isn't part of the B picture lower expectations on the part of audiences and critics, as well as the studio? Some of those pictures did acquire reputations later on. So many noir fans have praised DETOUR that I was actually pretty disappointed in it because I had expected a great film. No one in the original audience could conceivably have felt that way.

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Re: The "B" Movie Essentials

Postby RedRiver » June 20th, 2012, 11:07 am

You're right, King Rat. If you expect greatness, you might be disappointed. If the credits show Tom Neal as star, Jack Arnold director, you anticipate something small and rough around the edges. When it turns out to be good, it's pretty impressive!

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Re: The "B" Movie Essentials

Postby movieman1957 » July 11th, 2012, 9:08 pm

I watched "Detour." I didn't enjoy all that much. A series of fairly unbelievable situations are a bit much and I wasn't all that crazy about the ending.

I wasn't expecting greatness but I wasn't as fond of it as some other "B"s I've seen.
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Re: The "B" Movie Essentials

Postby RedRiver » July 12th, 2012, 12:41 pm

My brother knows a lot about movies. He doesn't care for that one either. To each his own. Of course, my brother insists John Ford was the ONLY great filmmaker!


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