Home » film » King of the Bs

King of the Bs

Filmmaker Edgar G. Ulmer (1904-1972)

Back in the day that the big Hollywood studios ran the film market, there were two categories that were offered to movie exhibitors. There were the A films and the B films. The idea was to offer two films to exhibitors for the price of one. The A film was the big draw and almost always the more expensive to produce. Then there were the B films, which were run second on the double features. Sometimes, the big studios produced them, but they also offered products from various small studios that were collectively known as “poverty row.” These studios included:

  • Republic Pictures
  • Monogram Pictures
  • Eagle-Lion Pictures
  • Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC)

The leading director for PRC was Austrian-born Edgar G. Ulmer who, despite the fact that he rarely worked for the majors, made several dozen films, some of which are masterpieces. My favorite of the lot is a horror film that starred both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, The Black Cat (1934), which he made for Universal. Although the film made money, studio chief Carl Laemmle fired Ulmer for having an affair with one of his married execs. Ever after, Ulmer skirted the edges of the industry.

Incidentally, although the film poster claims that the story for the film was from Edgar Allan Poe, I challenge anyone to explain to me which scenes were from the story. There is a black cat that occasionally appears, but the tale is not Poe’s.

Poster for The Black Cat (1934)

Another great is Detour (1945), a film noir starring Tom Neal and Ann Savage. It’s an amazing film that stands up to repeated viewings. I also liked Bluebeard (1944) with John Carradine. Both films were made for PRC.

I recently saw a film about Ulmer which included an interview with the director. Again and again, when asked how long it took to shoot a named film, he uniformly answered “six days.” This is a man who knew how to produce a creditable work quickly and with a down-to-bone budget.

 

2 thoughts on “King of the Bs

  1. Apparently the studios liked to use Poe’s name because he was familiar to the general public. There was a movie in the early ’60s called The Haunted Palace, another Poe title. It was based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft and even had the same characters and names (Curwen and Ward).

Comments are closed.