AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-1950

By Wlaschin, Ken | Journal of Film Preservation, October 1999 | Go to article overview

AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-1950


Wlaschin, Ken, Journal of Film Preservation


The AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-1950, the latest volume in the American Film Institute's series of definitive reference books that document the history of American motion pictures, will be published in April 1999.

The 1940s volume includes entries for 4,316 films documented in two large volumes of text and one large index volume. It is the largest ever written by the AFI and has been researched for many years. The three-volume set will published by the University of California Press.

Principal research began in 1993 though a core title database had been compiled in 1991. The Catalog, a division of AFI's National Center for Film and Video Preservation in Los Angeles, has a staff of eleven persons under the direction of Executive Editor Patricia King Hanson. Assignments are divided by studio to enable staff members to become familiar with the production and personnel of each company. Independent films are divided chronologically.

The primary source of filmographic documentation was the film itself and more than 93% of the films were viewed. Credits and plot information for the other 7% were derived from cutting continuity or studio records, copyright records, censorship records, reviews and news items. Contemporary and modern sources were studied to obtain the best possible credits and information.

There are many sources of filmographic information available in book and electronic form but the AFI Catalog is the only project to systematically document the entire output of American film production. This systematic approach not only enables historians and scholars to have a document of record for American films, but is a benchmark for American film preservation. AFI's film catalogs are used by archives all over the world to identify films without titles from all periods and have become a major preservation tool.

The project, which began in the late 1960s, has previously published volumes documenting the first era of film production, Film Beginnings, 1893-1910, plus feature film volumes covering the decades of the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s and 1960s; Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960, which covered 2,464 films dealing with the ethnic- American experience, was published in 1997.

The AFI staff is now working on the next AFI Catalog covering feature-film production from 1951-1960.

The project has received primary funding through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional funding was provided by the Ahmanson Foundation, the Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation and the contributions of hundreds of AFI members.

General Background on the American Cinema in the 1940s

The AFI Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States project, the AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-1950 documents films released between January 1, 1941 and December 31, 1950, one of the most significant periods of American history. The decade began with the country on the brink of war and ended as great changes in culture and society had enveloped the nation. The world had moved from World War II into a Cold War and vestiges of present society were starting to take shape. Within the motion picture community, significant changes were also emerging. No longer secure in the large audience that regularly went to the movies in the 1930s, by the end of the 1940s, an uncertain future was precipitated by three significant changes: the forced breakup of the studio-owned theater chains, the rise of television and the Hollywood blacklist.

The rich filmographic heritage of American motion pictures mirrored changes in society. Early war preparedness films such as A Yank in the R.A.F and Mrs. Miniver gave way to films such as The Fighting Seabees and Bataan as Americans went into battle, followed by post-war adjustment films such as The Best Years of Our Lives and Pride of the Marines. In the late 1940s, many films took on a darker tone, becoming part of what French critics later dubbed film noir. …

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