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Friday, March 16, 2018

Lesson For Aspiring Exhibs

Let's Laud Louie Charninsky

We're all too free with that B movie tag. I've even seen King Kong and all of Ronald Reagan's films referred to as B's. A damning label in most quarters, it certainly should not be. Many think B means bad, so pardon my lifetime in thrall to Sherlock Holmes, Val Lewton, and westerns enough to thread a hemisphere. A "B" by accurate definition was what played in support of A's and rented at flat rate. Sometimes a pair of B's could fill a program, as here where Smashing The Money Ring (1939) plays with Gene Autry's In Old Monterey (15 to 20 cents til 6!). A creative enough showman could elevate a B to whatever heights he chose, Louie Charninsky not a name known to annals of marketing, but should be for whale of a selling job he did on behalf of Smashing The Money Ring at his Capitol Theatre in Dallas. That's Louie out front holding the blow-up of counterfeit currency which was Money Ring thrust. Magnet at the door was enlarged real dollars as opposed to funny money, passer-bys invited to compare the two as will Treasury Agent "Brass Bancroft," as played by Reagan in Warners' 57 minute sock-and-solve thriller. Spike to attendance was twenty-seven stills from the film on a center display, plus posters clearly handiwork of the Capitol's art shop. Think how long this preparation took for a show that ran two-three days, if that. Lesson to glean: B's were only B's when you sold them that way. Louie Charninsky followed his star (in this case, lack of them) and dressed an entrance anyone could be tempted toward. I hope Louie ate well that week for making thick steak of hamburger product. Men like him were what defined great showmanship.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So this show consists of a Warner feature, a Universal cartoon, a Columbia serial chapter and an MGM newsreel. What was the booking process for independent exhibitors? Did they have to visit a separate exchange for each or was there a single outlet that had all the components ready to go?

9:05 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I assume each of the majors had an exchange in Dallas, so chances are Louie booked his whole show with sales staff he knew and worked with every day, all located within a city block. Charlotte had their exchanges on Church Street downtown, which made it convenient for showmen to take care of business without having to drive all over town.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Jan Willis said...

John, some of my favorite moments at Greenbriar are those that lead me to discover someone new - like Louie Charninsky.

And I have the same reaction that my students do when they love a new author I had recommended to them:
"This was great! _What else_ do you have by him?"

So I went looking for more of Louie's work.
Folks, Louie _loved_ what he did!

Some of my favorites:

1938 reissue of King Kong at the Capitol.

Herb Jeffries in Harlem on the Prairie.

The Invisible Ray.

All Quiet on the Western Front

Joe E. Brown's So You Won't Talk?

The Girl in 419

The Devil's in Love

Chinatown Squad

11:57 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Fantastic links, Jan. Thanks for sharing all these. Viva Louie Charninsky!!

12:05 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Definition of a 'B' as a flat rate rental is fair enough, but I've always squirmed at the dismissal of B's as the thing double billed with A. Truth is many smaller cities (not just small towns) regularly booked first run B's alone in the thirties and early forties with no second feature in sight, just a carload of shorts. Charley Chan, 40's Laurel and Hardy, Gene Autry, THE RETURN OF DR. X, the earliest Lewton Horrors, anything from Warners with the original Dead End Kids all enjoyed single billing, and at larger downtown theaters in the mid-west for sure. Always thought the actual derivation of the term 'B' did not come from billing, but from block booking practices in general; getting best terms on a specific A meant committing to a group of so many B's, etc. Am I wrong?

12:15 PM  
Blogger Jan Willis said...

Indeed, John.

Y'know, another takeaway for me from your posting is this:

May _we_ all be fortunate enough to love something that we do every day on the kind of level that Louie Charnisky did.

This guy constantly created new and incredible worlds for folks to enter.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stories like these are inspiring, when you think of the zeal, imagination, and enterprise of exhibitors. They're also a bit melancholy, because this is really a lost art. Someone once said nowadays we don't go to "the movies", we go to A movie. When six multiplexes in your area are all playing the same blockbuster, what draws YOU to one theatre over anothet?,

2:15 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Very true about B's running solo in small town situations. I have a number of ads where the Sherlock Holmes or Charlie Chan films played alone, and in my town, we had the newest Hoppys and Rogers-Autrys getting prime spots during mid-week, and with a serial chapter. It seems to have been mostly in the top keys where they ran second to A's, though for sub-runs in the same locale, they might be bumped to a stand-alone position. A lot of bookers and exhibitors could have given fair argument to the effect that there was really no such thing as "B" pictures, at least not from the major distributors.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

We had two theaters in our town (and just 6,000 residents!). The Plaza played the more adult films and the State (in a historically important former vaudeville house that debuted the first public performance of "AFTER THE BALL (IS OVER") played "B"s and kids' films. It was quite normal for the State to play a single B with a few extra cartoons or shorts. In my era, westerns were still huge, so we saw a lot of oaters at night and on the weekends.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

The problem is illiterate film writers pretending to be hip. By that I mean illiterate in understanding the film business. John Huston's THE MALTESE FALCON was the third light on the match and a "B." "B" never meant bad. Generally, yes, it meant the "B" side of a double bill especially when features replaced shorts.

A lot of those so-called "B" pictures were better than the "A" they supported because the studios did not interfere with their making. Again, THE MALTESE FALCON with Bogart is the proof. It is so much better than the first version and, the less said about the second, SATAN MET A LADY with Bette Davis, as far as I'm concerned, the better. Can't watch it.

I feel the best test of the quality of a film critic, historian writer is their understanding of "B" pictures. The Universal Horrors were all "A" pictures for example but generally, like KING KONG, get described as "B" pictures. In the business any picture that the public loves and which makes a hat full of money is an "A" and the critics can go to Hell.

As a side note, I watched LADY AND THE TRAMP in widescreen Blu-ray for the first time this week and realized that Disney snuck in a sex scene. We did not see it, of course, but we know the first night Lady and the Tramp spent together it happened. Marvelous subtlety.

8:54 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Whenever there's a list of stars like that Warner Bros. ad, there's guaranteed to be one obscurity. At least I know who Chic Sale is, but... Evalyn Knapp? Who?

1:39 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Were there consequences for overselling a film? Did local audiences ever come to mistrust the ballyhoo?

My own take was that Brass Bancroft was neither fish nor fowl, a bit too unrealistic for straight crime thrillers but not unrealistic enough to compete with all the more flamboyant sleuths. How did they score with audiences when new?

5:47 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I think what actually happened is that the audience as a whole after Word War II got tired of being promised everything in movie ads and getting nothing as in that promo for GUN FURY.

The 1920s and early 1930s movies delivered bang for the buck but once the Motion Picture Code castrated the movies we got lots of bang but only nickels and dimes. No buck.

6:51 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

"No buck." Buck Jones, Buck Rogers, Buck Privates....

The Wolf, man.

9:37 AM  

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