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The Cool and the Crazy

The Cool and the Crazy: Pop Fifties Cinema

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 236
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  • Book Info
    The Cool and the Crazy
    Book Description:

    Explosive! Amazing! Terrifying! You won't believe your eyes!

    Such movie taglines were common in the 1950s, as Hollywood churned out a variety of low-budget pictures that were sold on the basis of their sensational content and topicality. While a few of these movies have since become canonized by film fans and critics, a number of the era's biggest fads have now faded into obscurity.The Cool and the Crazyexamines seven of these film cycles, including short-lived trends like boxing movies, war pictures, and social problem films detailing the sordid and violent life of teenagers, as well as uniquely 1950s takes on established genres like the gangster picture.

    Peter Stanfield reveals how Hollywood sought to capitalize upon current events, moral panics, and popular fads, making movies that were "ripped from the headlines" on everything from the Korean War to rock and roll. As he offers careful readings of several key films, he also considers the broader historical and commercial contexts in which these films were produced, marketed, and exhibited. In the process, Stanfield uncovers surprising synergies between Hollywood and other arenas of popular culture, like the ways that the fashion trend for blue jeans influenced the 1950s Western.

    Delivering sharp critical insights in jazzy, accessible prose,The Cool and the Crazyoffers an appreciation of cinema as a "pop" medium, unabashedly derivative, faddish, and ephemeral. By studying these long-burst bubbles of 1950s "pop," Stanfield reveals something new about what films do and the pleasures they provide.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-7301-4
    Subjects: Film Studies, Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    The book’s main title,The Cool and the Crazy, is taken from a 1957 movie; the second of three films made by the independent company Imperial Productions on the topic of juvenile delinquency, it was distributed in 1958 by American International Pictures in a double bill withDragstrip Riot.Its title’s slangy hip connotations suggest both the movie’s topicality—its “nowness”—and its sensational subject matter of teenage narcotic addiction.The Cool and the Crazywas not a particularly original title, having already been used six years earlier by the jazzman Shorty Rogers for one of his albums. Its story...

  5. 1 Monarchs for the Masses: Boxing Films
    (pp. 21-43)

    In this chapter, the cycle of postwar boxing movies is opened up on three fronts: the first examines the films in terms of an expressed desire on the part of their makers to engage in public debate on the state of the nation; the second front considers a countertendency toward a nostalgia for a lost sense of community and an authentic masculinity; and the third front looks at the cycle not as a melancholic longing for a more certain past, or as films with a social conscience, but as examples of a highly evolved dialogue between the movies and the...

  6. 2 War Fever: Korea—Timely! Powerful! Exploitable!
    (pp. 44-68)

    Korea was of the moment. The war itself would be the subject of films from the time hostilities broke out in June 1950 and would remain a topic of interest for producers and audiences after its end in July 1953. This chapter looks at how the industry responded to the hostilities and considers two interrelated cycles—combat and home front movies. In the World War II domestic drama, civilians were shown as having an essential role in the war effort, but the Korean War had little immediate impact on home life unless family members were serving in the armed forces....

  7. 3 Got-to-See: Teenpix and the Social Problem Picture
    (pp. 69-89)

    In a December 1956 edition ofVarietya full-page advertisement for a United Artists–distributed double bill ofThe Wild PartyandFour Boys and a Gun—a “Sensational Package”—was sold as “The Shock Stories Behind the Rock ’n’ Roll Generation.”The Wild Partystarred Anthony Quinn and promised to reveal “The New Sin That Is Sweeping America!” A Louella Parsons quote tagged the film as being as “modern as next month.” With no featured starring roles,Four Boys and a Guncarried the tag line “THESE KIDS ARE GOING STRAIGHT . . . to the electric chair!” The...

  8. 4 Teenpic Jukebox: Jazz, Calypso, Beatniks, and Rock ’n’ Roll
    (pp. 90-111)

    In an aside to his discussion ofHot Rod Girl(1956), the teenpic historian Thomas Doherty noted that the jukebox in the teenagers’ hangout is playing “bad jazz” when, he suggests, their music of choice should be rock ’n’ roll.¹ Marshall Crenshaw echoes Doherty in his analysis ofHigh School Caesar(1960): “Yes, the film is peppered with rock ’n’ roll moments, but the squares who produced it still reverted to swing-type music for the dancin’ and romancin’.”² With the benefit of hindsight we know that the hip juvenile delinquent listened to rock ’n’ roll, and we also know that...

  9. 5 Intent to Speed: Hot Rod Movies
    (pp. 112-134)

    In 1949 the director of New York’s Division of Safety identified the hotrodder as an inherently lawless creature: “Possession of the ‘hot rod’ car is presumptive evidence of an intent to speed. Speed is Public Enemy No. 1 of the highways. It is obvious that a driver of a ‘hot rod’ car has an irresistible temptation to ‘step on it’ and accordingly operate the vehicle in a reckless manner endangering human life. It also shows a deliberate and premeditated idea to violate the law.”¹ The intent to speed was by no means restricted to hot-rodders, as film producers, distributors and...

  10. 6 Punks! JD Gangsters
    (pp. 135-161)

    This chapter examines a distinctive and coherent cycle of films, produced in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which exploited the notoriety of Prohibition-era gangsters such as Baby Face Nelson, Al Capone, Bonnie Parker, Ma Barker, Mad Dog Coll, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly, John Dillinger, and Legs Diamond. Of key interest is the manner in which the cycle presents only a passing interest in period verisimilitude, producing a display of complex alignments between the historical and the contemporary. Not the least of these was a desire to exploit headline-grabbing, sensational stories of delinquent youth in the 1950s and...

  11. 7 Dude Ranch Duds: Cowboy Costume
    (pp. 162-187)

    The Zane Grey series westernWest of the Pecos(1945) opens in Chicago in the year 1887 with a doctor telling an ailing meat-packing industrialist, Colonel Lambeth, that he must go west to recuperate. Lambeth’s excursion turns out to be rather more exciting than it is restful. While traveling to the Pecos with his daughter, Rill, their stagecoach is held up and robbed. Later, after arriving at their destination, she is accosted in the streets by a couple of mashers. “No country for civilized people,” her father says, “especially not women.” Looking at a window display that features a mannequin...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 188-190)

    This study has pushed back against the prevalent insistence on isolated titles as the gold standard of film study. The focus has been on what a film shares with other films, with each chapter, like an evolving cycle, adding an element of novelty to the mix. Repetition has gained our attention but, as in the movies, the elements of distinctiveness insure against monotony; the peculiarities of each cycle make it compelling enough in its own right to avoid that pitfall, I think. Throughout the seven chapters the theme of a cycle’s uniqueness has been counterbalanced by the notion of shared...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 191-204)
  14. Index
    (pp. 205-222)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-224)