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B movie

 

A B movie or B film is a low-budget commercial movie, but not an arthouse film. In its original usage, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the term more precisely identified films intended for distribution as the less-publicized bottom half of a double feature (akin to B-sides for recorded music). Although the U.S. production of movies intended as second features largely ceased by the end of the 1950s, the term B movie continues to be used in its broader sense to this day. In its post-Golden Age usage, there is ambiguity on both sides of the definition: on the one hand, the primary interest of many inexpensive exploitation films is prurient; on the other, many B movies display a high degree of craft and aesthetic ingenuity.
The introduction of sound had driven costs higher: by 1930, the average U.S. feature film cost $375,000 to produce. A broad range of motion pictures occupied the B category. The leading studios made not only clear-cut A and B films, but also movies classifiable as "programmers" (also known as "in-betweeners" or "intermediates"). As Taves describes, "Depending on the prestige of the theater and the other material on the double bill, a programmer could show up at the top or bottom of the marquee." On Poverty Row, many Bs were made on budgets that would have barely covered petty cash on a major's A film, with costs at the bottom of the industry running as low as $5,000. By the mid-1930s, the double feature was the dominant U.S. exhibition model, and the majors responded. In 1935, B movie production at Warner Bros. was raised from 12 to 50% of studio output. The unit was headed by Bryan Foy, known as the "Keeper of the Bs". At Fox, which also shifted half of its production line into B territory, Sol M. Wurtzel was similarly in charge of more than twenty movies a year during the late 1930s.
Considerations beside cost made the line between A and B movies ambiguous. Films shot on B-level budgets were occasionally marketed as A pictures or emerged as sleeper hits: one of 1943's biggest films was Hitler's Children, an RKO thriller made for a fraction over $200,000. It earned more than $3 million in rentals, industry language for a distributor's share of gross box office receipts. Particularly in the realm of film noir, A pictures sometimes echoed visual styles generally associated with cheaper films. Programmers, with their flexible exhibition role, were ambiguous by definition. As late as 1948, the double feature remained a popular exhibition modeit was standard policy at 25% of theaters and used part-time at an additional 36%. The leading Poverty Row firms began to broaden their scope; in 1947, Monogram established a subsidiary, Allied Artists, to develop and distribute relatively expensive films, mostly from independent producers. Around the same time, Republic launched a similar effort under the "Premiere" rubric. In 1947 as well, PRC was subsumed by Eagle-Lion, a British company seeking entry to the American market. Warners' former "Keeper of the Bs", Brian Foy, was installed as production chief.
In 1954, a young filmmaker named Roger Corman received his first screen credits as writer and associate producer of Allied Artists' Highway Dragnet. Corman soon independently produced his first movie, Monster from the Ocean Floor, on a $12,000 budget and a six-day shooting schedule. Among the six films he worked on in 1955, Corman produced and directed the first official ARC release, Apache Woman, and Day the World Ended, half of Arkoff and Nicholson's first twin-bill package. Corman would go on to direct over fifty feature films through 1990. As of 2007, he remained active as a producer, with more than 350 movies to his credit. Often referred to as the "King of the Bs", Corman has said that "to my way of thinking, I never made a 'B' movie in my life", as the traditional B movie was dying out when he began making pictures. He prefers to describe his metier as "low-budget exploitation films". In later years Corman, both with AIP and as head of his own companies, would help launch the careers of Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Robert Towne, and Robert De Niro, among many others.
Asian martial arts films began appearing as imports regularly during the 1970s. These "kung fu" films as they were often called, whatever martial art they featured, were popularized in the United States by the Hong Kongproduced movies of Bruce Lee and marketed to the same audience targeted by AIP and New World. Horror continued to attract young, independent American directors. As Roger Ebert explained in one 1974 review, "Horror and exploitation films almost always turn a profit if they're brought in at the right price. So they provide a good starting place for ambitious would-be filmmakers who can't get more conventional projects off the ground." The movie under consideration was The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Made by Tobe Hooper for less than $300,000, it became one of the most influential horror films of the 1970s. John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), produced on a $320,000 budget, grossed over $80 million worldwide and effectively established the slasher flick as horror's primary mode for the next decade. Just as Hooper had learned from Romero's work, Halloween, in turn, largely followed the model of Black Christmas (1974), directed by Deathdream's Bob Clark.

 

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