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Oldtime B movie premiere question


Cain89
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Does anyone know how B movies came out in the 40s and 50s? Studio films, but lower budget, no big stars. I'm assuming there wouldn't be much fanfare. Would it even have a premiere? Would it always start in LA or New York and then work its way around the country? How long would this take? Or would they just dump it on small-town theaters to begin with? 

Thanks in advance to anyone who can nudge me in the right direction.

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B-movies were usually shown with an "A" picture. Recall that an evening's showing would include a newsreel, a short or two, a "B" movie, and then the "A" picture. As such, the "B"'s didn't get the prestige treatment often, if ever. There were also independently owned theaters that would exhibit movies from the "poverty row" distributors, most of which would be considered "B"-quality pictures. I doubt that there was often any ballyhoo at these pictures, but there may have been exceptions, and may have been more up to the theater owner than the studio that made the film.

That's as far as I know, and I'm sure others can chime in with more specific detail.

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There were B films in the 1930s. Fox had the Charlie Chan series that began in the 30s. Paramount had the Bulldog Drummond series that also started around the same time. 

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Sometimes the studios used the B films to groom new talent. These people would get exposure to filming techniques and gain needed experience (not just actors but writers and directors that were being groomed for "A" pictures).

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There were occasions when "A" list stars were punished for various things and temporarily taken off "A" films and put in "B" films. This happened to Kay Francis at Warners in 1937. She was feuding with Jack Warner. He wanted to fire her, but she had a contract through 1939, a very costly contract. He started assigning her "B" films, expecting her to turn them down, so he could suspend her and not have to pay her till her contract ran out.

But she surprised him by agreeing to do them. So those "B" films were very expensive for him to make because of her salary. They were hits, too...titles like KING OF THE UNDERWORLD and WOMEN IN THE WIND. Audiences at the time probably didn't realize they were "B" films...to them, they were Kay Francis movies and the public wanted Kay Francis movies. She would freelance starting in '39 and was back to making "A" pictures at other studios.

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Some of the "B" films are pared down remakes of earlier "A" films. The studio already owns the story rights, and the stories have proven popular with past audiences. So the risk is low and the profit is usually considerable.

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Not to over-generalize, but for the most part "B" films evolved into television shows. Similar budgets, similar time constraints, average to good quality but inferior to expensive feature films.

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Getting back to the original question in the first post of the thread-- some of these "B" films were niche marketed. For example, "B" westerns and movie serials were geared to the weekend matinee crowds. Republic Pictures which did "B" films and "A" films but earned more from its "B" films specifically designed films they could exhibit in rural parts of the country. It was a segment of the market that other studios were overlooking. They made a bundle. The success of the "B" films helped finance more prestigious projects.

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6 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Not to over-generalize, but for the most part "B" films evolved into television shows. Similar budgets, similar time constraints, average to good quality but inferior to expensive feature films.

Many of the B films were genre titles, as well, and they continued on throughout the 50's, 60's and 70's as drive-in fare, grindhouse films, and lesser-theater double-bills or weekend matinees for the teen crowds. Even though the "A" film paired with "B" movie dynamic had faded away, these movies were still "B" quality, as you say, and they never reached "A" film status. It really wasn't until Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, and later Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, that these genre films returned to "A" status. Some critics have stated that nowadays, the "A" pictures are often subject matter that only would have shown up in the "B"s in the "good old days".

However, the "B"'s still continued, too, and in the 1980's and 1990's they moved to direct-to-video status or cable-movie premieres. That's now changed again into streaming-service originals. New platform, same "B" movie production values and genre audiences. 

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Thanks Larry. I added another paragraph at the end of my previous post. About exhibition.

But yeah, TV and direct-to-video changed the landscape in terms of how "B" films evolved and were generally exhibited.

With regards to your point that "B" films continued in certain genres, while "A" films appeared in these genres-- we can look at the runaway success of 1939's STAGECOACH. In that case John Wayne was catapulted into "A" westerns. But his home studio, Republic, continued to churn out "B" westerns until 1959. 

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