Hollywood in Crisis: Cinema and American Society, 1929-1939

By Colin Shindler | Go to book overview

5

FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN

He's Joe Doakes-the world's greatest stooge and the world's greatest strength. We always bounce back, because we're the people and we're tough…. Listen to me, you John Does, you're the hope of the world.

Spoken by Gary Cooper in Frank Capra's Meet John Doe (1941)

However much Hollywood might have wanted to disown the Depression, to have pretended that it never existed or, that if it did, it should not be allowed to affect the film industry, it was not possible to do so. The economic debilitation, the social, physical and psychological suffering were too pervasive. The Depression scarred America, and the wounds could not be ignored. Holly¬ wood was too conscious of its awesome responsibilities to do more than flirt with radical ideas. It sympathised with 'the little man' only to the extent that the industry depended on his and his family's cash admissions.

The American film industry was a significant building block in the American economy. It was also the most influential medium of communica-tion and, dominated as it was by the studio executives whose political sympathies ran no farther Left than Jack Warner's personal admiration for President Roosevelt, the motion picture business was never likely to sanction any revolutionary solutions to the Depression.

The Hollywood response to the Depression and the prospect of social revolution, particularly after 1933 when Roosevelt had restored some measure of economic and moral confidence, was basically twofold. On the one hand it emphasised the durability of certain American institutional and mythological traditions. On the other it suggested that the Depression was akin to a bout of influenza, something to be endured with good humour until it went away as swiftly and mysteriously as it had arrived. In President Hoover's unfortunate phrase, 'Prosperity is just around the corner'.

The American worship of the cult of individualism, the belief that anyone through honesty, perseverance and faith can achieve anything, is employed in both these remedies for the Depression as a means of defusing a potentially revolutionary situation.

One illustration of this 'influenza syndrome' is the series of wide-eyed films

-73-

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Hollywood in Crisis: Cinema and American Society, 1929-1939
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • General Editor's Preface viii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements x
  • 1 - Snapshot 1
  • 2 - Trouble in Paradise 11
  • 3 - The Blue Eagle 32
  • 4 - The Swimming Pool Reds 52
  • 5 - Fanfare for the Common Man 73
  • 6 - The Hays Office 96
  • 7 - The Left-Handed Endeavour 117
  • 8 - Cry of the City 141
  • 9 - Good Citizenship and Good Picture-Making 157
  • 10 - Black Fury 174
  • 11 - Foreign Affairs 195
  • 12 - Snapshot 212
  • Notes 229
  • Bibliography 246
  • Index 252
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