Monogram Pictures was a B-movie studio that produced films from 1931 until 1953. After that date, it became known as "Allied Artists Pictures Corporation".
Monogram was created in the early 1930s from two earlier companies, W. Ray Johnston's Rayart Productions (renamed "Raytone" when sound pictures came in) and Trem Carr's Sono Art-World Wide Pictures. Both specialized in low-budget features and, as Monogram Pictures, continued that policy until 1935, with Carr in charge of production. Another independent producer, Paul Malvern, released his Lone Star western productions (starring John Wayne) through Monogram.
The backbone of the studio in those early days was a father-and-son combination: writer/director Robert N. Bradbury and cowboy actor Bob Steele (born Robert A. Bradbury) were on their roster. Bradbury wrote almost all, and directed many, of the early Monogram and Lone Star westerns. While budgets and production values were lean, Monogram offered a balanced program, including action melodramas, classics and mysteries.
In 1935 Johnston and Carr were wooed by Herbert Yates of Consolidated Film Industries; Yates planned to merge Monogram with several other smaller independent companies to form Republic Pictures. However, after short time in this new venture, they discovered that they couldn't get along with Herbert Yates, and they left. Carr moved to Universal Pictures, while Johnston reactivated Monogram in 1937.
Revival and creation of Allied Artists ProductionsEdit
Producer Walter Mirisch began at Monogram after World War II as assistant to studio head Steve Broidy. He convinced Broidy that the days of low-budget films were ending, and in 1946 Monogram created a new unit, Allied Artists Productions, to make costlier films.
At a time when the average Hollywood picture cost about $800,000 (and the average Monogram picture cost about $90,000), Allied Artists' first release, It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947), cost more than $1,200,000. Subsequent Allied Artists releases were more economical but did have enhanced production values; many of them were filmed in color.
The studio's new policy permitted what Mirisch called "B-plus" pictures, which were released along with Monogram's established line of B fare. Mirisch's prediction about the end of the low-budget film had come true thanks to television, and in September 1952 Monogram announced that henceforth it would only produce films bearing the Allied Artists name. The Monogram brand name was finally retired in 1953. The company was now known as Allied Artists Pictures Corporation.
Allied Artists did retain a few vestiges of its Monogram identity, continuing its popular Stanley Clements action series (through 1953), its B-Westerns (through 1954), its Bomba, the Jungle Boy adventures (through 1955) and especially its breadwinning comedy series with The Bowery Boys (through 1958, with Clements replacing Leo Gorcey). For the most part, however, Allied Artists was heading in new, ambitious directions under Mirisch. Its greatest artistic success, however, came with a low-budget film firmly in the Monogram tradition, Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, released by Allied in 1956.
For a time in the mid-1950s the Mirisch family held great influence at Allied Artists, with Walter as executive producer, his brother Harold as head of sales, and brother Marvin as corporate treasurer. They pushed the studio into big-budget filmmaking, signing contracts with William Wyler, John Huston, Billy Wilder and Gary Cooper. However, when their first big-name productions, Wyler's Friendly Persuasion and Wilder's Love in the Afternoon were box-office flops in 1956–57, studio head Broidy retreated into the kind of pictures Monogram had always favored: low-budget action and thrillers. Mirisch Productions then had success releasing their films through United Artists.
Allied Artists ceased production in 1966 and became a distributor of foreign films, but restarted production with the 1972 release of Cabaret and followed it the next year with Papillon. Both were critical and commercial successes, but high production and financing costs meant they were not big moneymakers for Allied Artists. Allied Artists raised financing for their adaptation of The Man Who Would Be King by selling the European distribution rights to Columbia Pictures and the rest of the backing came from Canadian tax shelters. King was released in 1975, but received disappointing returns. That same year it distributed the French import Story of O, but spent much of its earnings defending itself from obscenity charges.
In 1976, Allied Artists attempted diversification when it merged with consumer producers Kalvex and PSP, Inc. The new Allied Artists Industries, Inc. manufactured pharmaceuticals, mobile homes, and activewear in addition to films.
Monogram/Allied Artists survived by finding a niche and serving it well. The company lasted until 1979, when runaway inflation and high production costs pushed it into bankruptcy. The post-1947 Monogram/Allied Artists library was bought by television production company Lorimar; today a majority of this library belongs to Warner Bros. Entertainment. The 1936–1946 Monogram library was sold in 1954 to Associated Artists Productions, which itself was sold to United Artists in 1958. UA merged with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1981. The 1936–1946 Monogram library was not part of the deal with Ted Turner (The rights to some of these films are now owned by MGM, others are now in the public domain). The pre-1936 Monogram library became incorporated into that of Republic, today a part of Viacom-owned Paramount Pictures. Not long after, it was reorganized into Allied Artists International.
Today, Monogram Pictures is a division of Allied Artists International. However, as Allied Artists emerged as the predominant brand, Monogram Pictures took a backseat and was dormant for many years. Allied Artists has recently renewed the Monogram Pictures trademarks and announced new productions under the Monogram banner.