American Cinema of the 1930s: Themes and Variations

By Ina Rae Hark | Go to book overview

1931

Movies and the Voice

CYNTHIA ERB


The Depression Deepens

As the economic crisis stretched into its second year, any sense that Hollywood and the nation at large might be pulling out of the Depression was vanishing. At the end of the year Walter Lippmann wrote, "It is no longer open to serious question that we are in the midst, not of an ordinary trade depression, but of one of the great upheavals and readjustments of modern history" (5). Motor vehicle sales plummeted, causing the Detroit auto factories to lay off 100,000 workers. Almost three thousand banks failed.

One person whose financial fortunes had not been harmed by the Depression, gangster Al Capone, was finally brought to justice this year. While the government could never convict him of the many murders he had authorized, they managed to prove him guilty of failing to pay taxes on his ill-gotten gains. Also on the justice front was the beginning of what would become a protracted case of race and prejudice. In Alabama, two groups of unemployed young people, one black and one white, were riding the rails looking for work and got into an altercation. By the time the train arrived at its destination, nine black men, the "Scottsboro Boys," had been arrested and accused of gang rape. It would take many years and many trials for the charges to be proved baseless and the crime to have been fabricated.

Meanwhile, aspiration and innovation did not cease in the face of the crushing economic collapse. Many responded by reaching for the sky. French balloonist Auguste Piccard ascended to the stratosphere, and aviator Wiley Post flew around the world in the fastest time ever recorded. The famous statue of Christ was erected on a mountaintop overlooking Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In New York two landmark skyscrapers, the Chrysler Building and the city's tallest, the Empire State Building, were completed.

Artists created Felix the Cat and Dick Tracy in the comics, Night Flight, The Waves, Tropic of Cancer, and The Glass Key were added to bookshelves, the

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