Poverty Row was a slang term used in Hollywood from the 1920s through the 1950s to refer to a variety of small (and mostly short-lived) B movie studios. Although many of them were on (or near) today's Gower Street in Hollywood, the term did not necessarily refer to any specific physical location, but was rather a figurative catch-all for low-budget films produced by these lower-tier studios.
The films of Poverty Row, many of which were Westerns (including series like Billy the Kid, starring Buster Crabbe from PRC) or comedy/adventure series such as those featuring the Bowery Boys (Monogram Pictures) and detectives such as The Shadow, were generally characterized by low budgets, casts made up of lower-ranked stars or unknowns, and overall production values that unintentionally betrayed the haste and economy with which they were made.
While some Poverty Row studios came and quickly went after a few releases, others operated on more-or-less the same terms as—if vastly different scales from—major film studios such as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Warner Bros., and Paramount Pictures.
The most successful and longest-lived of such lower-tier companies maintained permanent lots (and many standing sets that dedicated moviegoers could frequently recognize from movie to movie), had both cast and crew on long-term contract, and had a more varied output than smaller firms.
- CBC Productions (later to become Columbia Pictures), founded by Harry Cohn, was considered a Poverty Row studio from 1919 until its reorganization in 1924.
- Tiffany Pictures was in operation from 1921 through 1932 as both a production company (about 90 films) and a distributor.
- Mascot Pictures was formed in 1927 by Nat Levine, and merged into Republic Pictures in 1935.
- Larry Darmour Productions flourished from 1927 through the 1930s, mainly on the popularity of its Mickey McGuire short film series starring Mickey Rooney. Darmour was also the principal producer within Majestic Pictures until 1935.
- Monogram Pictures was created in 1931 by the merger of Sono Art-World Wide Pictures with W. Ray Johnston's Rayart. After the attempted 1935 merger of Monogram into Republic Pictures, Johnston took Monogram independent again, and in the following decades produced everything from college/teen musicals starring popular swing bands to versions of classics like Oliver Twist and the final films of Kay Francis. It evolved, in relatively good financial condition, into Allied Artists in 1953.
- Republic Pictures was organized in 1935 when Herbert J. Yates combined six other established poverty-row companies, Monogram, Mascot Pictures, Liberty Pictures, Majestic Pictures, Chesterfield Pictures, and Invincible Films with his Consolidated Film Laboratories. Republic began by releasing serial shorts and Westerns with Gene Autry in the 1930s before eventually riding the success of eventual superstars Roy Rogers and John Wayne (the latter embarking on more ambitious projects, such as 1952's Wayne hit, The Quiet Man).
- Grand National Films Inc. was organized in 1936 with some significant talent (James Cagney and director Charles Lamont), but could not survive without its own distribution channel. It folded quickly in 1939, having released about 100 films altogether.
- Producers Releasing Corporation emerged in 1939 and lasted until 1946, when it was absorbed into Eagle-Lion Films. PRC presented a steady output of westerns, gangster movies, with occasional high spots, such as Edgar G. Ulmer's 1945 noir classic Detour and their 1944 Minstrel Man, the latter film was nominated for two Academy Awards.
The smallest studios, including Tiffany Pictures, Sam Katzman's Victory, Mascot and Chesterfield, often packaged and released films from independent producers, British "quota quickie" films, or borderline exploitation films such as Hitler, Beast of Berlinto supplement their own limited production capacity. Sometimes the same producers would start a new studio when the old one failed, such as Harry S. Webb and Bernard B. Ray's Reliable Pictures and Metropolitan Pictures.
Comparison with other studios
- The Big Five majors
- The Little Three majors
- Poverty Row (top four of many)
- Non majors
- Walt Disney Studios
- The Rank Organisation
- Gaumont Film Company
- Embassy Pictures
- Nordisk Film
- London Films
- British Lion Films
The breakup of the studio system (and its restrictive chain-theater distribution network, which left independent movie houses eager for seat-filling product from the Poverty Row studios) following 1948's United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. decision, and the advent of television were among the factors that led to the decline and ultimate disappearance of "Poverty Row" as a Hollywood phenomenon.
- Independent film
- Vulgar auteurism
- Auteur theory
- Roger Corman
- French New Wave
- Classical Hollywood cinema
- Film History of the 1920s - Filmsite.org
- Down and Dirty in Gower Gulch|UCLA Film & Television Archive
- Cheap thrills|Film|The Guardian
- Reel Life: the peculiar virtues of poverty row|Calender|Chicago Reader
- POVERTY ROW FROM UCLA|Cinematheque
- Preserving Poverty Row: Q&A with Scott MacQueen|UCLA Film & Television Archive
- The Top 20 'Monogram Pictures' Movies - Flickchart
- The Dirt-Cheap Lost Classics of Poverty Row Filmmakers, Restored at MOMA|The Village Voice
- Detour (1945)|The Criterion Collection
- My streaming gem: why you should watch Detour|Film|The Guardian
- Project MUSE - The "B" Movie Goes to War in Hitler, Beast of Berlin (1939)
- Astor Pictures: A Filmography and History of the Reissue King, 1933-1956 - Google Books
- Realart Pictures Inc.|BFI
- Low-budget dross and brilliance|Film|The Guardian
- Davis, Blair (2012). The Battle for the Bs: 1950s Hollywood and the Rebirth of Low-Budget Cinema. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-5324-5.
- Fernett, Gene (1973). Hollywood's Poverty Row, 1930–1950. Satellite Beach, FL: Coral Reef Publications.
- Lewis, Jack C. (2002). White Horse, Black Hat: A Quarter Century on Hollywood's Poverty Row. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-1-4617-3108-5.
- Pitts, Michael R. (2005). Poverty Row Studios, 1929–1940: An Illustrated History of 55 Independent Film Companies, with a Filmography for Each. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-2319-4. OCLC 891667311.
- Stephens, E.J.; Wanamaker, Marc (2014). Early Poverty Row Studios. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4396-4829-2.