April 11–29, 2019

Down and Dirty in Gower Gulch: Poverty Row Films Preserved by UCLA

These orphan films’ are worthy of restoration and presentation. They visualize many of the repressed or forbidden themes that preoccupy the nether regions of the American psyche. Get ready for a wild ride!”

Jan-Christopher Horak, Director, UCLA Film & Television Archive

Lurid, low-budget treasures from the fringes of the Dream Factory are on display in this UCLA-curated program of newly restored features, most dating from Hollywood’s more permissive, less-censorious pre-Code era, and all produced on Hollywood’s so-called Poverty Row, a strip of Gower Street in Los Angeles between Sunset Boulevard and the Paramount lot. There, small, fly-by-night studios churned out inexpensive pictures—genre films, typically—for the B‑movie (bottom half of a double bill) and secondary theatrical markets (in those vertically-integrated days, the major studios also controlled the primary exhibition chains). Most were shot quickly, in five to ten days, and made for less (often much less) than $100,000. These bargain-basement stakes made for a certain artistic freedom: controversial or risqué subjects the big studios wouldn’t touch could be explored; and directors creatively inclined (most weren’t) enjoyed a degree of licence. Poverty Row auteurs, such as Edgar G. Ulmer and Lowell Sherman, emerged—or, at least, were discovered” decades later by film critics and fans of disreputable cinema.

The six-pack of selections presented here emphasizes film noir, horror, and sheer Poverty Row audacity. Included are The Sin of Nora Moran, a hallucinatory harbinger (and, perhaps, influencer) of Citizen Kane; Damaged Lives and Strange Illusion, two movies by the aforementioned B‑master Ulmer (best known, of course, for his no-budget noir classic Detour); and Mamba, an early Technicolor feature that was Hollywood’s first all-colour non-musical. In a throwback to how movie theatres used to be programmed in those bygone, pre-TV days, each feature will be preceded by an era-appropriate newsreel and a short subject. Among the latter are several vintage gems by animation legends Dave Fleischer and Ub Iwerks.


The Cinematheque is grateful to Jan-Christopher Horak, Steven K. Hill, and Marisa Soto of the UCLA Film & Television Archive for their kind assistance in making this Vancouver presentation possible.

All titles restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive
UCLA Film Television Archive

List of Programmed Films

Date Film Title Director(s) Year Country
2019-Apr The Vampire Bat Frank R. Strayer 1933 USA
2019-Apr The Sin of Nora Moran Phil Goldstone 1933 USA
2019-Apr False Faces Lowell Sherman 1932 USA
2019-Apr Damaged Lives Edgar G. Ulmer 1933 USA . . .
2019-Apr Mamba Albert S. Rogell 1930 USA
2019-Apr Strange Illusion Edgar G. Ulmer 1945 USA