Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Movie theaters, wanting to attract customers during the economically rough Great Depression era, began changing the way they booked movies. Previously, an evening at the theatre would consist of the following:
- An animated cartoon short subject (i.e. Looney Tunes)
- A live-action comedy short (i.e. Our Gang, Laurel and Hardy, and The Three Stooges)
- A novelty short: a musical, a travelogue etc.
- A newsreel
- The main feature film.
Theater owners decided that they could attract more customers if they offered two movies for the price of one. The high-budget main feature (the a-movie) ran first, and was followed by a lower-budget (and sometimes lower-quality) film (the b-movie). In between was just enough time for a single-reel short film and a newsreel.
The death of the two-reel short as a commercially successful product for independent studios put producers such as Mack Sennett out of business. Hal Roach moved Laurel and Hardy full-time into feature films after 1935, and halved his popular Our Gang films to one reel at the request of distributor Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Roach, who could no longer afford to produce shorts after 1938, sold Our Gang at that time to MGM.
After the 1930s, fewer shorts were made for theatrical release, most of which were one-reel long, like George O'Hanlon's Joe McDoakes shorts, and the animated shorts of studios like Leon Schlesinger/Warner Bros., Walter Lantz, and Fleischer/Famous Studios. These shorts and others were produced in-house by, or financed by, motion picture companies that either owned their own theater chains (for example, Loews Theatres); or forced theaters to take their shorts by seling them in the same unalterable package as their big-name features. This practice, called block booking , was declared illegal by the US Supreme Court, who also forced the theater chains to sell off their movie studios. By 1955, thanks to double features, the ban on block booking, and the rise of television, the commercial live-action short was virtually dead, and the cartoon short was on its way to being dead. Since the 1960s, short films have been largely reserved for independent filmmakers and special major-studio projects.
The Three Stooges shorts were the only major series of two-reelers to survive the double-feature system, because they were issued by Columbia Pictures using block booking. They continued into the late-1950s, largely by reusing footage from previous series entries to reduce costs.
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