The 1930s through 1950s are generally seen as Hollywood’s Golden Age. It was a time when major studios had glamorous stars and made blockbuster pictures with casts of thousands.
It was also a time when cheap production companies ground out quickie films on a shoestring budget, and sometimes, just sometimes, created something worth watching.
Welcome to Poverty Row, the result of the world’s insatiable appetite for film. In the days before television, many people went to the movies every day. Not only did they get a movie, but they also got a newsreel, cartoon, and a shorter “B” movie. Neighborhood theaters often showed B-movies as features since they were cheaper to rent and the audience of local kids didn’t care about great production quality, they just wanted to see some cowboys shooting it up. And that’s where Poverty Row came in.
When movies first became popular at the beginning of the twentieth century, the world was already captivated with tales of the Wild West. Dime novels, plays, and traveling shows entertained millions in the U.S. and abroad. Movie directors were quick to pick up on this and Westerns were a popular film genre right from the start.
The first years of film overlapped with the last years of the Wild West. The last corners of the frontier were being settled, and some towns still had the shoot-em-up reputation movie viewers craved. Directors often went on location and hired real cowboys to do their stuff in front of the camera. One of them, Tom Mix, became one of the genre’s enduring stars.
But movie directors wanted bad men too, and they didn’t have to look far. Several real Western outlaws reenacted their crimes on camera.