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B-Movies

B-Movies

A B movie is a low-budget commercial motion picture. In its original usage, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the term more precisely identified a film intended for distribution as the less-publicized, bottom half of a double feature.

 

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Melissa Starr

Melissa Starr

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Major studios generally did not distribute British films, which found their way into mainstream cinemas only by circuitous and usually unprofitable routes. In 1947, for example, Bedelia (1946), which starred Britain's top female star, Margaret Lockwood, was released in the United States by PRC, a company specializing in low-budget "B" movies. in twelve months, it earned more than $100,000, but the British producer received less than $100.

Article:   The British Culture Indus…
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A uniquely German cinematic aesthetic can be discerned in film noir and that distinctive expressions of German cultural or national identity inflected the film cycle and its development during the 1940's.

Film historians have also acknowledged the explanatory challenge posed by the lag between the arrival of German-Language filmmakers in the 1930's and the film noir cycle of the 1940's, as well as the chronological disruption introduced by the films of an earlier group of emigres.

How should one understand Karl Freund's The Mummy (1932), French emigre Robert Florey's Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) or Russian emigre Boris Ingster's The Stranger in the Third Floor (1940), all of which contain mise-en-scene associated with "German film style" in advance of the 1930's and 1940's films of the German emigres and exiles?

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Film critics past and present have observed that in the forties, Hollywood films were widely recognized as crucial ideological tools in the campaign to convert the rest of the world to capitalism and democracy; as the place where millions around the world obtain most of their ideas about the United States, they possessed a unique ability to sell American goods and American ideas in every land. But commentators have virtually ignored the vital role that Hollywood films could play in inculcating those same virtues at home. The film industry made its product available for nationalist propaganda in times of domestic crisis such as war.

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The opportunities to learn about other cultures such as Black, Native American, Spanish speaking American, and Oriental are magnified many times when films are used as a major technique by the instructor. The power of film to personalize so many different life styles, so many different realities of existence, has no peer-except real life.

Article:   The Art of the Popular Fi…
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Film-makers have returned again and again to this device in various ways in order to create dramatic conflict, to reveal hidden aspects of a character's nature, and to provide stark contrasts between opposing narrative forces. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931), is perhaps the most famous early example of this, with a man leading a double life ('angel and fiend') across a clearly partitioned temporal split (day and night). In Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), replacement by an alien double was used as an allegory of (and a warning against) the dangers of the communist infiltration of middle America.

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While the majors continued to make Westerns on a smaller scale, the decrease in production gave Poverty Row producers the opportunity to meet the ongoing demand for the Western product. This continued demand in the face of a shrinking supply was apparent in February 1929 when Variety claimed: 'Although the bottom has fallen out of Westerns it appears that there is still enough of a demand for the cowboy operas and suddenly almost no supply to meet the market.' The request for more Westerns specifically arose from small town audiences, and was mainly for low-budget programmers and serials.

Republic's 'B' Westerns, many directed by Joseph Kane, are of particular interest due to their variation of the Western formula, genre and frontier mythology-in their utilisation of a singing protagonist (Gene Autry), their modern setting (the New West), and the corresponding acclamation of frontier values in a space dislocated from the frontier in terms of distance and time.

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In trying to understand this body of forgotten British films, one needs to raise such key issues as: (a) ho the B films answered an industrial need (i.e., in relation to the prevalent programming demands); (b) who made them and where the B films fitted into the career "trajectories" of their makers; (c) what kinds of film industry structures existed to support their work (studios, production companies, distributors); (d) the range of genres available to them as film-makers at the dominated end of the (economic) spectrum; (e) how they related to the dominant exponents of the intensely hierarchical British cinematic field at the time; (f) their response to the broader socio-political currents of the period, in particular their representations of class, gender, and work; and (g) their minimal place in the critical discourse surrounding cinema then or later.

It was the Depression-era moviegoer who first insisted on a complete three-hour-plus program for his or her money, and the practice is a logical outgrowth of the Depression state of mind...There had been low-budget features before the arrival of the double bill, but...it was the double bill that made the B's a necessity.

Film historians Kristen Thompson and David Bordwell agree that the 1930's Depression saw the introduction of the double-bill: "since many moviegoers had little to spend on entertainment, exhibitors resorted to playing double and even triple features, in addition to short films. The second film was often a cheap B picture, but it gave the moviegoers the impression of getting twice as much."

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It has come to mean any low-budget feature that appeals to the broadest possible audience, the term "B" movies was first applied to movies of the 1930's and 1940's that were made quickly, cheaply, in black-and-white, usually without notable stars, and usually with a running time between 60 and 80 minutes, in order to fill out the second half of a double feature. Many "B"s were parts of series. In the 1980's and 1990's, a successful film might have two or three sequels but a single old-time "B" movie series might include up to 30 or 40 films.

Article:   St. James Encyclopedia of…
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with demand for motion pictures at an all-time high, many major firms created "B-units" charged with the task of supplying a steady stream of low-budget productions to company-owned theaters and utilized the competitive advantages available through vertical integration--including their ability to fold B's into current block booking practices and to maximize the use-value of their large, contract-labor pools and existing production facilities-to dominate the B-film market. By the early 1940's, however, continuous rises in production costs and the limitations on block booking mandated by the Consent Decree of 1940 mitigated the value of maintaining B-units within major film making corporations.

Article:   "Monogram Means Business"…
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B-movies were a dominant form of programming in the formative years of television's development. In a move towards creating a 'higher form' of motion pictures, Hollywood began utilizing new technologies in order to differentiate its product from those films shown on television.

Article:   Small Screen, Smaller Pic…
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