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Grade B Studios Essay, Research Paper

As a companion piece to the articles outlining the histories of the eight major film studios, this survey examines four low-budget studios. They produced mostly Grade-"B" films: genre efforts made quickly and cheaply for targeted audiences — usually young ones, whether it was the fare aimed at juvenile cowboy enthusiasts, provided by Monogram, PRC (Producers Releasing Company), and Republic during the 1930s and '40s, or the older teen crowds sold on AIP's (American International Pictures) horror or rock & roll movies (sometimes, horror and rock & roll!) of the 1950s and '60s. Critical recognition in their day was almost nil, but today all four are admired for having consistently entertained generations of film lovers. MONOGRAMThe history of Monogram begins in 1924, with the founding of the Rayart studio by its president W. Ray Johnston. After a few years of westerns, serials, and dramas, Rayart became Syndicate Film Exchange in 1928, and then Monogram in 1931; Johnston made Trem Carr the studio's executive director. In the early '30s Monogram attracted attention with the mystery The Thirteenth Guest (1932) starring Ginger Rogers and the literary adaptations Oliver Twist (1933) with Dickie Moore and Jane Eyre (1934) with Virginia Bruce and Colin Clive; but the studio's bread-and-butter were its many Western series, with such hard-riding heroes as Tom Tyler (Partners Of The Trail, 1931), Bob Steele (Breed Of The Border, 1933), and John Wayne (The Trail Beyond, 1934). In 1935 Monogram merged with Mascot Pictures and the processing lab Consolidated Film Industries to form Republic Productions, Inc. But the following year, Johnston and Carr withdrew over internal squabbles at Republic, and revived Monogram in 1937. Mr. Wong, Detective (1938) launched a short-lived series with Boris Karloff as an Asian detective. The Mongram mainstay continued to be Westerns, with such new series stars as Jack Randall (Riders Of The Dawn, 1938) and Tex Ritter (Down The Wyoming Trail, 1939). Monogram teamed former cowboy stars Buck Jones and Tim McCoy with Raymond Hatton for the "Rough Rider" series in 1941 (Arizona Bound; Gunman From Bodie), which was cut short the following year by Jones' tragic death in a fire. Johnny Mack Brown was teamed with Hatton for a successful Western series (Flame Of The West, 1945). Also popular were the "Cisco Kid" oaters with Gilbert Roland (The Gay Cavalier, 1946).Horror films became a Monogram specialty in the early '40s. Bela Lugosi starred in the British chiller The Human Monster (1940), which the studio released in the States; he then appeared in several Monogram scare films, most notably Invisible Ghost (1941), The Corpse Vanishes (1942), and The Ape Man (1943). Boris Karloff was a mad scientist in The Ape (1940), George Zucco held black-magic rites in Voodoo Man (1944), and John Carradine reanimated the dead in Revenge Of The Zombies (1943) and Face Of Marble (1946). Monogram's biggest success in the '40s, however, weren't horror films or Westerns, but rather the "East Side Kids" movies produced by Sam Katzman. Boys Of The City (1940), directed by Joseph H. Lewis and starring Leo Gorcey and Bobby Jordan, was the official start; by 1946, the series was retitled "The Bowery Boys" and began leaning increasingly on comedy, especially the antics of Huntz Hall in such films as Bowery Bombshell (1946) and Master Minds (1949). Monogram also revived the defunct 20th Centry-Fox series of "Charlie Chan" mysteries, starting with Charlie Chan In The Secret Service (1944), starring Sidney Toler as the Chinese sleuth. After Toler's death, Roland Winters took over the role in The Chinese Ring (1947), and kept up the series until the end of the decade. Just as Chan lost steam, producer Walter Mirisch teamed with writer/director Ford Beebe and actor Johny Sheffield (who'd played "Boy" in Johnny Weismuller's Tarzan films) for the popular "Bomba The Jungle Boy" series, including Bomba On Panther Island (1949) and Bomba And The Jungle Girl (1952). In 1945 Steve Broidy was elected Monogram's president and Johnston became chairman of the board. The following year, the studio formed Allied Artists Productions as a wholly owned subsidiary of Monogram, intending to release bigger-budget films under the new banner. What came out, however, were more cheap B-films. Although Monogram eventually renamed itself Allied Artists in 1953, it kept largely to the same product over the decade, making "Bomba" films