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

By Peter Roffman; Jim Purdy | Go to book overview

20
THE INDIVIDUAL AND
SOCIETY: DARKER VIEWS OF
THE POSTWAR WORLD

Barbara Deming Running A way from Myself, a fascinating study of America's image in forties movies, begins and ends with a vision of hell. The typical heroes of the decade are "products of a deep crisis of faith" and "each mourns a vision of happiness which eludes him." It is a nightmare vision which "falters in any gesture of promise," but as Deming points out, this bleak portrait is largely subconscious, operating beneath the surface of the films. It is discernible only when a number of films are taken as a whole and a general pattern emerges: "From such a series of instances one can deduce a plight more general, sensed by the public (and the public-minded filmmakers)--a condition that transcends the literal situation dramatized in any single film." 1

However, some films of the late forties did explore this crisis between the individual and society more self-consciously, presenting a complex, dark vision of postwar America intentionally, without a lot of the subterfuge of movie conventions which set up a problem only to handily resolve it. Even Capra's highly optimistic It's a Wonderful Life ( 1946) has a harrowing nightmare sequence which nullifies both the existence of the hero and the way of life he so valued. Its hero, George Bailey ( Jimmy Stewart), despairs that any good or satisfaction can come of his life in Bedford Falls and finally resolves to kill himself. John Garfield's Charlie Davis in Body and Soul and Joe Morse in Force of Evil ( 1949) both demonstrate a willingness devoid of moral principles to attain success and power, while Chaplin's title character in Monsieur Verdoux ( 1947) is so brutalized by life that he takes up a career as a

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