Review of Reviews

Double Features

September 15 1940
Review of Reviews

Double Features

September 15 1940

Double Features

Review of Reviews

Sam Goldwyn Says They Will Ruin Movie Industry; But Others Think Otherwise

THE OLD dispute as to whether movie theatres should run double of single features has broken out again, states Bosley Crowther in the New York Times Magazine, and this time the question is raised by no less formidable an “anti” than Producer Samuel Goldwyn.

Mr. Goldwyn feels that at last the hour has struck for the American people to throw off the double-feature yoke. He is sublimely confident that the public is against double bills. But, despite his persuasive insistence, there are others who are not quite so sure.

Mr. Goldwyn wants to do away with “doubles” for purely practical reasons. Along with other thoughtful folk, he is much concerned over the state of the film industry. The total loss of the European market has taken a serious slice out of Hollywood’s revenues. The domestic market, too, has been showing signs of decline. And production costs are rising.

Not many people need be told what a double feature is. The term, of course, refers to the trade practice of selling an audience two feature pictures—two BIG features, as the advertisements usually say—instead of just one on a bill. It is a practice which prevails either all or part of the week in an estimated sixty per cent of the 17,000-odd film theatres throughout the country.

Most of the articulate groups, including film producers and theatre operators themselves, regard the double feature with undisguised loathing. For the past six or eight years it has been under an almost steady barrage of criticism and opposition. Women’s clubs and parent-teacher groups throughout the country have been blasting away at it relentlessly, holding that the double bill is especially bad for children. Doctors have been saying it ruins the eyes. Tired businessmen have been muttering. And yet double features remain. Why? Well, Mr. Goldwyn says it is because of the short-sightedness of the Hollywood producers themselves. He says that the only way to scotch the double-fea ture “evil” is for Hollywcxxl arbitrarily to make fewer pictures, to cut down or eliminate the “cheap B product” turned out to supply the clamorous demand for double bills, and so force theatre operators to abandon them.

According to Mr. Goldwyn there are about 25,000,000 people in this country who, financially able, still refuse to patron-

ize motion pictures. Many of them, he believes, have become discouraged by the run of mediocre pictures they have witnessed in the double-feature "traps.” Yet a large proportion of this group can be won back with good pictures, he maintains.

But how speaks the theatre operator who is a practical businessman, too, mainly concerned right now with his dayto-day existence? How speak the customers—the mass of customers—at that most accurate of all polling booths, the box office?

Most theatre-owners in communities where “twin bills” prevail will tell you the same distressing story: their ears are constantly being bent by patrons who complain about the quality of the fare, yet business invariably goes to theatres which sell the "biggest” show.

Most of the picture houses in this country are owned or controlled by the chains, most of which are in turn owned or controlled by the major producing companies. Within a certain community, let us say, there are nine movie theatres ; three of them belong to one chain, three to another and three are independently operated. All are operating on a singlefeature policy. But under this setup the independent houses find that periods occur when it is difficult for them to obtain first-rate pictures, that the best product —what there is of it—goes to the chaincontrolled theatres. In other words, tine competition is too steep.

So, in order to remain in business, the independents are forced to do something drastic, and one of them comes along with two pictures—two cheap pictures perhaps —for the price of one. He discovers that it boosts his business. The other two independents follow suit. Soon the chaincontrolled houses observe that patronage is slipping away from them. So, whenever they have a weak "single” they bring in a "second feature,” too. And soon the whole community is double-feature.

So long as there is any section of the public which prefers the "bargain bills,” there are likely to be theatres to attract them, and so long as the theatres demand a product, there is going to be someone in Hollywood to make it for them.