English 4950 003/Special Topics in Literature: Cool Old Movies


F. GRADY                                                                                                                              SPRING 2019

461 LUCAS                                                                                                                             [Sec. 001, #14218]

516-5510                                                                                                                                 MW 11:00-12:15

fgrady@umsl.edu                                                                                                                    JC PENNEY 63

MW 1:00-3:00 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, Hollywood was the first to break the good news about Hollywood’s

artistic triumphs that year, and some of this is just standard entertainment industry hoopla, at seven decades’ distance. 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 that provided Hollywood with a quarter of its income were about to be lost to the war, 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 (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, one very different in organization from the system that governed American filmmaking in the ‘30s and ‘40s.


In this course we’ll try to see what the excitement was all about by studying several films from that era. Along the way we’ll also learn something

about the entertainment industry and the studio system, 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, then and now.



Required texts:

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

·        Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz. British Film Institute, 1992 (maybe)

·        Additional essays available through Canvas.  Note: two volumes in the History of the American Cinema series can be accessed through the library catalogue page: Tino Balio’s Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930-1939 (1993), and Thomas Schatz’s Boom and Bust: American Cinema in the 1940s (1997).  I will be assigning portions of the former.



Additional Resources:    

·        Required films will be available for streaming via the “Media Gallery” tab on Canvas and should be watched carefully before the class date for which they are assigned. A high-speed connection is recommended.

·        I will post most of the supplementary films on Canvas; some are available via a rental service (e.g. Netflix or Amazon) or the public library.

·        Though most relevant documents will be supplied via Canvas, the main course page is http://www.umsl.edu/~gradyf/4950SP2019syll.htm, which can also be reached through my home page (www.umsl.edu/~gradyf).  Bookmark it and expect frequent updates.

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


Course Requirements (see “Assignments” document on Canvas):

·        weekly film quizzes, 10%

·        two 5-6 page essays, 20% each

·        mise en scène essay (2pp), 10%

·        short-answer midterm, 10%

·        film genre group work, 20%

·        take-home final or research project, 10%  [=  100%]


Tentative Syllabus:







W JAN 23


Introduction; coming attractions; some film technique and vocabulary







2  Studio production; Hollywood style



M JAN 28



·         Viewing: Sullivan’s Travels (1941; 90m) (links)

·         Reading:  "Taking Hollywood Seriously," HC 5-22; “Entertainment I,” HC 33-53 (also available on Canvas)



W JAN 30


Annual Polar Vortex day -- no class






3  America (and Hollywood) during the Depression







·         Viewing: “American Cinema: The Studio System” (Canvas)

·         Reading:   

o   "Industry 1: to 1948," HC 113-58

o   "Introduction" from Grand Design (Canvas or UMSL online access)

o   Bordwell and Thomson, "Technological Change and Classical Film Style," ch. 5 in Grand Design  (Canvas or UMSL online access)

o   “Sound” and “Color,” HC 238-50

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

o   Rauchway, “Americans in the Great Depression” (Canvas)


·         Also relevant:

·         "Feeding the Maw of Exhibition," Grand Design 73-108

o   "Social Problem Films," Grand Design 280-98

o   Leuchtenberg, “Smashup,” from The Perils of Prosperity (Canvas)







·         Viewing: My Man Godfrey (1936; 94m); The Grapes of Wrath (1940; 129m) (links)

·         Reading:  Corrigan, from A Short guide to Writing about Film (Canvas)


·         Also relevant:

o   Leitch, “Twelve Fallacies in Contemporary Adaptation Theory”(Canvas)







4   The Production Code



M FEB 11

·         Viewing: Casablanca (1942; 102m)

·         Reading: Eco, “Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage”



W FEB 13




·         Reading:

·         Maltby, "The Production Code and the Hays Office," Grand Design 37-72

·         “Narrative 2,” HC 471-90

·         Forman, from Our Movie Made Children (Canvas)

·         “The Production Code of 1930” (Canvas)


·         Also relevant:

·         Inglis, “Self-Regulation in Operation” (Canvas)

·         Zizek, “Ego and Superego: Lacan as a Viewer of Casblanca” (Canvas)

·         Ray, “The Culmination of Classic Hollywood: Casablanca” (Canvas)

