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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

6 - The Postwar Movie Scene


In a 1960 movie, Jack Lemmon comes home to an empty apartment, defrosts a TV dinner, and, using a device that enables him to flip from channel to channel, turns on the television. Westerns are playing on station after station, but Lemmon is delighted to find that the movie Grand Hotel (1932) with Greta Garbo is being shown. As he settles down to relax and enjoy himself, commercials for things like dentures twice interrupt the presentation, even before it begins. He turns off the television in disgust. The moral: television makes movies unwatchable.

Postwar Problems

In the postwar era, motion picture executives worried that television made movies unwatched, not just unwatchable. In what for many businesses was a prosperous postwar era, the movies experienced reduced profits and a declining box office. Three interrelated factors contributed to the decline. Television provided a cheaper and more convenient alternative to movies (after purchasing the set, it was essentially free), particularly in families that were largely housebound because of the presence of young children. Judicial rulings required the studios to divest themselves of their theaters, and that made businesses such as MGM less lucrative operations. Finally, the growth of suburbs put the movie industry, with its downtown movie palaces, at a disadvantage.

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