Record #1138

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Reel 11
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Double Features

Materials relating to the problems inherent in double-bills.


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4 May 1936 Warner Bros. launched a survey of public opinion on double bills -- consulting 2,000 newspaper editors, editors of school and college papers, and 1,000 of Milliken's clubwomen etc. contacts: "Motion picture producers are severely handicapped because of lack of knowledge as to whether they must limit their films to an absolute maximum length, such as is suitable for double feature bills. Significant, perhaps, is the fact that the running time of the ten films selected by the review members of the National Board of Review (NBR) as best in 1935 averaged 106.1 minutes. By contrast, the running time of 545 films listed in the current Film Daily Yearbook averaged 72.5 minutes. Thus, the 'ten best' pictures averaged 33.6 minutes or more than 46% longer than the 545 'cross-section' films. Whether this reflect strong public approval of longer pictures is not certain." But all this was a publicity stunt pulled to promote A Midsummer Night's Dream, Anthony Adverse, The Green Pastures, Charge of the Light Brigade. In one of their letters they suggest that the average double feature program, with the usual newsreel, shorts and trailers, runs to 4 hours. 23 May 1936 results from this -- questionable, given who they asked and the loaded questions -- found an overall 3 to 1 preference for single features, and a 2 to 1 result from radio broadcasts. "A significant point to be noted from the letters: It appears they (great majority of moviegoers) appreciate a good film and resent a bad one much more definitely and decidedly than was the case a few years ago. They seem to feel that the screen has reached a point where they are reasonably entitled to expect more than they used to -- more, that is, in quality. Newspaper article describes this as audiences showing more discrimination: "They no longer just go to see a movie but are drawn by a particular picture or perhaps a particular star."22 June 1936 memo from Campbell McCulloch of Central Casting to Hays on double bills."With motion picture theatres in the United States having 10,000,000 seats, and operating approximately three shows daily, there is audience capacity of 30m. daily, with attendance half that, or say 100m. per week. As theatre and operating overhead will take care of attendance up to capacity, the only extra cost to entertain that capacity will be additional program rental, usually low."I believe the results will show an average of 15-20% increased attendance with a double bill with possibly not more than 10-15% extra film rental."McCulloch's arguments did not impress Allport -- memo of 3 July 1936 to Breen? -- says there is no basis for his figures, and notes possible variable factors to disrupt the results of any survey.6 July 1936 Pettijohn to Hays: Argues every community has a more or less fixed sum to spend on entertainment: "Double features never have and never will increase the gross revenue at the motion picture theatres of this country. The prosperity of the picture business and the rise and fall of grosses at the box office goes right along with the number of good pictures that are made each year. Whenever we have outstanding pictures, the gross revenues of the theatres go up and when the crop is mediocre they go down. Double features have nothing to do with it except that here and there a bargain sale may gross a little more and net a little less. ... There are more theatres running double features in the United States today in self defense than there are theatres who are running them to increase their revenue."

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