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Pressured by its upstart televisual rival (the new medium began full commercial operation in 1948), the American cinema in the initial decades of the Cold War found some success in a generally declining marketplace by exploring two production types that pushed the industry in quite opposite directions. Big-budget event films (the antecedent of contemporary tentpole [major] productions) made the most of then innovative wide-screen processes and color film stock and, to give an impression of “largeness,” they also featured an expanded roster of name players and a running time so extended an intermission was often required. Small-scale, black-and-white, realist projects rivaled the similar international art films then doing profitable business in specialized urban venues. Both these forms of alternative cinema, which enjoyed growing reputations for being serious and prestigious releases, were, in the language of the exhibition trade, “sure seaters” or certain to fill auditoriums week in, week out (see Wilinsky).
It is no coincidence that the U.S. trend in small adult film production picked up steam in the early 1950s precisely when this niche end of the exhibition business began to enjoy a substantial boom owing to the unexpected popularity of foreign releases, especially from Italy. A significant change in audience taste was taking place, and there was a reaction among U.S. exhibitors (who promoted venues for screening art films from abroad) and producers who catered to this new fashion in their own way and in financial and institutional circumstances different from those under which foreign filmmakers operated (see Balio). This was the very same period when the social-problem film became an insistent, and prestige-claiming, presence on the nation's screens (see Cagle). Unfortunately, the prominent place that the social-problem film rightly claims in histories of the period has obscured the significance of small adult filmmaking, with which it shares some common features even if there are fundamental differences between the two domestic prestige (as opposed to entertainment) types, as this chapter will attempt to outline.
In contrast to the international art cinema, which was largely an auteurist phenomenon, small adult releases were usually literary adaptations, with their production linked closely to more outré Broadway and publishing fashions, a trend that can be traced to Elia Kazan's screening of Tennessee Williams's Broadway smash production, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) (See Palmer/ Bray).
Produced by Twentieth Century-Fox, The Great Profile (1940) showcases the last significant screen performance of John Barrymore who, for comic effect, plays a thinly disguised John Barrymore bearing the very theatrical name of Evans Garrick. Yet the intriguing way in which he here constructs a version of his older and in-decline self has never drawn the critical attention it well deserves. This is both understandable and regrettable. The Great Profile takes for its title a sobriquet that Barrymore had enthusiastically adopted earlier in his career, marking it as autobiographical, which must have been a calculated marketing decision on the part of the studio. And the film refers more or less directly to recent events in his life as he slipped from stage and screen eminence into what some of his admirers regarded as alcoholic degradation and embarrassing incompetence in handling his personal affairs.
Yet Barrymore does more in this film than register on celluloid all of the warts of his currently failing self—career in jeopardy, latest marriage on the rocks, bankruptcy threatening because of huge sums of money owed to creditors, and his health on a downward spiral as a result of constant overindulgence in drink, leading to “benders,” memory blackouts, and the DTs. A one-dimensional autobiographical approach to The Great Profile of course reflects the most fundamental of category errors, confusing art and life, while failing to acknowledge that Barrymore here constructs a slanted fictional version of what he had become even while (as an actor with not just one but two bodies like any other) he remains legible as “himself,” that is, as a presence in full control of what he shows to moviegoers. Acting out marital discord is very different from enduring and participating in it, as Barrymore would have been able to point out. In other words, the film dramatizes, even as it exemplifies, Barrymore's performing self, imaged here triumphant over unpromising circumstances in a vehicle that was confected for him by a major studio. Evans Garrick offered a strong contrast to the less than worthy roles he had recently been offered by Hollywood in productions such as Hold That Co-ed (1938).
A commonplace of criticism devoted to the classic American film noir (c.1941– 58) has been that this post-war series is essentially a transnational phenomenon, with its style, themes, and characteristic narrative patterns emerging from a complex interplay among several native and European traditions, both literary and cinematic (see Schrader 1972: 8–10 and Palmer 2016: chs 4–5). Acknowledged as the most significant of these are Weimar Expressionism and the Neue Sachlichkeit; French poetic realism and Surrealism; American postwar semi-documentarianism; and the different genres of popular literature that are usually, not without distortion, bundled together under the rubric of hardboiled fiction, whose principal authors, including James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Cornell Woolrich, were associated directly or indirectly with Black Mask magazine, constituting something like an informal school (see Nolan 1987: Introduction).
