English 4950   Special Topics in Literature: American Film in the 1930s

F. GRADY                                                                                                                                                                                             SPRING 2012

455 LUCAS                                                                                                                                                                                           [Sec. 001, #14218]

516-5592                                                                                                                                                                                              MW 11:00-12:30

fgrady@umsl.edu                                                                                                                                                                            JC PENNEY 63                    

MW 1:00-4:00 and by appointment                         


            In 1990 the U.S. Post Office issued commemorative stamps honoring four classic American films: Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, and Beau Geste. It was hardly a coincidence that all four films had originally been released in 1939, for that year has widely been regarded as "Hollywood's greatest year," during which the major film studios finally shook off the effects of the Great Depression, reaching new heights in employment and drawing in 40 to 50 million patrons a week to see what most students of American film consider to be some of the best movies ever made in Hollywood.

            Of course, some of this is just standard entertainment industry hoopla,

at six decades' distance--Hollywood was the first to break the good news

about Hollywood's artistic triumphs in 1939. And if that year marked a

pinnacle of one sort, it was also the beginning of the end for the studio

system that had dominated the film industry for a generation: the

European markets which had traditionally provided Hollywood with a

quarter of its income were about to be lost to World War II, and

soon after the war the studios finally lost the fierce battle against antitrust

legislation that they had waged for two decades. Even the most successful

film of 1939 (indeed, the most successful film ever, to that point),

Gone with the Wind, can be seen as the precursor of the blockbuster

event-movie that dominates the cinema industry of our day, an industry

very different in organization from the system that governed American

filmmaking in the 1930s.


            In this course we'll try to see what the excitement was all about by studying several films from that great year. Along the way we'll also learn something about the entertainment industry and the studio system, 1930s American cultural history, film language and technology, film stars and genres, and film theory and criticism. We'll be "taking Hollywood seriously," as one of your textbooks puts it, as a site of artistic, cultural, social, economic, and imaginary importance, both then and now.


Course Requirements:

·         midterm exam, 15%

·         final exam, 20%

·         two 500-word film reviews, 5% each (follow link for details)

·         weekly film quizzes, 10%

·         class grade (including attendance, participation, occasional writing assignments, and posting on the class discussion board according to a schedule we’ll establish), 10%

·         two 5-6 page essays, 15% & 20% each (due dates as below). You will have three chances to write the two papers, and I will distribute suggested topics in advance of each due date (though you will not be limited to those topics).  Plagiarism on papers, electronic or the old-fashioned kind, will mean an instant F for the assignment, my undying disapprobation, and possible disciplinary action by the university; please refer to this site for further details, and please please please ask me if you have any questions.


Required texts:

         Edward Buscombe, Stagecoach. British Film Institute, 1992

         Tino Balio, Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930-1939. History of

            the American Cinema, vol. 5. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1993. (hence GD)

         Richard Maltby, Hollywood Cinema. 2nd ed. Blackwell, 2003. (hence HC)

         Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz. British Film Institute, 1992

         Additional essays available through MyGateway.


Additional Resources:

·         Required films will be available for streaming via MyGateway and should be watched carefully before the class date for which they are assigned. A high-speed connection is recommended.

·         Supplementary films (for film reviews) are typically available via a rental service (e.g. Netflix) or the public library; I can lend some of the rarer ones.

·         Though most relevant documents (e.g., essay topics and supplementary readings) will be posted on MyGateway, the main course page will be at http://www.umsl.edu/~gradyf/4950syllsp12.htm, which can also be reached through my home page (www.umsl.edu/~gradyf).  Bookmark it: frequent updates are likely.

·         A reserve list of relevant texts will be maintained in the TJ library.

 Tentative Syllabus:

W JAN 18 Introduction; coming attractions; studying movies; some film technique and vocabulary



M JAN 23 Taking Hollywood seriously; America during the Great Depression

Reading:  "Taking Hollywood Seriously," HC 6-32 (also on MyGateway)

Levine, “American Culture and the Great Depression” (MyGateway)

                                Rauchway, “Americans in the Great Depression” (MyGateway)

                                Optional: Leuchtenburg, “Smashup” (MyGateway)

W JAN 25  The Studio System

                Reading: "Industry 1: to 1948," HC 113-58

                          "Introduction," GD 1-12

                                "Surviving the Great Depression," GD 13-36

                                "Feeding the Maw of Exhibition," GD 73-108



M JAN 30  Dodge City (1939; 105m); Hollywood style;

                Reading: "Entertainment 1 &2," HC 33-73

"Technological Change and Classical Film Style," GD 109-42

W FEB 1 Destry Rides Again (1939; 94m); Genre in film; what we know about the Western

                Reading: "Genre," HC 74-110

Altman, “A Semantic/Syntactic Approach to Film Genre” (MyGateway)

