English 5060

Classic Hollywood: From Sound to 1960

Fall 2009, Monday/Wednesday, 6pm-9pm, 326 State


Steven Shaviro
5057 Woodward, room 9309
shaviro@shaviro.com OR shaviro@wayne.edu
Office hours: M W 3:30pm-4:30pm and by appointment

Course Description

This class provides a close look at the history of American film from the introduction of sound in 1927 up until 1960. This is the period of classic Hollywood film, when the Studio System was in full effect. We will look at important and representative films of this period in social and historical context, with attention to important directors and stars, to prominent genres, and to the major and minor studios. The overall aim of the course is to immerse ourselves in the movie culture of the period: a culture, and a manner of filmmaking, that are very different from the ones we are familiar with today.

Schedule of Classes

September 9: The coming of sound. The Great Depression. Early musicals, Busby Berkeley.
Mervyn LeRoy/Busby Berkeley, Gold Diggers of 1933 (Warner Brothers, 1933)

September 14: Warner Brothers. The gangster film.
William Wellman, The Public Enemy (Warner Bros, 1932)

September 16: Universal. The horror film in the 1930s. The studio system.
James Whale, Bride of Frankenstein (Universal, 1935)
Handout: Summary of the Hollywood studio system

September 21: Paramount. Before the Hays Code.
Ernst Lubitsch, Trouble in Paradise (Paramount, 1932)

September 23: Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich.
Josef von Sternberg, The Devil Is A Woman (Paramount, 1935)

September 28: RKO and other studios. Fred Astaire and the musical. The Hays Code. Race in 1930s Hollywood.
George Stevens, Swing Time (RKO, 1936)

September 30: Columbia. Frank Capra. James Stewart.
Frank Capra, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Columbia, 1939)

October 5: Screwball Comedy. Howard Hawks. Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.
Howard Hawks, Bringing Up Baby (RKO, 1938)

October 7: Howard Hawks, continued. Cary Grant.
Howard Hawks, Only Angels Have Wings (Columbia, 1939)
Handout: Peter Wollen, "The Auteur Theory"
First installment of film diary due.

October 12: Melodrama. The "women's picture."
King Vidor, Stella Dallas (Goldwyn/United Artists, 1937)

October 14: Into the 1940s. Preston Sturges. Art and entertainment in the Depression.
Preston Sturges, Sullivan's Travels (Paramount, 1941)

October 19: Orson Welles and Citizen Kane. Stylistic shifts.
Orson Welles, Citizen Kane (RKO, 1941)

October 21: The Film Industry and World War II.
Howard Hawks, To Have And Have Not (Warner Brothers, 1944)

October 26: B-movies. Horror and other genres in the 1940s.
Jacques Tourneur, Cat People (RKO, 1942)
First short paper due

October 28: Fritz Lang in Hollywood. Stars and character actors.
Fritz Lang, Scarlet Street (Universal, 1945)

November 2: Early film noir. Other German exiles in Hollywood.
Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity (Paramount, 1944)
Second installment of film diary due.

November 4: NO CLASS

November 9: Film noir in the 1950s. Samuel Fuller. Post-War America. The Cold War. Anti-Communist witchhunts.
Samuel Fuller, Pickup on South Street (20th Century Fox, 1953)
Second short paper due.

November 11: MGM musicals. Film versus television.
Vincente Minnelli, The Band Wagon (MGM, 1953)

November 16: John Ford and the Western. John Wayne.
John Ford, The Searchers (Warner Brothers, 1956)

November 18: Social problem films. Method acting, Marlon Brando. More fallout from the Red Scare.
Elia Kazan, On the Waterfront (Columbia, 1954)

November 23: Nicholas Ray. Existentialism. Emergence of the teenager. Film as social critique.
Nicholas Ray, Rebel Without A Cause (Warner Brothers, 1955)

November 25: NO CLASS

November 30: Late film noir. Decline of the studios, rise of independent production.
Robert Aldrich, Kiss Me Deadly (United Artists, 1955)
Third installment of film diary due.

December 2: Science fiction and other genres in the 1950s.
Don Siegel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Allied Artists, 1956)

December 7: Alfred Hitchcock.
Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo (Paramount, 1958)

December 9: Comedy in the 1950s. Billy Wilder. Marilyn Monroe.
Billy Wilder, Some Like It Hot (United Artists, 1959)

December 14: Melodrama. Race in 1950s Hollywood. Douglas Sirk. End of the old-fashioned studio film.
Douglas Sirk, Imitation of Life (Universal, 1959).
Fourth installment of film diary due.
Third short paper due

Class Assignments and Requirements

Each class will consist of a film screening, followed by lecture and discussion.

Class requirements:

The film diaries should consist of short entries on each of the films we watch in class.
For the short papers, you should choose a film that we have not watched and discussed in class, but that is from the period of filmmaking under discussion (list of suggested films here), and write a précis and brief critical discussion of the film you have chosen.

Recommended Readings

No textbooks have been assigned for this class. But the following books are recommended for background information on the films and the period that we are discussing: