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Best Years

Best Years: Going to the Movies, 1945-1946

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Best Years
    Book Description:

    Americans flocked to the movies in 1945 and 1946ùthe center point of the three-decade heyday of the studio system's sound era.Why?

    Best Yearsis a panoramic study, shining light on this critical juncture in American historyand the history of American cinemaùthe end of World War II (1945) and a year of unprecedented success in Hollywood's "Golden Age" (1946). This unique time, the last year of war and the first full year of peace, provides a rich blend of cinema genres and typesùfrom the battlefront to the home front, the peace film to the woman's film, psychological drama, and the period's provocative new style, film noir.

    Best Yearsfocuses on films that were famous, infamous, forgotten, and unforgettable. Big budget A-films, road shows, and familiar series share the spotlight. From Bergman and Grant inNotoriousto Abbott and Costello inLost in a Harem,Charles Affron and Mirella Jona Affron examine why the bond between screen and viewer was perhaps never tighter. Paying special attention to the movie-going public in key cities--Atlanta, New York, Boston, Honolulu, and Chicago--this ambitious work takes us on a cinematic journey to recapture a magical time.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4845-6
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1 Standing Room Only U.S.A., January 1, 1945-December 31, 1946
    (pp. 3-15)

    Best years? The most successful year in the “Golden Age” of Hollywood followed hard upon the euphoric end of World War II. The industry was at the center point of the three-decade-long heyday of the studio system during the sound era. For many moviegoers the times coincided with their own “best years”; for others, who came later, the movies of this period mirror an extraordinary chapter in the nation’s saga they regret having missed. Hollywood was put to the test, in war and then in peace. In 1945 the movie business found itself nearing the end of its mission as...

  5. 2 Over Here Detroit, February 10, 1945, Since You Went Away and The Very Thought of You
    (pp. 16-45)

    We choose Detroit as the example of a city whose industrial capacity made it critical to the war effort. In spite of the enormous successes of conversion to military manufacture, all went far from smoothly in the war’s last year. Plants suffered from restrictions on fuel; workers, including union women, walked out repeatedly. Difficult questions about draft deferment for factory workers were debated in theDetroit News. Military procurement officers warned management and labor that if “laxness, inefficient workmanship, and loafing on the job” did not stop, the city would be awarded no further contracts. A Senate investigating committee whose...

  6. 3 Nation Atlanta, April 12, 1945, Wilson
    (pp. 46-85)

    During preproduction and production MGM announcedAn American Romanceunder a series of working titles:American Miracle, The Magic Land, American Story, This Is America,and just plainAmerica. What Vidor had in mind was not simply the romance of America with the automobile but the at-first-sight and enduring love affair between the immigrant and the adopted country. Stefan Dangosbiblichek arrives at Ellis Island in 1898 with $4 and change in his pocket, hopelessly short of the $25 required for entry. He is waved through nonetheless by an immigration official perceptive enough to recognize the makings of a genuine American...

  7. 4 Over There Honolulu, June 26, 1945, Back to Bataan
    (pp. 86-113)

    What we call “immediacy,” and have defined as the intersection of the front page and movie page, contemporary trade journals, dailies, and weeklies called “exploitation,” a more narrowly commercial construction of one of the defining practices of the years on which we focus.¹ Examples of immediacy in the preceding chapter include the translation of U.S. Latin American policy into the Good Neighbor musical and, looking ahead to San Francisco and beyond, the reverberation of contemporary internationalist debates in the cautionary, historicalWilson. In chapter 2 we sought to demonstrate how total war viewed stateside—from industrial conversion to shortages and...

  8. 5 Stars Los Angeles, November 22, 1945, Hollywood Canteen
    (pp. 114-141)

    On November 22, 1945, more than three months after V-J Day, the front page of theLos Angeles Timeswas still filled with coverage of the war: tallies of the dead worldwide (22,060,000 according to the Vatican) and of Victory Loan sales (Southern California had met only 46.2 percent of its quota), revelations that the Japanese had plotted to assassinate Stalin in 1939 and that Roosevelt had been informed, as early as 1940, well before Pearl Harbor, that the U.S. fleet was “unmanned” and “unready.” November 22 was a Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. Bullock’s department store had taken out a full...

  9. 6 Big Picture Boston, January 1, 1946, Forever Amber
    (pp. 142-164)

    On the first two days of 1946 the front pages of theBoston Daily Globefeatured columnist Walter Lippmann’s three-stage proposal for global peace: “pacification, international cooperation, and the formation of a world state.” A related article voiced optimism that the city’s bid to bring the United Nations Organization to Boston had been braced by revised specifications for the permanent site of the world body. Yet a third, a communication on Britain’s angry charge of a Soviet double cross on Iranian elections, spoke to the urgency of settling on a blueprint for deflecting conflict, as Lippmann had urged. From Germany...

  10. 7 Imports Philadelphia, April 25, 1946, and June 5, 1946, Open City
    (pp. 165-200)

    We locate this chapter in Philadelphia, one of a handful of American cities capable of drawing an audience of any size for imports, foreign-language imports in particular. The engagement ofOpen City(Roma città aperta, 1945) began on April 25, 1946, as a benefit for war orphans sponsored by the Philadelphia Committee for Italian Relief, and closed a remarkable six weeks later, on June 5. The April date marks a turning point in the conflict between the Soviet Union and the Western powers over the Adriatic port city of Trieste, an early salvo of the cold war. On the June...

  11. 8 Homecoming Chicago, December 18, 1946, The Best Years of Our Lives
    (pp. 201-238)

    We choose Chicago, capital of America’s heartland, as the setting for this chapter on homecoming. No sooner had GIs returned to the Windy City than they found the press, radio, and newsreels filled with speculation about a third global conflagration. Family and friends were already consumed, not with the war just ended but with its aftermath, with the deteriorating international situation, the threat of Soviet expansionism and rumors of rekindled Nazism, the latter echoed in titles such asCornered, The Master Race,andThe Stranger. Newly minted veterans were more immediately absorbed by economic worries, by the frantic search for...

  12. 9 Continuous Showings New York City, January 1, 1945-December 31, 1946
    (pp. 239-288)

    Of the nearly eight hundred U.S. releases during 1945 and 1946, one-quarter trains the camera on the war and its aftermath.¹ Another fourth is studded with the tropes of nation we probed earlier. The remaining four hundred titles, roughly, fall into the various categories and hybrids of comedy and drama on which cinema had settled early in its history. The musical chimed in with the coming of synchronous sound. In this final chapter we recover the status of genre through this other half of our corpus. Genre and New York, the country’s entertainment capital, are the lenses through which we...

  13. Appendix A: Boxoffice Rankings
    (pp. 289-296)
  14. Appendix B: Star Rankings
    (pp. 297-298)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 299-322)
  16. Index
    (pp. 323-341)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 342-342)