·         Wollen, “The Auteur Theory: Michael Curtiz, and Casablanca” (Canvas)







5  Genre in film; what we can know about the Western



M FEB 18

·         Viewing: Stagecoach (1939; 96m); Dodge City (1939; 105m)




W FEB 20




·         Reading:

·         "Genre," HC 74-110

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

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


·         Also relevant:

·         Buscombe, Stagecoach (on reserve)

·         Browne, “The Spectator-in-the Text: The Rhetoric of Stagecoach” (Canvas)

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


Westerns genre work





6   Movie stars



M FEB 25

·         Viewing: Ninotchka (1939; 110m) (links)

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


M FEB 25  mise en scène essay due

W FEB 27




·         Reading:

o   “Performance I,” HC 377-89 (from “Acting as Impersonation”)

o   Dyer, “Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society” (Canvas)

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


·         Also relevant:

o   “Selling Stars,” Grand Design 143-78


Romantic comedy genre work





7  Melodrama and the “women’s film







·         Viewing: Dark Victory (1939; 106m)

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

Melodrama genre work




·         Reading:

o   Williams, “Melodrama Revised” (Canvas)

o   Mulvey, “Afterthoughts…” (Canvas)


·         Also relevant: Gledhill, “Rethinking Genre” (Canvas)









M MAR 11

B-Movie Monday!

M MAR 11 First essay due date

W MAR 13




·         “Space I,” HC 312-40


·         Short-answer midterm (in class)

Series films genre work










9   Film noir



M MAR 18



·         Viewing: The Maltese Falcon (1941; 100m); Double Indemnity (1944; 107m) (links)


W MAR 20




·         Viewing: “American Cinema: Film Noir” (video link on Canvas)

·         Reading:

o   Schrader, “Notes on Film Noir” (Canvas)

o   “Space II,” HC 343-65


·         Also relevant: Schickel, Double Indemnity (on reserve)


Film noir genre work








MAR 25 & 27                SPRING BREAK






10  The prestige picture; Hollywood and the Civil War





·         Viewing: Gone With the Wind (1939; 232m) (links)



W APR  3




·         Viewing: Gone with the Wind: The Making of a Legend (1988)

·         Reading:

o   “Narrative 1," HC 452-70

o   “Time,” HC 436-48 (from “History as  a Production Value”)


·         Also relevant: "Prestige Pictures," Grand Design 179-211







11    A Short Week!






T APR 9 Second essay due date

W APR 10




·         Viewing: Judge Priest (1934; 71m)

·         Reading:

·         “Entertainment 2,” HC 54-73

·         Burks, “Gone with the Wind: Black and White in Technicolor” (Canvas)


·         Also relevant:

·         Leff, “Gone with the Wind and Hollywood’s Racial Politics” (Canvas)

·         Higgins, “A Fully Integrated Design: Light and Color in GWTW” (Canvas)







12  Hollywood and War


M APR 15


·         Viewing: Sahara (1943; 99m); Air Force (1943; 125m)




W APR 17


·         Reading: Schatz, “World War II and the Hollywood ‘War Film’


·         Research Project workshop

War movies genre work





13  Hollywood and politics (links)


M APR 22

·         Viewing:  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939; 130m)


·         Reading: Levine, “Hollywood’s Washington” (Canvas)



W APR 24


·         Reading:

o   "Politics," HC 268-303

o   Capra, from The Name Above the Title (Canvas)

o   Rogin and Moran, “Mr. Capra Goes to Washington” (Canvas)


Capra genre group work





14   Spectacle and estrangement


M APR 29

·         Viewing: The Wizard of Oz (1939; 155m) (links)


·         Reading: "Time," HC 413-36





·         Reading:

o   Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz

o   Friedman, “Relinquishing Oz: Every Girl’s Anti-Adventure Story” (Canvas)

o   Doty, “My Beautiful Wickedness: The Wizard of Oz as Lesbian Fantasy” (Canvas)







15  TBA



Filmmaker visit

TU May 7 Third essay due date


Conclusions; Academy Awards presentation

Final Project Options














Students with disabilities who believe that they may need accommodations in this class are encouraged to contact the Disability Access Services Office in 131 Millennium Student Center at 516-6554 as soon as possible to ensure that such accommodations are arranged in a timely fashion.