Any lover of classic movies knows what to expect when the picture begins with a roaring lion, a statuesque lady holding a torch, or a small airplane circumnavigating the globe – that is; big budgets, big stars and guaranteed pleasure. However, in Bijou Bob’s humble opinion, some of the most fascinating films ever made originated not only from the major studios, but also from the dozens of small, less distinguished, independent studios. Most were located near Hollywood’s Gower Street and Sunset Boulevard – and are affectionately known today as the “Poverty Row Studios.”
These low-rent dream factories - with names like Republic, Monogram, Mascot, PRC, Grand National, Chesterfield, Majestic and Tiffany – all had their own logos, often their own sound stages and back lots. And they all had one thing in common; they all operated on a shoestring – with a tiny fraction of major studio budgets. The B in B-movies stands for “Budget,” meaning “low-budget,” and for three decades these studios cranked out hundreds of movies a year on production schedules ranging from a few days to a week.
Through various corporate permutations, Republic and Monogram (later Allied Artists) survived the longest. Republic was known for its bigger stars, its great outdoor sagas - and especially its wonderful and exciting serials. Monogram was best known for its movie series, such as Charlie Chan, The Cisco Kid, The Eastside Kids (later The Bowery Boys), The Range Busters, Mr. Wong, Bomba, the Jungle Boy and many others. Monogram also introduced the world to John Wayne, in an early series of “Lone Star” westerns.
Other Poverty Row studios - such as PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation) delivered a mixed and eccentric bag of cinematic chestnuts. The output ranged from the film noir classic “Detour,” the Oscar™ nominated (for music) “Minstrel Man” -- to a string of horrible horror-movie quickies and comedy non-classics. PRC at one point had to endure the unfortunate alter-acronym Pretty Rotten Crap foisted on the studio by an unappreciative critic.
Then television emerged, which hastened the break up of the studio system and sealed the fate of the “golden age” of Poverty Row. Independent production continued, of course, with studios such as American-International and with visionary producers such as Roger Corman. Matinee at the Bijou will showcase the best of these films.
In future blogs, Bijou Bob will shine the spotlight on other studios with homes on Poverty Row. Meanwhile, the Bijou crew is busy screening many Poverty Row contenders for future seasons, while widening the search for the best and rarest of surviving B-Movie gems.