Hollywood, Westerns and the 1930s: The Lost Trail

By Peter Stanfield | Go to book overview

1
The First Cycle of Sound Westerns

Is this the masculine season? The renaissance of the Western and
the prevalence of films stressing the male note, some being
entirely Eveless pictures, indicates a new virility in plots.

(Caroline Bell, Picture Play, 19311)

This chapter records the trade press coverage of A–feature Westerns from the first prestige productions inaugurated by the box–office success of In Old Arizona (Fox, 1929) and The Virginian (Paramount, 1929), culminating in the relative failure of Cimarron (RKO, 1931), The Big Trail (Fox, 1930) and Billy the Kid (MGM, 1930). Hollywood tried to solicit a diverse audience for its A–feature Western productions, undertaken through an overt address to the female filmgoer. With varying degrees of success, this first cycle of sound Westerns attempted this feat by emphasising the drama of courtship and romance.

Hollywood pinned its hope for success not on the limited notion of genre that film studies has inherited from literature but on the broad trends of audience preferences and on the cycles within those trends. Writing in December 1931 for the New York Times, Anne O’Hare McCormick endeavoured to explain the decision–making processes behind Hollywood’s attempts to predict its audiences:

The business men who control Hollywood … grope and bluster
in the dark, befogged and irritated as men are who are involved
in a vital conversation carried on in a language they do not
understand. Their attitude toward art resembles President
Hoover’s toward politics; they fumble with the slippery thing,
resentful but intimidated. Since their only art standard is box
office, they maintain an elaborate system for reporting, analysing

-15-

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Hollywood, Westerns and the 1930s: The Lost Trail
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The First Cycle of Sound Westerns 15
  • 2 - Series Westerns, Will Rogers and the Emergence of the Singing Cowboy 1931–1935 56
  • 3 - Series Westerns Masking the Modern 78
  • 4 - Class–A Western Features 1935–1938 117
  • 5 - Democratic Art Westerns 1939–1941 148
  • 6 - Dixie Cowboys Representing the Nation 193
  • Conclusion 225
  • Notes 228
  • Bibliography 248
  • Index 255
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