Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties

By Steven Cohan | Go to book overview

5
The Age of the Chest

"Whatever does she see in him?" is a common female crack about another girl's beau or husband. Or about her movie hero. Marilyn Monroe appeals to almost all men, but there is no male movie star who universally sends the girls. Some like them tough, some like them tender. Some like them wistful and in need of a mother while some others like them as protective as a father. Rippling muscles and a bare chest give some women shivers of delight while still others feel that Hathaway has done more for men than nature. A dimple in the chin is deliciously sexy to dimple doters while other women want to fill it up with putty. Feats of strength and prowess make certain women feel all weak and swoony though some want to say, "Come off it, you big baboon!" ( "Stronger"93)

This opening paragraph of Life magazine's pictorial survey of popular male movie stars in 1954 is significant for a number of reasons. In stating that "almost all men" see the same thing in Monroe, the article assumes that masculine desire is universal and uncomplicated; but in going on to comment that, in contrast, "there is no male star who universally sends the girls," Life acknowledges that women go to films to look at men too and, what's more, that the male image, no less a marketable commodity than the female, is marked to be looked at in multiple and contradictory ways. As the article reads them, some stars like Burt Lancaster are tough, with an "unshaved brute force" (93), while others like Robert Francis are tender, with an "innocent clean-shaven face" (94). 1

More importantly, the commentary accompanying the photographs goes on to suggest that a star's power as an actor in a narrative is deeply implicated in his sexual value on screen. The description of Rock Hudson in this respect is quite telling: "In pictures he rides horses and fights off attacking armies and has the physique for this work, being 6 feet 4 inches tall." After offering this very conventional picture of masculinity in action, the article then goes on to point out a much more spectacular dimension of Hudson's star image: "Students of fan appeal are undecided whether Hudson's lies primarily in his

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Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Arts and Politics of the Everyday *
  • Masked Men - Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments *
  • Introduction *
  • 1: The Spy in the Gray Flannel Suit *
  • 2: The "Paradox" of Hegemonic Masculinity *
  • 3: Tough Guys Make the Best Psychopaths *
  • 4: The Body in the Blockbuster *
  • 5: The Age of the Chest *
  • 6: Why Boys Are Not Men *
  • 7: The Bachelor in the Bedroom *
  • Epilogue: Who Was That Masked Man? *
  • Notes *
  • Select Filmography *
  • Works Cited *
  • Index *
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