We kicked off the 2022 Cultpix summer season with a look at Howard W. “Kroger” Babb (1906-1980), producer, distributor and showman. Calling himself "America's Fearless Young Showman," he used sales and persuasion techniques perfected by carnival barkers and travelling medicine salesmen to build hype for his films across America. His motto was: "You gotta tell 'em to sell 'em."
He is best known for the exploitation classic “Mom and Dad” (1945) that mixed sex education and contraception advice, with actual footage from a live birth. It was wrapped up in a morality tale that was supposed to make it education, when in fact it was pure exploitation and sensationalism.
Kroger would send an advance man to each town where a print of the film was destined to whip up controversy about the film in advance. He also sold sex education pamphlets for $1 at the screenings. The film became so ubiquitous that Time said its presentation "left only the livestock unaware of the chance to learn the facts of life."
Kroger Babb would go on to try his hand at almost every genre, as well as re-editing and re-releasing his older films, in an attempt to wring every last cent out of an audience denied more salacious subjects and sights by the Hollywood studios.
Kroger Babb was never going to get as much as an Oscar nomination, but he did win recognition when in 1951 he received the first ever annual Sid Grauman Showmanship Award, presented by the Hollywood Rotary Club, recognising his many accomplishments over the years. He would also go on to inspire the next generation of exploitation filmmakers.
He deployed every trick in the book, while also inventing several new ones, to get maximum publicity for his films and pull in the punters. A selection of his most famous/notorious films are now on Cultpix.
Child Bride (1938) - An exposé of the practice of older men marrying young girls in the Ozarks. Shirley Mills was just 12 when she filmed the controversial skinny dip scene. The films was meant to draw attention to the problem of child marriages, but Kroger Babb maximised the shock value, bypassing the Hays code by claiming it was 'educational'.
She Should'a Said No! (1948) - Robert Mitchum and Lila Leeds were bust for drugs at a Hollywood party, but while his career recovered, this became her only lead role and an example of the dangers of the Devil's Weed. Blends Film Noir and exploitation.
One Too Many 1950 - Female alcoholism is tackled in this drama that Kroger spiced up with several music numbers. "Is There One in Your House?" the tagline asked. The story of an alcoholic woman trying to hide her booze dependance. Her secret love of liquor destroyed Helen Mason's concert pianist career and family.
Why Men Leave (1951) - A housewife who thinks film exec hubby is cheating on her hires Hollywood make-up expert to glam up. Kroger sold $10 make-up kits in the cinemas showing this film, also known as “Secrets of Beauty.”
Halfway to Hell (1954) - “The Picture the Communists Are Trying to Stop!” Kroger himself provided the inflammatory opening statement from his desk in this red-under-the-bed anti-Communist documentary. It actually makes the point well that there wasn't much distinguishing Stalin and Hitler in terms of evil.
Karamoja (1955) - "They wear only the wind and live on blood and beer," was the tagline for this documentary about tribes in Uganda. Lots of tribal boobies and some genuinely gory scenes.
Kipling’s Women (1961) - Supposedly "A Picturization of Rudyard Kipling's Immortal Poem - The Ladies." This was one of the first 'nudies' to get widespread distribution in US. Schlock distribution maestro Kroger Babb "four-walled" it, by renting the cinemas for a flat fee and taking all of the box office collections.
Kroger Babb will also have a special place in our heart, not just for inspiring a generation of film makers such as David F. Friedman and Lee Frost, but also because he distributed Ingmar Bergman’s “Sommaren med Monika” (1953) in the US under the title “Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl!”