1949 is a strange year. All the films are strong, yet there’s no clear winner amongst them. It does make sense, though, that the films aren’t particularly standout, since this was the year after the Paramount Decision was decided. So this year was the first set of films affected by it (sort of. It wouldn’t go into affect until 1950, but still, they had to be cognizant of it).
For brief recap — the Paramount Decision was basically a mandate that the studios could not own a monopoly on production, distribution and exhibition. The way things worked was — the studios were originally founded by producers, distributers and exhibitors joining together. For example: Marcus Loew (who owned Loew’s Theatres) bought Metro and Samuel Goldwyn and merged them, and then went into business with Louis B. Mayer to create MGM. As such, MGM was able to produce and distribute films and then put them into Loew’s theaters, which they owned. And by 1945, all the studios basically combined to own the majority of the major theaters in the U.S. And what they did was essentially let each other exhibit films in their theaters for nominal fees and worked together to keep out the independents. If you weren’t affiliated with a studio, it was nearly impossible to get your film shown in any significant theaters. And eventually a lawsuit was filed against this obvious monopoly, and in 1948, it was decreed that the studios had to divest of all their theaters. They could still produce and distribute their films, but the theaters had to be open market. Because what they used to do with the theaters (if they didn’t own them) was — they’d block book their films, which was essentially them saying, “So you want Mrs. Miniver? Well, if you want that, then you have to take all these other films as well.” And there would be all these B movies and minor films that the theaters would then have to rent as well. And all of that was declared illegal. This was the first major blow against the studio system and would eventually lead to its collapse in the 60s.
So now the studios no longer owned the theaters, which completely changed their production strategy. When they owned the theaters, they could pump them full of B movies and shorts and newsreels. Now, since they didn’t own the theaters, exhibitors weren’t forced into those films. So B movies started going by the wayside. At least, studio B movies. This led to the rise of the independents, which led to the rise of the drive-in feature, low budgets (like Roger Corman’s films and such), exploitation films. And then there was also the rise of television during this time as well. So all of this really started threatening the supremacy of the studios, which led to them consolidating all their power and money into those blockbusters in the 50s and 60s, which helped bring about the fall of “Old” Hollywood and the rise of New Hollywood (along with the breaking down of social taboos with films like Bonnie and Clyde). So the Paramount Decision was a huge deal for film history. (more…)