Already amply demonstrated by scholars, of course, is that even more complex forms of transnationalism define post-classic noir, as well as its ‘branches’ in many other national cinemas; this filmic development, like classic noir itself, has a literary reflex, evidenced in the worldwide popularity of the English-language roman noir (successor to the hard-boiled tradition) and its imitations in other cultures such as Nordic Noir (for global noir, see Pettey and Palmer 2014; for Nordic Noir, both cinematic and literary, see Nestingen 2008). Understandably partial to explanations that emphasise strictly filmic developments, historians of classic noir have often tended to underestimate the importance of ‘dark fiction’ of various kinds and national origins for the development of the series, a blindness to which this essay offers a partial corrective.
In the aesthetic mixing that resulted in the emergence of classic noir, three national voices made for an interesting harmony that, as we shall see, cannot be reduced to a simple division between visual style/art design, where the French and German high art movements make their influence felt in motif and technique, and themes drawn from American popular culture that provide these films with character, setting, and narrative. Hollywood's absorption of noirish releases from 1930s French cinema speaks to the transauthorial creation of noirness as a repertoire of themes, characters, and narrative patterns upon which subsequent productions in the series continued to draw. Indicating a resonance across different cultures and artistic traditions, this deep transnationalism interestingly forecasts the emergence of noir traditions in other industries as the series went global in the second half of the twentieth century.
Traditions in World Cinema is a series of textbooks and monographs devoted to the analysis of currently popular and previously underexamined or undervalued film movements from around the globe. Also intended for general interest readers, the textbooks in this series offer undergraduate- and graduate-level film students accessible and comprehensive introductions to diverse traditions in world cinema. The monographs open up for advanced academic study more specialised groups of films, including those that require theoretically oriented approaches. Both textbooks and monographs provide thorough examinations of the industrial, cultural, and socio-historical conditions of production and reception.
The flagship textbook for the series includes chapters by noted scholars on traditions of acknowledged importance (the French New Wave, German Expressionism), recent and emergent traditions (New Iranian, post-Cinema Novo), and those whose rightful claim to recognition has yet to be established (the Israeli persecution film, global found footage cinema). Other volumes concentrate on individual national, regional or global cinema traditions. As the introductory chapter to each volume makes clear, the films under discussion form a coherent group on the basis of substantive and relatively transparent, if not always obvious, commonalities. These commonalities may be formal, stylistic or thematic, and the groupings may, although they need not, be popularly identified as genres, cycles or movements (Japanese horror, Chinese martial arts cinema, Italian Neorealism). Indeed, in cases in which a group of films is not already commonly identified as a tradition, one purpose of the volume is to establish its claim to importance and make it visible (East Central European Magical Realist cinema, Palestinian cinema).
Textbooks and monographs include:
• An introduction that clarifies the rationale for the grouping of films under examination
• A concise history of the regional, national, or transnational cinema in question
• A summary of previous published work on the tradition
• Contextual analysis of industrial, cultural and socio-historical conditions of production and reception
• Textual analysis of specific and notable films, with clear and judicious application of relevant film theoretical approaches
Monographs may additionally include:
• Discussion of the dynamics of cross-cultural exchange in light of current research and thinking about cultural imperialism and globalisation, as well as issues of regional/national cinema or political/ aesthetic movements (such as new waves, postmodernism, or identity politics)
• Interview(s) with key filmmakers working within the tradition.
Hollywood's conversion to a sound cinema drew many of Broadway's brighter creative talents to filmmaking as the industry made the radical readjustment to producing a much more complex product. Pictures that talked were inherently more theatrical, requiring the mastery of a different set of skills on the part of performers and directors, who now had to work with something very similar to a play script. Among this distinguished company of New York City émigrés, none enjoyed a more consistently successful career in the new industrial art than George Cukor, who was twenty-nine years old when recruited by Paramount Pictures in 1928. Desperate for experienced help in this time of profound para¬digm shift, the studio even sent Cukor a plane ticket to the west coast because they were too impatient to await the young man's arrival in the more accepted fashion, by train. Paramount was certainly taking a chance on offering a direc¬tor's chair to someone barely acquainted with the inner workings of the new medium, no matter how successful he had been in his work for the commercial theater. And he had been successful. Showing business acumen early, as manager of one stock company and later co-founder of another, he was a natural on the stage. After a little acting he moved to the other side of the footlights, directing Melchior Lengyel's Antonia in 1925 (produced by Charles Frohman, with Georges Renavent), Owen Davis's The Great Gatsby in 1926 (with Florence Eldridge), Martin Brown's The Dark in 1927 (with Louis Calhern), Lula Vollmer's Trigger (with Claiborne Foster), Willard Mack's A Free Soul (with Melvyn Douglas), and Zoe Akins's The Furies (with Laurette Taylor) in 1928, and Samson Raphaelson's Young Love (with Dorothy Gish) and Maxwell Anderson's Gypsy (with Wallace Ford) in 1929, before departing for Hollywood.
