Monday, November 3, 2008

Poverty Row Studios





 grand National



When you think of Hollywood studios of the 1930's and 1940's, you probably think of MGMParamount, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, and RKO


These were the `big 5' studios.  The ones with the major stars, the brick and mortar studios, and the most lavish production values (read:budgets).


They generally produced `A' pictures, although they would also produce the so-called `B' picture - to run on a double bill.


Next in line were second-tier studios like Universal, United Artists, and Columbia.   Respectable, and capable of producing hit movies, but not quite in the same league as the big 5.    


At the bottom of the list were studios known as `Poverty Row'.


Unlike the big 5, or even the second tier studios, they had no backlots or sound stages of their own.  They had to lease facilities (and often cameras, sets, and even actors) from other studios when they wanted to make a picture.


Often these were fly-by-night ventures, poorly funded, and with limited distributorship. In an era when many theaters were owned by the big studios, getting an `independent' picture into movie houses was a challenge.


While dozens of the studios came and went, a handful managed to remain Hollywood players for years.  Republic Pictures, makers of hundreds of cookie-cutter westerns, is probably the best known, followed by Monogram pictures, and Grand National.



Westerns, of course, were a staple of these studios.  They were relatively easy to produce, and the Saturday afternoon matinee crowd wasn't really discerning when it came to the quality of script or acting. 




From these humble roots, however, some genuine stars would emerge. The most famous being John Wayne.  




Republic pictures would actually receive an Oscar nomination (for Best Art Direction and Best Original Score) for a John Wayne picture,  1940's  Dark Command.



Even James Cagney - Warner's biggest star -  jumped to Grand National pictures to make a couple of movies after he sued Warner Brothers for breech of contract in 1935. 


Both movies,  Something to Sing About and Great Guy, were well received by the critics, but suffered from poor distribution and failed to make a profit.  After the courts rules in favor of Cagney in 1937, he would return to Warner Brothers where he would work until 1942. 



Mysteries were also popular, as were detective series like Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto, along with comedies like The East Side Kids.    These movies were often shot in less than a week, and for a few tens of thousands of dollars.


Despite miniscule budgets, and with limited star power, these studios often did manage to churn out decent entertainment.  


`B' movies to be sure.  But sometimes, pretty darn good `B' movies.


Here is a smorgasbord of 7 such movies from the Internet Archive (descriptions by the uploaders)


Remember:  The bigger the file size, generally the better the picture quality, so if you intend to burn them to DVD, opt for the medium or large sized downloads.



Bluebeard - Leon Fromkess
Young female models are being strangled inexplicably. Will law enforcement be able to stop the crime wave before more women become victims? You can find more information regarding this film on its IMDb page. John Carradine .... Gaston Morrell Jean Parker .... Lucille Nils Asther .... Inspector Lefevre Ludwig Stössel .... Jean Lamarte (as Ludwig Stossel) George Pembroke .... Inspector Renard Teala Loring ......

Great Guy - Grand National Pictures

James Cagney plays the plucky Irish crusader, Johnny Cave, who fights against corruption at the Weights And Measures Department. James Cagney is great in this movie. It shows why he was such a huge movie star

Captain Calamity - George A. Hirliman, Edward L. Alperson (executive producer )
Captain Bill Jones (George Houston) gets a Spanish doubloon from a passenger he was ferrying. Flat broke, he uses the doubloon to trick the greedy storekeeper Joblin (Harold Howard) into giving him a drink (or two) for free. Soon, the whole island is aflame with rumors of the treasure. After Joblin tries to put one over on Bill and fails, he allows Bill to get whatever he wants from his store in exchange for not getting sent to prison...

Here's Flash Casey - Arthur Alexander

Flash Casey (Eric Linden), after working his way through college by taking pictures, finds the newspaper world harder to break into than he had expected.

The Corpse Vanishes - Sam Katzman and Jack Dietz, Banner Productions
A newspaper reporter begins to investigate after a series of brides die suddenly during their wedding. Her quest leads her to the secret of eternal youth and almost gets her killed. 

Abe Lincoln of the Ninth Avenue - Scott R. Dunlap
A drama about an idealistic law student from Hell's Kitchen who unites his neighborhood pals against a gang. Originally released as "Streets of New York".  Stars Jackie Cooper and Marjorie Reynolds.

Calendar Girl - Allan Dwan

A low budget, but amiable musical staring Jane Frazee, William Marshall , Gail Patrick, Kenny Baker and Janet Martin. 

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