But before we get to that, let’s talk about movie serials in general. For most people, the term “movie serial”, if they have even heard the term, brings to mind the kind of short film we’re making our way through now, especially those of the 30s, 40s, and early 50s, and for good reason. This was the era when these generally 12-15 chapter stories were at their height, and were a regular part of the movie-going experience.
Again, this is something that tends to surprise many people, especially today, when the idea of going to a movie is basically a case of sitting through a bunch of commercials, then a series of anywhere from 15-20 minutes worth of trailers, then the feature film, then heading out the door so that the theater can get things cleaned up for the next batch of people to come in. In other words, It’s all about turnover. Sure, you spend the time watching the commercials and trailers, things that actually help to pay for the movie, but mostly it’s about getting as many showings as you can crammed into the day on the theory that more showings equals more butts in seats, equals higher profits.
Now we can debate this theory, and it’s certainly not one that I completely agree with, but that’s not really the point here. Instead, I’m just wanting to point out how different the movie-going experience is now than it was when serials were at their height.
Back then, instead of trying to cram five or more showings of a movie onto each screen every day and then running a movie to auditoriums that may not even have more than two or three people in them, theater owners (and the studios) for the most part believed that it was better to have maybe only two or three showings per day of a movie – generally a lower-priced matinee in the afternoon and then an evening showing for people who had to work during the day – and run them in theaters filled with as many people as possible.
In conjunction with this, and in order to draw in as many people as possible, (and, honestly, also to keep those patrons in the theater as long as possible so that the captive audience was more likely to hit the concession stand while they were there – yes, even then it was as much about selling the food and making money that they didn’t have to hand back to the studio as it is now) theaters tried to make “going to the movie” a full afternoon or evening’s entertainment.
In order to do this, a trip to the theater might include a line-up of a cartoon (yes, this is where many of the classic cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny and the other characters we remember from our childhood television days came from – they were originally created for the silver screen), a chapter of a serial, a short feature (often some sort of nature film or other documentary, or maybe a comedy short featuring The Three Stooges or other characters – yep, again, this is where those shorts came from), a newsreel, and then the feature. Or, quite often even a Double Feature, depending upon the length of the movies in question. (Yes, this is where the term B-movie comes from, as you would have both an A-feature and a B-feature.)
So that’s how the movie serial fit into the movie going experience at the time, and that seems like a good place to stop for today and get to what you came for – the next chapter of The Crimson Ghost:
Next time: Chapter 3: The Fatal Sacrifice, and more on the history of the movie serial . Be here!