Record #1181

Record Type:
David Palfreyman
Mr Will H. Hays, President, MPPDA
Reel 12
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Fox West Coast
EDITORIAL COMMENT: One thing suggested here is the audience habit, at least in double bills, of turning up in the middle of movies - as being common and expected enough not to be commented on. This clearly has repercussions for the consumption of narrative. One way of checking the extent of the practice would involve reading local newspaper ads for movies to see whether they advertised the times of showings, or not - if not, the presumption would have to be either that audiences knew screening times were invariable - possible perhaps in a one-theatre town but not in an urban neighborhood - or that the practice of simply turning up and going in was a common to universal one.

Spyros Skouras has been complaining to Palfreyman about double-billing, which has escalated in some cases to 3 or 4 movies per programme. It cuts out production of quality shorts, encourages production of mediocre pictures, and ultimately kills the movie-going habit. But the industry can't do anything without an illegal restraint of trade. More evidence that patrons commonly turn up half-way through a feature and stay around to see the beginning. Audience behaviour. Advertising and related correspondence included.


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30 November 1938, Palfreyman to Hays: "Mr. Spyros Skouras called me over to discuss with him the problem of double feature programs in motion picture theatres, which he advises is getting more acute right along. He was particularly concerned about reports he had received from Los Angeles to the effect that several theatres operated in competition with those under the management of the Fox West Coast Theatres in that city by showing three and four features for one admission. These are largely 10c and 15c theatres playing last runs, but it is the sort of cut-rate competition that sooner or later spreads into the other theatres on the next prior run as they are in more or less direct competition with each other. "... My own observation tells me that the forced circulation of cheap pictures of poor quality brought about by double featuring tends to drive a considerable amount of people out of the motion picture theatres. It is an unfortunate fact that a theatre operating on a continuous policy with double feature bookings brings in a considerable number of people interested primarily in the first rate feature then showing at the theatre. They arrive in the theatre and see the last part of the picture which they came to see. They are then hooked and must sit through the poor grade picture booked in by the theatre operator as a filler at a low film rental in order for them to see the first part of the picture in which they are really interested. This unquestionably irritates many patrons in the audience who resent being compelled to look at the picture which they do not like in order to see the one they do like. The same thing happens if they get in at the start of the second rate feature and have to sit through it before the first rate feature starts. "It is frequently contended and there seems to be reason to believe that it is true that the development of the double feature had a decided effect on motion picture production and motion picture production plans in Hollywood. It is rather obvious that the longer and more pretentious short subject has been driven almost entirely off the market by double feature programs. There are not enough theatres in the country today who pay substantial film rentals that are in a position to use two-reel short subjects and the playing time available for even full single-reel short subjects is very much limited. Consequently, no studio can break even on the production of any number of expensive short subjects. This inevitably affects the quality and variety of the short subjects that are produced. "... By reason of this artificial circulation and the more extended playing time that poor grade cheaply produced pictures can get, there is provided a strong incentive for the studios to turn out that sort of attraction to fill this market. In other words, pictures with very little entertainment value or quality are made profitable to the producing and distributing company by this sort of an operating policy, which tends to flood the market with this type of picture and, in turn, jamming them down the throats of the theatre patrons tends to drive away patronage from the theatres. "... Under the circumstances, I don't know just what can be done about it unless and until the law is clarified to permit constructive cooperation between theatres to restrain and curb the practice. As long as keen and unrestrained competition between theatres exists in competitive areas and any theatre is free to offer two full length features for one admission, it is as a practical matter impossible for an individual theatre operator to resist the practice. And, of course, in the last analysis, it is the theatre management that fixes and arranges the bookings and policy of the theatre." Notes the existence of a poll among theatregoers in houses playing double bills in New York indicating 62% of patrons had voted for single features.

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