American Cinema of the 1930s: Themes and Variations

By Ina Rae Hark | Go to book overview

1933

Movies and the New Deal
in Entertainment

MARTIN RUBIN

"Life is bare / Gloom and misery everywhere / Stormy weather / Just can't get my poor self together," so crooned Ethel Waters in Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler's hit tune "Stormy Weather," linking the singer's personal heartbreak with the atmospheric conditions around her. It would not have been difficult for listeners to make a further leap from the song's inclement weather to the political and economic turbulence that had been gripping the country.

The storm clouds abroad loomed even more darkly but, to isolationist America, still distantly. Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany on 30 January. Japan expanded its imperialist aggression in China and withdrew from the League of Nations. News of massive famine began to leak out of the Soviet Union.

While President Franklin D. Roosevelt cut the rest of the world loose by sabotaging July's World Economic Conference in London, New Deal America sought images of the Old World in the romanticized settings, remote in time or place, of such popular novels as Hervey Allen's Anthony Adverse and James Hilton's Lost Horizon. Domestic-themed bestsellers countered foreclosure-fueled farmer revolts and the nascent Dust Bowl with such nostalgic rural visions as Gladys Hasty Carroll's As the Earth Turns, Louis Bromfield's The Farm, Bess Streeter Aldrich's Miss Bishop, and, in a more hardscrabble vein, Erskine Caldwell's God's Little Acre.

Outside of fiction, conditions were more difficult to embroider. The winter seemed agonizingly long as the country waited out the four-month gap between Herbert Hoover's defeat and Roosevelt's inauguration—the last such interregnum before ratification of the Twentieth ("Lame Duck") Amendment on 23 January. On 5 January Hoover's predecessor, Calvin Coolidge, died, as if to confirm the sweeping away of past familiarities in anticipation of an increasingly uncertain future. In this vacuum of delay and drift, anxiety expanded, and many considered a coup d'etat or popular

-92-

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