RETROSPEKTIVE © Viennale

RETROSPECTIVE

THE B-FILM
Hollywoods Low-Budget-Kino 1935–1959

The 2018 Viennale retrospective reconsiders the history and legacy of that singular mode of low-budget filmmaking invented within the Hollywood studio system and kindled long after as an ideal and inspiration by diverse filmmakers from Jean-Luc Godard and Seijun Suzuki to Hartmut Bitomosky and Kathryn Bigelow. The B-film, this retrospective makes clear, was a historically specific mode of cinema that flourished from the mid-1930s until the 1948 Paramount Decree, thanks to the institution of the double bill and the dedicated B-units established within the major studios. A major aim of this archaeological project is to carefully recover the real and historically specific meaning of the B-film by showcasing its most exemplary expressions, and by starting to assemble a canon. Long used as a pejorative and nostalgist term, the B-film, this retrospective argues, needs to be recognized as a unique and quintessentially American art form, albeit one created largely by emigres and artists whose work and careers remained on the margins. 
 
During its heyday the B-film embraced to the fullest degree that paradoxical ideal of the studio system as an “art factory” by realizing a remarkably efficient mode of pure cinema that simultaneously returned to the vaudevillian and "attraction” origins of the cinema while also embracing diverse avant-garde currents, from Surrealism to photogénie, to Soviet montage. While the stylish and extraordinarily resourceful films of producer Val Lewton and emigre director Edgar Ulmer leap immediately to mind, equally important are examples of formally innovative yet lesser known B-films showcased here, such as William Castle’s WHEN STRANGERS MARRY (1944) and Joseph H. Lewis MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945). 
 
This retrospective also reveals the B-film as a vital incubator for a kind of innovation and experimentation in genre and narrative otherwise rare in studio-era cinema. In this way, for example, the origins of what would later be celebrated as film noir can be traced to seminal proto-noir B-films included in this program, BLIND ALLEY (1939) and THE STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (1940), each psychoanalytically informed visions of criminal pathology as a waking nightmare. Another important showcase of the seemingly free-ranging imagination of the B-film are those works chosen for the retrospective that are linked by a fascination with the supernatural and occult, among them THE LEOPARD MAN (1943), THE FALCON AND THE CO-EDS (1943) and WEIRD WOMAN (1944), which together offer a remarkably frank address of the mysteries of death and spiritual belief not often seen in more topically serious “A” features of the time. Equally striking is the radical hybridization of genre that animates key B-films such as William McGann’s outlandish and shapeshifting comedy-mystery-horror film SH! THE OCTOPUS! (1937) or the tongue-in-check murder mystery-musical SWEATER GIRL (1943). In these unclassifiable films we can start to understand the B-Film as a different and often self-conscious mode of filmmaking, one used by the studios to experiment with bending and giving new shape to already established genre formulas. 
 
While focused upon the 1935-1948 period, this retrospective also points towards the afterlife of the B-film by including a group of Fifties films mostly made by individuals trained earlier in B production such as Joseph H. Lewis and Norman Foster. In the post-Classical era the B-film lingered on, though differently, in the work of such inventive directors and producers who deliberately and subversively forged artistic freedom and possibility on the lower end of the budget scale such as Ida Lupino, Phil Karlson and Budd Boetticher.  Further legacies of the B-film are suggested by showcasing in this retropective maverick director-producer Roger Corman, the legendary Ed Wood, Jr. as well as the independent directors Hubert Cornfield and Irving Lerner. For in these filmmakers’ diverse works we see embodied later mutations of the B-film into alternate modes of low-budget production-- exploitation, schlock, and the low-budget genre/art film—that each adopt and reinvented, in their own way, the remarkable example and mantle of the studio-era B-film. 
 
A published catalogue accompanying the retrospective will bring together different perspectives on the history and legacy of the B-film, including historical and critical essays and individual notes for each of the films included written by contemporary directors, curators, scholars and writers from around the world. 

Curated by Haden Guest.
 

