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American Cinema of the 1930s

American Cinema of the 1930s: Themes and Variations

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    American Cinema of the 1930s
    Book Description:

    Probably no decade saw as many changes in the Hollywood film industry and its product as the 1930s did. At the beginning of the decade, the industry was still struggling with the transition to talking pictures. Gangster films and naughty comedies starring Mae West were popular in urban areas, but aroused threats of censorship in the heartland. Whether the film business could survive the economic effects of the Crash was up in the air. By 1939, popularly called "Hollywood's Greatest Year," films likeGone With the WindandThe Wizard of Ozused both color and sound to spectacular effect, and remain American icons today. The "mature oligopoly" that was the studio system had not only weathered the Depression and become part of mainstream culture through the establishment and enforcement of the Production Code, it was a well-oiled, vertically integrated industrial powerhouse.The ten original essays inAmerican Cinema of the 1930sfocus on sixty diverse films of the decade, includingDracula,The Public Enemy,Trouble in Paradise,42nd Street,King Kong,Imitation of Life,The Adventures of Robin Hood,Swing Time,Angels with Dirty Faces,Nothing Sacred,Jezebel,Mr. Smith Goes toWashington, andStagecoach.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4303-1
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Ina Rae Hark
  4. TIMELINE: The 1930s
    (pp. xi-xv)
  5. INTRODUCTION Movies and the 1930s
    (pp. 1-24)

    In perhaps no other decade did the Hollywood film industry and its product look so different at its conclusion as compared to its beginning. In 1930, the industry had not totally solved the problems that came along with the transition to talking pictures. Hollywood was still negotiating content standards that would appease critics in the heartland and yet enable the production of movies that sold in the big cities. Whether the industry could survive the economic effects of the stock market crash was up in the air. By the end of the decade, however, in what has been called “Hollywood’s...

  6. 1930 Movies and Social Difference
    (pp. 25-47)

    In the year in which Sergei Eisenstein arrived in Hollywood and left six months later without making a film, it is fitting that three of the biggest inventions in the United States were products that would become corporate mainstays. In March frozen foods packaged by Clarence Birdseye went on sale. Birdseye had developed a method for quick-freezing food products in convenient packages without any loss of taste. Another food high on taste but low on nutritional value, the Twinkie snack cake, was also introduced by the Interstate Bakeries Corporation. At a time when many people had to repair broken possessions...

  7. 1931 Movies and the Voice
    (pp. 48-68)

    As the economic crisis stretched into its second year, any sense that Hollywood and the nation at large might be pulling out of the Depression was vanishing. At the end of the year Walter Lippmann wrote, “It is no longer open to serious question that we are in the midst, not of an ordinary trade depression, but of one of the great upheavals and readjustments of modern history” (5). Motor vehicle sales plummeted, causing the Detroit auto factories to lay off 100,000 workers. Almost three thousand banks failed.

    One person whose financial fortunes had not been harmed by the Depression,...

  8. 1932 Movies and Transgression
    (pp. 69-91)

    This year ushered in the worst of the Great Depression. Thirteen million Americans were unemployed, business losses were reported up to $6 billion, and industry was operating at half its capacity from before the Crash. Extremes, challenges, uncertainties, and episodes of upheaval set the tenor for the times, both at home and abroad. Japan took full control of Manchuria; over 10,000 Salvadorans were massacred in an indigenous uprising; Italy’s Benito Mussolini met with Pope Pius XI to woo Catholics to fascism; the Nazis declared Adolf Hitler their presidential candidate; and French president Paul Doumer was assassinated. A hunger strike by...

  9. 1933 Movies and the New Deal in Entertainment
    (pp. 92-116)

    “Life is bare / Gloom and misery everywhere / Stormy weather / Just can’t get my poor self together,” so crooned Ethel Waters in Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s hit tune “Stormy Weather,” linking the singer’s personal heartbreak with the atmospheric conditions around her. It would not have been difficult for listeners to make a further leap from the song’s inclement weather to the political and economic turbulence that had been gripping the country.

