Films of the 1950s: Conformity and Rebellion

Films of the 1950s
Conformity and Rebellion
Anticommunism before WWII
• Fears of “premature anti-Fascists” such as
Dorothy Parker, Dashiell Hammett, etc. before
• Support for republican Spain during the 1937
Spanish Civil War
• House Un-American Activities Committee
(HUAC) chaired by Martin Dies in 1940.
• WWII pro-Soviet films: Mission to Moscow,
Song of Russia
Postwar Anticommunism
• HUAC chaired by J. Parnell Thomas calls
“friendly” witnesses such as Gary Cooper,
Ronald Reagan, and Walt Disney.
• “Unfriendly” witnesses: the Hollywood Ten,
including Alvah Bessie, Ring Lardner Junior,
Dalton Trumbo, among others, sought to
assert their constitutional rights and invoke
the First Amendment.
• Result: being blacklisted
• April through June 1954: Army-McCarthy
hearings were broadcast upon Senator Joseph
McCarthy’s accusations of Communists in the
State Department.
• The pro-Soviet films of the war years gave way
to anti-communist films such as The Red
• Naming names
Protests in Film
• Science fiction: Invaders from Mars, Invasion
of the Body Snatchers
• Westerns: High Noon, Johnny Guitar
• On the Waterfront, written by Budd
Schulberg: corrupt union [Communist
leadership] tries to break the individual
(Marlon Brando) who courageously names
Protests against Social Injustice
• Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), antiSemitism.
• Border Incident (1949), exploitation of
Mexican immigrants
• Giant (1954), protesting racism
• Imitation of Life (1934 and 1959), racism and
racial passing
• Storm Warning (1951), against the Ku Klux
The Two Sides of Suburban
• Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948):
• All That Heaven Allows (1954): domestic
melodrama directed by Douglas Sirk that uses
Thoreau’s Walden as a means of protesting
the stifling conformity of middle-class
A Place in the Sun
• Based on Theodore Dreiser’s An American
Tragedy (1925), which was based on the Chester
Gillette-Grace Brown case of 1906.
• Film version directed by Josef von Sternberg, An
American Tragedy (1931). Dreiser sued
• Protagonist caught between classes and trying to
live the American dream.

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