A RETROSPECTIVE BY VIENNALE AND AUSTRIAN FILM MUSEUM
October 26 - December 5, 2018
The Austrian Film Museum, Augustinerstraße 1, 1010 Vienna
Phone: 0043 (0)1 533 70 54 • www.filmmuseum.at

FIVE CAME BACK (1939, John Farrow, 75 min.)

DETOUR (1945, Edgar G. Ulmer, 68 min.)
THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE (1947, Felix Feist, 63 min.)

CRIME WAVE (1954, Andre de Toth, 74 min.)
PLUNDER ROAD (1957, Hubert Cornfield, 72 min.)

MURDER BY CONTRACT (1958, Irving Lerner, 81 min.)

THE FALCON AND THE CO-EDS (1943, William Clemens, 67 min.)
SWEATER GIRL (1942, William Clemens, 77 min.)

STRANGE ILLUSION (1945, Edgar G. Ulmer, 87 min.)

AMONG THE LIVING (1941, Stuart Heisler, 67 min.)
BEWITCHED (1945, Arch Oboler, 65 min.)

THE LEOPARD MAN (1943, Jacques Tourneur, 66 min.)

IT HAPPENED IN HOLLYWOOD (1937, Harry Lachman, 67 min.)
TUMBLIN’ TUMBLEWEEDS (1935, Joseph Kane, 61 min.)

THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG (1939, Nick Grinde, 64 min.)
THE CRIME OF DR. CRESPI (1935, John H. Auer, 63 min.)

SH! THE OCTOPUS (1937, William McGann, 60 min.)
THE DEVIL BAT (1940, Jean Yarbrough, 69 min.)

FACE BEHIND THE MASK (1941, Robert Florey, 69 min.)
THANK YOU, MR. MOTO (1937, Norman Foster, 69 min.)

ISLAND OF DOOMED MEN (1940, Charles Barton, 68 min.)

THUNDERHOOF (1948, Phil Karlson, 77 min.)
RIDE LONESOME (1959, Budd Boetticher, 73 min.)

GUN CRAZY (1950, Joseph H. Lewis, 87 min.)

THE GHOST SHIP (1943, Mark Robson, 69 min.)

THE STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (1940, Boris Ingster, 64 min.)
BLIND ALLEY (1939, Charles Vidor, 68 min.)

TEENAGE DOLL (1957, Roger Corman, 71 min.)

PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959, Ed Wood, 80 min.)

WHEN STRANGERS MARRY (1944, William Castle, 67 min.) DR.
BROADWAY (1942, Anthony Mann, 68 min.)

THE STEEL HELMET (1951, Samuel Fuller, 85 min.)

THE BISCUT EATER (1940, Stuart Heisler, 58 min.)
HEAVEN WITH A BARBED WIRE FENCE (1939, Ricardo Cortez, 62 min.) 

PHANTOM OF CHINATOWN (1941, Phil Rosen, 61 min.)
DAUGHTER OF SHANGHAI (1937, Robert Florey, 63 min.) 

ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950, Richard Fleischer, 67 min.)
THE NARROW MARGIN (1952, Richard Fleischer, 71 min.) 

DONOVAN’S BRAIN (1953, Felix E. Feist, 83 min.)

THE PREVIEW MURDER MYSTERY (1936, Robert Florey, 60 min.)
THE HOUSE OF FEAR (1939, Joe May, 67 min.)

WEIRD WOMAN (1944, Reginald Le Borg, 63 min.)
CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943, Edward Dmytryk, 60 min.)

MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945, Joseph H. Lewis, 64 min.)
SO DARK THE NIGHT (1946, Joseph H. Lewis, 71 min.)

BABES ON SWING STREET (1944, Edward Lilley, 69 min.)

PERSONS IN HIDING (1939, Louis King, 67 min.)
KID GLOVE KILLER (1942, Fred Zinnemann, 74 min.)

OUTRAGE (1950, Ida Lupino, 75 min.)

JOHNNY DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1944, Joe May, 79 min.)

RAW DEAL (1948, Anthony Mann, 79 min.)
WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950, Norman Foster, 77 min.)