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Poverty Row

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Poverty Row

Poverty Row was a slang term used in Hollywood from the late 1920s through the mid-1950s to refer to a variety of small (and mostly short-lived) B movie studios. While many of them were on (or near) today's Gower Street in Hollywood, the term did not necessarily refer to any specific physical location, but was rather a figurative catch-all for low-budget films produced by these lesser-tier studios.

Characteristic films

The films of Poverty Row, many of them Westerns (including series like Billy The Kid, starring Buster Crabbe from PRC) or comedy/adventure series such as those featuring the Bowery Boys (Monogram Pictures) and detectives such as The Shadow, were generally characterized by low budgets, casts made up of lower ranked stars or unknowns, and overall production values that unintentionally betrayed the haste and economy with which they were made.

Studios

While some Poverty Row studios came and quickly went after a few releases, others operated on more or less the same terms as—if vastly different scales from—major film studios such as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Warner Bros., and Paramount Pictures.

The most successful and longest-lived of such lower-tier companies maintained permanent lots (and many standing sets that dedicated moviegoers could frequently recognize from movie to movie), had both cast and crew on long-term contract, and had a more varied output than smaller firms.

Leading studios

Lower-tier studios

The smallest studios, including Tiffany Pictures, Sam Katzman's Victory, Mascot and Chesterfield often packaged and released films from independent producers, British "quota quickie" films, or borderline exploitation films such as Hitler, Beast of Berlin to supplement their own limited production capacity. Sometimes the same producers would start a new studio when the old one failed, such as Harry S. Webb and Bernard B. Ray's Reliable Pictures and Metropolitan Pictures.

Some organizations such as Astor Pictures and Realart Pictures began by obtaining the rights to re-release older films from other studios before producing their own films.

Decline

The breakup of the studio system (and its restrictive chain-theater distribution network, which left independent movie houses eager for seat-filling product from the Poverty Row studios) following 1948's United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. decision and the advent of television are among the factors that led to the decline and ultimate disappearance of "Poverty Row" as a Hollywood phenomenon. While the kinds of films produced by Poverty Row studios only grew in popularity, they were increasingly available both from major production companies and from independent producers who no longer needed to rely on a studio's ability to package and release their work.

Comparison with other studios

The Big Five majors
The Little Three majors
Poverty Row (top four of many)

References

  • Fernett, Gene (1973). Hollywood's Poverty Row, 1930–1950. Satellite Beach, FL: Coral Reef Publications.
  • Pitts, Michael R. (2005). Poverty Row Studios, 1929–1940: An Illustrated History of 55 Independent Film Companies, with a Filmography for Each. McFarland & Co.
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