theatres during mid-week was made up of two B-movies. "B" standing for "budget" seems much more correct and around the studios, they were openly acknowledged as "budget" fare because their budgets were strictly defined with little tolerance given to cost overruns.
"B's" were usually a proving ground for up-and-coming actors and a comfortable niche for aging stars. Their cost restrictions also forced directors to get much more creative with images and storytelling. Some proved so good at it that they moved up to directing major features.
The budget for B-movies did not equate across the spectrum. M.G.M. "B's" were made at a cost of almost what main attractions would have been at Universal or Republic. But in all cases, except for the Poverty Row studios like Monogram and Producers Releasing Corporation, the scripts were usually solid genre fare while the sets, lighting, and production values still had a first-class look. The cheap schlocky appearance didn't really take place until those sc-fi pix of the 1950's that were often shot in less than a week by independent producers and in which so-called monsters were often comprised of a man wearing both a gorilla suit and a space helmet.
British "B's" made their biggest splash in the U.K. after World War II and ran from the late 1940's through the 1960's. They sometimes imported American actors but are surprisingly substandard with simplistic badly developed scripts and chintzy sets. An episode of television's Perry Mason runs circles around them in style, substance, and acting talent.
When the characters in my novels are making B-movies during the 1940's, there is quality of scripts, images, and performances attached. It's what I love about them.
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The Most Misunderstood Term About Old Movies
I love 1940's B-movies which is why I incorporated the making of them into my Dead series of mystery novels.
But "B-movie" is the most misunderstood term used by modern-day viewers and reviewers. Just reading some of the so-called reviews not only in print but on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) makes me cringe.
The origin of the "B" in B-movie is "budget". It is not, as is now assumed, a barometer of quality as in "B" grade. That stems from the terrible sci-fi pictures of the 1950's. "B's" were also called "programmers" at the time and they really were the forerunners of television programs. They filled out the second half of a double-bill in theatres along with newsreels, assorted short subjects (gag movies and/or travelogues), and cartoons. For under a buck, audiences got almost four hours of non-stop escape. Often audiences would tolerate a major film just in order to catch up on the latest Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan, Boston Blackie, or The Falcon (all of those were "B's").
There is some disagreement that the "B" may have denoted the movie's place as the "bottom-half" of a double-bill or that it was the "B" picture in descending order from the main "A" picture attraction. Although either is possible, I personally think both interpretations are after-thoughts and a stretch because quite often the double-bill shown in
One of the "B's" in my Dead series of mystery novels