But the differences between the stage and film had considerably narrowed. With the confining of most film productions to stage set interiors because of the exigencies of dialogue recording, then accomplished with bulky microphones, action scenes became a rarity in many genres, as filmgoer attention was directed toward the same carefully crafted verbal confrontations that were a Broadway staple.
A critical analysis of the films and career of George Cukor. George Cukor: Hollywood Master is the first book to focus on the career of director George Cukor, one of classic Hollywood's most important figures, with films such as The Women , Adam's Rib , Born Yesterday , Gaslight , and A Star is Born to his credit. The various essays in this volume, all written by prominent experts in the field, offer critical discussions of every feature film Cukor directed and include a rich trove of valuable information about their production histories. This is the first book devoted to one of the most beloved figures from the American cinema's golden age.
“Usually, when you make a picture that doesn't turn out well, it's happily buried,” reminisced George Cukor to Gavin Lambert, undoubtedly expressing a view shared by many of his classic studio era colleagues (122). The unpleasantness of last season's critical disaster could be, and often was, effaced by this month's box-office success. An industry devoted to the never ending, sometimes frantic turning out of a product that came and went quickly offered many opportuni¬ties for self-reclamation, even as, of course, the volume of production and the complex forms of collaboration on which it depended insured that there would be missteps as well. Television changed that, Cukor sadly observed, because what you did years ago keeps “popping up and you may be confronted with your past failures” (122). An oeuvre (if one thinks about one's career in this expressively collective fashion) becomes available for evaluation through various forms of re-screening, and this, so Cukor suggests, might not always be a cause for celebration.
An Unexpected Failure: Two-Faced Woman
Cukor's meditations on projects that don't “turn out well” were prompted by Lambert's mention of Two-Faced Woman (1941), a film that upon initial release earned a “C” from the Legion of Decency reviewers, thereby prompting a boycott from observant Catholics. Despite this notoriety, often box-office enhancing (see Howard Hughes and The Outlaw ) never connected with audiences when Two-Faced Woman was reissued in a slightly less suggestive, but still rather naughty, form. Two-Faced Woman, as it turns out, was Greta Garbo's last film, and that meant Cukor had to suffer the further indignity (if that is what it was) of his work being exhibited at festivals in the actress's honor. Was he to blame in some way for Garbo's decision to retire? The film did, in effect, end her career, and so the question was perhaps inevitable. Metro terminated Garbo's contract in the wake of the film's dismal reviews and pitiful box-office earnings. Had Cukor somehow managed to drain from her image what appeal she still had, through his ineffective coaching of her limited gifts for comedy? No wonder that Cukor, who had such success directing her in Camille (1936), inevitably inviting comparisons, would have liked the film to be forgotten.
That continuing series of crises in politics, both domestic and international, beginning in the immediate postwar era that gradually came by the 1950s to be known collectively in the United States as the ‘Cold War’ bears an interesting, complex relationship to film noir, which took shape and flourished in that same era. It is perfectly possible, even useful, to identify Hollywood releases generally known as noir that form a sub-grouping dealing with so-called Cold War themes. These include subversion by Soviet agents, as well as international intrigue in which free world interests more generally and American security in particular are threatened by various communist conspiracies. This chapter will provide a brief anatomy of that tradition. These films partake deeply of the Cold War atmosphere, with its paradoxical melange of overweening selfconfident nationalism and paralysing paranoia. In them the nation appears under constant threat, but government institutions in the end prove equal to the task of defeating even the most sophisticated forms of subversion and espionage, protecting in particular the scientific secrets upon which American pre-eminence, first established by the success of the Manhattan Project, is suggested to continually depend.
However jingoistic, these Cold War noirs also partake of the ways in which film noir explores profound doubts about contemporary American society, problematising the efficacy or even moral fitness of its hallowed institutions, including marriage and the family. In the manner of all Hollywood films that treated continuing conflict with the Soviet Union and its allies, the Cold War noirs conclude with what appears to be the unambiguous triumph of the government agencies that had grown immense during the conflict with Germany and Japan, especially the FBI. No film that interrogated the essential rightness of the official approach to global affairs, or the ability of the government to protect its citizens from organised threats, could possibly have been made in a Hollywood where suspect communist infiltration (and worse) was already under congressional investigation. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) held hearings in Hollywood that in 1947 led to the conviction of the so-called Hollywood Ten for refusing to answer questions about their political affiliations. What followed was an informal blacklist in which many others in the film industry found their careers ended because of their supposed communist affiliations or sympathies.