Monday, March 26, 2012

Boston Blackie and serial drama


Turner Classic Movies ran Confessions of Boston Blackie the other day. I assume they ran Meet Boston Blackie, the first of the series, the week prior and I didn't notice, as they're running Alias Boston Blackie next week.

I enjoyed it. It was directed solidly by Edward Dmytryk and has a solid brisk pace and an entertaining cast, led by Chester Morris and featuring Harriet Hilliard, already married to bandleader Ozzie Nelson but still using her maiden name professionally.

It's a very good example of the kind of movie it is, and as long as TCM keeps showing them, I'll watch the rest of the series. I assume this Dmytryk directed entry is one of the stronger episodes, so I'm prepared to rough through not all of them being gems, because, well, they're an hour and I enjoyed the Boston Blackie character and Morris's portrayal, so I suspect that most of them are pretty watchable.

And that's really what I was thinking about. In the '30s and '40s, studios made these series. In about eight years, Columbia Pictures made 14 Boston Blackie movies. There were various others featuring The Saint, The Falcon, Blondie, Billy the Kid, Mr. Moto etc. They literally ran as a "B" picture, with a more expensive "A" movie with bigger stars, longer running time, etc. as the main attraction of the evening.

Obviously a significant factor in these types of series disappeared after TV took over that function. TV could produce even more regular installments and bring them right to your living room. It's hard to resist.

And yet something seems missing.

With cable, satellite, DVD, TiVo, DVR, Blu-ray, streaming, and whatever else, coming onto larger TVs with better sound, to watch at whatever time and programmed with whatever breaks and in whatever order, with whatever snacks you want, it's hard to think to go out to the movies, especially in this day and age when more people think it's an appropriate place to talk, text or whatever other insult to decent human behavior they dream up.

But what if we went back to this?

The Alamo Drafthouse theaters do a pre-show series of old trailers and TV clips with some relationship to the main feature. There are no complete adventures or even anything that's advertised in advance as an attraction of its own.

(I don't mean that to come off as a complaint at all! That's one of my favorite parts of going to Drafthouse shows. I'm merely illustrating the difference between that and what I'm yammering on about.)

I'm sure that some repertory theaters have recreated old "Night at the Movies" type nights, and I know I'd go if someone made one near me.

But what about creating new ones?

I think a resourceful theater could put together a night fairly easily with existing material, a cartoon here, an episode of a TV show there. Yeah, there could be some arrangement for rights, but I wouldn't guess impossible, especially if you planned for all one company to negotiate with.

I think it'd be interesting to see and draw people in. Done right, it could be a draw, but I think most likely it would turn out to be just a novelty.

What someone should do is produce/distribute a whole package.

Look, The Asylum jumped out there by producing product coordinated to have similar product on video shelves at the same time as a major release came out in theaters. This isn't that much different.

First, you target your major release, eventually releases.

Second, you piece together how an evening at that movie would play best. A cartoon could be licensed from all over. Eventually, a successful packager could buy up the rights to a bunch of independently produced animated movies and find them quality packages as you go. You could most likely do the same for a live action short subject in the same vein.

Then you could produce what would now be a long-short, but would have been a short-feature back in the day. Choose a protagonist that could be brought back and whose exploits could be applied to a number of packages.

You could build a fairly small pool of self-produced series such as that, if they were relatively applicable. You could tune up the package to match features in more interesting ways with the more inexpensive shorts.

I think it could be made to work. Even with theaters still believing moving customers through as many times a day as possible, as has been the custom, could possibly eventually be sold on limited weekend evening packages, if it flew.

Not to mention, the materials have a variety of ways to be marketed on DVD, presumably allowing a contractually agreed on period, as series sets as well as "evening" companions to the DVD feature they'd originally been packaged with.

It would certainly be nice if someone was trying to make the experience more interesting all around rather than just clutch on, waiting for the inevitable death of the experience.


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