A Rise In Double Features
Getting More For Your Quarter In 1934
So far as film companies were concerned in 1933-34, double features stood for two things: evil and menace. There were other descriptive terms as damning. Argument against combos piled thus: They made shows run too long and so permitted less audience changeover through the day, features took less rental as result of being paired, and twin billing opened the door for independents to horn in on programs. Worst overall was the format taking control away from majors already pinched by collapsing revenue. What was worse timing of two-for-one sales than a Great Depression? ... except where the public was concerned, of course. And there was the argument for double features, the only one perhaps, but enough. Anything that customers bought could not be stopped, and what they wanted was two movies on a single ticket, and in fact, would come to settle for nothing less. Exhibition could fight or give in --- there was plenty of room on the canvas for those who ignored the bell.
Paramount execs sat hours in 1934 "closed meetings" to discuss combat of the scourge, a few promising to carry the fight "all the way to the White House," said Variety, but each knew they'd have to submit. Failure to get resolution among majors and the Motion Picture Code authority led to increased letters on marquees nationwide and a New Deal for picturegoers. The Indiana Theatre in
Six Of A Kind and Miss Fane's Baby Is Stolen were programmers, a form that would adapt to B mould as double featuring became entrenched, being neither specials nor B's as we'd later understand them. Studios in any case never liked "B" as a term applied to product, as it smacked of pejorative. Six Of A Kind could and did play as a single, its cast out of comedic top drawers, but times requiring desperate measure obliged the
I wanted to experience the
To enjoy Six Of A Kind depends upon tolerance of all half-dozen clowns in review. Do Burns and Allen at most aggressive play on your nerves? Then be warned. Would Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland tire rather than amuse? Go elsewhere in that event. I'll assume everyone, here at Greenbriar anyway, likes Bill Fields, but know too that he's only in for half this show, the latter half. Till then, it's B&A making life hell for R&B on a road trip over gravel and dirt that characterized travel in 1934. The way is scarily dotted with tramps that prey on motorists, in this case familiar threats Walter Long and Leo Wallis of perfidy in Roach comedies. Getting lost amidst such wilds is played for humor, but I found it near as unsettling as things that go wrong for cross-countrying Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night from the same year. Deliverance comes of Uncle Bill taking over the show with reprise of a pool table routine honed on stages through a decade before Six Of A Kind. Fieldsian prattle here, and in search of a "hunchbacked Ethiopian," just had to be ad-libbed or W.C.-writ on back of liquor store receipts. Whichever --- it redeems deposit on this Six pack and leaves refreshing taste at the finish.
And then came The Rasslin' Match, a first of two Amos n' Andy cartoons made of an announced thirteen. Why stop at two? The shorts apparently fell on sword that was creators Gosden and Correll's displeasure, the two a no-show (to read dialogue) after initial Rasslin' and follow-up The Lion Tamers. What should have run smooth had not, The Rasslin' Match adapted from a story already air-used, with translation-to-screen clearly gone kerfloo. Small operator Van Beuren had an RKO release deal, RKO in same Sarnoff/RCA ownership bed with NBC radio, home to A&A. Hopes were high as evinced by a Radio City Music Hall booking for 1/4/33, very nice work when a Van Beuren reel could get it. The Rasslin' Match was sold primarily on voices that fans wouldn't miss if homes caught fire, Gosden/Correll themselves pulling $6,500 per week for vaude and picture house apps. Van Beuren may have figured so what if the cartoons disappointed, but RKO had been bit by flop of non-cat/mouse Tom and Jerry plus The Little King, both series under VB banner and ultimately yanked by the distributor. A specific problem with The Rasslin' Match may have been lack of sentiment that propelled radio's A&A as much as comedy. For animation, the team went only for funny, and based on response, came up a damp blanket. The Rasslin' Match is good as curiosity, however, and Thunderbean has a nice DVD where it abuts other Van Beuren oddities.