Upon glancing through a vintage Hollywood trade publication, the film writer may see a page or two consisting of three columns of text with no pictures or artwork of any kind. After spending a few minutes reading these few pages, the writer realizes that these are film exhibitor reviews, containing very basic information about a newly released movie.
So what exactly is a film exhibitor’s review? Basically, it is a review of a newly screened film by the movie theatre owner – who was often called the exhibitor many decades ago – and submitted to a Hollywood trade publication such as Moving Picture World or Exhibitor’s Herald.
In Moving Picture World July 24, 1926, one regular column was titled “Straight from the Shoulder Reports” and in a small box beneath, the text: “Our motto: ‘It is my utmost desire to be of use to my fellow man.’ Our method: ‘We send these tips on pictures we have played, as exhibitors, reporting pictures, performance and audience reaction without bias toward any producer. Book these tips and help is in your turn by sending reports.'” This column was edited by A. Van Buren Powell. The listed reviews were frequently organized by film studio they were made for, such as FBO, Universal, Fox, and First National. Each exhibitor review would be followed by the theatre owner’s name, name of the theatre, and the location. Sometimes these exhibitor’s film reviews appeared as part of a sponsored ad, such as in the case of silent film leading man Tom Tyler, seen below:
Why use one of these very brief exhibitor reviews in an article or film review? One good reason is to provide insight on the movie’s initial reception, in addition to demographics and value appeal. Including minor but vital information as this is also helpful to other film writers who might come across exhibitor reviews and ask themselves, “Might this be useful in an article I’m writing on ‘The Arizona Streak’?”