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'B' picture or programmer?

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I only cite it because every time I watch it on TCM, Robert Osborne introduces it as a B-picture. Perhaps he does so in order to to allow him enhance the value of its Best Picture win.

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I think RO must've been giving it a letter grade (B-). Not that it was a B movie..........nothing about it (stars, director etc.) speaks to being a B movie..........

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Kay's films were still making money, maybe not as much as in her earlier years. I think Jack L's main beef was her salary. He never seemed to give it a thought that maybe her pictures weren't doing as well as before was because the public was tired of seeing her in the same crummy stories all the time. Most of her WB films are only worth seeing for her being in them (with a few exceptions). The tipping point in all this was the failure of The White Sister. WB had big hits with their Paul Muni biopics, and when the picture failed, figured Kay was past her prime and blamed her for it tanking. And soon after all the ruckus started. Films she made after that did make money (Give Me Your Heart etc....) There were rumors she was involved in some sex scandal that WB had to hush up, but I dont believe that (neither biographer found any evidence).........

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Hibi, I agree with your take here. The questions for both actors and studio heads is how 'fair' a fixed rate, 7 year contract is as time marches on.

 

WB got it's money worth at the start of Kay's contract but clearly not as much at the end, but overall both sides got value out of the relationship. Kay signed her deal with WB while near the top of her fame. Doing so clearly favors an actor.

 

Of course with some actors the reserve is true. i.e. an actor signs a deal when they are just getting started and thus 'accept' what ends up being a low rate a few years later when that actor is a major star. In this situation the studio holds the cards.

 

 

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> {quote:title=finance wrote:}{quote}

> Is the length of the film a factor as to whether it's considered a "B" picture or a programmer?

I was once in a dispute in another forum on that very issue. Someone wrote that a couple of titles that I described as "minor A" films (what I tend to use to distinguish a programmer from a major film) were "B" movies because they ran less than 80 minutes.

 

While it's true that "B" films tend to be shorter in length and thus the majority will be less than 80 minutes, there are films such as ACROSS THE WIDE MISSOURI which was released at 78 minutes after MGM re-edited Wellman's film. Surely Clark Gable in 1951 was not going to be in a B film.

 

So yes, length is a factor, but it's one of several and anyone trying to confine the definition of a "B" film to some single bit of criteria is going to be off the mark.

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ACROSS THE WIDE MISSOURI is sort of like a B+ or an A- film. It does not really seem epic enough to be called an A film, even though Clark Gable's in it; and it has too good a pedigree to be labeled a B film.

 

I think MALAYA is another one of these. Compared to QUO VADIS, it is not going to seem like an A picture. But it has Spencer Tracy, James Stewart and Sidney Greenstreet in it (a who's-who of solid performers). It's a routine MGM drama that was blessed with excellent casting.

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Topbilled wrote:

*Arturo is really the expert on programmers. He contributed a great post in this thread.*

 

Thanks, TB. As I mentioned, modern-day distinctions between A and B films from the Studio Era, with no concept of "Programmer" included (or misunderstood) is one of my pet peeves, and I tend to point out when someone labels all programmers as Bs in one fell swoop.

 

As in this post:

 

ACROSS THE WIDE MISSOURI *is sort of like a B or an A- film. It does not really seem epic enough to be called an A film,* even though Clark Gable's in it; *and it has too good a pedigree to be labeled a B film.+*

*I think MALAYA is another one of these. Compared to QUO VADIS, it is not going to seem like an A picture.* But it has Spencer Tracy, James Stewart and Sidney Greenstreet in it (a who's-who of solid performers). *It's a routine MGM drama that was blessed with excellent casting.*

 

These comments should be enough to not even allow the B film tag to be considered for these movies. Not every A movie was, or was meant to be, an epic. These are just average studio A films, with big name talent, but nothing epic or prestigious....in short, Programmers.

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*The questions for both actors and studio heads is how 'fair' a fixed rate, 7 year contract is as time marches on.*

 

Actually, most of the 7 year contracts had options every six months or one year. If the studio picked up the player's option, there was usually a salary increase. So these contracts were not normally "fixed-rate".