    The storm clouds abroad loomed even more darkly but, to isolationist America, still distantly. Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany on 30 January. Japan expanded its...

  10. 1934 Movies and the Marginalized
    (pp. 117-138)

    If the departure of Babe Ruth from their team might have demoralized Yankee fans, far more fearsome changes were afoot. In Europe, totalitarianism was solidifying its hold. Adolf Hitler had secured his grip on the Nazi Party with the “Night of the Long Knives” on 30 June, a series of police raids that resulted in the execution of chief rival Ernst Roehm and many of his supporters. The death of President Hindenburg on 2 August allowed Hitler to claim the title of Reich chancellor and Führer and to abolish the presidency after a plebiscite in which more than 90 percent...

  11. 1935 Movies and the Resistance to Tyranny
    (pp. 139-161)

    As the second half of the decade began in Hollywood, the turmoil that had marked the first half mostly subsided. This year saw either the continuation or the culmination of trends that would leave the studio system a mature oligopoly with a stable, vertically integrated system of production, distribution, and exhibition. The last of the major studios took on its familiar contours when Fox Film Corporation merged with Twentieth Century Pictures to form Twentieth Century Fox. The financial recovery in the industry continued as Fox and Paramount emerged from debt after successful reorganization, and theater admissions rose by ten million...

  12. 1936 Movies and the Possibility of Transcendence
    (pp. 162-181)

    Reflecting back on this year in American culture, writer Studs Terkel described it as a time of “great ideals and hope and trauma” (74). Since he was speaking retrospectively, Terkel knew that the ominous events unfolding in Germany, Italy, and Spain would eventually lead to World War II, but many at the time felt that the Depression was beginning to lift, that America would soon be back on its feet. Business was expanding; the economy was picking up steam; and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs seemed to be working, despite fierce opposition from Republicans and the Supreme Court. Hollywood, too,...

  13. 1937 Movies and New Constructions of the American Star
    (pp. 182-205)

    When Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his second inaugural address on 20 January, he envisioned himself as the leader of a nation fundamentally transformed by the brutal lessons of economic devastation. As the federal judiciary, conservative legislators, and industry leaders emboldened by the slow tide of economic recovery threatened to unmake the “New Deal” wherever they could, Roosevelt sought to canonize the victories of his administration’s first one hundred days as the refurbished philosophical foundations of U.S. society (Inaugural148–49). “Our progress out of the depression,” he told the nation, “is obvious. But that is not all that you and...

  14. 1938 Movies and Whistling in the Dark
    (pp. 206-226)

    Still in the midst of the Great Depression and suffering from accumulated woes of poverty, unemployment, poor housing, economic inequality, Jim Crow racism, and social injustice, most Americans probably hoped and thought they had survived the worst of times and could look forward to change for the better. In fact, the country stood at the gates of hell. Such an image provides an appropriate metaphor for the country’s and the world’s place at that moment in history. Even the experience of World War I could not prepare people for the devastation to come. Who could foresee how the world would...

  15. 1939 Movies and American Culture in the Annus Mirabilis
    (pp. 227-252)

    Conventional wisdom says that this was theannus mirabilis—the year of wonder, a time of remarkable achievement—in Hollywood movies. The industry itself initiated the claim even before the fact. Responding partly to an antitrust suit filed against five studios, the Academy launched a campaign called “Motion Pictures’ Greatest Year” for the 1938–39 release schedule. Over 150 mayors and governors issued proclamations recognizing the campaign (Thorp 50). Later commentators have shifted a half-year to fix on the movies of 1939. In 1975, in just the third issue ofAmerican Film, Larry Swindell observed that the supremacy of the...

  16. 1930–1939 Select Academy Awards
    (pp. 253-256)
    (pp. 257-266)
    (pp. 267-268)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 269-280)