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Monogram Pictures (later known as Allied Artists) was a Hollywood studio that produced and released nearly 1,000 genre films, such as Westerns, serials, horror films, comedy shorts, and melodramas, between 1931 and 1953. Monogram Pictures traces its roots to 1915 when W. Ray Johnston founded the Arrow Film Corporation. Arrow, later known as Rayart Productions and Syndicate Film Exchange, produced a variety of films for direct distribution to theaters across the United States. In 1930 the company was reorganized and became known as Monogram Productions. Monogram was one of a number of independent producer-distributors, including Republic, Liberty, and Producers Releasing Corp., that were referred to as Poverty Row. The films put out by these studios were characterized by casts made up of unknowns or stars distinctly on the way down, and were produced so inexpensively that they couldn’t help but turn a profit.
During the early 1930s Monogram produced over 100 films, including "The Thirteenth Guest" (1932). Between 1937 and 1953, Monogram Pictures turned out an average of 50 films per year and was reportedly the only studio in Hollywood to have the distinction of never losing money on a single film. One of the highlights of this period was the gangster film "Dillinger" (1945), which grossed an extraordinary $4,000,000 domestically and earned an Academy Award® nomination for Original Screenplay.
The studio also produced a number of memorable horror films, ten of them starring Bela Lugosi, including "The Ape Man" (1943), "Invisible Ghost" (1941), "King of the Zombies" (1941), and "Voodoo Man" (1944). Lugosi’s frequent co-star, Boris Karloff, also appeared in six films for Monogram, including "Mr. Wong, Detective" (1938) and "The Fatal Hour" (1940).
Though Monogram made its fair share of features, the company was best known as “the king of the series film,” with series such as “The East Side Kids,” “The Shadow,” and “Bomba the Jungle Boy.” The studio also churned out dozens of Western serials featuring some of the most popular cowboy stars of the time, including Johnny Mack Brown, Bill Cody, Wild Bill Elliott, Hoot Gibson, Monte Hale, George “Gabby” Hayes, Buck Jones, Ken Maynard, Tex Ritter, and many others, including John Wayne. Between 1933 and 1935, Wayne made 16 films for Monogram’s Lone Star Productions, including "The Lawless Frontier" (1934), "Paradise Canyon" (1935), "Riders of Destiny" (1933), and "The Sage Brush Trail" (1933). Other popular series were the “Charlie Chan” films starring Sidney Toler and later Roland Winters as Chan.
In 1945 Steve Broidy, formerly the general sales manager, was elected president of Monogram, with W. Ray Johnson becoming chairman of the board. In November 1946 Allied Artists Productions, Inc. was formed as a wholly owned subsidiary of Monogram to handle the production of higher-budgeted films. The company intended to produce and distribute those films under the Allied Artists banner, while their usual low-budget output would carry the Monogram label. Although Allied Artists was treated as a separate entity at first, the quality and content of its output soon became so similar to the Monogram product that eventually there was no real difference between the two, and Monogram adopted the Allied Artists name.
Allied then concentrated on releasing more “quality” films, including "Friendly Persuasion" (1956) and "Love in the Afternoon" (1957). Despite producing more A-list material, the studio was still turning out memorable B-picture genre fare, including "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" (1958), "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956), and "The Tingler" (1959).
Allied Artists ceased producing films in 1964, but continued to operate as a film distributor. Shortly before its demise in 1976, the company briefly resumed production. Among the last films Allied Artists distributed were "Cabaret" (1972), "The Man Who Would Be King" (1975), and "Papillon" (1973).
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