The Hollywood Social Problem Film: Madness, Despair, and Politics from the Depression to the Fifties

By Peter Roffman; Jim Purdy | Go to book overview

17
THE MINORITIES

Anti-Semitism

Although many of the Hollywood moguls were themselves Jewish, Jews rarely appeared on the screen except as secondary characters and then usually as comic stereotypes. The producers insisted that any sympathetic portrayal of Jewish problems would only provoke more anti-Semitism and refused to deviate from an upper middle-class WASP image of America that was more in keeping with audience aspirations. It was not until the postwar era that two major studio films, Crossfire ( 1947) and Gentleman's Agreement ( 1947), confronted anti-Semitism as a serious social issue in the United States. And even then, despite the films' substantial box-office returns, no further films on the subject were released.

Up until this period, the Jew usually appeared as one of many ethnic types inhabiting the big-city neighborhood. Along with the boisterous Italians, hard-working Poles and brawling Irish, the friendly Jewish miser added color and humor to the urban melting pot. Representative of this "benign" stereotype is Herman ( Harry Green), the heavily accented Jewish tailor in This Day and Age. Herman is the only member of the business community who refuses to pay protection dues to the mob. Although he is standing up to the gangster with proud declarations about life in a free country, the film makes clear that an equally important motivation is his unwillingness to part with money. When his shop is bombed by the mob, he emerges from the rubble, surveys the destruction, and summarily estimates that the "damage is worth $550." In Warners' Mayor of Hell ( 1933), one of the delinquent boys brought before the judge is a Jew. But whereas the other kids' parents are either drunks, widows, or simply unable to cope, Izzy's father is too preoccupied with his business to care for his son. Later, when Jimmy Cagney

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