American Cinema of the 1930s: Themes and Variations (Screen Decades: American Culture/American Cinema)
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The ten original essays in American Cinema of the 1930s focus on sixty diverse films of the decade, including Dracula, 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 to Washington, and Stagecoach .
and on the battle of the sexes as madcap farce before mid-decade. George Cukor’s deft touch in directing actresses and making ﬁlms about and for women also revealed itself at once. From The Royal Family of Broadway (1930) to Little Women (1933) to The Women, Cukor showed himself an expert at translating the works of female authors to the screen. Continental sophistication resided reliably in the hands of Ernst Lubitsch, Rouben Mamoulian, and Josef von Sternberg, who plied their trades freely at
openly gay director James Whale’s The Old Dark House, the meditation on normality and abnormality in Tod Browning’s Freaks, the various erotic kinks of Clara Bow in Call Her Savage and Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus, the Lubitsch touch on an implied ménage a trois in Trouble in Paradise, Paul Muni’s incestuous gangster in Howard Hawks’s atypically stylized and symbol-laden direction of Scarface, and the sentimental and patriotic love story Smilin’ Through—which, however, earns its happy ending
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 Greatest Year,” spectacular ﬁlms that used both color and sound had established themselves as American icons. The major studios had consolidated their power as a mature oligopoly—a term economists use to describe an alliance of certain
falls in love with Kathleen Sheridan (Shearer) but is unable to marry her because of the prohibitions of an elderly guardian, her uncle Sir John Carteret (Howard). Flashbacks to the Victorian era reveal that Kenneth’s father Jeremy Wayne (also played by March) was the hysterical, possessive, and ultimately murderous childhood sweetheart of Moonyeen Clare (also played by Shearer), who was set to marry the young Sir John. Jeremy disrupted the wedding and tried to kill Sir John, only to shoot
backstage musicals from Warner Bros. (42nd Street, Footlight Parade, and Gold Diggers of 1933) with dazzling ensemble choreography by Busby Berkeley. Gold Diggers would become an annual franchise for Warner. MGM countered with its own backstage musical franchise, the Broadway Melody ﬁlms of 1936 and 1938. Paramount came up with the idea of using radio performers for a different kind of backstage musical with The Big Broadcast in 1932, and then revived the franchise for other Big Broadcasts of