 

*WB got it's money worth at the start of Kay's contract but clearly not as much at the end, but overall both sides got value out of the relationship. Kay signed her deal with WB while near the top of her fame. Doing so clearly favors an actor.*

 

Kay had the added advantage in that she was part of a "talent raid" by WB against Paramount; this also included Miriam Hopkins and William Powell. Warners was able to woo them with superior salary guarantees, but also because they were unhappy that Paramount had instituted an across the board pay cut, in order to counter sagging movie attendance as the Great Depression was reaching the depths.

 

it is possible that Warners got as much of its money's worth at the end of Kay's contract as at the start, insomuchas Kay was filming B movies. So while her movies might no longer have been making the money they had earlier, they were substantially more economically made, being B films.

 

Edited by: Arturo on Nov 16, 2012 9:30 PM

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You slightly misquoted me:

 

>As in this post: ACROSS THE WIDE MISSOURI is sort of like a B or an A- film...

 

I said ATWM is sort of like a B plus film or A minus film. I was making the distinction that, while it is a programmer, it could not be considered a B film. It has a somewhat elevated pedigree in terms of budget and casting and other production values. I was also suggesting that the A pictures that are not epics and do not have extravagant casts and location shooting are sort of like an A minus. Or if we are calling MALAYA a straight A, then we would have to call QUO VADIS an A plus. There is a correlational study that can be done on studio productions.

 

I want to add a new thought here, since we are defining terms. I would say that Monogram's DILLINGER (1945) is a B plus film. While it was developed as a B, the quality of its story and its resonance with the public makes it a little bit more than the average B.

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*I said ATWM is sort of like a B plus film or A minus film. I was making the distinction that, while it is a programmer, it could not be considered a B film. It has a somewhat elevated pedigree in terms of budget and casting and other production values. I was also suggesting that the A pictures that are not epics and do not have extravagant casts and location shooting are sort of like an A minus. Or if we are calling MALAYA a straight A, then we would have to call QUO VADIS an A plus. There is a correlational study that can be done on studio productions.*

 

Topbilled, if I remember corectly, you are an educator. This must explain your partiality to letter grades with qualifiying pluses or minuses lol. And all these letter grade permutations is the reason I feel people nowdays don't understand the concept of "programmer" and think of it as more or less synonymous with "B". This (programmer) is a perfectly good term that covers a certain grade of A films, and to explain them as a B Plus confuses what a programmer is....just say "programmer" and it should be self-explanatory.

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Yes, I am an educator. Good memory.

 

I want to redirect the conversation a bit, if I may, to anyone that wants to comment on Randolph Scott's westerns from the 1950s.

 

A lot of them were made at Columbia and had very medium budgets. Are they A films or B films? Randolph Scott was certainly an A-list actor, but by this phase of his career, he was turning out a slew of programmers. Some of them, good as they are, do look like B films. We may also be able to say this about Audie Murphy's westerns in the 1960s.

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I think you mean Ruth Chatterton, not Miriam Hopkins (who did go to Warners later in the 30s). Ironically, Ruth and Willam Powell would leave Warners after only a couple years (Ruth was dropped and Powell went to MGM) Kay was the only one who stayed on..........

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We mustn't neglect Hopkins' period with Sam Goldwyn in the mid-1930s. Some of her best films were made during that phase of her career.

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*I think you mean Ruth Chatterton, not Miriam Hopkins*

 

Hibi, you are so right. The trouble is that since in the early/into the mid-30s, Chatterton, Hopkins and Kay Francis seemed to have been interchangeable in producers' minds in assigning roles to them, that details of each actress's career jumble together in my mind. Thanks for the correction.

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True. Francis inherited a lot of Chatterton's cast offs and then assumed her position at WB after she left..........

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*I think the economical part is what throws me. LOL*

 

When I say economical I mean for an A feature....this would be a mid-priced film overall, not a budget-priced feature, signifying a B or cheaper (cheaper as in less expensive...no value judgement on content on my part here).

 

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*In my mind, Hopkins and Francis were much bigger stars than Chatterton.*

At her height in the early 30s, she was much bigger than either of them. But by the mid-30s, she was fading fast. I think DODSWORTH in 1936 was her Last Hurrah. Hopkins' and Francis' movie careers outlived Ruth's by a decade in the latter, and decades in the former, but more importantly, they were at the top for longer that Chatterton.

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