until 1955 and "Bowery Boys" comedies until 1958. Several notable films did eventually emerge from Allied Artists in the '50s. Director Don Siegel and producer Walter Wanger made the prison drama Riot In Cell Block 11 (1954) and the science-fiction classic Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956). Allan Dwan directed the Korean War film Hold Back The Night (1956). Roger Corman produced and directed the 1956 shockers Attack Of The Crab Monsters and Not Of This Earth. William Castle, who directed Robert Mitchum and Kim Hunter in the acclaimed Monogram noir When Strangers Marry (1944, aka Betrayed), began to produce and direct gimmicky horror films with Macabre (1958) and House On Haunted Hill (1959). Other beloved Allied Artists scare fare includes Daughter Of Dr. Jekyll (1957), directed by Edgar G. Ulmer; The Cyclops (1957), written, produced, and directed by Bert I. Gordon; Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman (1958); and Frankenstein — 1970 (1958) with Boris Karloff. Allied Artists finally took the big-budget plunge with two outstanding films starring Gary Cooper: Friendly Presuasion (1956), produced and directed by William Wyler, and Love In The Afternoon (1957), produced, directed, and co-scripted by Billy Wilder. Neither film hit big enough at the box-office, however, and by the 1960s the studio was in trouble. Samuel Fuller wrote, produced, and directed two of his best films for Allied Artists release: the insane-asylum mystery Shock Corridor (1963) and the lurid small-town expos? The Naked Kiss (1965). The studio scored in the mid '60s with the Elvis Presley musical Tickle Me (1965), but in 1967 an ailing Allied Artists sold its production studio. Switching to the distribution of foreign films, its releases included The Sorcerers (1967) with Boris Karloff, written and directed by Michael Reeves; Luis Bu?uel's erotic classic Belle De Jour (1968); and the 1969 Claude Chabrol thrillers La Femme Infid?le and This Man Must Die. The switch paid off, and in the '70s Allied Artists resumed production with such films as the Bob Fosse musical Cabaret (1972), an ABC Pictures/Allied Artists co-production; Papillon (1973) with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman; and John Huston's classic Kipling adaptation, The Man Who Would Be King (1975), a Columbia/Allied Artists co-production. Eventually, however, the wolf got past the door; Allied Artists went bankrupt in 1979 and was sold to Lorimar Productions the following year. PRCThe most notoriously cheap films were made by Producers Releasing Corporation, or PRC — or "Pretty Rotten Crummy," as groaning audiences were wont to jeer as soon as they saw the studio's trademark. Today, however, PRC is remembered more fondly, not simply by enthusiasts of camp and shlock, but by film lovers who have come to appreciate the unexpected gems that turned up amidst PRC's pedestrian output.Ben Judell founded Producers Distributing Corporation in 1939, to distribute the films he'd make under the Producers Pictures film company with executive producer Sam Neufeld. A year and seven films later, PDC was near bankruptcy, and Neufeld formed Producers Releasing Corporation, making Harry Rathner PRC's president. The company was absorbed by the Path? Corporation at the end of 1940, but PRC kept its name and continued making its own product under its new president, O. Henry Briggs. Westerns were a PRC specialty, with series headed by Tim McCoy (Riders Of The Black Mountain, 1940), Bob Steele (Billy The Kid's Range War, 1941), George Houston (The Lone Rider And The Bandit, 1942), Buster Crabbe (Thundering Gunslingers, 1944), and Al "Lash" LaRue (Law Of Lash, 1947). The studio's horror films, although not plentiful, were even more memorable. Bela Lugosi bred lethal bats in The Devil Bat (1941, aka Killer Bats). George Zucco was the heavy in The Mad Monster (1942), Dead Men Walk (1943), and The Flying Serpent (1946). In The Monster Maker (1944) J. Carroll Naish infected his victim with the disfiguring disease acromegaly; real-life acromegaly-sufferer Rondo Hatton needed no makeup to play the "Creeper" in The Brute Man (1946). German writer/director Frank Wisbar remade his ghost story Fahrman Maria (1936) at PRC as The Strangler Of The Swamp (1945). PRC's greatest claim to fame, however, comes from director Edgar G. Ulmer, whose ability to make a compelling film quickly and cheaply approached genius. He made 11 PRC features in the mid '40s, most notably Bluebeard (1944), with John Carradine as a serial killer in 19th-century