This class provides a close look at the history of American film from the introduction of sound in 1927 up until 1960. This is the period of classic Hollywood film, when the Studio System was in full effect. We will look at important and representative films of this period in social and historical context, with attention to important directors and stars, to prominent genres, and to the major and minor studios. The overall aim of the course is to immerse ourselves in the movie culture of the period: a culture, and a manner of filmmaking, that are very different from the ones we are familiar with today.
Each class will consist of a film screening, followed by lecture and discussion. Class requirements include participation in class discussion (20% of final grade), two short papers (4-5 pages, each 20% of final grade), and a longer final paper (8-10 pages, 40% of final grade).
For each of the short papers, you should choose a film that we have not watched and discussed in class, but that is from the period of filmmaking under discussion (list of suggested films here), and write a précis and brief critical discussion of the film you have chosen. For the final paper, you must choose a topic in consultation with the instructor.
One book is required for the class: Robert Sklar, Movie-Made America, available at Marwil Books. Additional readings will be available as handouts.
January 10: The coming of sound. The Great Depression. Early musicals, Busby Berkeley.
Lloyd Bacon/Busby Berkeley, 42nd Street (Warner Brothers, 1931)
January 12: Chaplin and the resistance to sound. United Artists.
Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times (United Artists, 1936)
Reading: skim Part I (chapters 1-4), Movie-Made America
January 17: Warner Brothers. The gangster film.
William Wellman, The Public Enemy (Warner Bros, 1931)
Reading: skim chapters 5-8, Movie-Made America
January 19: Universal. The horror film in the 1930s.
James Whale, Frankenstein (Universal, 1931) (71 min)
Reading: chapter 9, Movie-Made America
January 24: Paramount. Before the Hays Code.
Ernst Lubitsch, Trouble in Paradise (Paramount, 1932)
Reading: chapter 10, Movie-Made America
January 26: MGM. The studio system. The star system. Greta Garbo.
Edmund Goulding, Grand Hotel (MGM, 1932)
Reading: chapter 11, Movie-Made America
Reading: Roland Barthes, "The Face of Garbo" (handout)
Also see: summary of the Hollywood studio system
January 31: RKO and other studios. Fred Astaire and the musical. The Hays Code. Race in 1930s Hollywood.
George Stevens, Swing Time (RKO, 1936)
Reading: Geoffrey O'Brien, "A Short History of Fun" (handout)
February 2: Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich.
Josef von Sternberg, The Scarlet Empress (Paramount, 1934)
Reading: chapter 13, Movie-Made America
February 7: Screwball Comedy. Howard Hawks. Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.
Howard Hawks, Bringing Up Baby (RKO, 1938)
Reading: chapter 14, Movie-Made America
February 9: Howard Hawks, continued. Cary Grant.
Howard Hawks, Only Angels Have Wings (Columbia, 1939)
Reading: Peter Wollen, "The Auteur Theory" (handout)
February 14: Columbia. Frank Capra. James Stewart.
Frank Capra, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Columbia, 1939)
Reading: chapter 12, Movie-Made America
February 16: Into the 1940s. Preston Sturges. Art and entertainment in the Depression.
Preston Sturges, Sullivan's Travels (Paramount, 1941)
Reading: Manny Farber and W. S. Poster, "Preston Sturges: Success in the Movies" (handout)
First short paper due
February 21: Orson Welles and Citizen Kane. Stylistic shifts.
Orson Welles, Citizen Kane (RKO, 1941)
Reading: Joseph McBride, "Citizen Kane" (handout)
February 23: B-movies. Horror and other genres in the 1940s. Val Lewton.
Jacques Tourneur, Cat People (RKO, 1942)
Reading: Jonathan Romney, "Claws and Effect" (handout)
February 28: Fritz Lang in Hollywood. Stars and character actors.
Fritz Lang, Scarlet Street (Universal, 1945)
Reading: Geoffrey O'Brien, "The Author of the Visible" (handout)
March 2: Early film noir. German exiles in Hollywood.
Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity (Paramount, 1944)
March 7: Film noir and other genres. Otto Preminger.
Otto Preminger, Laura (20th Century Fox, 1944)
March 9: Melodrama in the 1940s.
Michael Curtiz, Mildred Pierce (Warner Bros, 1945)
March 21: Samuel Fuller. Post-War America. The Cold War. Anti-Communist witchhunts.
Samuel Fuller, Pickup on South Street (20th Century Fox, 1953)
Reading: chapter 15, Movie-Made America
March 23: Science fiction and other genres in the 1950s.
Don Siegel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Allied Artists, 1956)
March 28: MGM musicals. Film versus television.
Vincente Minnelli, The Band Wagon (MGM, 1953)
Reading: chapter 16, Movie-Made America
March 30: John Ford and the Western.
John Ford, The Searchers (Warner Brothers, 1956)
Second short paper due
April 4: Social problem films. Method acting, Marlon Brando. More fallout from the Red Scare.
Elia Kazan, On the Waterfront (Columbia, 1954)
April 6: Nicholas Ray. Existentialism. Emergence of the teenager. Film as social critique.
Nicholas Ray, Rebel Without A Cause (Warner Brothers, 1955)
Proposal for final paper due
April 11: Late film noir. Decline of the studios, rise of independent production.
Robert Aldrich, Kiss Me Deadly (United Artists, 1955)
Reading: chapter 17, Movie-Made America
April 13: Alfred Hitchcock.
Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo (Paramount, 1958)
April 18: Comedy in the 1950s. Billy Wilder. Marilyn Monroe.
Billy Wilder, Some Like It Hot (United Artists, 1959)
April 20: Melodrama. Race in 1950s Hollywood. Douglas Sirk. End of the old-fashioned studio film.
Douglas Sirk, Imitation of Life (Universal, 1959).
Reading: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, from "Imitation of Life: On the Films of Douglas Sirk" (handout)
April 27: Final paper due