Record #1213

Date:
17/01/1939
Record Type:
Letter
From/By:
Spyros Skouras, Twentieth Century-Fox
To:
Daryl F Zanuck, Vice-president in charge of production, Twentieth Century-Fox
Reel:
Reel 12
Frame Start:
12-2017
Frame End:
12-2022
Legacy ID:
1224
Legacy Year:
1939
Legacy Index:
Production Code
Comments:
EDITORIAL COMMENT: This obviously became the subject of some MPPDA Board of Directors discussion - see also 12-0479 to 12-0490.

Skouras is concerned about the double-feature situation, especially the poor quality of B-pictures and the prevalence of crime themes. Useful figures for percentages of crime pictures produced by each studio, in both A and B categories. Suggestion that producers should look to American history for more wholesome and popular material.

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Long Description:

17 January 1939 Spyros Skouras to Zanuck "There is much talk circulating among the theatre-going public today that has caused us profound concern and that we believe we should call to your attention. We cannot disregard this talk which centers directly around 'B' pictures and their inferiority not only as to screen entertainment and box office value -- a fact which grows more apparent day by day -- but because they are evidently geared down to a low mentality level. "The importance of this subject is magnified by the fact that since the establishment of the double bill policy in the majority of theatres throughout this country and the world at large, 'B' product is now shown in every de luxe theatre both in large cities and in smaller communities and neighborhoods where family patronage predominates. You are aware that prior to the general acceptance of the double bill policy it was only on rare occasions that a meritorious 'B' picture managed to play in a de luxe house, therefore those interested in a higher grade of product would not expect to find it there. Today, however, because of the double bill policy 'B' pictures are necessarily booked in the 'A' house as secondary features where they appear before this larger and more discriminating patronage. We can therefore no longer close our eyes, shrug our shoulders and dismiss the question with 'It's only a 'B' picture and good enough.' as we did in the days when the 'B' product was destined for the 'shooting galleries.' "... The purpose of this letter is not to advocate the continuance of the double bill or its elimination, but is to give you realities that are facing us today. You have requested us from time to time to give you our thoughts and experiences in a spirit of helpfulness and guidance to production since we are constantly in contact with the public and deal with the public's likes, dislikes, tastes and reactions. Personally I wish that the double bill program had never come into existence; but we must progress and be guided by the times. And while the classes resent the double bill, the masses demand it. Since this is the situation and we cannot alter it, the 'B' picture must be given the same attention as the 'A' picture; except that the production cost of the former must, of necessity, be kept down to the present level and even lower. Producers and distributors when selling us pictures and in an effort to pave the way for higher film rentals, are constantly confronting us with fact indicating that the cost of production has steadily increased during the last three or four years. This gives rise to a serious problem because based on present grosses the theatres cannot possibly pay any greater film rentals even if production costs continue to mount in this fashion. "... Principal among the many abuses connected with the production of 'B' pictures is the preponderance of crime pictures ... In the same manner as the Thanksgiving turkey they have become too much a part of the theatregoer's entertainment diet all at one time, hashed and rehashed as they are in a variety of forms but providing no novelty insofar as the basic elements are concerned. While we may choose to attribute the large number of crime pictures in evidence today to limited production budgets, we are inclined to think that the producers have chosen the path of least resistance believing that the dramatization of crime headlines more readily offers the element of suspense and creates and arouses interest by the 'blood-and-thunder' associated with police, fire sirens and gun-play. "For instance, to give you an idea of what took place along these lines last year, we herewith list the various film companies with the percentage of crime pictures released to each company's total output, and also the percentage of crime pictures to the 'B' product output of each company:SEASON 1937-38 % of Crime to total output % of crime to 'B' productColumbia 47% 54Universal 35 41Warners 27 23RKO 21 31Paramount 19 30"In addition to the above, virtually the combined output of Monogram and Republic pictures were of a crime variety. While on the other hand, MGM had only 2 crime pictures out of a total of 45 pictures released, or 4%, and we are both happy and proud that TCF had only 3 crime pictures out of their entire output for the Season 1937-38, or 6%. "Just imagine what is the reaction of a normal, intelligent mother, who is greatly concerned about the upbringing of her children and in the development of their moral fibre and character, to this steady flow of crime pictures in the thousands of communities in this country and in other English speaking countries where motion picture theatres are almost entirely supplied by American production companies. Recently through a survey in our organization, and from personal contacts and correspondence, I learned that there was a strong feeling of dislike for producers of 'B' pictures whom it was felt had low mentalities because of their failure to concern themselves with the effects that this inferior product had on children and society in general. Please do not view this as the usual run of voices against the Industry from time to time as in the past, as you know I would be the first one to defend the industry. ... The responsibility of the Industry to the public is not confined to entertainment alone because motion pictures play a part as a great cultural and social force in American civilization. For this reason I propose that we go back to familiar literary sources for story material in the production of 'B' pictures, keeping their production costs at what they are today." -- suggests Twain's Life on the Mississippi, Tarkington's Gentleman from Indiana, Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Poe's Annabel Lee, etc.

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