Paris; Strange Illusion (1945, aka Out Of The Night), a bizarre updating of "Hamlet"; and Detour (1946), perhaps the most disturbing and fatalistic noir ever made. In 1947 PRC's existence came to an end, when it was absorbed into the Eagle Lion Corporation of British film mogul J. Arthur Rank — which in turn was swallowed up by United Artists in 1951. REPUBLICAs mentioned above, Republic Productions, Inc., was formed in 1935 when Monogram merged with Mascot and Herbert J. Yates' film lab Consolidated Film Industries. Yates became Republic's chairman of the board and president, positions he maintained after W. Ray Johnston and Trem Carr left in 1937 to revive Monogram. Westerns were Republic's livelihood in its early days, with several popular series of oaters. Gene Autry was a singing cowboy in Tumblin' Tumbleweeds (1935), with Smiley Burnette as his comic-relief sidekick; the duo appeared in such Republic Westerns as 1939's Colorado Sunset and South Of The Border. The 1936 Western The Three Mesquiteers with Ray "Crash" Corrigan, Bob Livingston, and Syd Saylor as a trio of do-gooders launched another popular series, which would come to feature such cowboy "Mesquiteers" as Raymond Hatton, Duncan Renaldo, Bob Steele, Max Terhune, Tom Tyler, and John Wayne. Serials were also a Republic mainstay in the '30s, with the studio releasing such hit multi-chapter Westerns as The Vigilantes Are Coming (1936) and The Lone Ranger (1938), as well as serials in other genres, such as Undersea Kingdom (1936) with Crash Corrigan and S.O.S. Coast Guard (1937) with Bela Lugosi. After Autry joined the Armed Forces in the early '40s, Roy Rogers became Republic's singing-cowboy star, usually with Dale Evans (whom he married in 1947) and comic sidekick Gabby Hayes, as in the popular Western Helldorado (1946). Besides the B-oaters of Rogers and the "Mesquiteers," Republic also starred John Wayne in successful A-Westerns during the '40s, including The Dark Command (1940), directed by Raoul Walsh, and Angel And The Badman (1947). Serials also persisted with the studio in the '40s: Drums Of Fu Manchu (1940), Spy Smasher (1941), Captain America (1943). Czech figure skater Vera Hruba became a star at Republic in ice-skating musicals, starting with Ice-Capades (1941). As Vera Hruba Ralston (and later, Vera Ralston), the studio got her off the ice and into thrillers (The Lady And The Monster, 1944, with Erich von Stroheim; Murder In The Music Hall, 1946) and Westerns (Plainsman And The Lady, 1945, with "Wild Bill" Elliott; The Fighting Kentuckian, 1949, with John Wayne). Director Allan Dwan scored a hit with the John Wayne war film Sands Of Iwo Jima (1949). Republic made several other prestigious films in the late '40s: writer/director Ben Hecht's ballet story Spectre Of The Rose (1946); Orson Welles' stylish Shakespeare adaptation Macbeth (1948), which the studio badly cut in its release; the psychological drama Moonrise (1948), directed by Frank Borzage; and the John Steinbeck adaptation The Red Pony (1949), directed by Lewis Milestone.The studio phased out its B-Westerns in the early '50s and released noteworthy A-pictures. Fritz Lang directed the atmospheric thriller The House By The River (1950). Director John Ford, co-producing with Merian C. Cooper, made a memorable trio of films for Republic: the cavalry Western Rio Grande (1950) and the Irish love story The Quiet Man (1952), both with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, and The Sun Shines Bright (1953), a remake of his 1934 Judge Priest. Nicholas Ray directed the feminist Western Johnny Guitar (1954) with Joan Crawford. Vera Hruba Ralston starred for Allan Dwan in the westerns Surrender (1950) and Belle Le Grand (1951), and the war film The Wild Blue Yonder (1951). Herbert J. Yates produced those Dwan films, and in 1952 he married Ralston. Despite its other colorful, lower-budget dramas and adventure tales, Republic's fortunes ended in the late 1950s. The audience slack-off caused by television, combined with rising production costs plus a boycott of Republic by the Screen Actors Guild — Yates refused to pay residuals to actors when their Republic films were shown on television — drove Yates to sell the studio to the CBS television network in 1959. AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURESAmerican International Pictures started life in 1954 as American Releasing Corporation, co-founded by James H. Nicholson, sales manager of the Realart production company, and lawyer Samuel Z. Arkoff. The duo spotted the burgeoning