B Western, a term now losing currency, technically refers to low-budget films shown as the second part of double features, becoming popular in the 1930s and the 1940s. But the term has also been used to refer to any low-budget film, including many silent-era Westerns, as well as serial films that were shown on Saturday mornings to young audiences. Although most movie genres were represented by B movies, science fiction, comedies, and Westerns dominated. Beginning in the 1950s, low-budget Westerns moved from matinee houses to television.
   Most B Westerns in the 1930s had budgets well under $30,000 per picture. However, some stars’ pictures could be budgeted higher. When Buck Jones left Columbia for Universal Pictures in 1934, for instance, not only was his salary increased but Universal also gave him responsibility for producing his own films. Universal underwrote the films with a budget of $65,000 per picture. By the 1930s, Republic Studios was investing even more in Gene Autry films. Paramount even budgeted Hopalong Cassidy movies at over $125,000 per picture. Autry and Cassidy films were, however, unusual. Although there are numerous B films that had budgets and production values nearly that of lower-budget A films and vice versa, production and distribution of the two kinds of films varied greatly. A films, the major top-billed productions of a double feature, depended on a percentage of the box office profits for revenue whereas B films were rented to theaters at a flat rate. There was a tremendous consumer market for B films, which could nearly always make a profit if made cheaply enough. And generally, studios that made A films did not make B films.
   B Westerns, then, were produced by a host of minor studios in Hollywood, collectively known as “poverty row.” Republic and Monogram led the group, but other studios included Producers Releasing Corporation and Mascot. These studios produced numerous films rapidly, often working on multiple projects at a given studio at the same time using the same casts and crews. Most actors worked under standard picture-commitment contracts, which meant they worked every day and were paid the same regardless of how many pictures they made. More fortunate actors worked under term player contracts, which gave them a regular yearly salary. B Westerns basically developed out of a long tradition of lowbudget moviemaking held over from the silent era. Hundreds of silent Westerns were made cheap, in assembly-line fashion, similar to the later Westerns of the 1930s. After the phenomenal success of William S. Hart’s darkly realistic Westerns, numerous imitators began mass-producing Westerns. Since Hart’s austere style was easy and inexpensive to imitate and since an easy profit could be made, large numbers of silents were made quickly in the Hart style. William K. Everson notes that Aywon studios’ Another Man’s Boots (1922) was a virtual copy of Hart’s Square Deal Sanderson (1919).
   For most of the 20th century, B Westerns were dismissed contemptuously by film critics, being compared to AWesterns in much the same way that pulp novels were compared to serious literary novels. B Westerns were often condemned because they were deliberately designed as commercial products valued for their consistency rather than their originality. Certainly, for those working in the B Western studios, there was very little prestige compared to mainstream Hollywood culture. However, as film critics and cultural critics have begun studying Westerns more seriously, they have discovered that the classification of these particular films based on how they were originally distributed and displayed is outdated and not very useful. Literary critics take no notice of a novel’s original publication methods or of bookstore sales. William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! sold less than 1,000 copies when it was produced in 1926 whereas Gone With the Wind, published the same year, sold millions—yet nobody would judge either novel on the basis of its sales. When critics, then, look at the 1930s and 1940s low-budget Westerns based on their own merits, several facts tend to emerge. Many lowbudget Westerns took artistic risks that AWesterns could not afford to take and in some ways, by their nature, were more innovative than their counterparts. Many AWesterns, despite higher budgets, have little artistic integrity. From a postmodern perspective, it might be argued that these B films, because they undercut the classic Western myths, may actually deserve more serious analysis than higherbudget classic Westerns. The trend today is no longer to separate out B Westerns from AWesterns, but to refer to the B films, if one must make a distinction, as low-budget Westerns.
   Since B Westerns were made on the assumption that consumers would buy tickets for even the cheapest product, they often sported cardboard-looking sets, utterly common props, and plenty of stock footage show stunt riding, large crowd scenes, Indian battles, and other features not practical to film on limited budgets. Nevertheless, B Westerns introduced many elements into the Western genre. The cowboy star with a specific persona and a trademark costume became an essential ingredient. Thus, a whole series of cowboy stars spent entire careers in B westerns: Tom Mix, Buck Jones, Johnny Mack Brown, Tim Holt, and many others. But B Westerns also introduced the singing cowboy, led above all by Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. The resultant vision of the old West became a sanitized frontier in which serious violence was rare and cowboy heroes were clean-living models for young boys and girls to emulate. Only in the world of B Westerns could Hopalong Cassidy’s sidekick, Andy Clyde, walk into a saloon and order milk. Cassidy himself spent hours in saloons playing cards, without any evidence of ordering a drink.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • WESTERNS, ARTISTIC VALUE —    For most of the history of cinema, Westerns have been considered the lowest of low culture. For many older critics, even the few great films of John Fordfall far below the mark of what one might consider high art. These critics dismiss… …   Westerns in Cinema

  • WESTERNS AS ALLEGORIES —    If Westerns are primarily about the time in which they are produced, not the time in which they are set, then Westerns of the cold war period are often interpreted as allegories of the tensions between the Soviet Union and its allies and the… …   Westerns in Cinema

  • WESTERNS AS GAMES —    Following early studies in game theory by such writers as Johan Huizinga, critics have frequently associated Westerns with games, and the old children’s game of cowboys and Indians reinforces the theory. Westerns, the premise goes, are played… …   Westerns in Cinema

  • Westerns spaghetti — Western spaghetti Le western spaghetti est un sous genre de western qui doit son nom à un sarcasme du cinéma américain quant à ses origines italiennes. Malgré cette ironie, le genre sera largement reconnu et plébiscité grâce à quelques films… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Westerns spaghettis — Western spaghetti Le western spaghetti est un sous genre de western qui doit son nom à un sarcasme du cinéma américain quant à ses origines italiennes. Malgré cette ironie, le genre sera largement reconnu et plébiscité grâce à quelques films… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Westerns B — Western B Le western B désigne le sous ensemble du western appartenant à la série B, qui se caractérise par des petits budgets de production. Il apparait à la fin des années 1920 – auparavant on ne distinguait pas la série A de la série B – et… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Westerns EP — Infobox Album Name = Westerns Type = EP Artist = Pete Yorn Released = 2006 Recorded = Genre = Rock Length = Label = Columbia Records Producer = Reviews = Last album = Live from New Jersey (2004) This album = Westerns EP (2006) Next album =… …   Wikipedia

  • westerns-spaghettis — ● western spaghetti, westerns spaghettis nom masculin Film d aventures italien qui imite le western américain en reprenant certains archétypes du genre …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • westerns — west·ern || westÉ™(r)n n. artistic representation of life in the early American western frontier (usually a movie or book) adj. relating to the west; situated in the west; coming from or proceeding toward the west …   English contemporary dictionary

  • WESTERNS — …   Useful english dictionary

  • SPAGHETTI WESTERNS —    By the 1960s cinema Westerns were becoming so popular worldwide, especially in Europe, that the supply was having difficulty meeting the demand. Cinecitta Studios, among others, had been specializing in cheaply made, quickly produced action… …   Westerns in Cinema

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.