The Look of Catholics: Portrayals in Popular Culture from the Great Depression to the Cold War

By Hill-Parks, Erin | Film & History, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

The Look of Catholics: Portrayals in Popular Culture from the Great Depression to the Cold War


Hill-Parks, Erin, Film & History


Anthony Burke Smith The Look of Catholics: Portrayals in Popular Culture from the Great Depression to the Cold War University Press of Kansas, June 2010; 280 pages; cloth; $34.95

The simultaneous personal and universal nature of religion makes it a ripe theme for use in entertainment. In The Look of Catholics, Anthony Burke Smith carries out an academic examination of how Catholics and Catholic rituals were portrayed in film, television, and print from the late 1920s to the early 1960s. Smith uses a wealth of archival information in attempting to show how the image of Catholicism developed during this time of the changing mass media. While much of his analysis is interesting and presents new information and insights, the book is not completely successful in its mission to prove that "[t]he highly Americanized renderings of Catholics did more than simply turn Catholics into good citizens; they also provided a cultural space in which to elaborate new understandings of an American community that included Catholics" (2). This study reaches both too far in some of its arguments and not far enough in others. That is not to say that the book is not useful orwell written, because it is both; however, the chapters seem to offer jumping off points for further study rather than a complete and coherent work as a whole. While each chapter is individually well researched, the overarching argument regarding the change in the media perception of Catholics feels stretched rather thin.

The book attempts to cover a wide range of areas pertaining to Catholics, including how Catholics promoted values and traditions within the community and how those values were then portrayed in film, television, and print. It covers four primary subjects: 1) the representation of Catholics on the cinema screen; 2) the representation of Catholics in Life magazine; 3) the Reverend Fulton J. Sheen on television; and 4) the role of Catholic film directors. Smith's analysis is most convincing when it identifies how portrayals of Catholics changed on screen, especially in its analysis of Boys Town (Norman Taurog, 1938) and Going My Way (Leo McCarey, 1944). …

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