MONOGRAM,THE BIG LITTLE STUDIO

imageMONOGRAM,to state the obvious, was a product of its time. Like its ‘Poverty Row’ cohorts (Mascot,PRC) Monogram was a small film studio which was able to survive in the era when everyone went to the pictures.Monogram would make a film for $90,000 while the majors would average $800,000.

The studio knew their movies would always be the lower half of a double bill,but they also knew they could make movies quickly, and that they had an audience for their westerns,their musicals and their series (Mr Wong,East Side Kids,Cisco Kid, Charlie Chan).
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Monogram rented a ranch at Placerita Canyon near Newhall,California. Robert Bradbury scripted their westerns and his son, Bob Steele starred in them – plus John Wayne and Tex Ritter.

Monogram averaged 40 to 50 films a year.Their studio,like the other small studios, was in or near Gower Street in Hollywood.

Sidney Toler had played Charlie Chan in 11 films for Fox. Toler then bought the rights to the character from the widow of Earl Derr Biggers,the creator of Charlie Chan. He then offered himself and the character to Monogram who made 11 more Charlie Chan movies.

CHARLIE CHAN.

CHARLIE CHAN.

Boris Karloff,then Bela Lugosi played Mr Wong in another successful series.

For the young set,Monogram had Frankie Darro,Jackie Moran and Marcia Mae Jones.
Gale Storm made a string of musicals.
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Monogram even tried the classics –Oliver Twist in 1933 and Jane Eyre in 1934.

Virginia Bruce, Colin Clive.

Virginia Bruce, Colin Clive.

Several stars started their career at Monogram – Randolph Scott in Broken Dreams,Alan Ladd in Her First Romance.Robert Mitchum in When Strangers Marry.
And then there were the stars whose careers were past their peak – Kay Francis in Wife Wanted(1946).
There were some good noirish thrillers in the 40s – Black Market Babies,Suspense,The Guilty,Fall Guy.
A Monogram comedy I’d like to see is So’s Your Aunt Emma (1942), with Zazu Pitts.

Warner Archive have the Monogram library from 1947 and have released two volumes of the Bowery Boys and all 12 titles of Bomba,The Jungle boy, and the Charlie Chan Collection.
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Amazon have several sets of Monogram films, 4 per set. There is also a book called The Monogram Checklist,The Films of Monogram Pictures Corporation 1931-52 by Ted Okuda (McFarland & Co,1999)
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In 1952 Monogram changed its name to Allied Artists Pictures Corporation.
I wonder if anyone ever did a tour of KCET Studios on Sunset Boulevard. This was the original home of Monogram. The KCET tour went through the buildings of the old studio. (The building was sold to the Church of Scientology in 2011)
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Jean-Luc Godard dedicated his film A Bout de Souffle to Monogram Pictures – “because it proved pictures can be both interesting and cheap.”

THE MAN WITH TWO LIVES Monogram 1942

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Monogram made this good little thriller and I’d love a dvd release. The premise is far fetched but entertaining.
Good natured Edward Norris is killed in a car accident. His father’s friend,a doctor,revives his heart at the very moment a convicted killer is executed.
Norris ‘s personality becomes more and more like the killer. He ends up running the dead man’s gang and taking over his girlfriend too.

A friend of the family, a psycho-analyst gives the doctor who started Norris’s heart again a reason for the change: …”one so fantastic, so inconceivable  – transmigration of the soul – while you revived the body,the soul escaped!”

There is a good twist ending.Norris did a fair job of conveying the change of personality. I was particularly impressed by the actress who played the killer’s girlfriend,Marlo Dwyer, whom I discovered from IMDB didn’t make another film till Crossfire in 1947 – she played Sam Levene’s girlfriend.

It’s quite a violent film but well told. The cast includes Addison Richards,Eleanor Lawson and Hugh Sothern.

There’s nothing ‘Poverty Row’ about it.

I love this logo which Monogram used in 1935. Someone at the studio had definitely seen Metropolis.

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4 responses »

  1. Monogram certainly made some real bargain basement material but it has to be said they produced some entertaining movies too.
    And Allied Artists’ output is actually pretty good.

  2. Sometimes these Monogram pictures were very good indeed DECOY
    for instance.
    I must say that I prefer their “Noirs” to their Westerns.
    THE MAN WITH TWO LIVES sounds really good,Edward Norris is
    generally a really good support player.

  3. I wasn’t sure whether to include DECOY as a Mongram picture. They distributed it, but it was made independently by Pathe Pictures and Jack Bernhardt.
    I definitely agree that the the little thrillers were best.
    I think you’d enjoy The Man With Two Lives. I watched it on YouTube.

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