Reelpolitik: Political Ideologies in '30S and '40S Films/Reelpolitik II: Political Ideologies in '50S and '60S Films

By Dvorak, Ken | Film & History, July 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Reelpolitik: Political Ideologies in '30S and '40S Films/Reelpolitik II: Political Ideologies in '50S and '60S Films


Dvorak, Ken, Film & History


Beverly Merrill Kelly. Reelpolitik: Political Ideologies in '30s and '40s Films. Praeger, 1998. 194 pages; $22.95.

Reelpolitik II: Political Ideologies in '50s and '60s Films. Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. 284 pages; $27.95.

Author Beverly Merrill Kelly, professor of communication studies and "novice" film scholar has produced two in her planned three volume series examining "reelpolitik's" or "political ideologies" found in selected popular Hollywood films. Ms. Kelly provides film scholars and their students with an articulate engaging writing style coupled with an expertly crafted, thoroughly researched analysis, examining films chosen for their presumed political ideologies. Volume one examines films from the 1930's and 1940's while its companion volume discusses films produced during the 1950's and 1960's. The author's much anticipated volume three focuses on political films produced during the 1970's and 1980's.

Readily available on videotape, popular DVD formats and showcased on premier cable outlets such as American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Films, the current Reelpolitik series provides an excellent resource for scholars and students interested in political/ideological films. According to the author, the first two volumes, and including volume three, differ in their narrative discourse and film analysis but all will share a common theme crafted as textbooks for use by government, history, political science, and film scholars. The impetus behind the series lay in a film symposium organized by the author and her fellow colleagues at California Lutheran University that encouraged their students to examine the "reel" political/historical ideologies portrayed in 30's and 40's films. Amid student objections about viewing films in "black and white?" and "who are these actors?" the author determined that this "oppositional discourse" provided a perfect opportunity for analyzing the "reelpolitiks" found in Hollywood films.

Ms. Kelley, and fellow contributors, chose eight films for Reelpolitik I that portray oppositional political ideologies to capitalism such as populism, fascism, communism, and military interventionism during a time when Americans were stunned by the Great Depression and wary of "foreign entanglements." Included are the films Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), The Magnificent Ambersons (1948), Gabriel over the White House (1933), Citizen Kane (1941), Casablanca (1942), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Our Daily Bread (1934), and The Fountainhead (1939). In an interesting counter analysis each film is also examined for "contrast[ing] ideologies" (pg. 3). This includes elitism, antifascism, anticommunism, and isolationism. …

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