In old Hollywood, B grade movies identified films intended for distribution as the less-publicised bottom half of a double feature. However, this practice largely ceased by the end of the 1950s with the studios changing their departments into TV production divisions.
B movies often represented a particular genre e.g. westerns while low-budget science-fiction and horror films became more popular in the 1950s. Almost always shorter than the top-billed feature films, many had running times of 80 minutes or less. The term gave a general perception that B movies were inferior to the more lavishly budgeted A grade films; however they often provided a fertile start for many talented directors, writers, actors/actresses, cinematographers, editors etc for them to make their mark in movies.
One such example, and a particular favourite of mine, is the science-fiction classic Invasion Of The Body Snatchers directed by Don Siegel and released in 1956.
This low-budget feature which ran for only 80 minutes, was released by Allied Artists, a very minor studio in Hollywood. It proved to be quite a hit, and despite its lurid title, displayed subtle nuances quite unlike what would be expected of a science-fiction film of the 1950s.
The film’s storyline concerns an extra-terrestrial invasion that begins in California. Alien plant spores have fallen from space and have grown into large seed pods, each one capable of producing a visually identical copy of a human. As each pod reaches full development, it assimilates the physical traits, memories, and personalities of each sleeping person placed near it until only the replacement is left; these duplicates, however, are devoid of all human emotion. Little by little, a local doctor uncovers this invasion and attempts to stop it.
The film was been remade a number of times – there’s a pretty good 1978 version with Donald Sutherland, but none have quite matched the original.
The original ending did not include the flashback framing, in fact when I first saw it in the mid 1970s, the prologue and epilogue had been cut out (which was as the film-makers originally intended) but they have been restored, which is a pity, as the intent was to present a rather pessimistic ending.
The film has often been analysed as a commentary of the dangers facing the United States, whether it be McCarthyism or Communism. However, Siegel denied any such intent – he just wanted to make a damn good movie that was entertaining and exciting.
Don Siegel would go on to have a notable directorial career, with films like The Killers (1964), The Beguiled, Dirty Harry, Charley Varrick, The Shootist and Escape From Alcatraz. He formed a memorable partnership with Clint Eastwood in which they made 5 films together.
So what other B movies do Cats fondly remember ?
35 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #49”
Well, there is “The Bee Movie”….
Supposed to be a comedy, and in true Hollywood style, totally skips past the basic thing about bee social structure and also seems to dip into bestiality.
Perfect for the kiddies, apparently.
There’s a documentary about Australia’s B grade horror movie industry from the seventies. Quentin Tarantino was interviewed on it and demonstrated his encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema.
1952’s “Kiss Me Deadly” is one of my favourites. Casting (interesting lesser known actors), editing/pace, moody B&W cinematography, spectacular climax, it’s hard to beat.
Also uses run down boarding houses in San Francisco’s Bunker Hill to great effect.
I showed it to my 1980s-born son-in-law and he wondered how long it would have been shown on first release. It struck me that it would have come and gone very quickly, since it has no major stars, and may have been only part of a double bill. I think I saw it on TV in the 1960s, but it only resurfaced in recent decades on DVD.
Oops, that’s Bunker Hill in LA.
Yeah I got the year wrong too, oh dear. The book was 1952, the film was 1955.
Kiss Me Deadly – thumbs up one old bruce.
The Big Heat, The Narrow Margin, Ride Lonesome (in fact, most of the Boettichers), The Killing, Gun Crazy, among other 50s Bs.
I don’t know if you could classify ‘Mad Max’ as a B film. It was made on the smell of an oily rag with no help from major studios or government. It once had the high grossing margin in film history.
Began John Carpenter’s career, and is hilarious.
Razorback, Black Sheep, followed by the usual suspects, no not the movie, the Martian Tomatoes etc.
Flash Gordon popped up last night – Is there a C grade?. What about Barbarella?
Then it starts to get a bit murky – Creature from the Black Lagoon, Trilogy of Terror.
Is The Man with two Brains a B Grade or a classic????
The the original ‘the fly’ a B grade horror?
One of the most dreadful “B” movies ever made.
So bad it has become a cult classic.
Surf Nazis Must Die
Anyone remeber the Incredible Shrinking Man
Plan 9 from Outer Space?
I am a big fan of ‘B’ movies, some of which are very much better than the ‘A’ equivalents of the time.
It’s worth looking out for anything produced/directed by Roger Corman, who could do wonders on a nothing budget with unknown actors. A full list (there were many dozens) is here.
Titles you might recognise include Gunslinger (1956); The Little Shop of Horrors (1960); The St Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967) and Grand Theft Auto (1977) .
But, it’s the ones you may not recognise that are the most intriguing. How about It Conquered the World (1956) or Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) or Ski Troop Attack (1957)? I’ve seen some of these, and they are a hoot. Well worth a look.
In British cinema, arguably most of the output after the war was B grade by Hollywood standards – tiny budgets, skimpy sets and obscure actors. But a lot of it is still pretty good. I recommend Hell Drivers, which comes and goes on youtube, about rogue lorry drivers. Gritty, and some splendid action scenes of dodgy looking trucks pushed beyond the limit.
Look out for anything with the surname ‘Box’ in the credits. Betty Box and other members of her family produced and sometimes directed some excellent British movies, in the 50s especially.
