Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties

By Wyatt, Justin | Journal of Film and Video, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties


Wyatt, Justin, Journal of Film and Video


Steven Cohan. Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997. 346 pp. $39.95 ($18.95 paper).

Steven Cohan's comprehensive study of masculinity and star images adroitly debunks the image of the masculine conformist of the 1950s, that is, the masculine identity formed by a middle class sexual ideology polarizing heterosexual and homosexual. Drawing from Judith Butler's influential work on the performativity of gender and sexual roles, Cohan offers a more nuanced vision of the male star, and by extension the male, constituted by a range of social and personal influences. As such, the text presents a range of masculine representations for the male movie stars of the era. Often the contradictions and confusions inherent in a single star image reflect the larger social formation and possibilities for male identity during the period. As Cohan states, his historical analysis is sensitive to the fields obscured (homosexuality), included (class, ethnicity, age), and excluded (race) in the establishment of "normal" masculine identity. Rich in detail and exceedingly sensitive to the larger contextual factors at play in the creation of these male star images, Cohan's book is invaluable for understanding the social climate of the 1950s which served to create these star images and the conflicted roles for men during the period.

The text develops as several case studies, falling across the fields of star studies, gender, and institutional analysis. Indeed, one of the greatest strengths in this compelling work is the method through which Cohan builds his argument, moving between the social, the institutional and the sexual in a series of interlocking analyses. Cohan starts by situating masculinity in crisis. The first chapter addresses the unstable masculine identity of North By Northwest's hero Roger Thornhill through close analysis of shifting identities and the theatrical star image of Cary Grant in the context of cold war ideologies. Similarly, crisis also defines the subject of the second chapter: the prototypical Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, a pivotal role that clearly splinters the male. As Cohan suggests, the role offers the "paradox" of hegemonic masculinity: while the breadwinner, the father, and professional-managerial class were being validated by Hollywood in the Gregory Peck film, the "traditional" masculine (read "aggressive", "stoic", "adventurous") roles were being subordinated in adjoining films. This dynamic was also evidenced in the '50s career of Humphrey Bogart. Bogart shifted from the 1940s film noir tough guy to a variety of "troubled" characters as evidenced by the homoerotic and misogynistic dynamic in Dead Reckoning, the sexual dysfunction of In a Lonely Place and the psychopath in The Desperate Hours. Cohan illustrates that the psychopathic and homosocial characters portrayed by Bogart served to regulate the heterosexual conformity of the era.

The remainder of the book also engages masculinity in crisis, but more directly through the focus of the male body as spectacle. In a chapter that at times strays from its thesis by offering an account of the biblical cycle and religious boom of the 1950s, Cohan contrasts the stars of The Ten Commandments. Yul Brynner (under a section titled "baldness brings its own rewards") and Charlton Heston ("But size counts even more") are presented as cold war binaries, representing America and the exotic "alien" through body shape, size, costuming, and even body hair. Moving into the realm of beefcake from the era, Cohan illustrates how William Holden in Picnic was designed to visually exploit the male star for a range of gendered/sexed viewing positions, placing Holden as the object to be looked at. Other prominent stars-Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando-are more disruptive in their postwar star images by appearing as softer "boys" rather than as men in melodramas, effectively allowing them to pass between the binarized categories of male/female, straight/gay, and young/mature. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.