The Ex-Mrs. Bradford still
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80 min.
Release Date
The Ex-Mrs. Bradford poster

Why do classical Hollywood programmers go down smoother than today’s studio products? The Golden Age of movies operated like a magic factory, churning out smartly crafted pictures to meet the demands of audiences who regularly attended the cinema. Besides the radio, moviegoing was America’s primary pastime in the first half of the twentieth century. At its height of popularity in the late 1920s and early 1930s, upwards of 23,000 movie theaters spanned the country, compared to around 2,300 today. Studios raced to maintain a consistent flow of productions for distribution to and exhibited in theaters they owned. This practice ended in a famous 1948 antitrust case that put a stop to the block booking that discouraged competition. The studio system was a well-oiled machine that, given its regimentation, one might suspect would disburse hollow products due to their almost assembly-line construction. Perhaps the magic of this factorylike system is that most studio programmers from this era seldom feel like they were pieced together on an assembly line. They feel vibrant and alive, filled with charming stars and competent filmmaking. Whereas today’s studio products tip the scale between art and commerce to the latter, classic Hollywood programmers did not need product placements and corporate synergy. They were the product, and they were crafted with care, no matter how formulaic they could be.

Consider The Ex-Mrs. Bradford, released by RKO Radio Pictures in 1936. By all accounts, it was RKO’s attempt to cash in on the popularity of the quick-witted The Thin Man (1934), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s box-office smash that delighted audiences and critics alike with its blend of murder mystery and comedy, anchored by the charming chemistry between retired detective Nick Charles (William Powell) and his New York socialite wife, Nora (Myrna Loy).

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