movie-audience of teenagers and bombarded them with actioners and horror films. One of their first filmmakers was a young independent producer named Roger Corman. ARC released his second film, the auto-racing drama The Fast And The Furious (1954), starring John Ireland (who also co-directed) and Dorothy Malone. Corman also directed his next film for ARC, Five Guns West (1955), again with Malone; he continued to fill both jobs for the company through the end of the 1960s. In 1956 ARC was renamed American International Pictures, but its marketing target remained the same, with Herman Cohen producing I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957) and I Was A Teenage Frankenstein (1957), and Corman making Sorority Girl (1957) and Teenage Caveman (1958). The special-effects horror films of producer/director Bert I. Gordon also reached their peak at AIP in the late '50s, with his The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Attack Of The Puppet People (1958), and War Of The Colossal Beast (1958). The 1960s saw two lucrative series from AIP. The first was Corman's Edgar Allan Poe adaptations starring Vincent Price, beginning with House Of Usher (1960) and The Pit And The Pendulum (1961). The second was launched by Beach Party (1963), directed by William Asher and starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello; other tuneful comedies of teens partying on the beach followed, reteaming Asher with Avalon and Funicello, most notably Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). In marketing films to teenagers, AIP also began employing former genre stars who'd been rediscovered on television. Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre starred with Vincent Price in two horror spoofs scripted by Richard Matheson, Corman's The Raven (1963) and director Jacques Tourneur's The Comedy Of Terrors (1964). Buster Keaton and Mickey Rooney lent comic support in Asher's How To Stuff A Wild Bikini (1965). AIP was also a training ground for new actors and directors. Jack Nicholson starred in Corman's The Terror (1963). Francis Coppola debuted as a writer/director with Corman's production Dementia 13 (1963). Peter Bogdanovich started as assistant director on Corman's The Wild Angels (1966). This violent road film, with Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern, launched the biker-film genre and reflected a radical new spirit in AIP's youth-oriented fare. That spirit defined the company's late-'60s hits: Corman's The Trip (1967), also with Fonda and Dern, written by Jack Nicholson; and two 1968 films starring Christopher Jones, the sex comedy Three In The Attic and the political satire Wild In The Streets. In 1969 Corman made his last eforts for AIP: the violent gangster film Bloody Mama with Shelley Winters as Ma Barker (and Robert De Niro as one of her sons) and the doomsday satire Gas-s-s-s! Corman then started his own distribution and production company, New World Pictures. James H. Nicholson died in 1971, but AIP kept going strong over the early '70s. Horror still paid the bills (Count Yorga, Vampire, 1970; The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, 1971; Frogs, 1972; Scream, Blacula, Scream!, 1973; Bert I. Gordon's The Food Of The Gods, 1976), and AIP began expanding its product with the Bront? adaptation Wuthering Heights (1970) starring Anna Calder-Marshall and Timothy Dalton; William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (1970) with Charlton Heston and John Gielgud; F.T.A. (1971), documenting an agitating anti-U.S.O. operated by Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland; and Ralph Bakshi's animated X-rated feature, Heavy Traffic (1973). The genre work became more impressive too. Brian DePalma directed and co-scripted his conjoined-twins horror film Sisters (1973). Two noteworthy Depression-era crime films were Boxcar Bertha (1972), directed by Martin Scorsese, and Dillinger (1973), written and directed by John Milius. By the late '70s, big-budget films had become more important to AIP: the H.G. Wells adaptation The Island Of Dr. Moreau (1977) with Burt Lancaster; the vampire spoof Love At First Bite (1979); the occult chiller The Amityville Horror (1979). The company was hurt by its spending, and in 1979 Arkoff merged with Filmways — which subsequently merged with Orion. He lost control over AIP and formed Arkoff International in 1980, operating as an independent producer. By then, the dream of American International Pictures was over.

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