What I particularly like about ‘B’ movies is the passing parade of femmes fatale, usually hopefuls with limited talent, but gorgeous looks in many cases. A few of them went on to higher things, but mostly they either stayed in the B genre or disappeared.
See also – Film Noir. 🙂
Great comment – yes Hell Drivers is a pretty good flick.
My first job in TV land was trimming things fit in their slots.
B grades were perfect midday movie fodder.
Broadcast rights were cheap and they were a good fit for a two hour slot.
(Occasionally, the Programme Manager would over imbibe at lunch
and something like Birdman of Alcatraz
would turn up couple of weeks later. That was a memorable nightmare.)
December 15, 2022 at 5:38 pm
I am a big fan of ‘B’ movies, some of which are very much better than the ‘A’ equivalents of the time.
It’s worth looking out for anything produced/directed by Roger Corman, who could do wonders on a nothing budget with unknown actors.
Whenever as kids we visited our paternal grandparents, we’d sit in front of their telly because, unlike what tv offered country people at the time, living in Sydney they had access to the full gamut of tv stations.
One afternoon’s movie has stayed in my memory – She Gods of Shark Reef – which is another Roger Corman offering. At the time, I thought it was so exciting. But not so long ago I searched it out on youtube – I have to say it hasn’t stood the test of time. Although, I’ve just caught up with the opinions of critics.
Liked the clips, Wolfie!
Gil Scott-Heron’s legendary take on the genre, containing the first reference I ever heard to “Hollyweird”.
I actually think the “Body Snatchers” remake is one of the few examples where the remake is better than the original. It’s a good analogy of the current political and social climate too.
Forget Margaret pommygranet and David crapon. My goto site for reviews was badmovies.org. “I know how many runs you made last summer” can be added to Australia’s contribution to b grade. Slasher horror involving a cricket team on a training camp in the bush.
The ‘Kentucky Fried Movie’ and ‘Amazon Women on the Moon’ are two of the greatest films ever made.
BBS, Corman was the master of production line movies, and some of them were pretty awful, but many were either quite good or so bad they were good, IYKWIM.
I read an article about him years ago where it was said that his record for shooting a movie from start to finish was ten days. As you can imagine, it was not difficult for his movies to make money (in contrast to the bloated costs of mainstream film-makers) and indeed, they did. They were perfect drive-in fare, for example.
Here is a list of B movie temptresses from IMDB – not enough from the 40s and 50s, IMO, but interesting.
And here are some of the gals from the 30s and 40s – not many familiar names there, but a lot of beauty. I daresay that quite a few of them were munched up and spat out by the pitiless Hollywood machine. Still, they had their shot.
Johanna, check out Maxine Cooper in Kiss Me Deadly. Even the stills will give you an idea of her extraordinary performance, if brief and meteoric.
I chose that movie as it fits the bill in so many ways. Wolfman knows.
As I said I think it’s pretty good, but I prefer the original – shorter and more tightly edited with absolutely no fat in it.
However, the ending of the 1978 version is a real doozy . . .
BBS and johanna – I still really enjoy Corman’s 9 film series of Edgar Allan Poe’s works.
The early Monty Python films must have made a stellar return on investment too.
Oz epic “Stone”?
Wall to wall Kawasaki 900s, massed rides around outer Sydney, predictable plot and patchy soundtrack.
At least they tried……
I think David Stratton even wrote a book about the halcyon days of the 10BA money machine, titled, “The Avocado Plantation”, a reference to the sort of places a LOT of Oz film “investment” actually went. This was probably inspired by the original Mel Brooks “The Producers”, which introduced an unsuspecting public to the concept of “creative accounting” and the phrase: “It’s a success! We’re ruined!”
As Boxcar said above, “Razorback, Black Sheep”. These would be considered contemporary B movies, but bloody great fun!
I would ads “Severance”. See if anyone can dig that one up. A corporate weekend in the middle of nowhere…. I love this movie, it manages to be gory and funny.
And, where would we be without one of the greatest B movies of the 21st Century, “IDIOCRACY”.
ADD, not ads. sheesh.
Don’t forgot a recent classic Aussie D grade flick doing the rounds of late night television right now; “Boar”.
BTW Wolfman, have you watched the Aussie Zombie flicks Wyrmwood and the follow up? Pretty damn good for the budget.
Re the movie Stone, I have an extremely tenuous link to it. During pre-production, the boyfriend of one of my sisters, I had four sisters, was given one of the Kawasakis for a couple of weeks to run it in. Most of the Kawasakis were brand new and had to be broken in.
A seventeen year old Rebecca Gilling’s first nude scene! wooooo
No I haven’t.
That’s not a B movie it’s a prophecy of today !
The Day of the Triffids was a good one. And Village of the Damned. Not too sure whether you could call them B Movies though as they were both based on good books IMHO.
Joanna – iteresting your comment re Roger Corman who took 10 to film and how ever long to finish the end product.
With these British films it was all about the conflict between the two individuals and how the story unfolder. Action -re action.
Economical and given the volume of stuff whcih gets churned out today with graphics I wonder if the entertainment industry should fac e a shake up and move back to simplier visuals and the tension between the individuals.
I dont know much about Roger Corman but it apepars to me he understands the industry the best.
Also with teh link to the femaels provided, it appears this would be a reasonable career for females – like singing. Probs now day for females is the inuendo pushed in the media about their sex lives which ruins a perfectly normal young lady in to bad situations – sex and drugs against their natural instints and internal feelings.