Poverty Row & Quota Quickies


“Your driver believed he saw dead men… walking.”

My choices for the “best” Poverty Row & Quota Quickies Horror:

  • Condemned to Live
  • The Ghoul
  • The Phantom Light
  • The Vampire Bat
  • White Zombie

Eight studios ruled Hollywood during the Golden Age: the Big Five, MGM, Fox, Paramount, RKO, and, Warner Bros., and the Little Three, Columbia, United Artists, and Universal. A few “non-majors” such as Disney and foreign companies produced A-level pictures, but lacked the vertical integration (meaning they owned production, but not necessarily distribution channels, and screening venues). The rest, making B, C, and D-level pictures were considered Poverty Row. The larger Poverty Row studios such as Monogram, Mascot, Republic, and later PRC operated like miniature versions of the major production houses while the smaller ones could be anything down to a couple guys in a rented apartment with a borrowed camera. Sometimes a Poverty Row studio could hit it big; CBC was a Poverty Row studio in the silent era that made good, and was renamed Columbia. Some just managed to make good money for a while. Most made some movies and then died, often to reform with a new name, make a few films, and then die again. Profit margins were small and no one was getting rich.

Poverty Row focused on low-budget genre films—westerns, mysteries, comedies, and horror. As horror was considered disreputable, it was a perfect genre for poverty row studios that had no reputation to endanger. These films were shot in a week or two, on inexpensive sets (or occasionally on ones rented from the majors), with few crew members, and with second or third tier actors. When they were lucky they could pull in a name, perhaps one whose fame was slipping. For horror this meant Bela Lugosi, whose fall from big studio grace came very quickly, along with Lionel Atwill, who never made it to A-list but was always a welcome sight. The product was short, often 70 minutes or less, and simple. This wasn’t the place for art, but quick and dirty commerce. You’d rarely find great movies from Poverty Row, but sometimes you can find fun ones.

Quota Quickies were the British version of Poverty Row features. In 1927 Parliament passed a quota law requiring theaters to show 7½% home grown content, raised to 20% in 1935. The idea was to counter Hollywood’s dominance, giving British companies a leg up so that they’d grow to be the equivalent of the Big Five. It didn’t work out that way. Instead a great many films were made where all that mattered was that fulfilled the definition of a feature and of being British. If theaters wanted to show the biggest Hollywood blockbuster, they needed a British film, and they needed it quickly, and money was an object. These were cheap films and no one cared if they were good or bad, just that they existed. That meant grabbing whatever was available. Some reasonable performers were gathered up, but they were music hall and stage actors with no idea what to do before a camera, and no one spent the time to instruct them. Horror was not a mainstay, but from time to time a horror picture popped up. On average Quota Quickies rate a bit higher than Poverty Row films, but none rise above second tier.

Poverty Row films and Quota Quickies make up the second leg of Golden Age horror, apart from the Classic Horror of the eight majors.

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