Optional: Bazin, “The Western: or The American Film Par Excellence” (MyGateway)



M FEB 6 Stagecoach (1939; 96m); Ford and the idea of the auteur

                Reading: Buscombe, Stagecoach

W FEB 8 Jesse James (1939; 105m)

Reading: Robin Wood, "Ideology, Genre, Auteur" (MyGateway)

Altman, “Where do genres come from?” (MyGateway)

Optional: Neale, “Questions of Genre” (MyGateway)



M FEB 13 Gone With the Wind (1939; 232m); Hollywood and the Civil War (Links)

                Reading: "Prestige Pictures," GD 179-211

                                  “Narrative 1," HC 452-70

W FEB 15 GWTW, cont.

                Gone with the Wind: The Making of a Legend” (MyGateway)

Reading: “Space 1 & 2,” HC 312-67



M FEB 20 Judge Priest (1934; 71m); Hollywood and race; the publicity industry

                Reading: “Selling Stars,” GD 143-78

                                “Performance 1,” HC 369-92

W FEB 22 Writing about film; essay workshop

                Reading: Excerpts from Corrigan, A Short Guide to Writing About Film (MyGateway)



M FEB 27   Murder Over New York (1940; 65m); Mr. Wong, Detective (1938; 70m); B pictures

                Reading: Taves, "The B Film: Hollywood's Other Half," GD 313-50

                                Lepore, “Chan, the Man” (MyGateway)

Optional: Kim, “Images of Asians in Anglo-American Literature” (MyGateway)

W FEB 29  The Production Code

                Reading: "The Production Code and the Hays Office," GD 37-72

                                “Narrative 2,” HC 471-90

                                Forman, from Our Movie Made Children (MyGateway)

                                “The Production Code of 1930” (MyGateway)

                                Optional: Inglis, “Self-Regulation in Operation” (MyGateway)


                F MAR 2  First essay due date



M MAR 5 Ninotchka (1939; 110m); (links) 

                Reading:  Dyer, “Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society” (MyGateway)

Holmes, “The Hollywood Star System and . . . 1916-1934” (MyGateway)

W MAR 7 Gender and spectatorship

Reading: Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (MyGateway)

 Browne, “The Spectator-in-the-Text: The Rhetoric of ‘Stagecoach’" (MyGateway)



M MAR 12 Dark Victory (1939; 106m); the "woman's picture"; melodrama

                Reading: "The Woman's Film," GD 235-55

                                Klaprat, “The Star as Market Strategy: Bette Davis in Another Light” (MyGateway)

W MAR 14 Melodrama as mode

Reading: Williams, “Melodrama Revised” (MyGateway)

Mulvey, “Afterthoughts…” (MyGateway)

Optional: Gledhill, “Rethinking Genre” (MyGateway)


M MAR 19  Online review; no campus meeting





M APR 2  Only Angels Have Wings (1939; 122m) (links)

                Reading: "Criticism," HC 493-525

W APR 4  Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938; 92m);

                Reading: "Comedy," GD 256-80



M APR 9  The Wizard of Oz (1939; 155m); MGM and the spectacular (links)

Reading: "Time," HC 413-51

W APR 11 Oz, cont.

                Reading: Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz

                                Optional: Friedman, “Relinquishing Oz: Every Girl’s Anti-Adventure Story”


                F APR 13  Second Essay Due Date



M APR 16  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939; 130m);(Links);  Hollywood and politics

                Reading: "Politics," HC 268-303

W APR 18 Mr. Smith, cont.

Reading: Levine, “Hollywood’s Washington  (MyGateway)

                                Capra, from The Name Above the Title (MyGateway)

Optional: Rogin and Moran, “Mr. Capra Goes to Washington” (MyGateway)



M APR 23  Young Mr. Lincoln (1939; 100m) (LINKS); the biopic; Hollywood and history

                Reading: HC 436-48, “History as a Production Value”

W APR 25 Film Theory and Studio Production

Reading:“Theories,” HC 526-56

"John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln, a Collective Text by the Editors of

                          Cahiers du Cinema" (MyGateway)

Optional: Andrew, “The ‘Three Ages"’ of Cinema Studies and the Age to Come” (MyGateway)



M APR 30 The Grapes of Wrath (1940; 129m) (LINKS); Hollywood and the Depression revisited

                Reading: "Social Problem Films," GD 280-98

W MAY 2 Conclusions?

 Third Essay Due Date



M MAY 7   Final Exam 10:00-12:00



SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS: Students with disabilities of any sort who believe that they may need special accommodations in this class are encouraged to contact the Disability Access Services Office in 144 Millennium Student Center at 516-6554 as soon as possible to ensure that such accommodations are arranged in a timely fashion.