Films of the 1950s Conformity and Rebellion
Anticommunism before WWII • Fears of “premature anti-Fascists” such as Dorothy Parker, Dashiell Hammett, etc. before WWII • Support for republican Spain during the 1937 Spanish Civil War • House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) chaired by Martin Dies in 1940. • WWII pro-Soviet films: Mission to Moscow, Song of Russia
Postwar Anticommunism • HUAC chaired by J. Parnell Thomas calls “friendly” witnesses such as Gary Cooper, Ronald Reagan, and Walt Disney. • “Unfriendly” witnesses: the Hollywood Ten, including Alvah Bessie, Ring Lardner Junior, Dalton Trumbo, among others, sought to assert their constitutional rights and invoke the First Amendment. • Result: being blacklisted
1950s • April through June 1954: Army-McCarthy hearings were broadcast upon Senator Joseph McCarthy’s accusations of Communists in the State Department. • The pro-Soviet films of the war years gave way to anti-communist films such as The Red Menace • Naming names
Protests in Film • Science fiction: Invaders from Mars, Invasion of the Body Snatchers • Westerns: High Noon, Johnny Guitar • On the Waterfront, written by Budd Schulberg: corrupt union [Communist leadership] tries to break the individual (Marlon Brando) who courageously names names.
Protests against Social Injustice • Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), anti-Semitism. • Border Incident (1949), exploitation of Mexican immigrants • Giant (1954), protesting racism • Imitation of Life (1934 and 1959), racism and racial passing • Storm Warning (1951), against the Ku Klux Klan
The Two Sides of Suburban Domesticity • Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948): comedy • All That Heaven Allows (1954): domestic melodrama directed by Douglas Sirk that uses Thoreau’s Walden as a means of protesting the stifling conformity of middle-class consumerism.
A Place in the Sun • Based on Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy (1925), which was based on the Chester Gillette-Grace Brown case of 1906. • Film version directed by Josef von Sternberg, An American Tragedy (1931). Dreiser sued Paramount. http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/dreiser.htm • Protagonist caught between classes and trying to live the American dream.